9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You know how different versions of the Bible will put headings over portions of Scripture? The ESV titles this portion as “Marks of the True Christian.” Thirteen verses. Depending on how you count, twenty-six rules to follow. So look over the text again. How do you measure up?
Is your love genuine? Do you abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good? Do you outdo others in showing honor? Do you bless those who persecute you? Do you live in harmony with others and peaceably with all? Do you feed your enemy, and give him something to drink? Do you overcome evil with good? Are you a “True Christian”?
If I’m honest, texts like this make me doubt if I can call myself a Christian. Maybe, you are like me.
Let’s consider the options: I could take the commands in this text and make a list of the areas where I need to improve. Start with the one where I’m worst off. Improve there, and work my way down the list. That would be my first option.
But that always leads to lowering the bar. Rather than my love being genuine, I put on a show of love because I get tired of trying to be genuine. And shouldn’t actions count more than attitude? Instead of living at peace with all, I live at peace with those I like. I mean the text says, “if it is possible.” But I use that phrase as a trump card. “Some people are impossible to please, so why bother even trying? It’s their fault.” But God isn’t fooled by my sham love and peace.
The second option when I doubt if I am a “true Christian,” rather than getting upset and bothered at how poorly I do, I can just look at you and take comfort in the fact that at least I do better than you. You know the joke: You don’t have to run faster than a bear, you just have to run faster than the guy next to you.
But what if the Law is a bear that doesn’t stop after eating the guy slower than you? What if the Law picks up your scent and keeps coming until it finds you. That is, in fact, what the Law does. In our Gospel text (Mt. 16:21-28), Jesus says, “The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (v. 27). Neither of those options – neither self-improvement nor comparing myself to others – offer any comfort or escape.
The problem with both of those options is that you aren’t letting the Law do what God intends it to do. Romans 5:20 says, “The Law came in to increase the trespass.” Rather than trying harder and working more to prove that you are a Christian, you need to die to your works and efforts to save yourself. Listen to what Jesus says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25). Repent.
Repent of trying to save your life as you know it. Instead of trying to save your life, you are free to die to sin. Believer, your old self was crucified with Jesus in order that your body of sin might be brought to nothing so that you would no longer be enslaved to sin (Ro. 6:6). Because Jesus has suffered, died, and risen again, you who are joined to Him will rise as well.
So you are free to deny yourself, to take up your cross and follow Jesus. Listen to what God says of you, Romans 8:1 says it as clearly as possible, “There is therefore no condemnation for [you] who are in Christ Jesus.” You are free to be the forgiven, righteous, holy person that God declares you are because you are in Christ.
You are free from the Law because you belong to Jesus, the One who died to the Law so that you might bear fruit to God (Ro. 7:4-6).
What does that fruit look like? Well, it looks just like this text describes it. Who would you say that this text best describes? Hopefully, your answer is Jesus. Christ is all those things. Christ’s love is genuine. He abhors what is evil and holds fast to what is good. Jesus was not slothful in zeal. He rejoiced with those who rejoice, and wept with those who wept. He did not avenge Himself. When His enemies were hungry, He gave them to eat; when they were thirsty, He gave them to drink. Christ was not overcome by evil, but overcame evil with good.
Because this is all true of Christ, it is also true of you. This is how you are already in Christ. When God looks at you, this is how He sees you. And the reason you don’t see more of this going on in your life is because your flesh, the old Adam, gets in the way. So it is good to have this text as a constant reminder before your eyes as you take up your cross and follow after Jesus.
Jesus is here once again to overcome your evil with the goodness of His love, forgiveness, and mercy by giving you His Body and His Blood. He feeds you, strengthens you, and supplies all you need so that you are not overcome by evil, but so that you overcome evil with good. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.