The last paragraph of Bob’s comment sets the stage for Romans 12. “Christ lived on earth, died, and was resurrected. Through the Holy Spirit He is among us now. The post-resurrection life is not simply something in the indeterminate future; it is a reality in which we can participate now. Our participation in this life now may not be the same as it will be after the resurrection of the dead, but it still is a powerful new life that transforms how we exist on earth. Christ did not simply disappear after his Assumption. His body rose, but his Spirit remained. He is both here now and will come in the future. His living in the ethic of love is not only the criterion for how to behave during this interim period until the resurrection of the dead, but it is a criterion that is in no way dependent upon the length of that period.”
Matt supported Bob’s statement by reminding us Martin Luther King used to speak of this as the “beloved community”. At the same time he and Anne wondered if most of our church communities are strong enough to live by faith active in love alone.
Perhaps the first response has to be Paul has shown us throughout his letters that his congregations are no more moral or united than our own. We truly have to start with Christ crucified, admitting that there is a great difference between our lives and God’s will. Romans 12 begins by reminding us living in love means we can not conform to the ways of the world. We shall know the will of God only if we are transformed by allowing Christ to renew our minds. We must repent or rethink our ways. We must make love, which fulfills all the laws, our priority. (Romans 13: 1-7).
Most people understand Paul defines love as not insisting on its own way. (I Corinthians 13: 4-7) But few go beyond that to see he claims this involves two essential conditions: 1) Love returns good for evil (Romans 12: 14- 21) and 2) Love means the strong put up with the failings of the weak (Romans 15: 1 but also14:1-15:8). We ignore these, because they challenge basic assumptions of our society. Let’s see what he means.
The radical individualism of our time is foreign to Paul. “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 13: 7, 8). We always live in community and God is a part of that community.
He continually describes the church community as the Body of Christ in which all members play an important part. (Romans 12: 3-8) Diversity is to be desired and celebrated, because the Spirit gives everyone their special gifts. However, this means that unity must be a top priority. Over and over he claims we are to share our gifts by co-operating, by outdoing one another in showing honor, by building up one another, by showing mutual affection, by not quarreling, by working for mutual edification, etc.
And here as in previous lessons he uses a lot of space to show this is only going to happen if we return good for evil and if the strong put up with the failings of the weak. Although he is easy on the weak, he is tough on the strong. They have an obligation not to place stumbling blocks or hindrances in the way of the weak. (Romans 14:13) They are not to insult the less fortunate. We are used to recounting we feed Christ, if we feed the least of these our sisters and brothers. However, we usually miss Paul claiming we insult Christ, if we insult the least of these. (Romans 15: 3)
Although Paul insists we are to leave judgment of others inside and outside the church to God, he does not mean we are to be tolerant of everything. Paul’s illustrations are disagreements about whether some foods are unclean or some rituals must be observed, the type of things about which we usually argue in congregational meeting. He regards these as inconsequential, counseling if some think they are important, let them be. If they think they can truly honor or thank or glorify God by these observances, then let them be. In a sense, he says intention counts in these minor matters. However, we have seen in previous letters he is not tolerant of major sins. He counsels throwing people out of the Church if they are just too over the top, for instance the man who was having sex with his father’s wife.
So how do we discern between these minor and major matters? Are our church communities strong enough to use faith active as love alone as their standard? My guess is many of us have shaken our heads in disgust after congregation meetings. At the same time, we have to acknowledge something is going on in church communities despite our actions, something best described as the action of the Holy Spirit. I have been maintaining that love is our only hope for moving forward and adjusting to the needs of the present society. I have furthered suggested love can operate creatively only when we are in community using tradition. I see community simply as people sharing their lives. We can do that by simply gathering on Sunday morning. I see tradition simply as sharing a history. We do that by remembering how God’s people discerned his word in the Old Testament, the Epistle, and Gospel lessons. Paul acknowledges the value of sacred writing is simply for edifying us in the present. (Romans 13: 15) We then expect our leaders to apply that same word to our own time and place. This is all done in the context of the Church Year to make certain we cover the main traditional themes, such as birth, baptism, communion, healing, suffering, death, resurrection. Of course, we have every right to challenge our leaders’ perspectives, the church community’s views, and traditional positions. Yet they do provide checks and balances, discipline and guidance, enlightenment and challenge as we struggle to creatively live in love in our own situations..
I am going to use Lesson 18 to examine how love relates to the community outside of the church. People usually respond to church calls for living in love with “Okay, and what does love do when evil is attempting to murder your neighbor or blow up a city?” Paul was quite realistic about that. We’ll take a look at what he said and compare that to other ideas.
What do you think about defining love as returning good for evil and the strong putting up with the failings of the weak? Paul seems to think this is important if we are to change our understandings of power.