Key Thought: We grow in joy, peace, and hope by learning to love others, even when it is hard.
Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 7th part of this study, we consider, can we love others, even when it is hard? This is the 7th of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, and part 6 here.
Humans are made for community. We are made for each other, and we are made to love. Love is also our highest duty. All of God’s commands are summarized in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
However, to love people is challenging. People do not always act in lovable ways. They may hate us. They may do us wrong. They may do evil. They may hurt us.
The wrongs that people do to us are one of the chief things that rob us of our peace, hope, and joy. Everybody knows that resentment can embitter our life. It can poison our souls. It can harm our relationships.
So, what are we to do? How can we be loving and forgiving people that will let go of bitterness and love people in a way that will enable us to experience peace, hope, and joy?
In this section, I want to note five things Paul says about love and then explain the motivations that Paul gives to enable us to love. This section not only calls us to love but empowers us to develop the excellent trait or virtue of being a loving person.
What Paul Says About Love
In Romans 12:9–21, Paul gives a lengthy list of commands to guide the Christian life. It is a list worth memorizing and meditating on. The first command is quite interesting. It is, “Let love be sincere.” This means that love should not be two-faced. There is a niceness that can masquerade as love. We act like we love people and are o.k. with them, but we are not. Love needs to be sincere. This means we should do one of two things. We should deal with the issues we have with people with them. Second, we should deal with them internally by changing the way we think about people. We should learn to be tolerant of people’s weaknesses and differences. We should really think about the bigger hurts people have caused us. We should talk about it with the people who have hurt us. This is the way to sincere love.
Second, we should be devoted to one another in love (Romans 12:10). Love thinks about other people and wants to be with them. It is devoted. Loving people means we want to commune with them. We can’t say we love people if we don’t want to be with them. Now, obviously, we can’t do this equally to everyone. We have to love the community in which we live and the people with whom we live, our neighbors. The disposition to love makes us ready and willing to do this as much as we can and in whatever circumstances we can.
Third, love is manifested in action. It means that we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). It means that we “[s]hare with the Lord’s people who are in need” and “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). Love begins in the heart but is manifested in actions.
Fourth, when we truly love people, that love can flow out even when it is hard. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). Paul’s last exhortation is, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21).
Fifth, love includes respect. We need to give people the weight they deserve. We should honor all human beings. We should appreciate other people’s gifts and position. We have a hard time with the language of respect in our society, but it is something we must cultivate. “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:7). This is also part of loving people well.
So, now, we’ll all just love better, right? Not so fast. This is hard. How are we going to find motivation to keep loving, even when it’s hard?
Motivations for Loving Well
The first consideration that empowers us to love well is the fact of God’s love. This section is a lengthy explanation of what it means to love. However, Paul roots this in God’s love. He always wants us to see how great the love of God is. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice . . .” When we find ourselves unable to love, let us learn to grow in faith and hope, that is, learn to see God’s love for us better. Let us get a better view of God’s mercy.
The second consideration that empowers us to love well is our already existing connection with other people. We were not made to exist alone. We are part of a body. This is true of the human race in general, and it is also true of the church. We are made for each other. Paul says that “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (12:5). We do not exist on an island. We are dependent on others in so many ways, and we are created and recreated this way. The more we see this the more we will realize that when people do not act with love and respect towards each other, they are harming themselves because God created us to work together and be together.
The third consideration that empowers us to love well is God’s judgment. Desire for revenge is not wrong. It’s just that we do not have the capacity to carry it out well (HT: Bold Love by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III). This is a mistake that many people think about when thinking about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not saying that something is not wrong. It is saying that it is wrong and that God will deal with it. As far as our own action, we let it go, but that does not mean God will not deal with it. This is precisely what Paul says, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). We can let the wrong go because we can be confident that God will deal with it well. God will deal with the persons we are concerned about in a way that will be both satisfying and just. This empowers us to forgive.
The fourth consideration that empowers us to love well is God’s authority. This is what God wants us to do. He wants us to love. Paul says that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). It is our greatest duty. If we love God and give Him weight, then His desire for us to love will have great weight for us. We value Him, trust in Him, and hope in Him, so we can do what He wants us to do. That is how faith manifests itself in love.
The fifth consideration that empowers us to love well is love’s effectiveness. When we love even when others do wrong, we preserve ourselves and introduce something powerful into the equation. There is something extremely powerful about a gift to those who have done us wrong. When we can say, that was wrong and hurt me, but I want to give you a gift anyway, we can overcome evil. Evil does not overcome us, but we overcome evil by the good. This is the way of light. It is good and it overcomes evil. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).
All of these motivations can change our hearts. This will enable us to let love flow out of us, even when it is hard. This will lead us to greater peace, hope, and joy.
A few years ago, I had a small but powerful experience with these types of considerations. I was waiting in line in my car to get gas. The car at the pump pulled away. Another car darted in front of me and went to the pump. At first, I was mad. But, then, I started using these tools. I thought, either he saw me or didn’t. If he didn’t, then it was a mistake, not something wrong. If he did see me, he may have had an explanation. He may have had some urgent need. In this case, I would happily let him go ahead of me. But let’s just say he is being a jerk. What harm is he really doing me? He is mainly harming himself by not acting out of respect and consideration. I am still OK. This empowered me to let it go rather than hanging on to resentment. Because of this, I felt peace. That’s the power of a heart of love that knows how to love, even when it is hard.
Guideline for constructing your own study/questions for review
- What do you see as the major themes of Romans 12–13?
- What does Paul teach about love in this passage?
- What other commands are here that you might see as important?
- What motivations in this passage empowers us to do what God has commanded?
Questions for Mediation, Discussion, and Application
- How are you doing with loving those who do not love you well or hurt you?
- Are there any perspectives here that would enable you to love better?
- What are the opportunities that you have to love people well and show more care for others?
Thank you for taking the time to read this little study. I hope it was a blessing to you and will help you grow. I’d love to hear your comments. If you like this post, you can subscribe below by entering your email address below. I hope to see you here again.