SUNDAY NIGHT CROSSTRAINING NOTES
The Renewed Mind in the Face of an Enemy
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Sunday, May 10, 2009 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1271
Pastor Don Horban

“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 conceited. [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.”

As this whole twelfth chapter of Romans unfolds the nature of the renewed mind it’s natural that Paul saves the most difficult assignment till last. We all grow in our shapability to the refining work of the Holy Spirit on our natural inclinations. Hence Paul moves on from the manner of the renewed mind with hospitality toward the stranger and the need (12:13) to the blessing of enemies (14). This is where discipleship and the call of Jesus always goes.
And I say the call of Jesus because that is obviously where Paul found the direction of this radical path. The very first word of instruction in verse 14 is “bless” - “Bless those who persecute you; [then Paul repeats it again for emphasis] bless and do not curse them.” And the reason Paul chose such a shocking term to frame our behavior is that’s the term Jesus commanded - Luke 6:28 - “....bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

1) IF WE ARE GOING TO OBEY JESUS AT THIS POINT IT WILL DEMAND AN INTENSIFYING OF DEATH TO SELF - Romans 12:14 - “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

The second part of the verse doesn’t say anything new. It adds no new idea. But what it does do is explain the negative side of obeying the Spirit in this area. Paul is telling us that this obedience isn’t just a matter of doing the thing commanded - “Bless those who persecute you....” - but it’s also a matter of not doing something else first - “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them”(14).

So nothing is left to chance in this important call to radical discipleship. Paul is telling us - reminding us - that this will be a costly obedience. It will involve turning against ourselves. Everything in us will scream to “curse”(14b). And that’s why we’re told to expect this natural uprising against the leading of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we can’t coast in this obedience like we might coast in some others - attending church, daily readings, singing songs, etc.

2) THE CHURCH IS TO BE THE TRAINING GROUND FOR SELF-FORGETFULNESS, NOT SELF-FULFILLMENT - Romans 12:15-16 - “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 conceited.”

Paul has already told us that this is the key issue needing transformation by the Holy Spirit - Romans 12:3 - “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” If all that was required in us was forgiveness, then the cross alone is sufficient. But if we need to be relationally retrained, renewed, and retooled then congregational life is required.

Fortunately, not everyone in the church will bring you harm. They are not all out to persecute you. But even those who are not are used by the Holy Spirit to train you for those who are. Everyone in the church is placed there by the Holy Spirit with all sorts of circumstances - good and bad - to train me in self-forgetfulness. There are people who are blessed and rejoicing even though I, myself, may be brokenhearted. And the call of the Spirit to me is to help them in their rejoicing even though, in my own self, there is nothing but sorrow. And there are others who are depressed and grieving, desperately needing empathy and shared tears, even though I, at that very moment, am blessed beyond my ability to contain.

3) VENGEANCE FREQUENTLY ARISES FROM WOUNDED PRIDE RATHER THEN A DESIRE FOR JUSTICE - I had never seen this link in the text before. Notice how these words about not taking repayment for an evil received follow hard on the heels of the previous verse: Romans 12:16b-17-19 - “.... Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. [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.’”

Did you see it? “Never be conceited - Repay no one evil for evil.” It’s very hard for people like me to be trusted to draw the line between a desire for justice and a wounded pride that feels I deserved better treatment than I received. That’s why we’re all safer when we are fighting for injustice done to others than to ourselves. We are rarely pursuing pure justice when our own egos are involved. Hence, “....never avenge yourselves”(19).

Now we see it all coming together. Behold the wisdom of God. Such strong medicine is demanded - “Bless those who persecute you”(14). And the reason, not obvious to us when we’ve been wronged, is we will be tempted to avenge ourselves. And we will tell ourselves our desire is motivated by pure justice. Really, the Holy Spirit knows my fury is the flexing of my wounded pride. This is the Fall rearing its stubborn head against the work of the Spirit in the renewing of my mind. And the Spirit pleads - “Don’t think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think” (12:3).

O, this pride dies hard in all of us. We hate its dying. So God pulls out all the stops. Right at the point where we feel the most righteous in our pride, he calls for that which is most humbling - “Bless those who persecute you!”(14). The hard assignment is the painful scalpel of divine love.

But what about evil? And what about sin? What if someone has genuinely wronged me. Not just hurt my feelings, but committed sin against me. Where is the holiness of God? Where is justice meted out, if not from me?

No question about it, evil ought to be punished. And that’s the reason for Paul’s strong words in verse 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.’" God won’t ignore the sin. Wrong never has the final word - never.

This is so important. We err in vengeance when we rush to take it into our own hands. And we rush because, in our pride, we can’t stand the thought of the wrongdoer escaping unpunished with his guilt. But sin - all sin - is punished. Either people repent and their sin is punished on the cross of Christ, or they don’t and they will be punished when Jesus comes again, if not sooner at God’s providence. But no sin is ignored in God’s universe.

But sometimes I don’t want my enemy forgiven. I don’t want his sin atoned for in Christ’s death. I want him or her to suffer for what they’ve done to me. And Jesus told a parable to confront this vengeful streak in my heart (see Matthew 18:23-25). And notice Jesus’ own example of this truth in the face of the most unjust treatment any being could ever receive: 1 Peter 2:21-23 - “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. [22] He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. [23] When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

His own death - the very death his enemies inflicted upon Him, would pay for the wrong they committed against Him. And if they didn’t repent and believe, then Father God could be trusted to deal with their wicked deeds. Either way, vengeance wasn’t necessary in the Son’s holy hands.

4) RESTORING LOVE - THE ULTIMATE DESIRE OF A RENEWED HEART IN THE FACE OF INJUSTICE
Romans 12:20-21 - “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.”

This is profound. There are different ways of manifesting a fallen heart in the face of injustice. To have an opportunity to do something good for the one who injures me and not to take it is nothing more than a quiet revenge. Ignoring my enemy is still the act of a self-centered, proud heart.

Paul is clear, if there is some way - if you can find some way - to be a blessing to the one who wrongs you, seize it. Don’t let yourself sleep through a chance to walk in the Spirit. Don’t ignore the one way to be the most like Jesus Christ. Good deeds done by surprise can stun the most careless wrongdoer. The Holy Spirit knows the wounded are the surest way to bring repentance to the one who assaults.

Don’t just tolerate the evil. If it is really true - if you hate evil - then don’t just ignore it. Eradicate it. And do it with love - love when it’s least deserved. Because that’s the kind of love Jesus extended to you.