Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10) We begin where we ended last time with the prayer of Solomon’s father, David. The word create means to bring into existence something that was not previously there. There’s more here than David...
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:13-15)
I usually look up the definitions of key words in my trusty old dictionary, but this week I asked Siri on my iPhone, for a definition of generous. Here is what Siri told me!
Generous: A readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected.
A generous person is one who goes the extra mile. A generous person is one who is so motivated by love that he or she goes beyond what is required by the law. Love always goes beyond the law.
The verses before us today reflect the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. When you become a Christian, you are in Christ. God puts his Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, in you. God does this to empower us for a life that mirrors what we see in the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus.
A generous life has three dimensions and we are going to look at these in an ascending order of difficulty. None of these is easy, but we will begin with the least difficult. May God give us grace as we face the challenge before us in these verses today.
Be Generous by Reproducing the Example
that God Has Given You in Christ
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rom. 12:15)
Here we consider our Lord’s incarnation. If you are going to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, you have to get close to other people. You cannot do this from a distance.
Each of these verses points to an implicit temptation: The temptation here is to remain aloof, to be detached from other people, to keep to yourself. And if you do that, you cannot do what God calls us to do here.
Some of us would respond, “Well, I am a very private person.” Remember, God calls you to be a very loving person, and the only way to be a loving person is to find ways to get close enough to other people to feel their pain and to share their joy. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Whose pain are you feeling right now? Whose joy are you sharing right now?
Think about how God models this for us right at the beginning of the bible story. God is in heaven. He is completely self-sufficient. What that means is he has all that he needs in himself. What about love? There has always been love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t need us to have love.
God could have made the man and the woman and the left them to get on with life on their own. After all, they had each other. God could have sat in splendid isolation in heaven and watched from a distance. But God comes down, takes a visible form, and walks with the man and the woman in the garden in the cool of the day.
God did this because God is love! Love does more than watch from a distance. Love comes alongside and walks with others in the joys and the sorrows of their lives.
These appearances of God in a visible form are repeated throughout the Old Testament. They point forward to that great outpouring of love that’s right at the very center of the bible story in which God actually became a man in Jesus Christ. Christ came close to us, entering our joys, and sharing our pain.
In his Gospel, John records seven miracles of Jesus. He called them signs because they point to who Jesus is and what Jesus does. The first of these signs was at a wedding, and the last of these was at a funeral.
Whose wedding was it, when Jesus turned water into wine at Cana of Galilee? We don’t know. They were just an ordinary couple. We don’t even know their names. But Christ entered the joy of their marriage. He rejoiced with those who rejoice. Your joy is his joy.
We do know whose funeral it was that Jesus attended. Lazarus was the deeply loved brother of Martha and Mary and a close friend of Jesus. When our Lord heard the news that Lazarus had died, he came to Bethany.
Lazarus had been laid to rest in the tomb, but the family were still mourning. Mary came out to meet him, and John records, “When Jesus saw her weeping… he was deeply moved” (John 11:33). That’s your Savior! He was moved to the core of his being by a woman’s tears.
Then, John tells us, “Jesus wept” (11:35). Why would Jesus weep when he knew that he would soon raise Lazarus from the dead? The answer to that question is that Christ truly enters our sorrow. He feels the pain of our loss.
Right now, Christ enjoys the resurrection that one day will be ours, but he does not look down from heaven and say, “No need for tears. It won’t be long until the resurrection.” He weeps with those who weep, and he calls us to reflect this generous life that goes beyond what is expected.
Pastor Ted Olsen has a wonderful phrase that that been so helpful to me: “Irrigate your soul in the joys and sorrows of other people.” Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Maybe you are saying, “I need to learn how to love. I need a greater emotional capacity.” If you want to learn how to love, get close enough to some other people to share their joys and sorrows. Ask yourself this week: “With whom can I rejoice? With whom should I weep?”
Be Generous by Releasing the Gifts
that God Has Given to You in Christ
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Rom. 12:13)
Generosity is a readiness to give more than is necessary or expected. Here Christ calls us to be generous especially in relation to our homes, our time, and our possessions.
The word translated hospitality here literally means “loving strangers.” The same word is used in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” Look out for people who are on their own. Be especially generous to brothers and sisters in Christ (or saints), who don’t have a circle of connections.
Paul was writing on the eve of the greatest persecution that was ever unleashed on the Christian church, and the first signs of it were beginning to erupt. Believers who were persecuted in one town would flee to the next (Mat. 10:23), and when they arrived they would be dependent on the kindness of Christians opening their home to a brother or sister they may never have met before.
What are you going to do when you get to the next town? You’re going to depend on the hospitality of other brothers and sisters in Christ. Nobody else would do this for Christians, so Paul says, “Make sure that you have an especially generous heart towards the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The language here is the language of priority. The needs of the saints are to be our first concern. You see the same thing in Galatians: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). The implicit temptation here is to regard what God has given as our own and keep it for ourselves.
It’s easy to say, “It’s my home.” Yes, it’s the home God has given to you. How are you going to leverage it for the advance of the gospel? Or “These are my gifts.” Yes, but you have no right to keep them to yourself. Or “It’s my money.” Yes, it is the money God has given you. How are you going to use it to bless others?
Think about Christ in his resurrection and ascension. What did Jesus do when he ascended into heaven? He opened his home in heaven. Who did he open it to? Strangers. And he gave generous gifts to his people. “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (Eph. 4:8).
Christ welcomed you when you were a stranger. He has opened his home to you. He has brought you into his family. He has showered good gifts upon you.
Every blessing in your life – spiritual and material – came from the hand of Christ. In the light of this, be especially eager to welcome strangers. Open your home to them. Do more than is necessary or expected in regards to the needs of the saints, because this is what God in Christ has done for you.
Be Generous by Reflecting the Blessing
that God Has Given to You in Christ
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Rom. 12:14)
Again, these words point to an implicit temptation that all of us will face. When someone brings pain into your life, seeking their good will not be your natural instinct.
The natural course is that you focus on the injustice of it all; how inexcusable it is. You brood over what you have lost, like Jonah who got angry when the plant that had been given to shade him was taken away. Don’t do that. Don’t be overcome by evil. Here’s what you must do: Bless those who persecute you. Seek their good!
We saw that a generous person is one who gives more of something than is necessary or expected. What is to be given here is your blessing, your seeking the good of another person. God says, “Give it where it is not deserved. Give it where it may never be returned.” Do this, because this is how God has dealt with you in Jesus Christ. How are we to do this?
- Reflect on the example of Jesus.
Consider our Lord’s crucifixion. When the soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, he did not curse them. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return (1 Pet. 2:23). That’s what happens in the world, isn’t it? One insult leads to another and we become more and more divided.
Jesus did something different. He sought the good of those who brought him pain. He prayed for them to be blessed: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 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. (1 Pet. 2:20-21)
We see this same generosity that goes beyond what is necessary or expected in Stephen, who prayed in the same way for those who persecuted him.
- Consider what the other person may have suffered.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus’ words tell us something about the spiritual condition of those who were persecuting him. They were spiritually blind. They did not know (because they were unable to see), the ramifications of what they were doing to Christ.
There is an old writer by the name of Robert Candlish who makes this point well.  When a wrong is done to you, you can do one of two things: The first is to brood on the evil, the injustice, the offense, but the more you do that, the more your own heart will be hardened.
But there is something else you can do. You can put yourself in the shoes of the person who has hurt you. Ask yourself, What would my life have been like if his or her story had been mine? What if I had experienced what he or she has endured?
How would it be for you if you still suffered from the same blindness to the glory of Jesus, the same estrangement from the love of God that still afflicts him or her? They do not know what they are doing.
Remember what God said to Jonah about the city of Nineveh: “Should not I pity Nineveh?” (Jon. 4:11). Here was a great city of 120,000 people and God says “[they] do not know their right hand from their left” (4:11).
Here were people who had sinned to the point where they no longer knew the difference between right and wrong. To them evil had become good and good had become evil. This tragic condition doesn’t call for anger, it calls for pity and compassion. When you see it for what it is, you will feel sorry for them. To be that far from the knowledge of God is tragic.
I think of a couple, dear friends of ours in London, whose older daughter broke their hearts by her rebellion. They had done what they could to bring her up in the ways of the Lord, but as her teenage years developed, she rebelled in as flagrant a way as anyone I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a few over the years.
I remember her father telling me how he was struggling, not only with what she was doing, but with his own reaction to it. He said, “I found myself getting so angry.” Then he said, “There was one verse that helped me more than any other.” If he had asked me to guess which verse it was, I would not have picked it in my first 50 attempts!
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4)
He said to me, “It has helped me to grasp that she really does not see what I see! It’s not just that she won’t look at the glory of Christ, even if she did, she can’t see! She is blind to the glory that I see in Jesus. And when you know that someone is blind, you don’t get angry with them, you feel sorry for them.”
If it was not for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in your life, you would be blind to his glory, and you would not see his glory. Who knows where you would be or what you would be doing today if that were the case?
- Remember how God has dealt with you.
Everything in Romans 12 is written in the light of God’s mercy. In the light of God’s mercy, “Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse them.”
It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). He loved us when we were hostile towards him (Rom. 8:7). It was while we were still God’ enemies that he reconciled us, and at such great cost, made us his friends (Rom. 5:10).
I want to end today by telling you a story told to me by our Missions Pastor, Brad Mullet. During the summer a team from our church went to Serbia. While they were there, they met a man by the name of Dusan, who told them his story.
Dusan is Serbian, but he grew up in Croatia during the civil war (which broke out in 1991). Dusan’s family had worked at peace in Croatia for years, but at the start of the war all Serbians were immediately rounded up in Croatia and imprisoned.
After some weeks, Croatia agreed to repatriate about 250,000 Serbs who were being held within their borders. Dusan, at the age of 9, was put on a bus with his mother and other siblings along with other mothers and their children to go to Serbia.
Fathers and older sons were either fighting for the Serbian army or remained in prison in Croatia. The women and children boarded the bus, leaving behind their homes and property, with just one bag of personal possessions.
The bus ride was long and when the bus finally stopped and the door opened, Dusan ran off the bus. Thinking that they were in Serbia, he started shouting Serbian chants and swearing against Croatians at the top of his lungs.
Dusan said, “I did this like only a zealous 9-year-old sinner could do.” His mother sprinted off the bus behind him and when she caught up with him, clapped her hand over his mouth: “We’re still in Croatia!”
Right then, Dusan noticed the squad of Croatian soldiers and policemen around them, who had seen and heard him shouting and cursing. One of the soldiers walked toward them: “Is this your son?” he said to Dusan’s mother. Dusan said his mother was so afraid, she couldn’t utter a word. She just stood there with her head down, holding on to him.
The soldier told them to stay where they were, surrounded by Croatian soldiers and police, and said he would be back. After some time, he returned carrying a box. “It’s a long journey: Here is something to eat and drink.” Dusan said it was full of snacks and treats.
Years later Dusan heard the gospel, and when he did, he remembered the kindness of the Croatian soldier. He said, “Here’s what the gospel is: It’s like when I came running off the bus, shouting obscenities against God, clearly his enemy, and clearly powerless, and God responded with a gift. And what a gift it is – the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us!”
In the light of the mercies of God to you, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep… Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:13-15; 21).
 Robert Candlish, Studies in Romans 12, p. 244, Kregel, 1989.
© Colin S. Smith
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