Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Our Epistle reading for this week piles a lot of bad news on us. Really? Bad news? Romans 12:9-21? I’ve heard this used as good news many times. So you might ask why I call it bad news.
If we follow the commands in this passage, and if everyone everywhere were to follow them, it would be a really great world. We’d always be in conflict with one another, but simply because we’d be trying to do more good for others than they are doing for us. It’s summarized very well in verse 18. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (ESV). Yes, if we were all to do that, it would be a very pleasant world indeed.
There are two reasons this passage is a challenge. First, it freely acknowledges the presence of evil in the world. Things won’t always be good. There will be people who do evil. In fact, if verse 9 gives us any insight, we are all inclined toward evil, at least sometimes. We wouldn’t be reminded to love one another if we didn’t have tendency to fail. All these commands recognize that we are not going to do everything perfectly all the time. In fact, we will frequently fall short. We have all these failings built in. You see by now that I have moved on to the second reason the passage is challenging. Not only is their evil in the world, but we are part of the problem.
Where’s the good news here? In verse 20 it shows up very clearly. Overcome evil by doing good. Who has done that? Certainly we have not done it completely. But the Bible presents Jesus as the one who has done good on your behalf. He is the one who has kept God’s Law perfectly. He is the one who has shown his righteousness in becoming sin for the sinner, dying for those who would die, and rising from the dead as the first of the resurrection. The good news is that Jesus has kept these commands for us.
Although we still face God’s demands, and although there is much to be done in terms of obedience, the motivation for us to keep God’s commands has fundamentally changed. We try to obey not because it is the only way we can hope to appease God’s anger and win our wings. We try to obey because it is good for our neighbor. Do we see those who are hurting and struggling? We love them as Christ has loved us. We lay down our lives, at least so far as we are able. It’s great news for our neighbors, who gain the benefit of our obedience. It’s even greater news when they realize that we are living a godly life because of Christ who gave himself, not only for us, but also for them. There’s good news.
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