Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Romans series Week 6

This week we're reading Romans 12:9-21 in worship. The tentative sermon title is "Marks of the Renewed Creation".

This week, the context in which this sermon is preached has a major effect on how it will be shaped. That’s always true to a certain extent with any sermon, but this Sunday is the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, so the question, “what does this text have to say to us today?” is especially important.

Chapter 12 begins the last major section of Romans, where Paul’s theology gets practical in exhortations about ethical living. Instructions about specific attitudes are the content of the passage we’re focusing on this week. NT Wright argues that Paul doesn’t have the nuanced concepts of later philosophers distinguishing individual morality from that of the community, so, Wright says, what Paul is talking about here is more properly called “ecclesiology”, which is seminary-speak for how the church is supposed to live together as a community formed by Christ.

Paul uses two different words for “love” in Greek, agape and philadelphia, both of which are used interchangeably elsewhere in Paul’s writings, so we know he’s talking about the deep, gut level love that is more than just warm fuzzies or raging hormones. Again, this reinforces the idea that Paul’s exhortation is communal in nature.

He then gives some advice on how to live amongst those that are not part of the Christian community, who may not share these values and might even be hostile to them. The appropriate response to people hostile to Christians is to bless them, and not to curse them. Televangelists who proclaim God’s judgment against their personal enemies list might want to read this passage carefully. As do those who argue that Christians have to self-segregate to avoid any temptation to sinning. Paul concludes by encouraging people to let God dispense justice.

Before we get to the questions- a quick aside. This is one of the few places where Paul is echoing the teachings of Jesus, almost word for word in this passage. Paul’s letters were written before the gospels, which is often pointed to as the reason Paul never quotes them as such. But the stories in the gospels were being told before they were written down in the form we have them now, so it’s reasonable to assume that Paul was familiar with the stories and teachings of Jesus, even though he focuses almost exclusively on the suffering and death of Jesus, and the cosmic implications of it.

Now for the questions:
What might the ethics Paul is advocating look like in the church today? Give a specific example (don’t name names, though) if you can.

How do we deal with those we perceive to be hostile to us or our understanding and practice of our faith?

Since this passage is divided into two different sections, do you think there are separate standards of ethics for how Christians treat those inside the community and those outside of it, or are we supposed to treat all people the same?

How does this passage and these issues resonate with us in light of the anniversary of 9/11 and all the ways our country and our world have changed since then?

Anything else about this passage stand out? Discuss


Jessica Miller Kelley said...

It's an interesting place to be to "hate what is evil" but not seek revenge for such evil. Wouldn't forgiveness and the relinquishing of our right to avenge make it difficult to "hate" the evil anymore?

Also, isn't it "philos," not "philadelphia"?

Matt Kelley said...

In the passage in question, the word used is "philadelphia". "Philios" is an abbreviated form that means the same thing.