“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
~ Romans 12:9-21.
At its core, this practical passage encapsulates the essence of Christianity and St Paul calls us to be living examples of Christ, Christ-like, or the embodiment of living faith – not merely Christians by title, a trap we often fall into time and time again. When reflected upon, the passage eloquently captures what we can do to live out our faith, no matter what stage of our life we find ourselves in. It is beyond the scope of this blog to unpack each part of this passage. However, I will humbly attempt to comment on some parts that move me.
“Let love be without hypocrisy” is a plea to love without terms and conditions, to love unconditionally as Christ models for us. To love under all circumstances, no matter what the other has done to us or how they have wronged us. No matter what and at any cost. It’s hard, I know. We are human after all and come with limitations and weaknesses. And with this, we over analyse, we lament, “Woe is me,” we criticise, we list all the errs and sins against us, leading to a heart filled with unnecessary turmoil. Yet, the contrasting state is a heart that is able to unceasingly love and forgive. It’s hard, I know. However, St Paul urges us to give it a go and if we fail, we ought to keep trying and if we fail, we try once again. Love, after all, is the pinnacle of our Christianity.
This nicely leads to, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another.” Here, treating each other with kindness and being humble are made clear. These two virtues come in all sorts of flavours and yet are often intertwined. When we put the needs of others before ourselves, we are by extension, showing kindness. When we lend a helping hand at School, University, work, Church, or to a stranger on the street who can’t pay us back, we are showing kindness.
“Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer” can often be inextricably connected. Tribulations are inevitable in this life. Financial hardships, University and work stresses, failing a University subject, friendship and relationship problems, being demoted at work, redundancy, unemployment, heavy illnesses, terminal illnesses, watching your loved one slowly or quickly deteriorating in front of your eyes, or the sudden death of a loved one. This list is of course not exhaustive but is a snapshot of differing hardships we may experience. It is at these points in life when are at our lowest that prayer and hope in God are critical for without these two ingredients, what do we have? What is left but the God of love and comfort who we should be crying out to with our whole heart to help us make sense of what can sometimes feel like unfathomable circumstances. And in such times, when our faith is tested and we are questioning, “Where is God?!” all we need to do is look back on past difficulties and remember that God was there and didn’t abandon us so why would He start now?! God is love, as we often hear, and this calming truth is our lifeline in times of heartache and heartbreak.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” is a simple but powerful reminder of exhibiting genuine happiness, empathy and sympathy towards others. Every one of us has our own life journey and yet it can often feel like a competition or a race we’re desperately trying to win with our everything. From ATARS to University degrees to careers to cars to houses to travel to who settles down first, gets married, and has children. All of these milestones may or may not be achieved but what ultimately matters is how we feel when we see a close friend or someone else moving through them faster than us. Do we build them up in their pursuits or break them down? Are we truly happy for them or is there a level of resentment and jealousy? Such destructive emotions will blind us to the infinite blessings God has bestowed upon us. When we open our eyes to our blessings, we cannot help but be thankful to God. Equally important is the need to stay humble and grounded when God blesses us by the achievement of a milestone rather than boasting or showing off. Even service can turn into a competition from who is the best deacon with the nicest voice and who gets to be closest to the microphone during Sunday Liturgy to who is the favourite servant to who serves the most. This all detracts from what should be the fundamental purpose of service – serving for the glory of God. There is also the need to feel with those who are experiencing tribulations. This is when the human heart is in desperate need for someone, anyone, to reach out, to listen, to cry with, to provide guidance and support, to simply be there, or to feel love.
No doubt you have heard all or part of this before but a gentle reminder of what it means to behave like a Christian can be the push needed to live out our faith. What St Paul calls us to do across this passage is no easy feat and a lifetime falls short to holistically and wholeheartedly fulfil it. However, remember, God does not care about grand and bold gestures or the quantity of our good deeds. Christianity is not a checklist ticking lifestyle. God’s main concern is the quality of our Christian living – the true intention behind the act. His heart is moved when small, humble deeds of love are carried out towards people who are forgotten, unnoticed, neglected, abandoned, excluded, bullied or don’t feel like they belong or that they are loved. These, after all, are the people that need it the most and are just as significant as our loved ones and friends.
SAYG ~ Marianne Mansour.