Romans 12:9-13
A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds
July 29, 2010


Basic Rules for Living the Christian Life (Romans 12:9-13)

In our previous session we began looking at Romans 12:9­-13 where some basic rules for Christian living are listed.   The grammatical construction of these verses is significant.  All of the verb forms in these five verses are participles.  That is worth noting because Hebrew rabbis used that verb form to express rules of conduct.  Some scholars speculate that in these verses Paul was quoting material from some early church manual used for the instruction new believers in how they are to behave, especially in relation to each other.  In these verses are twelve specific rules that we will explore in three groups of four:

    1. Love sincerely (“Let love be without hypocrisy”)
    2. Develop good priorities (“Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good”)
    3. Be affectionate toward others (“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love”)
    4. Don’t always insist on being first (“Give preference to one another in honor”)
    5. Work hard and do your best (“Not lagging behind in diligence”)
    6. Be enthusiastic (“Fervent in spirit”)
    7. Give yourself to God (“Serving the Lord”)
    8. Be optimistic (“Rejoicing in hope”)
    9. Hang in during the tough times (“Persevering in tribulation”)
    10. Don’t forget to pray (“Devoted to prayer”)
    11. Don’t hoard what you have (“Contributing to the needs of the saints”)
    12. Be gracious (“Practicing hospitality”)


Rule 5Work hard and do your best - “Not lagging behind in diligence” (v.11) - Because that statement does not specifically spell out what we should be diligent in doing, there is some debate among Bible scholars over the meaning of this verse.

·        Some take a restricted view of the statement, saying it refers only to spiritual things.  They say this verse is emphasizing that Christians should not be lazy in spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study and giving and serving.

·        Others take a broader view of the statement, saying it refers to every area of life.  While the phrase certainly includes the spiritual disciplines, but it also refers to not being lazy in our personal lives and family lives and professional lives as well.

The Living Bible paraphrases this statement this way:  “Never be lazy in your work...” I like that paraphrase.  This statement is a reminder that whatever we do, as God’s people we should work hard and do our very best.  The Bible has a lot to say about the dangers of slothfulness and laziness.  The book of Proverbs is filled with warnings about this.  For example:

·        Proverbs 6:9-10“How long will you lie down, O sluggard?  When will you arise from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little of the folding of the hands to rest, and your poverty will come in like a vagabond.”

·        Proverbs 10:4-5“Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.  He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully.”

·        Proverbs 10:26“A lazy fellow is a pain to his employers—like smoke in their eyes or vinegar that sets the teeth on edge.”

·        Proverbs 12:24“The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack (lazy) hand will be put to forced labor.”

And the list of such verses could go on and on.  The Scripture makes it clear that God expects His people to be diligent – to work hard and do their very best at whatever they do.


Rule 6 - Be enthusiastic  - “Fervent in spirit” (v.11) - The Living Bible paraphrases this statement as “...serve the Lord enthusiastically...”  In the Christian context, what does it mean to “Be enthusiastic?”  A partial answer to that question can be seen in the word translated “fervent” in the phrase “...fervent in spirit...”

  • The word literally means to boil or be hot or be on fire.  It is the very opposite of being lukewarm or cool or indifferent.
  • The word is in the same word family from which our words zeal or zealous come.

It carries the idea of being on fire, of being passionate, of genuinely caring about something.  It is just the opposite of indifference.  One of the great books ever written is C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.  It should be require reading for every Christian.  In the book, a devil named Screwtape writes his nephew named Wormwood, advising him on how to lead humans astray.  Throughout his letters, Screwtape reminds Wormwood that his objective should not be to make people wicked but to make them indifferent.  In one letter he writes, “I, the devil, will always see to it that there are bad people.  Your job, my dear Wormwood, is to provide me with people who do not care.” 

The opposite of not caring is being enthusiastic.  God is looking for people who care, who are enthusiastic about spiritual things.


Notice the word “spirit” in the phrase “fervent in spirit” There are two equally legitimate ways to interpret that word.  The word is “pneuma” and it is used just over 400 times in the New Testament.  About half the time it is used in reference to God’s Spirit and about half the time it is used in reference to the human spirit.  Bible scholars debate whether that word in Romans 12:11 is referring to the spirit of the Christian or the Spirit of God in the life of a Christian.

  • The NASB and KJV do not capitalize “spirit” indicating it refers to our spirit. 
  • The RSV which says, “ aglow with the Spirit...” capitalizes the word indicating it is referring to the Holy Spirit.

In one sense it really doesn’t matter which way you interpret the word “spirit” in that phrase.  For in the final analysis, it is the Holy Spirit in us that makes our spirits warm for, passionate for, enthusiastic about the things of God.


Rule 7 - Give yourself to God - “Serving the Lord” (v.11) - As simple as that little phrase sounds, it is actually packed with meaning. In the New Testament there are basically two different verbs that are used to express the concept of serving.

·        Diakoneo - This verb is generally translated “ministering.” It is in the same word family as our word deacon.

·        Douleuo – This verb is generally translated “serving.”  However, in the Greek of the 1st century it meant “slaving.” It comes from the word “doulos” which was the most basic word for slave.

And douleuo is the word used in the phrase “Serving the Lord” in Romans 12:11 to express the concept of serving.  The idea is that Christians are those who give themselves in service to God as a slave serving a master.


I want to make two points of application of this rule:

·        All Christians are called to serve - Many people have a radical misunderstanding of the Christian life. They think that God calls some people to do ministry/service and others to be the recipients of ministry/service. So to their way of thinking, there are pastors and missionaries to do the work of ministry and everyone else is the recipient of the work/ministry of those God has called out.  That is a gross distortion of what the New Testament teaches about Christian service.  And while it is true that God calls some people to vocational ministry, it is equally true that God calls every Christian to a life of service and ministry.  I want you to understand is that this statement about “Serving the Lord” is not just for the religious professionals.  It is for all believers.  We are all called to a life of service, of giving ourselves to God.  And when God’s people fail to understand that we are all called to a life of service, the work of God in the world suffers. 

·        Serving others enriches our lives - The average person in our world would probably say just the opposite.  Most people would say that serving costs us.  It takes away from our lives.  It costs us in terms of time and energy and money.  How can giving up things so precious to us possibly make our lives better?  But that is clearly what Jesus taught.  Listen to what He told His followers in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it...”  Only when you lose yourself in service to God do we really begin to live.  And when we stop giving of ourselves to others, we stop really living. 


Rule 8 - Be optimistic - “Rejoicing in hope” (v.12) - Basically, there are two general attitudes with by which we can be characterized.  We can choose to be—

·        Optimistic or pessimistic

·        Positive or negative

·        See the glass as half full or as half empty

·        Focus on the silver lining or focus on the cloud...

Some people are so pessimistic, so negative, so filled with gloom that in the words of one person, “They can find a cloud in every silver lining!” [Harbour, Philippians notes]  Other people are so optimistic, so positive, so filled with joy that they can find something good in any given situation.  The phrase “Rejoicing in hope...” tells us of two things we must cultivate in our lives if we are going to be characterized by optimism. 

·        To be optimistic we must cultivate in our lives an attitude of joy – The word translated “rejoicing” literally means “to be full of joy.”  It is important not to misinterpret what the Scripture means by joy.  If you asked the average person in our world what comes to mind when he/she hears the word joy, that person would probably say “happiness.”  In our culture, we’ve been indoctrinated with the idea that joy=happiness.  And because of that indoctrination, it is easy to misunderstand what the Bible means by the word “rejoicing” or “joy.” Joy and happiness are not the same. 

o        Happiness is a feeling.  It is that blissful feeling we sometimes get when the outward circumstances of our lives are good.  When our health is good, finances are in order, the family happy, and we have no major worries, then we may feel some happiness.  The Bible never tells us “To be happy always” because that is impossible.  Sometimes the outward conditions of our lives do not allow us to feel happy.

o        Joy, on the other hand, is not a feeling.  It is a state of being which is independent of the outward circumstances of our lives.  It is possible to have joy in our lives even when our outward circumstances are in turmoil.  That is because joy is the result, the by-product of our relationship with God through Jesus.  Joy is found in our relationship with God.  The Psalmist said it so well in Psalm 16:11 – “In thy presence is fullness of joy...”  One writer put it this way:  “The Christian who has lost joy does not have bad circumstances, but bad connections.  You do not lose joy unless your communion with Christ breaks down.” [MacArthur, p.73] 

·          To be optimistic we must cultivate in our lives an attitude of hope  - The last part of the phrase “Rejoicing in hope” is also important.  “Hope” like “joy” is one of the great words of Bible.  It is used more than 80 times in NT alone.  The Greek word which is normally translated “hope” and the word Paul used in Romans 12:12 is “elpis.”  It carries the idea of confident expectation and of looking forward to something with pleasure.  It is important to understand what the biblical writers mean by hope.  In biblical sense hope is nsot a naively optimistic view of life.  It is not burying our head in sand like the proverbial ostrich and wishing everything will eventually work out alright.  The biblical emphasis is not on what hope for but whom we hope in.  Greeks spoke of what they hoped for, but Hebrews spoke of whom they hoped in.  The Psalmist expressed well when wrote, "For thou, O Lord, are my hope..." (Psalm 71:5)


In Worms, Germany is St. Peter’s Cathedral.  In St. Peter’s Cathedral is the room where Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, was brought before a church council and questioned about what the church considered his heretical beliefs.  One of the inquisitors, a particularly mean-spirited man said, “Tell me, Luther, when the whole world turns against you—church, state, and people—where will you be then?” And Luther’s classic reply was, “Why then, as now, I will be in the hands of the Almighty God!” 


And that’s what it means to be optimistic in the biblical sense.  It means to live in the awareness that we are in God’s hands, and that is a good place to be.