Basic Christianity – Session 5




There are two dimensions to the Christian life:  theology/ethics … faith/practice … doctrine/ practical application.  To this point in this class we have focused on the theology, faith, or doctrine side of the Christian life.  For the next two sessions we are going to look at the ethics, practice, or practical application side.  And, of course, our source for this information is the Bible.


It is important that we not misunderstand what the Bible is...

        i.            The Bible is not primarily a rule book, containing long lists of laws, rules and regulations to be followed without thought or feeling...that is how the Pharisees of the 1st century viewed the Bible and Jesus severely rebuked them for it...

      ii.            The Bible is primarily a book of revelation, telling us how God has chosen to reveal Himself in history...the Scripture tells the story of how God revealed Himself, first through the nation Israel and then fully and completely in Christ...

      However, in the Bible there are some very well-known passages which give us specific directions, instructions for living...and if we follow these directions, our lives invariably are better...for example...

·         Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 give us the 10 commandments which are the foundational principles of how we are to relate to God and to each other...

·         Proverbs is filled with practical, down to earth instruction for living successfully in this world...

·         In Matthew 5 we read a series of statements by Jesus known as the beatitudes which are basically instructions for living in right relationship with God and others...

·         The New Testament book of James is also filled with practical instruction about daily living...


Once we decide to become a follower of Jesus, we are immediately faced with the question, “What does Jesus expect from me?  How does He want me to live?”  There is a passage in the New Testament that gives us a compact answer to that question.  Many scholars think that Romans 12:9-13 may be a portion of an early church manual used for the instruction new believers in how they are to behave.  In these verses are twelve specific rules for believers to follow.  The interesting thing about these rules is that they deal more with relationships than with religious ritual. 

    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 1Love sincerely - “Let love be without hypocrisy” - The word translated “hypocrisy” is based on word used to describe an actor who was playing a part.  The meaning of the phrase is, “Don’t just pretend you love others; really love them.  Be characterized by genuine, sincere, non-hypocritical love for others.”  How do we do that?  Jesus’ statement in John 13:34 gives us a clue.  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  The first part of that statement is remarkable...”A new commandment I give to you...” Jesus didn’t suggest that His followers love each other. He commanded it!  And in several other places in Scripture the duty to love is portrayed as a command.  How is it possible to command love?  If love is merely a feeling, it is not possible to command it.  But the word for “love” in this verse has to do not so much with what you feel as what you do.  It is simply choosing to do what is best for others no matter what your feelings might be.  In the classic book Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis makes a great observation.  He says, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.  As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets [of life].  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love [that person].” 


Jesus modeled what it means to love “without hypocrisy.”  He said in John 13:34 that the standard for such love is “…even as I have you…” Those words were spoken near the end of His earthly ministry.  For three years He had walked with them, taught them, and demonstrated the life of love to them.  They had seen him reach out to those others considered to be unlovable--the poor, downtrodden, outcasts, physically and emotionally ill.  Now as He comes to end of their time together in this world, Jesus says to them, "You do it like I did it.  Love each other in the same way I have loved you."  One commentator identifies four major attributes that characterize the love of Jesus for us.  His love is—

·         Unselfishness, putting others first...

·         Sacrificial, holding nothing back...

·         Understanding, seeing life through the eyes of others...

·         Forgiving, offering cleansing and redemption in response to genuine repentance...

And that is a good picture of what it means to love “without hypocrisy.”



Rule 2Develop good priorities“Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” – There are obviously two parts to this statement.

·         “Abhor what is evil…” - The word translated “abhor” is a particularly strong word.  The root meaning of the word is “hate.”  This is the only place in the New Testament this precise word is used.  The idea is that we are to hate, to have no tolerance whatsoever for evil.  It is important to understand that we are not told to hate people, no matter what they do.  The Bible is consistent in calling us to love all people.  But we are to hate evil and the evil things that people do.  The old saying, “Hate the sin but love the sinner” sums up this concept. 

·         “Cling to what is good…” - It is not enough just to “Abhor what is evil.” The rest of the statement in Romans 12:9 is equally important.  We are to “...cling to what is good...”  Just as the word translated “abhor” is a very strong word, so is the word translated “cling to.”  The word comes form a Greek word meaning “glue.”  It was sometimes used to describe the physical, emotional, and spiritual union between a husband and wife in marriage.  In effect the phrase is saying, “Divorce yourself from evil; wed yourself to good.”


Rule 3 - Be affectionate toward others  - “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love”

At first reading, this third rule may appear to be just a restatement of the first rule.  In most English translations both rules contain the word “love” so we just naturally assume they must be talking about the same thing.  However, it is important to understand that the word translated “love” in verse 10 is not the same as the word translated “love” in verse 9. 

  • The word for love in verse 9 in the phrase “Let love be without hypocrisy…” is a form of the word agape.  This is the highest, most noble type of love.  It is loving others with no thought of receiving something in return.  It is a love not based on our emotions (what we feel) but on our will (what we decide to do).   The word is used frequently in the New Testament to describe God’s love for us and the kind of love we should have for others. 
  • The word translated “brotherly love” in verse 10 is a compound word.  The first part of word is a form of the word phileo.  This word carries the idea of tender affection.  It is that warm, positive feeling we have toward some people. The last part of the word is from the word for brother, adelphos.  Put those together and the word is philadelphos from which we get the word Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  William Barclay makes a perceptive statement about this verse.  “We (meaning Christians) must love each other, because we are members of one family.  We are not strangers to each other within the Christian Church; much less are we isolated units; we are brothers and sisters of each other, because we have one father, even God.  The Christian Church is not a collection of acquaintances; it is not even a gathering of friends; it is a family of God.” [Barclay, p.177, Romans]


Rule 4 - Don’t always insist on being first - “Give preference to one another in honor” – Of all the rules on this list, this is one of the most difficult for us.  That is because there is something in us that cries out to be number can see it—

·         In any school or day care center as young children push and shove just to be first in line...

·         On the freeway any morning or afternoon as drivers in rush hour traffic risk their lives and the lives of others just to get ahead of the car in front of them...

·         In the business world as people maneuver to win the favor of the right people to move up the organization ladder...

There is something in us that is always pushing us to get ahead of the person in front of us.   But among God’s people, there should be a much different and much higher standard.

·         Instead of pushing each other aside, we should be pushing each other forward.

·         Instead of trying to get ahead of others, we should be graciously deferring to others.

How do we do that?  How do we overcome the drive to be number one, to get in front of the line and instead “Give preference to one another in honor?”  Answering that question could be an entire study in itself.  I want to mention just two ways we can carryout this command.

1)      We “give preference to one another” with our words.  How we speak other is extremely important.  Our words and the tone in which we deliver our words either build people up or tear people down.  Every time we speak to a person we have the potential of adding something positive to that person’s life or taking away from that person’s life.  That’s why the Bible has so much to say about how we speak to each other.  Ephesians 4:29 says it this way: “Let no unwholesome (the word is literally “rotten” and can mean speech that is hurtful, critical, demeaning, and unhelpful to others) word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  In other words, what we say should result in people being built up not torn down.

2)   We “give preference to one another” with our actions.  Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem.  The disciples thought they were going for Him to be crowned as king.  He knew He was going to be crucified.  On the way to Jerusalem His disciples were arguing among themselves about who should have the choice spots in His coming kingdom.  Jesus called this band of angry, feuding men together and once again tried to teach them an important kingdom principle.  He pointed out that in world people step on each other, lord it over each other to be first. But in His Kingdom it was not to be that way.  Listen to what He said to His disciples and to us in Mark 10:43-44 – “But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant [and the word is diakonos which literally means one who waits on tables]; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave [and the word is doulos which was used to describe those on the very bottom rung of the social order] of all.”  And the instruction in Romans 12:10 to “Give preference to one another in honor” is just another way of saying what Jesus said in that passage.  The way to “Give preference to one another in honor” is to serve others.


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.