Sunday School Lesson

2 Week Sunday School Lessons

 

August 12

Lesson 11 (KJV)

Giving Justly

Devotional Reading: Proverbs 3:9, 10, 13-20, 27, 28

Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8, 9

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

7 Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.

8 I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.

Photo: device / iStock / Thinkstock

9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.

10 And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago.

11 Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.

12 For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.

13 For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened:

14 But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality:

15 As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.

Key Verse

Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.2 Corinthians 8:9

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Identify the circumstances of the offering Paul anticipated receiving from the Corinthian church.

2. Explain how Paul’s use of Exodus 16:18 supports his argument regarding sharing through giving.

3. Perform an act of material kindness toward someone in the week ahead.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Robin Hood Justice

B. Lesson Background

I. Excellent Giving (2 Corinthians 8:7-9)

A. Corinthians’ Goal (vv. 7, 8)

The Giving Pledge

B. Jesus’ Example (v. 9)

II. Freewill Giving (2 Corinthians 8:10, 11)

A. Well Begun (v. 10)

B. Get It Done (v. 11)

Follow-Through

III. Equitable Giving (2 Corinthians 8:12-15)

A. Willing and Able (v. 12)

B. Relief and Burden (vv. 13-15)

Conclusion

A. Their Examples

B. Our Obligation

C. Prayer

D. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. Robin Hood Justice

The exploits of Robin Hood and his Merry Men in Sherwood Forest have long entertained imaginations. Numerous film versions have been made of the Robin Hood saga, including remakes of the story on an asteroid, among gangsters in Chicago, and in an animated version in which the hero is a talking fox.

Central to the Robin Hood legend is his role as a “social bandit” or “heroic outlaw,” as expressed in the description that he “robbed from the rich to give to the poor.” In Robin Hood’s world, the rich are wealthy because of severe taxation, exploitative labor practices, and/or downright dishonesty. The poor are hard-working and honest, but suffer poverty because of oppression from the rich.

Robin Hood is therefore a hero to the poor (for whom he provides money and goods) and a villain to the rich (from whom he steals). His thievery is justified because of the positive things he does with his stolen wealth.

With some allowance for motive (Proverbs 6:30, 31), the Bible never condones stealing, however. The eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15), is applied consistently. The Scriptures also have harsh words for wealthy people who oppress the poor, which may be a form of stealing (Proverbs 22:16; Amos 5:11, 12; James 2:6, 7).

Is there a better way to correct economic inequity than to resort to Robin Hood’s methods? Is robbing the rich the only way to relieve the poor? Within the church, Paul teaches another way. It neither steals from the rich nor ignores the desperate plight of the poor. This is the subject of today’s lesson.

B. Lesson Background

The travels of the apostle Paul gave him bases of operation in several cities of the Roman Empire in the mid-first century AD. He was a native of the commercial hub of Tarsus and studied in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). He became a leader in the early Christian center of Antioch (11:25, 26). He founded churches in important Greek cities such as Philippi (16:11-40), Corinth (18:1-18), and Ephesus (19:1-41). He served as a bridge between the Greek/Gentile world and the Jewish world in the first-century church.

The latter was clearly evident in Paul’s role in the project we often refer to as the Jerusalem collection or the offering for the poor saints in Judea. Paul and Barnabas visited Jerusalem around AD 51 to help decide whether circumcision would be required of Gentile Christians (Acts 15:1-29; Galatians 2:1-10). They left the city assured that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised and with the responsibility to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). This was more than just a request to be charitable. There seems to have been an expectation that Paul would be asking his network of churches to give money for the economic relief of suffering Christians in and around Jerusalem.

This relief project is mentioned several times in the New Testament. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church (written about AD 56), Paul instructed the Corinthians to make weekly contributions to the fund so that it would be ready when he visited. They were also to select men who would accompany him in taking the offering to Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

The collection of this gift provides the backdrop for Paul’s teachings on Christian stewardship that are found in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Paul wrote 2 Corinthians about a year after writing 1 Corinthians, thus around AD 57. This indicates that the Jerusalem relief project was a plan spread over several years, for Paul did not arrive in Jerusalem until AD 58.

In 2 Corinthians 8:1-6, which immediately precedes today’s lesson text, Paul informed his readers of some details of this relief offering for the poor Christians of Judea. The offering from the Macedonian churches was complete, which likely includes the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (see Acts 16:12; 17:1, 13). The generous results of the collection effort encouraged Paul. Titus was coming to Corinth as Paul’s envoy to help the Corinthians complete their part of the relief mission (2 Corinthians 8:6).

How to Say It

AntiochAn-tee-ock.

ApollosUh-pahl-us.

BereaBuh-ree-uh.

CaesareaSess-uh-ree-uh.

MacedonianMass-eh-doe-nee-un.

PhilippiFih-lip-pie or Fil-ih-pie.

TarsusTar-sus.

ThessalonicaThess-uh-lo-nye-kuh (th as in thin).

I. Excellent Giving

                                                              (2 Corinthians 8:7-9)

A. Corinthians’ Goal (vv. 7, 8)

7a. Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith.

Paul commends the Corinthians for five specific qualities. To abound . . . in faith indicates they continue to be strong believers in spite of the various controversies within the church.

7b. And utterance, and knowledge.

To excel in utterance refers to the quality and fidelity of the preaching and teaching ministry. Paul’s commendation of the Corinthians’ knowledge refers to their growth in doctrine as gained from Paul, Apollos, and others (compare 1 Corinthians 3:2, 6). A connection between the two characteristics is easy to see since a person utters what he or she knows (compare 1 Corinthians 1:5).

7c. And in all diligence.

Diligence is a quality we may not tend to associate with the Corinthians as we read of their besetting problems. But Paul uses the Greek word translated diligence also in 2 Corinthians 7:11 to refer to the church’s “carefulness.” The picture is that of a congregation emerging from controversy and being stronger for it.

7d. And in your love to us.

The word us refers to Paul and Titus in this fifth of the five commendations. At times the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians has been strained (examples: 1 Corinthians 4:18-21; 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:5; 6:11-13; 10:10; 12:19-21). Relationships can be repaired when there is an underlying foundation of love and respect for one another. When love is lacking, even small disagreements can be fanned into flames of church warfare.

7e. See that ye abound in this grace also.

Paul desires that along with the five qualities just noted the Corinthians should strive to abound in a sixth: the grace of giving for the relief of the suffering of others. Although the word giving does not occur here, the words this grace refer back to “the same grace also” in 2 Corinthians 8:6, which in turn refers to the giving program of 8:1-5.

Churches still need a multifaceted foundation to become most effective and generous in their grace of giving. This is especially true of giving for purposes outside the congregation’s local needs. A church with a shaky foundation in the five qualities noted for Corinth may find it difficult to fund even the local monthly costs of building maintenance and staff salaries.

8. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.

Paul is not issuing a command for the Corinthians to collect money for this offering. Christian giving should be a joy, not a duty; a privilege, not an obligation. Paul’s point is that the Corinthians and other churches have agreed to support this project. To keep this promise is not a test of fellowship, but a demonstration of the sincerity of the Corinthians’ love. The Greek word translated “diligence” in the previous verse occurs again here, this time translated forwardness, with the same meaning. The prove idea is reflected again in the concluding verse of this chapter.

The Giving Pledge

Noted businessman and investor Warren Buffett challenged his employees to predict the winners of the 2016 college basketball championship tournament. Any employee who guessed every correct pick in the first two rounds would win $1 million a year—for life! No one accomplished that feat, but two employees split the consolation prize of $100,000 for making the most correct picks in the first two rounds.

A few years earlier, Buffett had joined Bill and Melinda Gates in a more significant challenge: they called on the world’s billionaires to give more than half their wealth to philanthropic causes. As of June 2016, 154 individuals or families from 16 countries had joined the Giving Pledge, as the agreement was called. The causes they support are wide-ranging, with urban renewal, global economic opportunities for women, environmental issues, and scientific advancement among others.

We may be tempted to think that billionaires like them can afford to give all that money, but not us—we’re too strapped to give very much money away. Would the apostle Paul be impressed with that line of thinking? The benevolent cause to which he refers involved unwealthy Christians whose hearts were touched by the needs of Christians who were even worse off than they were (2 Corinthians 8:1-4). This situation challenges us continually, does it not?

—C. R. B.

What Do You Think?

How do you avoid basing your giving on unscriptural principles?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding a partial or unbalanced consideration of biblical giving principles

Regarding secular “feel good” motives

Other

B. Jesus’ Example (v. 9)

9. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.

Paul sometimes points to himself as an example (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17), but not here. Christ’s willingness to leave His heavenly home and come to earth to live among men and women was an act of great humility (Philippians 2:6-8). Paul does not see Christ’s sacrifice as being limited to the cross. It began with His becoming human, the Word of God taking on flesh (John 1:14). Jesus was born to a simple peasant couple and grew up in an obscure Galilean town. His was never a life of luxury (Luke 9:58).

This creates a great and wonderful paradox for Paul. Christ’s humility and poverty make His followers spiritually rich. With Christ taking human form and dying for human sins, those who have accepted Him have become sons and daughters of God, and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17; Titus 3:7). Paul sees that true wealth is found in the blessings of grace and salvation that God has provided for us in Christ (Ephesians 1:7; 2:7).

What Do You Think?

How does your giving to Christian causes and organizations differ from your giving to secular causes? How should it?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In times of immediate crisis

In terms of motive

In terms of delayed giving via pledges

Other

II. Freewill Giving

                                                            (2 Corinthians 8:10, 11)

A. Well Begun (v. 10)

10. And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago.

The reminder to the Corinthians of their spiritual wealth leads Paul to give them strong advice concerning what they should do to finish the offering for those in need in the Jerusalem church. Paul begins this by reminding them that a year ago they were forward in this project, meaning they were among the first to give. Now they should complete the offering and send it on its way.

B. Get It Done (v. 11)

11. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.

Churches and other Christian organizations often launch building campaigns or other projects in which financial pledges are received for future giving. Sometimes a project lingers without being completed for several months or even years. These projects are good endeavors, but they can become discouraging if not completed.

Rather than push the Corinthians for a specific amount, Paul tells them to do their best to collect what they can and move on. Remember: giving should be motivated by love, not guilt.

What Do You Think?

How do you stay motivated to keep giving?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

When finances are tight

When tempted to divert a regular offering to buy a luxury item

Other

Follow-Through

Follow-through is stressed by coaches in many sports. Good coaches know that the most effective motion is one that doesn’t stop when the bat or club strikes the ball or when objects leave the hand.

Follow-through counts in other areas of life also. A prime example is how well children do in school. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research reports that three factors affect success in school. The first is a student’s belief that hard work can bring improvement. Second, a student must have confidence that he or she belongs in school and can thrive in that setting.

Finally, the student must believe that what one does in school is valuable and relevant to life. Educators have found that students who don’t have these attitudes aren’t likely to succeed. In other words, these values help the student to “follow through” when school is difficult.

Paul’s counsel for his readers to follow through and make good their commitments is his counsel to us as well. Satan will try to defeat efforts to follow through (compare Nehemiah 4:6-11). But follow-through is too vital to let him win.

—C. R. B.

III. Equitable Giving

                                                             (2 Corinthians 8:12-15)

A. Willing and Able (v. 12)

12. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.

Two elements must be present for money to be given: (1) there must be willingness to give and (2) there must be ability to give. If a person is willing to give but not able, then no giving occurs. If a person is able to give but not willing, then no giving occurs.

Both elements of willingness and ability have been addressed in verse 11, but Paul senses that more needs to be said about ability. Assuming that a willing mind desires to give, that willingness results in the acceptability of a contribution that comes from available resources (compare Mark 12:43, 44). There is no guilt trip here (compare 2 Corinthians 9:7). No potential giver is expected to think of what he “should” give, then make up any shortfall by borrowing money. The readers are not expected to give money they don’t have. While there is room for faith and growth in giving, it is irresponsible for church leaders to push people to give beyond their means.

B. Relief and Burden (vv. 13-15)

13. For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened.

Paul also wants the Corinthians to know that no recipient of the gift will end up living a life of ease due to this offering. This is a matter of helping supply others’ needs, not aiding them in becoming wealthy.

Likewise today, it is improper to ask church members to give to support extravagant lifestyles for their leaders. The televangelist scandals of decades past still stand as somber reminders of the dangers in this area.

14. But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.

The two instances of the word equality are easy to misinterpret, and we must ask the question, “Equality in terms of what?” As always, it is context that determines: Paul is discussing how churches are to handle issues of dire need.

The equality he pushes for is equality in terms of meeting basic subsistence needs. People in one area may be experiencing a good economy, a bountiful harvest, etc., while people in another location live near the starvation level because of drought, war, etc. Such disparity may be regional, as it is in this situation between churches in Greece and churches in the Jerusalem area. When such a need and a corresponding abundance are known, the needy can be helped.

Should this situation be reversed in subsequent years, the helpers may become the helped. The Corinthians who offer help now may be the ones in need later. We must be ready both to give and to receive, depending on the need. Relief offerings can be one-time projects, such as the one with which Paul and the Corinthians are involved. There can also be ongoing efforts by congregations to support food banks and clothing closets for the needy. All in all, we should not understand Paul to be calling for exact equality of wealth, resulting in neither wealthy nor poor people in the church.

What Do You Think?

How would you deal with the challenges of depending on someone else’s generosity?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

When making your need known

In receiving the gift

In maintaining the relationship

Other

15. As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.

Paul concludes this section by quoting Exodus 16:18, a verse drawn from the wilderness experience of the nation of Israel. The lesson the verse gives is related to the miraculous provision of manna for the people of Israel. Exodus 16 shows that there were many rules associated with the manna. There was no value in gathering extra to save, for it would spoil. The exception was gathering an extra amount on the day before the Sabbath. No one was allowed to hoard a surplus. When all was gathered, everyone had just enough.

Paul challenges his readers then and now to learn from Israel’s example. Just as the Israelites had to exercise faith in God in their gathering of manna, so it is when we give offerings for the poor. Many of us do not have substantial reserves of money. We give and have faith that God will provide for our future needs.

What Do You Think?

How do you establish the dividing line between unbiblical hoarding and reasonable savings for future needs?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding short-term emergency or “rainy day” savings

Regarding long-term retirement savings or investing

Conclusion

A. Their Examples

Frank Houghton (1894-1972) was a missionary in China. During the persecution of Christians there in the 1930s, he wrote a beautiful Christmas song titled “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor” to encourage his fellow missionaries. Its two opening lines are drawn directly from our lesson’s key verse, 2 Corinthians 8:9. Houghton and his fellow missionaries had given up much to preach the gospel to the Chinese, but he reminded them that the example of Christ surpassed by far anything they could ever have done.

Houghton is just one example of a long line of individuals who gave up much for the sake of Christ. This line stretches all the way back to the New Testament, beginning with Peter, who had a fishing business (Matthew 19:27). Paul himself was a highly educated rabbi who came from a family wealthy enough to send him from Tarsus to Jerusalem for schooling (Acts 22:3). Yet he adopted the vocation of an itinerant missionary who had to live hand to mouth at times (Philippians 4:12). The examples they set for giving includes martyrdom by some.

B. Our Obligation

Churches and individual Christians should help relieve suffering for two reasons. First, it’s a biblical requirement to do so (1 John 3:17; etc.). In the Old Testament, assistance to the needy was seen as reflecting God’s compassion toward them (Psalm 140:12; Jeremiah 22:16). For His people to go through the actions of worship while ignoring the genuine needs of destitute people around them made their worship a sham and an insult to God (Isaiah 1:10-17).

Visual for Lesson 11. Pass this poster around class and invite learners to write on it their responses to the question it poses. Discuss results.

Second, and less obvious, the giving of aid can help free the giver of selfishness, greed, and prejudice against those in need. And we probably have more of a fortune than we think, from which we can give. Consider this conclusion by Pew Research Center, published July 9, 2015:

The U.S. stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world [in terms of income]. More than half (56%) of Americans were high income by the global standard. . . . Another 32% were upper-middle income. In other words, almost nine-in-ten Americans had a standard of living that was above the global middle-income standard.

Most of us do have extra dollars; it just takes planning and sacrifice to free them up. It might be as simple as one less cup of coffee a week or as complicated as downsizing a home to make cash available. But the first question is, do we care?

C. Prayer

Heavenly Father, may we look for opportunities to share with those in need of the bounty You have entrusted to us. May we be people who love others as You would have us to love them. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

D. Thought to Remember

Measure generosity as God does.


August 19

Lesson 12 (KJV)

Loving and Just Behavior

Devotional Reading: Matthew 5:38-48

Background Scripture: Romans 12:9-21

Romans 12:9-21

9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

Photo: BrianAJackson / iStock / Thinkstock

14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Key Verse

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.Romans 12:9

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Give three examples (drawn from the teaching in today’s text) of overcoming evil with good.

2. Explain why God reserves vengeance for himself.

3. Correct a behavior in light of the loving and just standards stressed by Paul.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. The Wrong Seems Strong

B. Lesson Background

I. Relating with Fellow Believers (Romans 12:9-13)

A. Loving Behavior (vv. 9, 10)

Does Your Faith Show?

B. Just Behavior (vv. 11-13)

II. Independent Exhortations (Romans 12:14-16)

A. Empathetic Behavior (vv. 14, 15)

B. Humble Behavior (v. 16)

III. Relating with Unbelievers (Romans 12:17-21)

A. Peaceful Behavior (vv. 17, 18)

B. Compassionate Behavior (vv. 19-21)

Responding to Indirect Persecution

Conclusion

A. Overcoming Evil

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. The Wrong Seems Strong

It is easy to despair over the prevalence of evil. One result of expanded media coverage is that we seem to get extensive coverage of an endless parade of tragedies from all over the world. The stories range from cruelty to kittens to beheadings of Christians. Media outlets never seem to tire of presenting the latest in human depravity, so much so that we can become numb to its significance.

While we might imagine we have entered a new age of tragedy, the truth is that we have been in it for a long time. Maltbie Babcock, a nineteenth-century minister, knew this all too well. He and his wife, Katherine, had two sons, but both died as infants. Babcock found solace in taking long walks in nature and in writing poetry. These two came together in a public way when one of his poems was published and set to music after his death. The combination became the beloved hymn “This Is My Father’s World.” Often recognized for its appreciation of God’s creation, the lyrics also draw an important conclusion in stating “that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

We only escape the results of sin and evil when we get to Heaven. Even so, the apostle Paul, like Babcock, encourages us not to sink into despair. Evil will not prevail in the end. In our lesson this week, we see Paul address the problem of evil in a direct and practical manner.

B. Lesson Background

The ancient Greek philosophers pondered questions of morality in their writings. In their discussions, they considered categories of virtue and vice. The authors of the Bible provided their own teachings on these subjects. The Greek word for virtue occurs five times in the New Testament: Philippians 4:8; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:3, 5 (twice). The translation is “virtue” in four out of five instances; the sole exception is 1 Peter 2:9, which translates “praises.”

The philosopher Plato, writing 400 years before the New Testament authors, believed in four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. These four were still held in esteem in the city of Rome in the century before Paul wrote Romans. This is clear from the writings of the Roman statesman Cicero (106-43 BC). We also find them in Wisdom of Solomon 8:7, a Jewish writing of the period: “If a man love righteousness her labours are virtues: for she teacheth temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude.”

For Paul, virtue was more than just a philosophical matter. Today’s lesson looks at a passage in Romans in which the apostle becomes intensely practical. Romans 12 begins with Paul calling followers of Jesus to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:2). Transformed to what? What does a transformed life look like?

The first 11 chapters of Romans are filled with wonderful but heavy doctrinal instruction. With chapter 12, Paul turns his attention squarely to the practical side of living the Christian life. The teachings in chapter 12, especially in the portion found in our printed text, are almost like proverbs: brief, self-contained statements. Many are similar to Jesus’ teachings as found in the Sermon on the Mount.

I. Relating with Fellow Believers

                                                                (Romans 12:9-13)

A. Loving Behavior (vv. 9, 10)

9a. Let love be without dissimulation.

Paul begins this section primarily discussing behaviors between Christians within the fellowship of the church. Paul’s first virtuous teaching serves to define loving behavior among Christians. The original word translated without dissimulation is rendered elsewhere as “unfeigned” (sincere), and that is the sense here (2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Timothy 1:5). This includes both speech and actions. We should not say we love when we don’t. We should not act like we love when we don’t. The solution, however, is not to quit talking about love or merely acting as if one loves. It is to love truly, to overcome barriers of resentment or distrust and love from the heart.

How to Say It

ApollosUh-pahl-us.

CiceroSi-suh-row.

CorinthiansKo-rin-thee-unz (th as in thin).

DeuteronomyDue-ter-ahn-uh-me.

 

What Do You Think?

How do you know when your love is genuine?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Toward fellow Christians

Toward unbelievers

9b. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

Lest we think the previous line means that we ignore virtue or vice in others, Paul’s second virtuous teaching presents two actions regarding our interpersonal approach. This pair of commands does not focus on individuals themselves but on things they may do. It is the basis for the oft-quoted advice that we must “love the sinner but hate the sin” (although we realize that God sometimes hates both; see Proverbs 3:32; 11:20; 12:22; 16:5). Our love for others does not mean we encourage their sinful behaviors.

10. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.

Paul’s third set of virtuous teaching employs the Greek word that William Penn used in naming the first capital city of his Pennsylvania colony: Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. We are to care for our Christian brothers and sisters with great affection. We are friends with our fellow Christians, but friends who are willing to make sacrifices for each other (as a parent would do for a son or daughter). We are to love each other deeply with the type of love a brother or sister would have for a sibling.

This is demonstrated when we quash our natural selfishness and elevate the needs of others over our own, preferring one another. Many Bible students are aware of the dozens of “one another” passages in the New Testament. Paul writes just over half of these. Imagine a community where every person is more concerned about the needs of others than his or her own! When we put others first, we honor them.

Does Your Faith Show?

When election campaigns heat up, pay attention to how candidates talk to and about their opponents. If the typical pattern occurs, candidates appearing together will shake hands and exchange smiles. But then they will launch into vicious attacks on the other’s positions—and sometimes their persons!

U.S. presidential campaigns serve as examples. When two candidates are together in social settings, they appear fairly civil toward one another. However, their debates are characterized by scathing attacks on each other’s integrity more than by a serious discussion of the issues that face the nation at the time.

People may disagree over whether the behavior of political candidates merely reflect the divided (and divisive) temperament of the nation or, on the other hand, fuel it. There is probably truth on both sides of that argument.

Regardless, the question for us as Christians is whether our own attitudes and behavior are any better than those of the world at large. Are we hypocritical? Do we hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good? Are we patient with those who disagree with us? Whatever the situation, whether in personal interactions with Christians or unbelievers, or in those tense moments that sometimes occur in the fellowship of the church, do we exhibit a godly spirit?

—C. R. B.

B. Just Behavior (vv. 11-13)

11a. Not slothful in business.

In quick order, Paul offers eight brief descriptions of the life of virtue. All eight consist of an “in ______” category (although the word in is not explicitly used in every case), along with a command related to this category. Slothful has the sense of carelessness, even sloppiness. The Greek word behind the translation business is also translated “diligence” elsewhere, and that is the sense here (as in Romans 12:8 and 2 Corinthians 8:7). Rather than speaking of his readers’ business activities, Paul is directing their attention to those qualities that are important in their relationships within the church. Christians should not treat their responsibilities to others with carelessness or neglect.

11b. Fervent in spirit.

This refers to a self-motivated excitement about living the kind of spiritual life that relentlessly seeks God. Acts 18:25 uses a similar phrase of Apollos.

What Do You Think?

How do you keep your spiritual passion high?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

When discouragement starts to set in

When complacency starts to set in

When a Christian support system is absent

Other

11c. Serving the Lord.

When our desire to serve others grows weak, we should remember that we serve our Lord when we meet the needs of others (Matthew 25:40).

12a. Rejoicing in hope.

The gospel offers hope in ways no other religion does. The church should be a place of joy and hope, even in the midst of tragic circumstances. We need never doubt God’s love for us or that He is in control of our lives.

12b. Patient in tribulation.

Christians are not promised that their lives will be without trouble and free of worry—quite the opposite! (See Matthew 10:22; John 15:18; etc.) There are times when our faith must carry us through, when we must wait on the Lord (Isaiah 40:30, 31; Micah 7:7). Ignoring problems does not make them go away, but sometimes patient, hopeful endurance that is supported by others is the only answer we have.

12c. Continuing instant in prayer.

The Greek behind this unusual phrase is almost identical to that in Colossians 4:2a, and the translation “continue in prayer” there is the sense here (compare Acts 1:14). To have patience in the midst of trouble does not mean we are inactive. We bring our needs, both spiritual and physical, before the throne of God in our prayers.

Remember that Paul is writing in the context of the church as a whole. While we should have times of private prayer, a healthy and committed church will have members praying for each other in an informed way. Sometimes just knowing that others are praying for you brings comfort.

13a. Distributing to the necessity of saints.

The idea here is that of mutual sharing based on need (see 2 Corinthians 8:14, last week’s lesson). It describes tangible actions such as taking care of needs for food, clothing, or shelter.

This is part of the joyful fellowship of the church. We are encouraged in knowing that others in the fellowship care about us. They wait on the Lord with us. They pray for us. And they step up when we need help in managing the day-to-day pressures of living, such as providing for our families (compare Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37; 6:1-6).

13b. Given to hospitality.

This means much more than being willing to have friends over to watch the big game. It means opening our homes to those going through trying circumstances, who need a place to stay or a meal (compare 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 6-8). Even church members may at times need temporary housing.

All of these admonitions follow the idea of the more fortunate helping the less fortunate. Since the biblical idea of justice includes relief of the plight of the poor, the church is acting justly when it behaves this way (Micah 6:8). While Paul is primarily focused on relationships within the church in this section, he does nothing to forbid or discourage acts of compassion outside the body of Christ. The relationships outside the church are the focus of the next section.

What Do You Think?

In what ways can you be a role model in extending hospitality?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In light of scriptural directives (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 6-8)

In light of current possibilities and challenges

 

II. Independent Exhortations

                                                               (Romans 12:14-16)

A. Empathetic Behavior (vv. 14, 15)

14. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

Historical evidence tells us that the church in Rome is suffering persecution at this point, but not from the Roman government. That affliction will begin about 10 years after Paul writes this letter. The persecutors at this time come from the non-Christian Jewish community. They target Jews who have left the synagogue for the church and who believe that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Such persecution likely presents itself in social and economic ostracism: those Jews who choose to follow Jesus find themselves shunned.

When troubled by another person, our first impulse might be simply to endure, to weather the storm. Another reaction might be to return aggression with aggression, cursing the other and striking back. Paul disallows both responses. When attacked unjustly, he calls his readers to bless their persecutors. We don’t fight fire with fire. We respond with love and grace, in a manner consistent with Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 5:43, 44).

What Do You Think?

In practical terms, what could it look like to bless someone who is consistently aggressive toward you?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

When it’s a coworker

When it’s a neighbor

When it’s a family member

Other

15. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Paul shifts the focus back to connections between Christians in speaking about the nature of Christians’ interdependence. Shared joy seems to multiply; shared sorrow seems to lighten the burden (compare 1 Corinthians 12:26).

B. Humble Behavior (v. 16)

16a. Be of the same mind one toward another.

This is another of Paul’s “one another” passages; there are about 30 of them across all his letters. This particular one is fronted by one of the apostle’s hot-button issues: being unified in thought. The challenge to be of the same mind reverberates across his letters (see Romans 15:5; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2, 5; 4:2; compare Ephesians 4:13; 1 Timothy 6:3-5). Being able to “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (just considered) is prerequisite to being of the same mind.

Visual for Lessons 12 & 13. Challenge learners to sum up the 14 entries on the left with a single word, then do the same with the 22 entries on the right.

But we caution that the need for unity in thought should not be interpreted to mean that church members are to be absolutely uniform in their thinking. There is room in the church for differing opinions on certain issues (examples: Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). The call is to have a shared attitude that springs from a transformed mind (Romans 12:2).

16b. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.

The enemy of unity is pride (Philippians 2:2-4). Thinking of oneself too highly will hinder, if not prevent altogether, relationships with those of low estate (compare Romans 12:3).

16c. Be not wise in your own conceits.

Those guilty in this area become blind to the possibility that their viewpoint may be wrong (see Romans 11:25). No one wants to be around an arrogant person. Proverbs 3:7 connects a lack of conceit with fear of the Lord.

III. Relating with Unbelievers

                                                             (Romans 12:17-21)

A. Peaceful Behavior (vv. 17, 18)

17a. Recompense to no man evil for evil.

We do not take justice into our own hands when we are wronged, because it is not our prerogative to do so (Proverbs 20:22; 24:29). We are to respond to unjust treatment with kindness—a consistent teaching of the New Testament (Luke 6:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9). Paul has more to say on this subject two verses below.

17b. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

The opposite of evil is things honest. Our standard is always to act with unmistakable integrity and compassion (see also 2 Corinthians 8:21). This is an important witness to the unbelieving world.

18. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

Here’s how we can measure our progress in achieving the high standards at issue: the measure is the degree to which we are able to live peaceably with all men. Are you a troublemaker or a peacemaker? Do your actions provoke tense situations or calm them? Are you the person whom no one wants to cross because of your reputation for meanness, or are you one whom others trust and admire? We cannot control the behavior of others, but we can influence them by our lives of kindness, patience, forgiveness, and love (compare 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:13).

What Do You Think?

What techniques have you used to attempt to de-escalate a conflict with unbelievers?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Techniques that have worked

Techniques that had no effect

Techniques that backfired, making things worse

B. Compassionate Behavior (vv. 19-21)

19. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

The taking of personal revenge is forbidden because of the nature of God himself. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 to assure his readers that injustice will not go unpunished (this verse is also quoted in Hebrews 10:30). There is a time and place for God’s wrath. There will be repayment from the Lord himself for evil done to the people of God. God reserves vengeance to himself.

20. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

Paul continues to address proper behavior toward antagonists by quoting Proverbs 25:21, 22a. Jesus’ teaching on love for enemies (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27) forms the basis for Paul’s thoughts here, and the verses from Proverbs reflect this.

What Paul and the author of Proverbs mean by the phrase heap coals of fire on his head is not entirely certain. Figurative uses of “coals” and “fire” in the Old Testament are connected with God’s judgment (Psalm 18:8; 140:10; etc.). If this is the connection, then unrepentant enemies will suffer the vengeance of Romans 12:19, just considered. The hoped-for repentance may come about from feelings of shame when the actions of evildoers are met with acts of kindness.

Responding to Indirect Persecution

One could make a case that America was at one time a “Christian nation,” if defined broadly enough. But various court decisions in the 1960s and 1970s have caused that designation to fall into disuse. These cultural shifts resulted in some Christians’ referring to themselves as “persecuted.” But this is, at best (worst?), what we might call indirect persecution, since it does not involve loss of livelihood, torture, and/or martyrdom that Christians have faced and are facing.

Decades after the 1970s, we experience the secularizing winds’ blowing ever stronger. An example is a certain bill that was working its way through the California legislature a couple of years ago. Among other things, it outlawed so-called discrimination in any Christian college that received government aid for students: there should be no moral behavior codes for students; no doctrinal standards for their professors; no religious content in nonreligious courses; etc.

There may be no direct persecution in such legislation, but there is abundant indirect persecution in that the result is that the truths of the Bible in general and the gospel in particular are ever more marginalized. How do we put Romans 12:20 into practice in such a context?

—C. R. B.

21. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

A two-step process is in view here. Step 1, resisting successfully being overcome of evil, is indeed a major victory! But wars are not won merely by being good at defense. There is also the absolutely vital nature of Step 2, overcome evil with good.

We see the good and do the good, thereby joining our Lord as the one who overcomes the world (John 16:33). Evil will not prevail, nor will the evil one, Satan (1 John 2:13, 14). At the final judgment, we will see the vengeance and justice of God prevail. The Bible promises it!

Conclusion

A. Overcoming Evil

A prevailing message in most cultures is that “might makes right.” Usually might refers to physical power and intimidation, but it may also describe economic power. The richest person often has lawyers who know how to win court judgments. Might can also be political power.

“Might makes right” is not Paul’s position. His position flips the phrase around: “right makes might.” When Christians do right things, the mighty power of God is behind them. God is in control, and His justice will prevail. To say that the good will overcome the evil is to say that God will overcome evil.

These are comforting thoughts for those who suffer affliction and injustice in a sin-broken world. We both depend on God and pursue His agenda for repairing the brokenness, using His principles and Jesus’ teachings. This is part of what it means to represent the kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36).

B. Prayer

Lord God, may we respond with love, not hate, to people who oppose You. May we demonstrate patience, not anger. May we be like Your Son, who asked forgiveness for those who crucified Him. We pray this in His name. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

Do good to those who aren’t good.


Standard Lesson Commentary KJV (2017-2018).

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless

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