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Romans 12:9-21

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

(verses 9-12)


There’s an old cartoon that depicts a pastor stepping up to the pulpit for his final sermon, surveying the congregation and launching into his opening words: “This morning I’m going to preach a sermon I’ve been wanting to preach for years!” Meanwhile, just outside the window, in plain view, a taxi is revved and waiting, ready to provide a speedy get-away. You can only imagine the weight of that final sermon!

Two years ago I preached a final sermon to the church I had pastored for the previous twelve years. I was retiring. I didn’t feel the need to hop in a taxi and run, but I wanted my words to count. What should my final message be? What would I impart?

Ultimately, it was these verses in Romans 12 that captured my heart.This is a punchy paragraph, Paul giving one pithy instruction after another, filled with urgency and passion. It struck me that these words were the perfect charge for the congregation I’d served. If these instructions could be internalized and embraced, the church would be a place of refuge and safety, ready to weather any storm.

I commend to you the whole passage (verses 9-21), but let me extract four stand-out statements:

· “Love must be sincere” (verse 9). This is a powerfully simple charge, enough for us to spend a whole lifetime learning. Interestingly, Paul includes no verb – what he wrote was simply: “sincere love.” It’s a kind of heading for the whole section, but it’s also clear there’s a deep urgency to it. Paul wants it to be fully embraced. So, the translators get it exactly right when they turn it into a command: “Love must be sincere.” Yes, indeed. “Love” was one of the central commands that Jesus himself gave us. Indeed, he made it “new” by telling us to love as he himself had loved – self-sacrificially, laying down life. Paul intensifies it by saying it must be “sincere,” a word which is literally the opposite of “hypocrisy.” In other words, it’s not play-acting, not two-faced, not pretending to be civil then spilling your real, unloving feelings to others later. No, this is love at depth.

· “Honour one another above ourselves” (verse 10). Outdo one another in showing honour. Look for the good in others. Express it to them. Be eager to give credit to others, looking for how God is at work in and through them. Speak it out. Build them up, cheer them on, strengthen them through encouragement. This is the opposite of what comes so easily, so often – things like judgement, looking for fault, dis-honouring through gossip and slander and bad-report. Don’t go there. Instead, honour.

· “Keep your spiritual fervour” (verse 11). Or, better translation yet:“Be set on fire by the Spirit.” Paul doesn’t say “get fired up.” This isn’t something we do to ourselves. Rather, it’s something we receive. Yet the command makes it clear we’re not to be passive. We’re meant to seek the ongoing filling of the Spirit, knowing that the Father gives him as gift to all who ask, seek, and knock. “Be set on fire!” Yes.

· “Be faithful in prayer” (verse 12). Keep on praying. This is foundational. But it’s hard work. Prayer is one of those things we can so easily put aside for another time. Don’t put it off – do it now. Be faithful. This is actually the very word that was used to describe the activities of the early church immediately after Pentecost. We’re told they “devoted themselves … to prayer” (Acts 2:42). So, too, should we.

What pithy, action-packed commands. What challenge for life. What hope for renewal. Grab hold. Press in.


Lord, capture my mind with the punchiness of these Spirit-filled instructions. Give me eyes to see when my own love is only skin-deep, when my tendency is to dishonour rather than build up, when I allow the Spirit’s fire to gutter, and when I allow prayer to sputter. Fill me afresh. Strengthen me to honour you and to love your people. Amen.



Choose one of these pithy commands to press into today. Commit it to the Lord. Pray. Look for opportunities to put it into action.


Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

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