We have been systematically going through Apostle Paul’s list of exhortations In Roman 12 where Paul provides instruction on how to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God which Paul sees as our spiritual act of worship.  To date we have discussed what it means to love without hypocrisy, hate evil and cling to what is good, be devoted to one another in brotherly love, honoring one another above ourselves, have zeal for the things of God and last week we examined what it means to be  joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Today we move to the next point in Paul’s list as recorded in Romans 12:13.

       Romans 12:13: Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

       In many ways, the list of exhortations in Paul’s letter to the Romans is a lesson in practical Christianity.  A synonym for the word practical is to be matter of fact.  To be a matter of fact Christian is to be a Christian that is in matter of fact following Jesus Christ and following Jesus Christ is doing what he says.  During His ministry Jesus one time asked the question, "how can you call me Lord and not do the things that say?"   To be a Christian means to acknowledge Jesus is Lord of our life.  If we are willing to acknowledge this we then have the obligation to live our lives in harmony with what this Lord has taught us.

       The scriptures contain a great deal of instruction directly from the lips of Jesus Himself, as recorded in the four Gospels.  Much additional teaching is found in the writings Paul and other authors of the NT narratives.  While it is true we must be careful to decipher what teaching is applicable to us today as opposed to possibly being applicable only to the culture of the first century church, it should be apparent that most of what Paul and the others NT authors write as to Christian behavior is applicable to us today as it was to first century Christians.  The list of behaviors we have been discussing are fundamental to an expression of the law of love and reflect what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount and at other times during His ministry. 

       We know that meeting the needs of God’s people and being hospitable is basic to expressing the law of love.  While Paul focuses on sharing with the people of God which would appear to mean those in the Church, he certainly isn’t limiting such sharing and hospitality to just those in the church. As a Christian, Paul was a follower of Christ Jesus.  Jesus taught we are to meet the needs of all people, including our enemies.  Paul taught the same thing:

       Romans 12:20: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

       Paul is here teaching what was taught since ancient times. He is quoting one of the Proverbs.

       Proverbs 25:21-22: If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

       Jesus may also have had this proverb in mind when he said the following:

       Luke 6:27-28 But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

       How revolutionary.  How radical. Love your enemy?  What is Christ talking about?  You don’t love your enemy.  Do good to those who hate you?  Bless them that curse you?  What kind of extraordinary doctrine is this?  Surely Jesus couldn’t be telling us this is the way we must behave?   But this is exactly what Jesus was teaching.  Jesus taught the same behavior that was taught under the Mosaic Covenant.  We are to love our neighbor.

       Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

       Now it could be concluded from this scripture that the instruction to love your neighbor is limited to the people of Israel as the phrase “your people” appears to limit the context to Israel.  However, Jesus, during his ministry, when asked who my neighbor is, told the parable about the Good Samaritan to show what is meant by our neighbor.  You will recall that in that parable a Samaritan helps a Jew who had been robbed and beaten.  There was great animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans.  The Samaritans were considered a hybrid people as they were descendants of the racially mixed northern tribes of Israel and Assyrian peoples who had taken them captive.  The Jews, who basically represented the tribe of Judah which included the descendants of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, would have nothing to do with these Samaritans and the Samaritans had nothing to do with the Jews.         

       Luke 10:30-37:  A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins  and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."   Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

       Jesus makes it absolutely clear in this parable that regardless of what issues may exist between you and someone else, when a fellow human is in need, you help him.  This parable was a direct indictment of the Jewish community of Jesus day and their self-centered, self-absorbed exclusive approach to human relations. Jesus makes it absolutely clear that we are not to be exclusive in our treatment of others.  Jesus shows that this love for our enemies is to be expressed by blessing our enemy even when he curses us.  We are to do good to our enemy even when he hates us.  Jesus goes on to explain that this is how God the Father loves and if we are to be considered sons of the Father this is how we are to love.

       Matthew 5:44-45:  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

       There are many people in the world who hate God.  There are many people in the world who curse God.  Much of the human race behaves unrighteously much of the time.  We all behave unrighteously some of the time.  When is the last time you did not see the sun come up?  When was the last time rain was withheld from the whole world?  I am being facetious. This has never happened.  The Father provides for His creation.  God, the Father, ensures that humanity has what it needs to survive even though much of that humanity behaves contrary to His will.  

       Jesus is teaching us that we are to take this same approach toward our fellow man.  Even though there will be times when our fellow man will curse us, persecute us, hate us and do all manner of evil against us, we are to never withdraw our love from such a person or persons.  We must always be ready to provide for that person.  We must always be ready to help such person in a time of need.  We must never withhold the doing of good to and for someone because they have acted adversely toward us. 

       As we have understood for years, love is the expression of outgoing concern for the welfare of others.  While love certainly has emotional components, and can even be expressed in a context involving selfish motives, its primary expression should be in pro-active behavior of service to our fellow man. Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:18: let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.  It is in such a context that we are to love even our enemies.  Apostle Paul made some very poignant observations as to what love is and how it is expressed.

       1 Corinthians 13: 4-8: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

       Our Father God continually expresses His love for us by providing for our needs despite how we may behave toward Him.  His greatest expression of love was in sending Jesus the Christ to facilitate payment of the penalty for sin and make possible reconciliation with the Father whereby we are adopted as His very own sons.   As the scriptures show, He did this while we were still in our sins. 

       The whole focus of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was to teach how our righteousness was to exceed that of the religious leaders of His day.  Jesus used the behavior of these men as a template against which to contrast right behavior.  The religious leaders were a sorry lot.  They taught the people one thing and behaved just the opposite.  They were full of pompous self-righteousness.  They were arrogant, boastful and proud.  Jesus was constantly hammering home the contrast between their behavior and what behavior should be. 

       Jesus also contrasted righteous behavior with that of publicans who were the tax collectors of His day.  The tax collectors were a much hated group of government officials.  They were basically out for themselves and didn’t gives too hoots for how what they did affected the lives of others.    They were cheats, took bribes and were pretty much the scum of society.  But even they had ability to express love even though it was limited to those who would reciprocate their love 

       Matthew 5:46-47: For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? (KJV)

       Jesus is instructing us not to be like these people.  Don’t only love those who love you back.  Love those who are against you, those who give you a hard time, and those who may cheat you and take advantage of you.  Love those who don’t have the ability to love you back. Jesus concludes this teaching by saying that this is how we can be perfect as the Father is perfect.

       Verse 48: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

       Being perfect as the Father is perfect is to express love as the Father expresses love.  The Father expresses love by providing for the welfare of everyone; the good guys and the bad guys.  This is how we are to express the love of the Father.  We express the love of the Father by loving as the Father loves and we see the Father loves by bestowing blessings upon the righteous and the unrighteous.  This is the message Jesus is getting across in the Sermon on the Mount. 

        Matthew 5:43-44: "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

       "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ” From where is Jesus quoting here?  There is nothing in the Old Covenant law that instructs one to hate your enemy. Like the New Covenant, the Old Covenant instructs that we love our neighbor.

       Leviticus 19:18:  Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.  

       Nowhere do we find in the Scriptures any explicit teaching to hate your enemy.  Jesus is not quoting Scripture here.  At least not any canonized Scripture.  Some writers have theorized that since the Israelites were instructed to wipe out the nations that were living in what became known as the Promised Land, it was tantamount to them hating these nations as enemies and this may have been what Jesus had in mind.  On the other hand, Israel was told to love the alien living among them.

       Leviticus 19:33-34:  `When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.  The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself.

       The Jewish community living at Qumran to the south of Jerusalem in the first century explicitly commanded love for those within their community and hatred for those living outside their community.  This is actually stated in their writings found in the Dead Sea scrolls.  This was pretty much the Jewish attitude toward non Jews in the first century. It is historically recorded that the Romans looked upon the Jews as haters of the human race, thus stating the perceived animosity of the Jews toward gentiles.

       Since the overall context of the Sermon on the Mount is our righteousness exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees,  it is very possible Jesus was reflecting on the current attitude extant among the religious leaders of the first century who had great influence on the people Jesus was addressing. Jesus may even have been referring to members of the Dead Sea Scroll community.

       Regardless of who or what Jesus may have been referencing in His remarks about  hating your enemy, He is strongly making the point that we are to love our enemies and we are to do this by blessing them that curse us, doing good to them that hate us and praying for them that despitefully use us and persecute us.  As already stated, loving your enemy is a foundational teaching found in scripture going back to the time of the Old Covenant.  It is an ethical principle that has probably been extant since creation. 

       Exodus 23:4-5: If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

       Offering help to someone in need is a basic requirement of human interaction. It is foundational to the law of love.  As I have explained in past sermons, the law of love is not some new law that Jesus introduced under the New Covenant.  The law of love has been extant since creation and was as foundational to the Old Covenant and it is to the New Covenant.  Under the Old Covenant it was defined by numerous rules and regulations.  Under the New Covenant it is defined by the all encompassing rule to do no harm to your neighbor and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.   

       On the national evening news last Sunday evening a contrast was shown between expressing the law of love and completely ignoring it.  At 144 and 88 Road in Queens NY, a man was stabbed several times in the chest while trying to save a woman from a knife-wielding attacker. Then he bled to death while dozens of people walked by.  One person actually stopped to snap a picture of the dying man with his camera phone before leaving the scene.  Almost an hour and a half went by before someone called 911.  By then it was too late to save the man’s life. 

       The man who got stabbed and died put his own life at risk in an effort to help a fellow human being who was being attacked.  This man was expressing the law of love.  What is troubling is that dozens of people walked by without lifting a finger to help as shown on surveillance cameras. While it behooves us to be careful and prudent in helping someone in danger, it is our Christian obligation to do what we can in such circumstances.  To simply ignore someone in need and proceed as though nothing happened is absolutely contrary to the low of love and the teaching of scripture.    

       Ephesians 4:28: He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

       Paul is instructing that a thief is to stop stealing and do something productive, not just to provide for himself, but to provide for those in need.  What comes across in scripture is that we are to work not just to have but to work to give.  Author Randy Alcorn once wrote: “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.”

       Hospitality is seen in scripture as a basic requirement for one to be a leader in the church.  Both in Paul’s letter to Timothy and Titus, where he outlines the qualifications for being an elder, hospitality is listed as a requirement.  Hospitality is simply making what is ours someone else’s as well.   It is sharing what we have with others.  Sometimes this involves being a good host to invited guests.  Other times it involves giving someone a ride, helping someone paint their house or shovel their snow.  Other times it involves providing for the needs of people we don’t even know.  Giving to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, a food pantry and the numerous other ways we can help the needy are all examples of giving and sharing what we have so others can have their needs met.  This behavior is fundamental to being a Christian. Common synonyms for hospitality are warmth, kindness and generosity.

        In essence, it is fundamental to being a human.  God intended from the beginning for his created humans to be sensitive to the needs of others and threat others with warmth, kindness and generosity.  God wants us to be like Him.  God cares for and looks after the evil and the good.  

       Jesus associates being perfect as God is perfect with God providing for His human children, both the righteous and the unrighteous.  God wants us to express love for all people because all people belong to God and God’s only begotten son died for all people.  Sometimes all it takes is an act of hospitality to bring someone to see the love of God and bring such a person to repentance and recognition of what Jesus did for them on the cross.  By providing for the needs of others and being hospitable, we become a witness to kingdom living which is what our Christianity is really all about.