The Jewish Christians who returned to Rome and the Christians who lived in Rome struggled in their relationship. Those struggles did not benefit the Christian community in Rome. Their conflict threatened their ability to reflect God's mercy in Jesus Christ. They urgently needed to take their focus off the differences that caused the struggles and place it on God's mercy. The antagonism that polarized the Christian community must end. Jewish Christians and Christians who had been converted from idolatry must understand that they needed each other. They both were saved by God's mercy. They both were in Christ.
What would stop the antagonism? What would allow the Christian community in Rome to reflect God's mercy? (1) Every day each of them would climb on the altar to offer self as a living sacrifice. (2) They would function in appreciation of their diversity as a physical body functions. Each Christian would function to the benefit of the entire Christian community because each understood that they needed each other. (3) They would genuinely love each other.
How would they know genuine love for each other existed? What were the evidences that such love characterized their relationship? Paul did not suggest that they use some form of our solution to sibling clashes. When our children have their conflicts, we pressure them to say, "I'm sorry," and hug. Though we force them to comply, at that moment there is little genuine about it.
Paul urged genuine love. Given the severity of typical first century clashes between Jewish Christians and Christians who were not Jews, urging genuine love appears to us to be quite ambitious if not impossible. Paul's admonition to develop and sustain genuine love was doable. It was no hypothetical solution. It was a real solution. Remember, this solution's foundation began with an awareness of God's mercy. Paul's entire plea is based on God's mercy.
If they were to establish the ties genuine love produced, they must allow God's mercy to change their definition and feelings toward evil and good. They [both sides] must despise evil [not each other]. For Jewish Christians, attitudes of superiority and advantage produced by historical ties with Israel and the Law were evil. As evil, God's mercy must motivate them to despise those attitudes. Good, revealed through Jesus' crucifixion, must be clutched in a grasp that would not turn loose. [To first century people, understanding any crucifixion produced good was mind boggling.] To love Christians converted from idolatry was good because that love reflected God's mercy. If they despised evil [and recognized divisive attitudes as evil], if they clung to good [and recognized mutual love that reflected God's mercy as good], genuine love could exist.
With the understanding that mutual love was good because it reflected God's mercy, they could be devoted to each other in brotherly love. They could "outdo" each other in respectfully honoring each other. If they understood that it was "good" to reflect God's mercy by respectfully honoring each other, Jewish Christians could honor Christians who were not Jews, and Christians who were not Jews could honor Jewish Christians. They could be respectful, appreciative brothers [which was good] and not rivals [which was evil]. It would happen if they despised evil and clung to good. God's mercy should motivate them to despise evil and cling to good.
Nor would they hesitate to accept each other in this genuine love. Neither group would "drag their feet." Because God's mercy motivated them, their godly spirit would be fervent because they knew such love served their merciful God's purposes. It was their God's mercy that gave them hope. It was hope that caused them to rejoice while living in the ungodly city of Rome. It was God's mercy that enabled them to endure opposition.
Being a Christian in Rome during the reign of Nero [the emperor who succeeded Claudius] was not the popular thing to do! Being a Jew who became a Christian was not the popular thing to do among Jewish people anywhere in the first century Mediterranean world! These Christians needed each other. They needed to take care of each other. They confronted enough opposition without creating opposition among themselves. They needed each other's hospitality. If Christians did not care for Christians, where would they turn?
Three basic attitudes needed to characterize their love for each other. (1) They needed to be a source of blessing to all people. Persecutors were to be blessed. Because God gave them mercy, injustice did not give them the right to harm the persecutors. No one should have reason to be afraid of them. They reacted to harshness and pain with kindness.
(2) They provided full emotional support for each other. If a Christian had reason to be happy, others were not jealous of his or her reason for happiness. Instead of being resentful or jealous, they rejoiced with them. If a Christian had reason to cry, they shared his or her sorrow. Instead of distancing themselves from pain and mourning, they shared it.
(3) They were to have the same attitude toward each other. There were be no "big I's and little you's," no important ones and unimportant ones, no significant Christians and insignificant Christians. No one was to be motivated by prideful attitudes. No one was to be so insignificant that you could not rejoice or weep with him or her. No one was to exalt self or hold an exaggerated opinion of self. Why? The merciful God did not interact with people in that way. To behave in a superior manner was evil, and they despised evil.
What was the foundation of such respectful, kind interaction? Genuine love. Why did that genuine love exist? It was a reaction to God's mercy. Why did people who struggled with each other learn to love each other? God's mercy taught them a new understanding of good. Nothing could make them turn loose of their new understanding. Their past interaction was evil, and they despised evil.
Where struggle and pain exist between Christians today, can the struggle and pain be replaced with the kindness and respect of genuine love? Yes, if we produce two conditions. (1) If we all develop an appreciation and understanding of God's mercy, and (2) if we all despise evil and cling to good, genuine love will replace struggle. If first century Christians in Rome could do it, Christians anywhere can do it.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 3, Lesson 3
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