Love in Action

Tuesday: Being a Christian

Romans 12:10-13 In this week’s study, we’ll look at what love does, and why believers are uniquely able to offer consistent love to those around them.
Being a Christian

As we continue our study of how love functions, we come to the second of Paul’s dative cases, which is about honor and is closely related to what we studied yesterday about brotherly love. This is why the two ideas are combined in verse 10. A literal translation might be, “And in respect to honor, lead the way for each another.” In other words, “Don’t wait around for people to recognize your contributions and praise you. Instead, be alert to what they are contributing and honor them.”1 

Unfortunately, if we look at today’s church, we must conclude that the exact opposite is more often the case. Instead of thinking about and appreciating other Christians and what they are doing, our minds are usually on ourselves and we are resentful that we are not sufficiently recognized or appreciated. Therefore we are jealous of other Christians. Great harm has been done by such jealousy. Ministries have been seriously weakened. Churches have been split. Valuable causes have been set back for generations, sometimes for good. Paul must have seen this as a potential danger for the church at Philippi, for he wrote to those believers: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). 

This is how true love functions. It gets to the front of the line not to receive its own honors, but to show honor and respect for other people. 

Verse 11 contains three statements about true love, beginning with a negative: “Never be lacking in zeal.” A more literal rendering, highlighting the dative construction, would be: “In regard to what you ought to be doing, don’t be lazy.” This is directed against weariness in well doing (Gal. 6:9), and it is a real problem, as you know if you have been trying to live the Christian life for any length of time. It is easy to get discouraged. It is hard to keep on steadily. 

At this point the King James Bible said, “Not slothful in business.” To most people “business” suggests commercial dealings only, which is why newer versions drop that word. But it is helpful if you think of it in the four following ways:

The business of being a Christian. It is a puzzle to me how anyone can take on the most important business of all, the business of being a follower of Jesus Christ, and do it in a passive, apathetic, part time or slovenly manner. Yet many do. What we should do is follow after Jesus Christ with all our hearts and minds and with all the energy at our disposal. Or to put it in other terms, we should work at being Christians. Robert Candlish writes about this wisely, “Your sanctification must be made a matter of business. It must be cared for and prosecuted in a business-like way; not indolently and slothfully, as if it were a process that might be left to itself, but industriously, sedulously, diligently, with regularity and punctuality, as you would manage a worldly concern, on the common principles of worldly energy and worldly care and worldly zeal.”2 

The business of being a Christian father or mother. Raising a family takes work, and Christian love demands that this too be done steadily and without being lazy. Children will not raise themselves in godliness. Left to themselves they will grow up like an untended garden, full of weeds and other wild things. It takes work to raise children well. 

Church business. I am always surprised how church leaders will so often conduct the work of the church in a slipshod manner, doing whatever needs to be done to just get by, when they would never think of conducting their own business in that way or running their own home on such principles. The work of the church, including how we manage the building, should be done in the best possible way we know how. After all, if it is done well, the church will remain as a place for worship and work long after we are gone and our businesses and homes have passed to other hands. 

We should be diligent in our spiritual battles, too. Candlish says, “If you would fight for Christ, you must fight deliberately, with [a] cool head as well as [a] warm heart; with fixed and resolute determination, upon principle rather than upon impulse. If you would work for Christ, you must work systematically, and you must work on with patient and persevering energy, with firm purpose not to give up or to give in.”3

The business of earning a living. I said earlier that the word “business” in verse 11 (KJV) does not refer to commercial enterprises, but to everything we should be doing. On the other hand, it does not exclude the ways in which we make our livings, but rather embraces them. Christians should excel in how they work. Paul told the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24). The last sentence means that love for Christ should prod us to work both well and hard in everything. 

1The verb proegoumenoi in this sentence is hard to translate. It may mean, “Be for one another” which is what the NIV seems to indicate. But this is not the way it is used in other places. As Hodge points out, it normally means “to go before, to lead,” hence, “to set an example.” Most modern commentators think of it in this way. So the idea would be, “Set an example for others by honoring and respecting one another.” See Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972), 396. Original edition 1835. 

2Robert S. Candlish, Studies in Romans 12: The Christian’s Sacrifice and Service of Praise (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1989), 168. Original edition 1867. 

3Ibid., 170.

Study Questions
  1. What does it mean to prefer one another?
  2. How are we to be zealous?
  3. What are the four kinds of “business” we are to conduct well?

Reflection: How are you conducting your “business” in the four areas mentioned? Re-read the descriptions of each in today’s study, and as you do consider these areas in your own life.

Key Point: What we should do is follow after Jesus Christ with all our hearts and minds and with all the energy at our disposal. 

Prayer: Give thanks to God for the privilege of serving and living for Him. Ask Him to strengthen you so you will not grow weary in well-doing.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Love Letters from the Lord.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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