A Prime Directive of Love

by Rev. Kevin Daugherty

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First Reading: Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm: Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b
Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21
Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28

Of today’s Scripture passages from the lectionary, I want to bring specific attention to Romans. For many Christians, Paul is gravely misunderstood. Paul is often seen as someone who didn’t advocate for the same ethical standards as Jesus. However various Christians understand that depends upon their perspective. There are dispensationalists who will say that Jesus’ teachings were part of a dispensation of law, and Paul’s teachings are part of the dispensation of grace. There are progressive Christians who think that Paul taught nothing resembling the ethics Jesus taught.

Chapters 12 and 13 of Paul’s letter to the Romans show how such positions can be based upon a misunderstanding. In this section of Paul’s letter, we get a wonderful summary of the sort life disciples of Christ should follow. This passage is, in my opinion, Paul’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. In this passage, we see that for Paul, Christianity is about love at its core:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in [brotherly/sisterly] love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

These teachings come directly from the teachings of love that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells us not to fight evil with resistance, to love our enemies, and bless those who persecute us (Matthew 5:38-48). We see all these teachings repeated in this passage of Paul’s letter today. For Paul, the Christian life involves a prime directive of love.

That is actually what Romans is all about when one gets to the core of it. Love, that is. Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome in order to foster loving fellowship. It appears that at that time, the Jewish and Gentile factions of the church were divided. Paul, in a spirit of inclusion, writes this letter to bring these two factions in the church together under the grace of God. In this letter we learn that our ethnicity or religious custom is not what saves us. There is no “in” or “out” crowd based upon belonging to a certain race or custom. Rather, it is all about God’s grace. It is upon the foundation of grace that our faith is built. It is a beautiful message.

Also in the spirit of Jesus, Paul advises us:

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.

Paul teaches us to practice  a radical type of self-sacrificial love. (As the KJV would say it, charity.) We should give to those in need, show hospitality to others, live in harmony, and associate with those less fortunate than us. Like Jesus, Paul calls us to the margins, and he calls us to beloved community.

As we go through this week, let us consider these words of Paul. Let us consider how they reflect the teachings of Jesus. Let us consider any instances in which we may have not been loving. Even when faced with evil, we must overcome it with good, and even when faced with prejudice, we must overcome it with grace.