Grace and Relationships (A Study in Romans)


Romans 12:9-21

Relationships are tricky—always have been, always will be. But there are some things that will tear them down, and there are other things that will build them up. Paul deals with both in these verses.

Blocks That Enhance Relationships (vv. 9-21)

Love is primary. There are several types of love mentioned in the Bible. Eros is sexual love between a man and woman as well as perversions of God’s original intent of this love. Phileo is love demonstrated between friends. The most commendable is agape’ and represents the type of love God had and has for us.

Good relationships cannot survive without love whether they are sexual in nature or merely platonic. Unfortunately, we have developed a twisted definition of love and what it entails. It is most often equated with sex whether between a married couple or not.

Paul warns against pretending to love others and instructs us to genuinely love them. What characterizes real love whether it applies to a sexual union or friendship? The definition is found in another of Paul’s epistles. It is patient and kind, but not jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. It doesn’t demand its own way and keeps no records of wrongs. Nor does it rejoice over wrong but rejoices when truth wins out. This love never gives up or loses faith but is always hopeful and endures through all circumstances. This love lasts forever (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). It takes a lifetime to master such a list.

Patience is important, and we are familiar with the statement, “Patience is a virtue.” While patience might have been a normal part of the human makeup initially, sin has tainted it now. We tend to be impatient. Things and people get on our nerves, and circumstances aggravate us. Depending on our personality type, patience will be easy or difficult. But we can’t blame God by saying, “Well you gave me this personality, so I can’t help but lose my temper.” That’s not an acceptable excuse for God or others.

Genuine love expresses itself in kindness. It can’t help it, and the kindness will be genuine, not motivated by ulterior motives that seek recognition or compensation. Kind people look for opportunities to help others. They have the ability to naturally see opportunities to help. They don’t have to be motivated to show kindness.

Nor is true love jealous. While God is jealous in that he guards his relationship with us and will not let anything damage it, he is not jealous in the sense the Bible warns against. Selfish jealousy is forbidden. It would be foolish for either spouse in a relationship to allow the other to do whatever they wanted with members of the opposite sex, maintaining their failure to care or act was based on not wanting to display jealousy.

True love is not boastful or proud. Life is not all about the person who truly loves. They realize they are here to serve God and others and are not concerned about accolades or compensation for doing so.

The opposite of pride is humility, a trait praised numerous times in scripture. One proverb instructs us to let others praise us and not ourselves (Proverbs 27:2). When others praise us, we, in turn, give the credit to God, realizing that without him we are nothing but in him we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

The opposite of kindness is rudeness and love is not this either. We have all known rude people or people who have been rude on occasion. But rudeness and love don’t mesh. Love is not selfish, and does not demand its own way. It is not after revenge or vengeance but realizes this belongs to God.

Nor is love irritable.  Life has a way of making us irritable, or so we maintain. But remember it is not life that does this but rather our response to circumstances. Just as no one can make us angry, so no person or event can make us irritable. We choose irritability.

True love keeps no record of wrongs. It is forgiving. Forgiveness must be instantaneous and continual. It is not the same as trust. In his discussion with Peter, Jesus reminds us we are not to put any limit on our forgiveness (Matthew 18:22). And this is not simply with our enemies, for it is probably friends, spouses, and children who wrong us more than our enemies. Living with unforgiveness is a sad and miserable existence and places us at odds with others and affects our relationship with God.

Love enjoys seeing right triumph over wrong and justice win out over injustice. Love doesn’t give up on people, just as a parent who truly loves their child will never give up on them even when they are rebelling against everything they have been taught. Neither does God give up on us when we go astray. Jesus taught this very concept in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

Love will endure through every circumstance just as a spouse does when their partner has become incapacitated by health issues or through a tragic accident. Love maintains hope regardless of how difficult the circumstances are because it knows who is in control. It takes great effort and concentration to demonstrate this trait and involves time, money, and personal sacrifice. We can’t demonstrate this type of love to everyone individually (in the sense we can do it alone), but the entire body of Christ can do it together.

The second block that will enhance relationships is honor. We all have the same Creator and in that sense are all children of God made in his image. We should especially honor those who are fellow believers.

We must serve God and each other enthusiastically. God gives us time, talents, abilities, and opportunities, and we should not do his work halfheartedly. We should rejoice that God has a plan for us, find out what it is, and pursue it enthusiastically.

Prayer is an important building block. We’ve heard the saying, “The family that prays together stays together.” Pray individually, with family, and collectively with other believers. Pray for those who persecute you because of your faith. Love your enemies. Help those who are in need.

Learn to share in the emotions of others. Empathy, not just sympathy, must be expressed. Go the extra mile to understand their situation. Try to get along with others. Don’t try to act important but enjoy the company of ordinary people. Don’t think you know it all. Seek peace with others rather than conflict. Put away vengeance and revenge. Overcome evil by doing good. This doesn’t mean pursuing peace at any price, such as when doing so means evil will triumph.

Blocks That Disturb Relationships (vv. 9-21)

These blocks are composed of doing the opposite of what Paul says in these verses and what he defines love as in 1 Corinthians 13. Such as appearing to be interested in others when we really aren’t, showing compassion with ulterior motives, or perhaps buttering up the boss because we want a raise or preferential treatment.

Others might include pretending to be nice to our employees so they will work harder or being nice to get a political or church vote. Nor should we offer hospitality only when it’s convenient. We can pretend forgiveness but continually remind the offender about their offense or bring it up in every argument. We can take revenge or allow animosity to simmer in our heart.

Instead of competitive spirits and jealousy, we should thank God he gifts all his children and we don’t have to do his work alone. Our responsibility is to discover our gifts, use them effectively, and work in harmony with other believers.

God desires a relationship with us through his Son, and he wants us to develop and build healthy relationships with others as well. By his grace and through love we’ll be able to accomplish both.

Martin Wiles
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