I suspect that you are familiar with the Sunday School Cop-Out. It typically occurs on drizzly Sunday mornings when the conversation in class drags and the lesson isn’t landing its usual punch. The coffee hasn’t kicked in yet and we’re more interested in doing mental planning or daydreaming than we are in diving deep into the scriptures.
Perhaps I’m the only one who has ever felt this way.
But I doubt it.
In these moments, we tend to settle on a pat ‘Sunday School answer’ for the queries that our teachers pitch at us. These responses are often trite, plainly obvious and void of depth and complexity. They are also usually right.
A wise teenager once leaned over in class one Sunday to tell me this Sunday School hack when I was a youngster: “Always answer with, ‘Jesus.’ He’s always the right answer to every question.”
True. Who is going to argue with that? Jesus is always the right answer to our questions. And yet, this answer also proves to be unsatisfactory because it doesn’t take seriously our own responsibility in the circumstances that we face.
The question that we have been holding these last couple of weeks has centered on our ability to be One in the Spirit when our differences are many. Yes, Jesus is the right answer, but we can’t stop there. For us to truly be One, as Christ and God are One, we’ve got to actually do something to work for love and unity.
Romans 12 provides a fitting response to this question. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul gets specific. He becomes directive. He employs strong verbs like honor, share, bless, rejoice, and live. Undoubtedly and without question, Paul’s writings are spot-on. They are the right answers to the question about how we are to live in unity together.
But what is it that we’re supposed to do next? What does the next step look like for the church of the 21st century? What does it look like today to practice these instructions?
In Romans 12, Paul writes:
Love must be sincere.
Translation: Love is not a feeling. Love is an action that we do to one another. Our acts of love must be genuine and fully expressed.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Translation: Double-check your definition of evil. Consider that what you think is evil may just exempt you from being guilty of practicing evil, yourself. Look to Christ as your measure to determine what is good and evil.
Be devoted to one another in love.
Translation: Make a commitment to one another. Stay connected to those who irritate you, annoy you, and who hurt your feelings. Practice resiliency and don’t check out on relationships when they don’t go your way.
Honor one another above yourselves.
Translation: De-centralize yourself. Resist the effort to act solely out of your own self-interest.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Translation: Serve God with the passion and enthusiasm that is due Him. We serve God when we serve others.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Translation: Anticipate God’s power to redeem the dark moments we experience. Remind yourself that it will not always feel the way it does when you feel under assault. Take on the characteristics of the persistent widow that Jesus references in praying without ceasing.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Translation: Be generous. Check yourself when your head tells you, “They don’t deserve help. They haven’t earned our investment. They won’t help themselves—why should we help them?”
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Translation: Do acts of loving kindness to those who hurt you. Pray for their well-being. Refrain from damning those who stand for the things you oppose. Instead, demonstrate your love for them in tangible ways.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Translation: Allow yourself to rejoice in the good news of others. Have open eyes to see the ‘least of these’ in our community and do acts of loving kindness for them. Be present with them. Take their hurts and pain seriously.
Live in harmony with one another.
Translation: Stop posting inflammatory political messages on social media. The one-upmanship inflames passions and distorts truth. But most importantly, it does not encourage healthy dialogue or unity. It only fosters discord. We need to have good and rich conversation about any number of difficult items. Social media, as we are learning, does not help accomplish this kind of discourse. When in doubt, post pictures of your grandchildren. Or your cats.
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Translation: Strive to see Christ in everyone that you see and meet.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
Translation: When someone hurts you, refuse to succumb to the temptation to hurt them back. Recognize that we oftentimes respond to evil and pain with disengagement, anger, pouting, passive-aggressive actions, plotting, and by inciting discord. Do not do these things in response to evil or hurt.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Translation: Do not gossip. Have the right conversation with the right person at the right time. Listen to people’s reflections about themselves, not other people. Respond to vitriol about another person with the response: “I think you should talk to _________.” Encourage individuals to connect with one another. Do not try and mediate on their behalf behind closed doors.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Translation: Remember the words of Billy Graham who said: “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.”
On the contrary: “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.”
Translation: We love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us because Christ commands us to, not in order that they will feel pain through our passive-aggressive activity. Read Billy Graham’s quote again.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Translation: The ends do not justify the means. Doing evil to overcome evil is evil. Period. Diffuse wrong with right.
In summary: Look like Jesus in all things and in all ways.
Because Jesus is the right answer.