Meditations on Practical Christianity

Romans 12:13‑15  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Verse 13. " Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality." Communicating to the necessity of saints; and the duty of hospitality, arc subjects on which we have little to say. In almost every case, circumstances must govern, as to the exercise of these virtues; and such circumstances are best known to the individual himself: we have not to judge. But whatever we do, either in communicating or in hospitality, should be done before the Lord and for His sake. The poor are a part of His legacy to the church. " For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always." Much might be said as to the highly artificial state of modern life, as throwing many difficulties in the way of carrying out the apostolic precept; still, it is always good to ascertain the mind of the Lord; and follow the wisdom of scripture, rather than the conventionalities of men.
The truth of God hangs beautifully and perfectly together. A link cannot be removed without being missed. The understanding of one truth makes another plain. Unless we have entered into the truth of the " one body," the exhortation before us must be a burden and not a privilege. Hence the murmurings and complainings of the numerous poor. All Christians are saints, and all are members of the body of Christ; and we all know that the members of the same body have the same interests, sympathies, feelings, and destinies. On this principle we take part in the necessities of saints, or should do, regarding them as our own. The poor brethren are thus made joint partakers of the substance of their richer brethren. On this text one of the commentators observes: "the apostle thus intimates that we ought to supply the wants of poor brethren with as much care as if we were assisting ourselves."* And this, we may add, would be nothing more than the fragrant fruits of the love enjoined in verses 9,10.
(* Commentary on the Romans, page 396. Hodge.)
Reflections.—We may learn from this passage, 1. That from the nature of the precept to communicate to the poor, it is perfectly clear that there was no general custom among the first Christians of a community of goods. 2. That it is only to the necessities of the saints that the rich are commanded to communicate of their substance. What love may delight to do in distributing its riches, great or small, is left to the hearts and consciences of those who have the means. While the Lord makes the most just and tender appeals for the poor, He guards the rich. The indolent, in strongest terms, He condemns. Such is the fullness and wisdom of scripture. " This we command you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.י י While it is one of our most sacred christian privileges to communicate to those who have need, according to our ability, it would be a violation of the word of God to support the idle. (2 Thess. 3:6-156Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. 7For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. 10For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:6‑15).) 3. The management of money from the earliest times has been surrounded with difficulties. " And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministrations." (Acts 6:11And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. (Acts 6:1).) The Lord give grace to those who have, and to those who have not. The Lord was rich and the Lord was poor, and unless we have Him before us as our divine model, we shall do nothing rightly.
" Given to hospitality" The value which the early Christians set upon this virtue is plain, from Paul's mentioning it as among the requisite qualifications of a bishop. " Given to hospitality"—following after hospitality. In Titus it is, " A lover of hospitality." Not only are we to practice it, but to seek opportunities of thus manifesting our love to the brethren. And that, not only to those we know and love, but to strangers, brethren coming from a distance. " Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." 1 Tim. 3:22A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; (1 Timothy 3:2); Titus 1:88But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; (Titus 1:8); Hebrews xiii. 2.
According to our modern notions, and the habits of our English homes, we limit the meaning of the word to social, convivial, intercourse among neighbors. In the days of the apostles it had a much wider and even an opposite meaning. It was one of the most sacred duties of the Christian, but often one of extreme danger. In times of persecution it was a high crime to entertain the excommunicated. And, as many of the faithful were banished from their own country for the Lord's sake, it became a special privilege to receive them, and a service to the Lord never to be forgotten. (Matt, 25) It was also a duty of necessity in those early times as places of public entertainment were unusual. In the East, such houses are still rarely to be met with, and the ancient custom of hospitality continues to be there regarded as one of the most sacred institutions of the country.
But notwithstanding the change of times and customs, it is still our duty, our privilege, to entertain strangers, and to assist them in their business, like Phoebe of old. No change in the habits of men, the customs of nations, or the edicts of tyrants, can ever set aside, or weaken the authority of the word of the Lord, or of any one of His precepts for the ordering of the ways of His people. May we walk by faith, not by sight or habit. And may the Lord's own light shine more and more from the living pages of His holy word, for our faith and guidance in all things.
Verse 14. " Bless them which persecute you: bless and curse not." The apostle now introduces the Christian into an entirely new line of practical Christianity. His whole life and ways are to be characterized by blessing, not cursing. This precept carries us far beyond the power of nature. And it is only in proportion to the Christian's conformity to the good and perfect will of God, that he is enabled to manifest this practical grace towards his enemies. He has been exhorted to the exercise of love and benevolence among his brethren in Christ; but now he must go a step further, and bless, but never curse, even his enemies who are persecuting him. To possess this spirit, and to practice this precept, is to be a heaven-born child of God. " But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." Matt. 5:44, 4544But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:44‑45).
This is surely a noble calling, and most ennobling to the Christian. He is a child of the ever blessed God; he is blessed with all spiritual blessings; his present and future is unmingled blessing, and he is called while here to imitate his heavenly Father, in returning blessing for cursing. The whole history of popery flashes across the mind while meditating on these few words; but that evil system meets its utter condemnation here. " Bless your enemies," says God. " No," says popery, " Anathematize them both in this life and for evermore. It was by cursing, not blessing, that it reached such heights of power during the middle ages. But, on the other hand, thousands of God's martyred saints have spent their last breath in the flames in praying for their persecutors.
Speaking of the papacy as distinct from the true saints of God in the Catholic church, it must be manifest to all that notwithstanding its high pretensions to piety, it is essentially infidel. For example, " Marriage is honorable in all," says the word of God. " No," says Rome, "It is not only dishonorable, but a soul-damning sin for a priest to marry." Still, the word of God is there: "honorable" not in some, but "in all;" priest as well as people. Again, " Let the tares grow with the wheat until the harvest," says the Lord. "No," says Rome; "the tares of heresy must be rooted out by fire and sword." And so in many other things, which it would be out of place to pursue here. We return to our meditations on the truth of God before us, " Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not."
The repetition of the precept adds greatly to its divine energy and importance. We must look at it fairly, however difficult to obey in its true sense. It is the peculiar privilege of the Christian to pray for all men; friends and enemies. God has given him this place of honor here—to bless others by means of his prayers. He should be like a vessel from which flow the precious blessings of Christ to the enriching of many around him. So far from wishing or praying that evil may overtake our persecutors, we must sincerely pray to the Lord to pardon and bless them. Nature would return evil for evil, and cherish vindictive feelings; but grace says, following the example of the blessed Lord and His martyr Stephen, " Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Verse 15. " Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" We have been exhorted to the exercise of love, the discharge of the duties of benevolence, the forgiveness of enemies, and now we are admonished to sympathize in the joys and sorrows of our fellow-men, but especially of our fellow-Christians. These are the comely ways of the household of faith. Being rooted and grounded in love, these graces naturally flow forth as from their native fountain. What could possibly be more unlike the spirit of Christianity than a selfish indifference to all interests but our own! How much more like the blessed Master is the Christian who enters into the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own. This is the true expression of the communion of saints—the unselfishness of those who are walking in the light of God's own presence—the only place where we lose our selfishness. "If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another." Outside of His presence we are selfish; in His presence we feel and act in the divine nature.
There is nothing so much to be deplored, so much to be guarded against, as the disposition that keeps a watchful eye over its own interests, but is blind and unbelieving to the interests of others. The Christian is saved by grace, he stands by grace, and ought to be the witness of grace in his spirit, words, and ways, at all times, and in all things, from the least to the greatest. His speech is to be always with grace, seasoned with salt. Grace is never to be absent; the whole bearing of the Christian is to be in grace, and " always." Salt to be introduced occasionally. The needed faithful word must not be withheld; but even then grace must shine. (Col. 4:66Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. (Colossians 4:6).) If we would faithfully express the spirit of the blessed Master, we must be gracious and generous in word and deed, and that, as far as possible, without partiality. But we shall soon find out that in nothing are we so feeble as in sympathy. The blessed One of John 11 only can fully meet the need in sympathy.
These are homely thoughts for thy meditation, Ο my soul. Could they not be more accurately defined? thou sayest. No, nothing can define thy path in grace but the eye and the heart of Christ ever with thee. He must be before thee as thy pattern. Thy work can never be correct if thy model is not perfect. Hast thou learned to feel the joys and sorrows of others, as though they were thine own? Look again at thy Model; read, study, meditate on the unselfish love, the boundless grace, and the tender sympathy of thy Lord and Master in the Gospels. See Him there, in the majesty of divine goodness, yet meek and lowly in heart, supplying the poor with bread, and stooping in perfect grace to the fallen, the friendless, and the outcast. In all this He hath left us an example that we should walk in His steps.
May the Lord give thee, my soul, and all of us, to know more of that true christian fellowship, which weeps with them that weep, and rejoices with them that do rejoice. There is really nothing more Christ-like, because there is nothing more unselfish, than genuine sympathy. Does the welfare and happiness of others inspire us with joy? Do their afflictions and necessities affect us with sorrow—with a sympathetic sorrow that can only find relief in relieving the necessities, and in filling the heart with gladness that was bowed down with sorrow? May it ever be ours, to heighten the joy and to lessen the sorrows of others.