In the rare chance I were to receive a call from someone who was designing a monument to the Ten Commandments that would sit outside a courthouse and wanted my advice, I would tell them, “Skip the Ten Commandments. Go with Romans 12:9-21 instead.”
Let’s take a look as to what this monument would say on it:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (New Revised Standard Version)
Could you imagine what it would be like to see these words carved in stone? Could you imagine two people going to court over something like a land dispute or a money issue, and on the way they pass by this monument that says on it, Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor? Could you imagine a politician on the way to a fierce budget battle and they pass by this statue that says on it, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them? Or even, Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are?
If God came to me and said, “Charles, I’m giving you a choice. You need to follow one set of commandments. What is your pick? You can take either the Ten Commandments, or Romans 12:9-21.” I would pick the former on any day. I know I could never live up to any of them perfectly, but I think I could follow the commandments that say You shall not steal, and You shall not kill, better than say Do not repay anyone evil for evil, or, If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
Sometimes Christians like to say the Old Testament is harsh, strict, and mean, whereas the New Testament is nicer, kinder, and gentler. Yet when I get to passages such as these I realize that’s a grossly inaccurate generalization. These words are harder to live up to than any of the commandments found in the Old Testament. Perhaps that’s why there aren’t many (if any) courthouses or other public buildings that have a monument dedicated to Romans 12:9-21.
Yet these are words that have the power to radically change your life (and your neighbor’s life too) if you take them seriously.
If we are to be serious about following what these words say, it means we have to make serious sacrifices. It means we have to let go of hating our enemies, of holding grudges, and looking to get even with those who have done harm to us. It means when we encounter someone who wishes evil upon us we need to give them love in return. It means we need to not only live humbly but have a humble spirit too. We can no longer live our lives thinking we’re better than our neighbor. We can no longer choose to not love someone because they don’t love us first.
None of us can get all of these commandments right. Some of the time we will get some of these right, but more often than not we’ll fail miserably.
Yet we should not be discouraged. I believe we need to look at these words with a spirit of optimism and think of them as an opportunity to grow. They are an ideal by which we can never achieve yet we should constantly strive for. They are an opportunity to deepen our spiritual lives while at the same time growing closer to our family and friends and building bridges to our enemies. They are a way for us to grow in our faith and draw closer to God.
Difficult words? Yes! Are they worth trying to follow? Absolutely.