The text we’re studying for Sunday, August 19 is Romans 12:9-21, a portion of Paul’s instructions to the Christians in the first century CE church in Rome about how to conduct their everyday lives. Here are a few questions about the text that we might or might not want to consider in class:
Do we read these instructions as instructions to other people, or directly as instructions to us? Why? Is this how we read instructions in other Biblical texts? (e.g., Exodus 20:1-17; Leviticus 12:1-8; Matthew 5:38-48; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13) What criteria do we use to determine whether Biblical instructions apply to us today? Why do we use those criteria?
V9 says “let love be genuine” – literally, “unhypocritical” or “not play-acted.” What is the difference between genuine and “play-acted” love? What will be the effects on a community where people’s love for one another is genuine? Where it is play-acted? Have we ever been recipients of these kinds of love? When? Do those experiences give us any insight into this instruction?
What is “honor” (in v10, the word can mean literally an estimate of something’s value or price, but also is used in places referring to social value, respect, etc.)? How do we show honor to others? To whom do we show honor? Why? Are there people to whom we do not show honor? Why? What do we think it means, practically, to “outdo one another in showing honor”?
What do we think it means to “serve the Lord” (v11)? Do we think of some activities as “serving the Lord” and others as not serving the Lord? Which ones? Why? “Serving the Lord” is linked in this verse with “zeal” and “ardor.” What does that tell us about “serving”? Why does it tell us that?
What does it mean to “contribute to the needs of the saints”? What does it mean “show hospitality to strangers” (literally, to “pursue the love of foreigners”)? Are these instructions about attitudes, or about activities? Are there any limits on these attitudes or activities? What are they, do we think? Why do we think that? How do we “contribute” and “show hospitality,” practically speaking?
Several instructions concern retaliation or how to deal with people who persecute or harm us (vv14, 17-20). What have been our experiences with trying to follow these instructions? What has made it possible? How do these instructions relate to letting love be genuine?
[Overall it seems like it might be worthwhile for us to ask ourselves three main questions: How do we translate these general instructions into specific, concrete actions? How does the opening instruction to “let love be genuine” relate to the more specific instructions? And perhaps most critically, What (or who) makes accepting these instructions possible – that is, does it make a difference if we try to follow these instructions “under our own power,” or if we experience following these instructions as a demonstration of the grace of Jesus Christ?]