The Way to Live (Romans 12:11-13)
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. ¹²Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. ¹³Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. —Romans 12:11-13
Because of God’s mercy, we are called to live totally transformed lives, which is summarized generally as loving others. This is the basic way to understand the string of characteristics that begin in verse 9. Love is the central theme into which every characteristic is united.
This transformational love is first and foremost to God, the one who loved us in Christ when we were unlovable (Romans 5:8). Then it is extended out to those around us, thereby fulfilling the law (Romans 13:10). It is this horizontal dimension that is illustrated in the several portraits listed in Romans 12:9–21. None of Paul’s points stand above the others in preeminence, but rather, united by the theme of love. Together they form a wise, pithy code that helps us navigate life in Christ, in this world.
The straightforward nature of verses 11-13 propels us into meditating on their meaning and how they look in our lives. “Do not be slothful in zeal,” verse 11 begins. “Be fervent in the Spirit, serve the Lord.” There is nothing hidden here. It means precisely what it says. The Christian life of love is not a couch potato. “Be fervent” is reminiscent of Colossians 1:29. We are filled with the Spirit. God’s energy is powerfully at work within us.
Skip to verse 13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” This is the practical, nitty-gritty expression of love for fellow Christians as well as for unbelievers. The former reminds us of the Macedonian’s generosity in 2 Corinthians 8:1–5. The latter reminds us of Hebrews 13:2 that commands us not to neglect showing hospitality to strangers. Meeting needs in the church is a call for family-like concern for one another. Showing hospitality is the call not to become inward-focused about our needs.
Now consider verse 12. I save it for last not because it is more important. There is nothing grammatical in this list that favors one line over the others. It’s just that verse 12 is a sequence of words that I’ve found personally helpful. "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."
This could be a paradigm for life. Rejoice in hope is the call to a future-oriented vantage on reality. “Hope” is a rich word in the Book of Romans. Because we have been justified by faith in Christ and have been brought into fellowship with God, “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). This hope is filled out in Romans 8 to be the consummation of the new creation. The final redemption of our bodies is the hope in which we were saved (Romans 8:23–24). This is the hope that we rejoice in. This is our destiny. Notice Paul doesn’t say here to rejoice in our present circumstances. They may be great right now and we should rejoice in them when they are (Romans 12:15), but the call to rejoice in Romans 12:12 encompasses more. It sets our eyes on what is to come, on the reality for which we were made: life in the presence of God, forever.
As we rejoice in hope, in what is to come, we must be patient in tribulation. Oftentimes we will find that our destiny feels a lot different from our current location. Here we suffer. But Paul tells us that our present suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Because we rejoice in hope, we can be patient in tribulation. It is momentary affliction. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
As we rejoice in hope and are patient in tribulation, Paul tells us to be constant in prayer. That is, walk in fellowship with God. Draw near to Him. How else can we truly rejoice in hope? How else can we be patient in tribulation? Let us be enveloped in our relationship with God. Let us know Him and love Him and tell Him all our heart. Because of God’s mercy to us in Jesus, because He has welcomed us into His fellowship, let us walk in glad communion with Him, constant in prayer, patient in tribulation, rejoicing in hope.
This is the way to live.