There's an old saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." (St. Ambrose, 387 AD) It doesn't come from the Bible, but it was first spoken in a somewhat theological context. The story is that St. Augustine traveled to Milan, Italy where Ambrose was Bishop. Augustine noticed that the people of Milan did not fast on Saturday as did people in Rome. When Augustine started to judge Milanians because their practice was different, Ambrose gave his advice which eventually has come to be edited down to, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul spends most of the book he wrote to the church in Rome explaining the Gospel (chapters 1 - 11). Then Paul fills the last four chapters of the book with very practical ways we can put legs and arms, hands and feet on the Gospel in our own hearts and in our loving service to God and our neighbors. In Romans 12 Paul talks about "sincere love" (vs. 9). The Greek word translated "sincere" is the same word we get "hypocrite" from. ("Anupokritos" which is actually the antonym of hypocrite meaning "without hypocrisy.")
In ancient Greece "hypocrite" first described someone who wore a mask in a play - either tragic or comic. So Paul's readers immediately connected - understanding that love "without hypocrisy" involves being real (no mask). Real love has no strings, no conditions! Real love comes from bold hearts willing to risk the pain of rejection by loving with abandon! Real love has no hidden agenda. Real love is self-less, not self-serving!
The Message renders Romans 12:6 - 21 in very practical terms:
- If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else.
- If you help, just help, don't take over.
- If you teach, stick to your teaching.
- If you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy.
- If you're put in charge, don't manipulate.
- If you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond.
- If you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.
Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it."
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
Real, sincere love takes bold risks - goes and loves where it may not be safe - gives without counting the cost and is the REALLY REAL Thing! Real love can only come from a heart being restored by God's love!