Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
The Epistle lesson of this Sunday is filled with some great advice. First, it addresses the topic of gifts. Each of us has been given at least one, and most likely multiple gifts, by God, to be used by each person to contribute something to our world. God gives His grace to each of us. However, He gives it in a different way. This is a good thing. If we all had the same gifts, the world would not be in a balance. What if everyone was a doctor and no one was a teacher? There would be no teachers to teach the doctors and then there would be no doctors. We need all kinds of gifts so that all the “services” that are needed in the world by its people are provided.
Saint Paul mentions some specific gifts. He mentions “prophecy”, meaning the ability to speak about the faith. The more we know and practice our faith, the more we can speak about it. He mentions “service”, “teaching”, “exhortations,” “generosity”, “aid” and “mercy.” (Romans 12:7-8) This list then can be transferred to another of roles—Service can include anything from customer service, retail, any service industry (repair), etc. There are a large number of teaching professions which cover many ages. Exhortations include writers of all kinds—novelists, journalists, etc. In mentioning “generosity”, St. Paul acknowledges that there are some people who have been blessed with the financial means to be philanthropic. Just as others are blessed in their unique ways, to be blessed in this way comes with an obligation to share one’s blessings.
Still, others are blessed with the ability to render aid—this includes medical professionals, first responders and others. Acts of mercy include those who minister to those in the great need—those who minister to the homeless and forgotten, the ones who give aid to those who fight various addictions.
Saint Paul continues to pack some great advice as he reminds us to “let love be genuine” (12:9) as opposed to expressions that are shallow and fake. He directs us to “hate what is evil” and “hold fast to what is good.” (12:9)
Can you imagine if we had a contest for who could outdo everyone in showing honor? Honor is seen as a nostalgic word of a generation gone by, along with words like dignity and decency. Yet, St. Paul purposefully chooses this word. Generally competitions pit two teams against each other, with the goal of “destroying” the other team. Saint Paul reminds us that we should compete when it comes to showing honor.
Zeal and boldness are words that we also do not hear often in the world today. It is zeal that allows us to be “aglow with the Spirit” (12:11) and motivates us as we serve the Lord.
Hope is what keeps us going in times when we are in despair. Because we have hope, there is reason to rejoice. Hope, however, does not mean that there won’t be moments of tribulation along the way. Saint Paul reminds us that we must be patient in our times of sadness. He also reminds us to be constant in prayer, because a solid prayer life, continually going to God for His blessings and guidance, is what will give us patience in our times of tribulation and bolsters our sense of hope.
Finally, St. Paul offers some important words on relationships. In the Greek language, the word for “saints” is “agious”. And “agios” (holy in the singular) means “set apart”. Those who are striving to be “set apart” for God are on track to be “agious”, or saints. Therefore, St. Paul tells us that we are to contribute to the needs of those who are striving to be holy, to encourage them, to practice hospitality and be welcoming those who wish to strive for a holy life. And for those who don’t wish to be saintly in their behavior, we are supposed to bless them as well, even if they persecute us. We are to bless them and not curse them.
Today’s Epistle reading is yet another example of a short message packed with solid advice. And if we even take one verse of today’s reading to heart, we will be well on our way in our own pursuit of holiness.
Reflect on today’s Epistle lesson and put one of its piece of advice into practice this week!
Let us worship the Word who is unoriginate with the Father and the Spirit, and from a Virgin was born for our salvation, O believers, and let us sing His praise. For in His goodness He was pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, and to undergo death, and to raise up those who had died, by His glorious Resurrection. (Resurrectional Apolytikion, Plagal 1st Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)