12:9-10—Sincere and heartfelt love.
We now enter a cluster of verses that are the Romans equivalent of the love chapter in 1 Corinthians. Just as the 13th chapter of that epistle followed Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in chapter 12, here he offers a succinct teaching on love after exhorting the Roman church to use their gifts.
Keep in mind that Paul is still spelling out the details of the transformed life (verse 2). The will of God—that which is good and acceptable and perfect—is that we serve one another with our gifts and sincerely love one another by our deeds. Let’s see what this love looks like.
Let love be genuine. Sincere, unfeigned, without hypocrisy—that’s the kind of love (agape) we are to have for others. This simple phrase presents the overriding theme for the eight or so verses that follow. Charles Swindoll recalls that his seminary professor, Charles Ryrie, “likened love to a river that is bounded on either side by truth and discernment.” Genuine love stays within the bounds of God’s revealed truth and is able to discern between evil and good.
Love that accommodates evil is not genuine love. Reflect on this question: How would a person who exhibits this godly love respond to the moral issues of today? Another question: How different from Ananias and Sapphira is a person who expresses care to be seen as caring, or church leaders who establish a homeless ministry to be seen as compassionate? Pretend love is condescending and evil.
Abhor what is evil. This is a very strong verb that Douglas Moo says could be translated “hate exceedingly.” The prophet Amos spoke at a time in Israel’s history much like our own. It was a period of peace and safety from enemies, financial prosperity, and luxury combined with moral decay. Thus the command Amos gave to the godly remnant of his day speaks directly to us: “Hate evil, and love good” (5:15).
Pure love hates evil as God hates evil. Hating evil is a theme throughout Scripture. It is said of the coming King that he “loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (Psalm 45:7). “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10). Billy Graham has written about things God hates.
A temptation for Christians today is to fall in line with a postmodern society that under the guise of tolerance has no category for evil. In reality, the news each day brings evidence that good and evil have been turned upside down so that “those who forsake the law praise the wicked” (Proverbs 28:4) and those who do good are punished. After detailing in chapter 1 a host of evils, Paul spoke of people who “not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
Before Amos gave the command I quoted above, he said the prudent person will keep silent in such a time (5:13), because the evil was so great nobody would listen anyway. It’s one thing to hold back from criticizing the culture; it’s quite another to “like” things on Facebook that give approval of what God hates.
Hold fast to what is good. Again, Paul uses a very strong verb—“be glued to,” “cling to,” “stick to.” The transformed heart and the mind that has been renewed by the word of God understand what is good. We hold fast to what is good not only by avoiding evil but also by not avoiding what is right. To put off a good deed is to let it escape our grasp instead of holding it fast.
Love one another with brotherly affection. The transformed life is lived in community. We cannot love the Lord without also loving our brothers and sisters. Paul in this phrase combines two terms for love that suggest the bond of relationships in a family. Philostorgoi (translated love) means to cherish one’s family, and thus to be devoted and kindly affectionate. Philadelphia conveys love for one’s brother or sister. The church ought to function as a spiritual family whose members exhibit sincere, heartfelt love and devotion.
Outdo one another in showing honor. The Greek word translated “outdo” means “go before.” Jesus’ disciples once argued among themselves who might be the greatest. Paul gives us the answer: it’s my brother and my sister, and I am to go first in honoring them. Moo says Paul is “calling on Christians to outdo each other in bestowing honor on one another; for example, to recognize and praise one another’s accomplishments and to defer to one another.”