“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21)
These verses seen in context go as follows: because of God’s mercy shown to us (Romans 1-11) we respond in love and worship to Him by offering our lives as a living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1) Then we seek to know and do His will which is good, acceptable, and perfect. (Romans12:2) And His will is primarily seen in the way we love Him (V.1), ourselves (rightly – V.3), and others. (Vv. 9-21). “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31 The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
Yet, we can get so caught up in seeking God’s will for some kind of ministry that we miss the very point of ministry; loving the people God has placed in our lives – family members, friends, business associates, enemies, our church family and the body of Christ in our community and across the world. And Paul by the Holy Spirit says this will require sacrificial living because we and other people are not easy to love. So we need to relate this back to the gospel seen in Romans 1–11 where we see and regularly recall how much God/Jesus loved us while we were rebellious sinners; so sacrificially that He gave His life and died a humiliating and painful death. “By this the love of God was manifested in us that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11) And our Lord continues to love us sacrificially through His daily mercies for our ongoing sins and we are called to pass on His love and mercy to others. “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
It seems Paul refers to loving both Christians and non-Christians in these verses but there is a clear emphasis in Scripture in loving other believers first. “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Gal. 6:10) In fact, one of the most effective ways to witness to the lost is the way we love one another as fellow believers. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) We have a deeper connection with a fellow believer than we do with unsaved family members. Blood is thicker than water (natural family relationships) but the Spirit is thicker than blood (spiritual family relationships that are now and forever). The greatest way we can love our lost neighbor is to share the gospel with our life and our lips.
These verses (9-21) unpack what it means to love God and others, Christians, non-Christians friends, and enemies. If we lived out all these exhortations from Paul we would be almost like Jesus in perfection. So we may think that nobody does or can live out this high calling and miss the challenge of the Spirit to grow and not be complacent. [“A man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.” Robert Browning] Pages could be written on each exhortation and each one is written about in many other places in Scripture. In a way these verses are like Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 13 on the love of God and others. So after reading a brief commentary on each of these verses it may be helpful to pray and ask the Lord to examine you on each of these exhortations per Psalm 139:23-24. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” You may want to objectify each quality by rating yourself from 1 (a real problem in my life) to 10 (not a serious problem by the grace of God).
9 “Let love be without hypocrisy.” – Love (agape) means to desire and seek God’s highest good (esp. their spiritual and eternal good) for others as an act of our will even when we don’t feel love for them. And this may involve our personal sacrifice for their good. Many missionaries over the years have sacrificed greatly even martyrdom for the eternal good of the lost. Agape love is also sincere (without hypocrisy) versus giving (loving) to get something back.
“Abhor what is evil.” – Christians should be known for their love and for what they hate as God calls us to hate evil. “Hate evil, you who love the LORD.” (Psalm 97:10) But we are to hate evil acts (our own as well) not the person. As it’s said, “Love the sinner and hate the sin” as we will see later at the end of this chapter. (17-21)
“Cling to what is good.”” – Stick like glue (kollaō) to God’s Word, God’s people, God’s ministry of doing good. It was said of Jesus, “He went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38)
10 “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Philadelphia).” – This refers to loving other Christians and shows how we are to be loyal to God’s people, God’s church, and the body of Christ throughout the world. Philadelphia means love of Christian brothers and sisters.
“Give preference to one another in honor.” – Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2:3-5 to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” This passage goes on to show how Jesus regarded and honored us above Himself by becoming a human being, a servant and took our place on the cross. Some use the acrostic J-O-Y to say that when we put Jesus first, others second and ourselves, (you) last, we will have true joy.
11 “Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” – As the worldly man is ambitious and diligent to make his millions, Paul says we are to “make it our ambition to please the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:9) The Greek word for fervent is zeō and it means to boil, to heat up, and we are to be on fire for God. Jesus rebuked the church in Laodicea for being lukewarm versus hot or cold. I recently read two books by my former pastor Dr. Fred Hartley about being on fire for God, Prayer on Fire and God on Fire, which I highly recommend to you. Hartley shows us throughout Scripture the fiery love of God for us and inspired me to pray and intercede daily for myself and others to stay on fire for the Lord until the end. “Serving the Lord”; As we age we may not be able to do as much activity for the Lord but our heartfelt prayers and lesser but loving efforts are efficacious for others and pleasing to the Lord.
12 “Rejoicing in hope” – This means that we look forward with confidence in God’s promises to being in a perfect world and kingdom with Him, with perfect people (including ourselves) forever and ever and ever. So we can rejoice now because of this sure and confident expectation.
“Persevering in tribulation” – “hypomenō – to preserve: under misfortunes and trials to hold fast to one’s faith in Christ.” http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G5278&t=KJV The idea here is staying under the trial without getting out in the wrong way, no shortcuts. We hang in there and trust the Lord to deliver us in His time and His way. In Acts 27 Paul and the sailors threw out four anchors in the midst of a violent wind. Andrew Murray preached a sermon on this saying that the four anchors of our faith in trials are: [“1) He brought me here. It’s by His will I am in this straight place. In that fact I will rest. (2) He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child. (3) Then He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn. (4) In His good time, He will bring me out again—how and when He knows. So let me say: I am (a) Here by God’s appointment. (b) In His keeping. (c) Under His training. (d) For His time.” http://verticallivingministries.com/tag/suffering/] In a fallen world, godly character is only forged through conflict. That is one reason there will be no conflict in heaven – we won’t need it anymore to grow in Christlikeness. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:22-23)
“Devoted to prayer.” – This is the way we can rejoice in hope and persevere in trials – through continual reliance on the Lord in heartfelt prayer; constantly looking to and depending upon the Lord for His moment by moment grace to do His will.
13 “Contributing to the needs of the saints.” – Once again local churches and other ministries for Jesus should take care of their own people first before they do for others outside of the faith. (Gal. 6:10) A lot of lost people want help from the church but they do not want to walk with God and honor Him and giving to them could just be a form of enabling them. When the lost see how the body of Christ takes care of each other this can create a desire to be saved and receive God’s loving care through the body of Christ. There are good Christian ministries that care for the lost and needy in a context of leading them to Christ and discipling them. http://www.atlantamission.org/
“Practicing (or pursuing) hospitality.” – This means we are to be looking for ways to show Christian love to strangers. This could be traveling missionaries who need housing and food (Matt. 10:11) or in some cases this may include reaching out to lost people who are strangers and friendless to lead them to Jesus. If we recall being the new person at the company or in the neighborhood or at church it may inspire us to reach out to the strangers (the new person in our group) in our life.
14 “Bless (eulogeō) those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Bless comes from the Greek word from which we get the English word, eulogy, which means to praise or to say good things about a person as is done at funerals for the deceased. This means we say good things and don’t say bad things (don’t curse) about people to their face or behind their backs, our friends or our enemies. (James 3:8-10)
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” – Friendship doubles our joys and divides our sorrows. Our Lord “delights in the prosperity of His servant” (Psalm 35:7) and comforts us and assists us in our sorrows and trials (2 Cor. 1:3-4; Hebrews 4:14-16) and shares our sufferings (Isa. 63:9; Isa. 53). And we are called to do likewise – sharing the joys and sorrows of our friends and those we happen to meet on the “road to Jericho” that are in need.
16 “Be of the same mind toward one another.” – Live in harmony with one another is what it means to be of the same mind. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” ― Augustine of Hippo Using the analogy of the body of Christ, if the left leg wants to go in one direction and the right leg wants to go in another direction you can see the problem. “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3) This is God speaking to us as His followers and points out how our “disagreements” with Him (sin) separate us from His companionship. True friendship grows and deepens as we agree on and share God’s truth.
“Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.” Do not be wise in your own estimation.” The world tells us to be “name droppers” and seek the seats of honor but Jesus tells us by word and example to consider others better than ourselves and, though He was their Teacher and Lord, He washed the feet of His disciples. Note that this begins with our mind. A poor beggar can be haughty in mind and look down on his fellow beggars. Some people whom we wrongly judge as lowly may be our rulers in heaven. (Remember the security guard and the cleaning lady in The Bema received greater rewards and honor than the rich carnal businessman). Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. (See 1 Sam. 16:7)
17 “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” – See comments below on verses 19-21.
“Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” – Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.” (NLT) (See Philippians 1:27)
18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” – Our Lord tells us to be quick to seek reconciliation (Matt. 5) and quick to forgive as God does (Luke 15). Yet some will refuse to be reconciled and thus the command is limited. Also God-rejecters hated Jesus and will hate us as we live for God before them. Love without truth is not love. (See Matthew 10:34-37)
19 “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – This refers to revenge in our hearts, a desire for personal revenge, but it does not mean that evil doers and lawbreakers should not be punished for their crimes (as seen in Romans 13 and the role of government). The idea of burning coals on their heads means to kill them with kindness; i.e., our acts of love will bring conviction. Recall how the priest did this with Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. This is exactly what Jesus did on the cross and it is ultimately the only answer for peace in the world, in our homes, in our churches, and in our own hearts. At the cross “mercy triumphed over judgment” (James 2:13) and let us pray mercy will triumph over judgment in our hearts.
This does not mean God is unjust for these verses clearly state that God will judge all mankind with perfect justice one day. Ken Boa in his book, I’m Glad You Asked, explains it this way: “Why hasn’t God stopped evil if He can?” Most people want God to wipe out all evil that affects them, but they want to set the conditions for God’s eradication process. They would like to see God elim¬inate the cruel world leaders, murderers, and thieves along with the natural disasters and diseases that afflict the world. But God is not interested in a partial containment of evil. He promised that He will someday permanently put an end to evil. To do this, He must not only move against actual evil but also potential evil. Let’s imagine that God stopped all evil at 12 o’clock. How many people would be left at 12:01? God showed us with Noah and the Flood that if He removes actual evil and leaves potential evil behind, actual evil eventually returns. Even though God hasn’t done it yet, we have God’s promise that He will put an end to evil and suffering in the future (2 Peter 3:7-12; Rev. 19:1-2, 11-21; 20:7-15; 21:4-8).” Questions for Discussion and Application The following comments and questions are from The Holman New Testament on Romans by Max Anders, General Editor, Ken Boa and William Kruidenier. http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B004LQ0J3M/ref=redir_mdp_mobile
Sacrificial love will be measured in a thousand small acts of love not in the martyr’s fire.
Love for friends and enemies is the evidence of a living sacrifice. What evidence can be found in my life of an unwillingness to be a living sacrifice?
To what friend or enemy do I need to show more love?
By what specific action this week can I demonstrate love to a friend or an enemy?
Because God has overcome the evil in us by His love we are to overcome the evil in others by love. Vengeance and judgment are God’s responsibility, not ours. What actions could any of my enemies cite to show that I have tried to take revenge against them?