WE ARE TO SERVE GOD WITH LOVE THAT IS BOTH AUTHENTIC AND ACTIVE
Frank Thielman: Paul has not lost sight of the thesis he announced in 12:1–2 that the conduct he describes in 12:3 – 15:7 should arise from within the believer as the result of a transformed and renewed mind. Just as sincerity, diligence, and cheerfulness should characterize those who use their gifts in the body of believers (12:8), so their day-to-day practical expressions of love should be sincere, reflecting their new heartfelt convictions (v. 9a). They should not merely stay away from evil, but loathe it (v. 9b). They should not merely do what is good, but cling to it (v. 9c). Their love for one another should well up from within, like the instinctive love of a mother in the animal world for its young (v. 10a). Their commitment to the life of faith should be marked by enthusiasm, ardor, heartfelt service, joy, endurance, and devotion (vv. 11–12). These terms describe conduct that is not imposed from without by an external authority but arises from a transformed mind and a will that is now released from the wretched bondage to sin described in 7:13–25.
Steven Lawson: So, everything to this point has been intensely doctrinal, and then even in Romans 12 verses 1 through 8 it has been general requirements of us as believers to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice and exercise our spiritual gifts, but now beginning in verse 9, suddenly Paul becomes, let me say, painfully specific. This is where Christianity gets real. This is where the rubber meets the road, men. This is taking Christianity out of the ethereal and down into the real. This is down in the weeds. This is where you and I are to live every moment of every day. This is personal holiness spelled out.
Mounce: Nowhere else in Paul’s writings do we find a more concise collection of ethical injunctions. In these five verses are thirteen exhortations ranging from love of Christians to hospitality for strangers. There are no finite verbs in the paragraph. There are, however, ten participles that serve as imperatives. In the three other clauses (vv. 9, 10, 11) an imperative must be supplied. Each of the thirteen exhortations could serve as the text for a full-length sermon. What they deal with are basic to effective Christian living.
Grant Osborne: The key ingredient in interpersonal relationships is love—God’s love (agape). This kind of love is a self-sacrificial love, a love that cares for the well-being of others. All the gifts that are exercised in the body should be expressed in this love. This love is the most accurate indicator of spiritual health in the body of Christ. To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16 NIV). Believers have God’s love within because “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:5). For our love to be different from most of what is called “love” in the world, it must be genuine—without hypocrisy, deceit, falseness. Sincere love is genuine love. Jesus was referring to this kind of love when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35 NIV).
I. (:9a) LOVE MUST BE AUTHENTIC (GENUINE, SINCERE)
“Let love be without hypocrisy.”
Emphasis on love forms a natural transition from the use of spiritual gifts to build up the body (a function that cannot succeed apart from love) to some of the more practical manifestations of love.
Steven Cole: The English word “sincere” comes from two Latin words meaning, “without wax.” Dishonest merchants would fill a crack in a pot with wax and glaze over it, selling the defective pot as if it were just fine. Only later would the buyer discover that the pot was worthless. So honest dealers would stamp sine cera on the pot, verifying that it was without wax.
The Greek word that Paul uses means “without hypocrisy.” The word was used of the masks used by actors on the stage. You have probably seen these in advertisements for stage plays in our day. Some of the masks were happy, others were sad. The actor did not necessarily feel as the mask signaled, but the mask showed the role that he was playing. Paul says that our love for one another is not to be a phony mask or role playing, but rather be the real thing. We should genuinely desire God’s best for others and speak and act toward that goal.
Grant Osborne: Genuine Love
Most people know how to pretend to love others—how to speak kindly, avoid hurting their feelings, and appear to take an interest in them. We may even be skilled in pretending to feel moved with compassion when we hear of others’ needs, or to become indignant when we learn of injustice. But God calls us to real and sincere love that goes far beyond politeness. Sincere love requires concentration and effort. It means helping others become better people. It demands our time, money, and personal involvement. No individual has the capacity to express love to a whole community, but the body of Christ in your town does. Look for people who need your love, and look for ways you and your fellow believers can show your Christian love to others.
Steven Lawson: What is love? Love is sacrificially giving of yourself to seek the highest good in another. Love is always giving, not taking. Lust takes; love gives. And you give in a costly manner, costly to you. It is sacrificial giving. So, love is selfless, love is self-giving, love is self-denying, love is sacrificial, and I think it is really because love is so important in the Christian life. There is a sense in which it is at the very epicenter of the Christian life, that it is really worth our taking these few moments to drill down and to underscore what love is and why it is so important. If I genuinely love you from the heart, I will promote your best interests. I will do what will build you up and affirm you and help you in the Christian life. Love is others-oriented.
Frank Thielman: The term Paul uses for “love” (ἀγάπη) referred to esteem and affection demonstrated in practical ways. In the preceding argument, God has demonstrated his love for believers by providing them with the sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) and with reconciliation to himself through the death of Christ (5:8; 8:32, 35, 37, 39). In a way that is consistent with his exhortation to sincere service to the body of believers in 12:8b–d, then, Paul urges the Romans not merely to demonstrate their love in practical ways but to do so without insincerity (cf. 2 Cor 6:6).
John Toews: To love without hypocrisy involves moral judgment, distinguishing good from evil and then pursuing the good. The discernment of the good here and in 12:17 – 13:10 expands on the same theme from 12:2. The transformed mind seeks the good. True love, like the will of God, involves discriminating moral choices.
James Dunn: ἀνυπόκριτος means literally “without hypocrisy,” so “genuine, sincere.” The word is found also with reference to love in 2 Cor 6:6 and 1 Pet 1:22; with regard to “faith” in 1 Tim 1:5 and 2 Tim 1:5; elsewhere in biblical Greek only Wisd Sol 5:18; 18:16; and James 3:17. The ὑποκριτής was the “play-actor” who projects an image and hides his true identity behind a mask. Paul would be conscious no doubt of the danger of deceit, including self-deceit, not least in the matter of spiritual gifts and enablings.
II. (:9b-13) LOVE MUST BE ACTIVE (PRACTICAL)
A. (:9b) Pursue Holiness – Love’s Morality
- Negatively: Hate Evil
“Abhor what is evil;”
- Positively: Cling to What Is Good
“cling to what is good.”
Frank Thielman: Both terms, then, emphasize alignments that arise from one’s basic commitments and inner feelings, and this idea unites these two admonitions with the maxim about sincere love and also with the implied admonitions in Romans 12:8b–d. The believer’s renewed mind and transformed existence (12:2) should reveal itself in love that is not mere display, in a genuine inner revulsion at what is evil, and in a heartfelt alignment with what is good.
Thomas Schreiner: Those who belong to the people of God are “to hate” (the participle ἀποστυγοῦντες is a strong term for hatred) what is evil and “cleave to” (κολλώμενοι, kollōmenoi) what is good. True virtue is not passive about evil but has an intense revulsion against it. Evil is not tolerated but is despised as that which is injurious and wicked. “Where there is love, evil is abhorred, not merely lamented, much less covered up, but hated” (Schlatter 1995: 235). Conversely, the righteous have a strong affinity for what is good, so that they seek it fervently and cling to it no matter what the cost.
Douglas Moo: At the end of verse 9, he briefly unpacks the basic moral dimension of sincere love in two parallel clauses (using a participle in Greek). Christian love is more than a feeling; it leads to a violent hatred of evil and a tenacious attachment to what is good (the verb for “cling,” kollaomai, refers to sexual relations in 1 Cor. 6:16, 17). With John, Paul would argue that no one truly loves who does not obey God’s command (see, e.g., 2 John 6).
B. (:10) Prefer Others – Love’s Concern for Others
- Brotherly Love
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love;”
Grant Osborne: Paul’s charge goes against the value of rugged individualism—the attitude of “doing it all by myself.” Believers are to show brotherly love to fellow believers, and respect all the gifted people in the church, not just those whose gifts are visible. That’s the only way that the body of Christ can function effectively and make a positive impact on the unbelieving world. The Greek word for “be devoted” (philostorgoi) means the type of loyalty and affection that family members have for one another. This kind of love allows for weaknesses and imperfections, communicates, deals with problems, affirms others, and has a strong commitment and loyalty to others. Such a bond will hold any church together no matter what problems come from without or within.
John MacArthur: Now, philostorg combines two words then, storg, which means a natural love, not a love induced by desire, not a love induced by beauty or an attractive personality but the natural love that occurs within a family, normal, natural, kindred love, as opposed to love that is generated by attraction, personality, beauty, lust, desire, circumstance or anything like that. It is just normal family love. And it’s marvelous that he use it here because he says in the Christian family, we ought to have a phile type family love. And phile talks about the warm affection of love.
- Preferential Love
“give preference to one another in honor;”
Frank Thielman: “To have nothing was to be nothing in the Roman world. Theirs was a culture where people strove to look down on their neighbours with something of the same disdain that the elite looked down on them.” [Jerry Toner] Here Paul insists that believers, whose thinking God has refashioned (12:1–2), must live by a radically different standard. They must renounce the vicious competition for honor that dominated Roman society, and instead make sure that others receive honor.
Bruce Hurt: To honor someone is to show genuine appreciation and admiration for the other individual. Believers who are being transformed by the renewing of their mind should be becoming more and more sensitive to showing respect, to acknowledging the accomplishments of others, to demonstrating genuine love by not being jealous or envious. These are the marks of a sincere faith which is maturing. Such a one in fact is to take the lead in the carrying out of these actions. If we have truly presented ourselves as a living sacrifices, we should be growing in these graces (and they can only be carried out by His empowering grace).
C. (:11) Passionate in Service – Love’s Zeal for Serving the Lord
- Defined by Diligence
“not lagging behind in diligence,”
Grant Osborne: Fatigue may be part of the cycle of service, but apathy (lack of zeal) should not be part of a believer’s life. Christians must fight against discouragement, depression, and negativeness; they must do their utmost to keep their spiritual temperature high.
John MacArthur: There has to be haste. There has to be intensity in the Christian life. There’s no room for laziness. We could spend a lot of time going back to the book of Proverbs and doing an entire study on laziness and how appalling laziness is to God. Suffice it to say at this point, there is no room for laziness in the work of the Lord. There is no room for indolence. It demands hastiness, a hurry, a spirit that is moving fast.
- Defined by Fervency
“fervent in spirit,”
Thomas Schreiner: Believers are “not to be lazy in diligence” (τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί, tē spoudē mē oknēroi) but are to burn in their spirits and serve the Lord. The word ὀκνηρός (lazy) is often used for indolence or slackness (Matt. 25:26; in the LXX see Prov. 6:6, 9; 26:13–16; Sir. 37:11). Instead of caving in to inactivity, believers are to be diligent and earnest and disciplined. The counterpart to laziness is fervency, which is expressed in the words τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες (tō pneumati zeontes, burning [with zeal] in spirit). The parallel in Acts 18:25 is notable, for there it is said that Apollos was “burning in Spirit” (ζέων τῷ πνεύματι). The only debate here is whether “burning in spirit” relates to the Holy Spirit or to the human spirit. Interestingly, scholars on both sides appeal to the parallel in Acts 18:25 as if that text definitively settles the issue. Determining which view is correct is again difficult, since the issue can hardly be resolved by appealing to wider contextual evidence. Decisions like these can be made only by consulting the Pauline usage elsewhere. Most often πνεῦμα refers to the Holy Spirit, yet references to the human spirit also occur (e.g., Rom. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:4; 14:14, 15; Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4:23; 1 Thess. 5:23). In some instances both the Holy Spirit and the human spirit seem to be intended (1 Cor. 5:3–4; 14:14–16), for Paul slides from the one to the other rather easily. Perhaps the latter suggestion is the most promising in this instance as well (Sanday and Headlam 1902: 361). Believers are to burn and seethe in their spirits, but the means by which this is done is the power of the Holy Spirit. A reference to the Holy Spirit is also suggested by the image of boiling because the Holy Spirit is often associated with fire (Isa. 4:4; 30:27–28; Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; Acts 2:3; 1 Thess. 5:19; Rev. 4:5; Dunn 1988b: 742; Schnabel 2016: 624–25).
James Dunn: τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες, “aglow with the Spirit.” The precise force of ζέω is uncertain, but the imagery is clear enough. The basic sense is “bubble, boil” (as of water, as in Ezek 24:5), with the thought of heat a natural correlation (so of the process of fermentation, as in Job 32:19, and of glowing iron, as in Josephus, War 5.479). The metaphorical application to burning passion (Plato, Republic 4.440C; Philo, Sac. 15; Heres 64) or rage (4 Macc 18.20; Philo, Migr. 210; Mos. 2.280) is natural.
Thomas Constable: Apollos was a model of someone who maintained fervency in his service (Acts 18:24-25; cf. Rev. 3:15-16), as was Paul. They were “aglow with the Spirit.”
Bruce Hurt: In the context of Christian service “fervent” means “to be full of energy, to be on fire with zeal and enthusiasm.” It is a warning against settling into comfortable, shallow ruts in our spiritual lives. The idea is that believers are to continuously (present tense = this is to be our habitual practice, our lifestyle before a critically watching world) be “hot” for the things of the Lord.
The idea of the Greek word zeo is not of being overheated to the point of boiling over and out of control but, like a steam engine, of having sufficient heat to produce the energy necessary to get the work done. That principle is reflected in the life of Henry Martyn, the tireless missionary to India, whose heart’s desire was to “burn out for God.” which is exactly what he did in 6 years!
- Defined by Ministry
“serving the Lord;”
Steven Cole: So Paul isn’t describing someone who needs to be arm-twisted into “volunteering” for some ministry until finally he feels guilty and can’t figure a way out, so he grudgingly says, “Okay.” Rather, he’s describing those who are boiling over with zeal to the point that they probably need to be counseled to focus their efforts, because their tendency would be to get involved in just about every opportunity to serve the Lord that comes along.
Jim Elliot, who was martyred in Ecuador at age 28 in his attempt to take the gospel to the fierce Auca Indians, was a man who embodied true godly zeal. If you haven’t read his story, you’re missing a great blessing. His widow, Elisabeth Elliot, wrote Through Gates of Splendor [Spire Books], which tells the story of all five men who were murdered. Her book, Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan] focuses more on Elliot’s life alone. Jim wrote in his diary (Through Gates of Splendor, pp. 19-20, italics in original), “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” Or, as Jonathan Edwards wrote as a young man in his 70 resolutions (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 1:xx, # 6): “Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.” Both men are saying, “Don’t be indifferent about the Lord and His cause. Be fervent in spirit!” . . .
So how should we serve the Lord? First, make sure that your motivation is right. You serve Him because of His great mercies toward you in the gospel. That motivation moves you not to be lazy, but diligent in serving Him. Serving Christ becomes your passion, so that you do it fervently. And, remember that you’re serving none other than the Lord Himself.
D. (:12) Persevere in Affliction – Love’s Staying Power
“rejoicing in hope,”
John Schultz: Hope qualifies the present as an unsatisfactory condition. We must never be satisfied with the condition of imperfection in which we live at present. Even if our physical and emotional state is more than just bearable we must not settle in it as if it were permanent. We are on the road to glory and our present joy draws its strength from the future.
“persevering in tribulation,”
John MacArthur: The word patient means to stay under, to remain under. We can stay under the pressure. We can stay under the test because we know what’s coming. We can endure the trouble, thlipsis, the pressure, that’s the word pressure. We can stay under the pressure, serving the Lord, reaching out in hope. And because we see what’s coming in the future, we rejoice. We rejoice. And we have to go through things. We have to endure the pain. We have to endure the rejection. We have to endure the animosity. We have to endure the struggle with satan and his demons, and all those things that defy what we want to do for the glory of God. But that’s not the end of the someday they’ll be an eternal victory. We hope in that. That gives us joy, and it allows us to stay under the pressure, to stay under the pressure. And while we’re under, verse 12 says, “We are diligently —” doing what? “in prayer.” We’re diligently in prayer. I believe one of the reasons the Lord keeps the pressure on is to keep us in communion with him.
J Ligon Duncan: The hope of future glory in salvation is able to animate our rejoicing even in the midst in the most real and severe and overwhelming trials in this life. If our ultimate hope was derived even from the desire that bad situations we are in now will eventually become good, we could not rejoice in all circumstance. Not all the bad circumstances that we are in now will be good in the long run in our lives. There will be some things that will never be rectified in this live. That hope of glory, however, enables us to rejoice in every circumstance Paul says, rejoicing in hope. …When the Spirit enables us to perseverance, the spirit enables us to not simply bear up under stress, to survive the things that we are going through, but the Spirit enables us to continue to be useful in kingdom service despite that stress and despite that trial. Paul is calling on us to manifest this in our Christian life and experience. Persevering in tribulation.
“devoted to prayer,”
Grant Osborne: “Rejoicing in hope.” — This means that we should look forward with happy anticipation to all that God has in store for us. We don’t have to fear our future when it is in God’s hands. Christ is the reason that we can be joyful.
“Patient in suffering.” — When believers face trials or persecution, they are to endure patiently, for they know God is in control (see also 5:2-5).
“Faithful in prayer.” A trademark of believers is prayer, for it is their lifeline to God. They must be persistent in praying, both individually and corporately.
The only way we can be patient in affliction is by faithful prayer and joyful hope. When afflictions come our way, the only joy may be our hope for the future unveiling of God’s plan (8:18-27).
Steven Cole: Martyn Lloyd-Jones observes (ibid., p. 402), “Tribulation, hope and prayer always go together in the New Testament and it is a very good way of testing ourselves to ask whether they always go together in our experience. They should.”
Paul has linked hope, tribulation, and perseverance in Romans 5:3-5, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
And, he links hope, perseverance, and prayer in 8:24-26, “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” So, again, it is important to keep in mind that just because we have experienced God’s mercies does not mean that we will be exempt from trials. Rather, the Bible shows us how God uses trials to conform us to the image of Christ and to be glorified through us as we joyfully depend on Him in our trials. . .
How can we put verse 12 into practice? First, honestly evaluate yourself in light of these three phrases. Are you grumbling in depression or cynicism? Then you’re not “rejoicing in hope.” Are you giving up or despairing in your trials? Then you’re not “persevering in tribulation.” Are you grabbing every remedy that the world has to offer to get out of your trials? Then you’re not “devoted to prayer.” You can’t begin to grow in these qualities until you honestly evaluate where you’re falling short.
Michael Gorman: The vocabulary of 12:12 is that of hope in the midst of opposition and is reminiscent of 5:3–5 (cf. 1 Thess 5:16–18). Like 12:11, it has three components:
- believers should be joyful in hope,
- patient in suffering (recall 8:18–24, 31–39), and
- prayerful in order to persevere.
E(:13) Provide for the Needs of Others – Love’s Material Giving
“contributing to the needs of the saints,”
Grant Osborne: When some are in need, others who have the means should share what they have in order to meet that need (whether financial or daily necessities). This was another trademark of believers, and it was often what drew nonbelievers to Christianity (see Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37; 11:27-30).
Douglas Moo: According to a literal translation Paul is saying, “Enter into fellowship with the needs of the saints.” These needs are material ones: food, clothing, and housing (see also Acts 6:3; 20:34; 28:10; Titus 3:14).
Steven Cole: 5 Ways to Grow in Generosity:
(1). YIELD ALL OF YOUR MONEY AND POSSESSIONS TO THE LORD (WHO ALREADY OWNS THEM) AND THEN MANAGE THEM IN LIGHT OF HIS KINGDOM PURPOSES.
(2). GET A JOB AND WORK HARD TO EARN SO THAT YOU CAN GIVE.
(3). BEGIN A LIFELONG WAR AGAINST GREED.
(4). GET OUT OF DEBT, LIVE FRUGALLY, AND ESTABLISH A SAVINGS BUFFER.
(5). GIVE FAITHFULLY, GENEROUSLY, AND REGULARLY OFF THE TOP OF EACH PAYCHECK. . .
I’ve recently read several excellent books on the subject of giving. When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert [Moody Publishers] gives many wise and tested insights.
For example, the first step in working with the poor is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development (pp. 103-104). When people come to the church needing funds to alleviate a crisis, they recommend asking four questions (p. 106):
- First, is there really a crisis at hand?
- Second, to what degree was the individual personally responsible for the crisis? Have they learned from their mistakes?
- Third, can the person help himself?
- Fourth, to what extent has this person already been receiving relief from you or others in the past?
Another excellent book is Jonathan Martin’s Giving Wisely [Last Chapter Publishing]. He gives four helpful criteria by which to evaluate your giving, whether overseas or here at home. He uses the acronym RAISE (pp. 61-129):
- Relationship: “A working and viable relationship is the foundation for wise giving.”
- Accountability: Giving to anyone without appropriate accountability is a setup for sin.
- Indigenous Sustainability: Our giving should not create dependency on long-term outside help.
- Equity: Our gifts should not create economic inequities in the place it is given.
Frank Thielman: “Hospitality” (τὴν φιλοξενίαν) also refers to helping those in need and helping them in practical ways, but refers more specifically to protecting and caring for the traveler or stranger (ξένος). It was a commonly valued virtue in antiquity (e.g., Homer, Odyssey 6.207–8, 9.270–71), and the idea that Zeus was the protector of strangers circulated in the Rome of Paul’s time as proverbial wisdom (Musonius Rufus, Lecture 15 A [Cynthia King]).
Thomas Schreiner: The other means of assistance noted here is hospitality. The use of the participle διώκοντες (diōkontes, pursue) suggests taking initiative in providing hospitality. This would be particularly necessary in Paul’s day because believers who traveled would typically lack the financial wherewithal to pay their own lodging, and thus their ministry or visit would depend on hospitality (cf. Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9; 1 Clem. 1.2; 10.7; 11.1; 12.1; Herm. Man. 38.10).
Everett Harrison: Even under persecution one should not allow himself to be so preoccupied with his own troubles that he becomes insensitive to the needs of other believers. Apparently, it is temporal need that is in view. To share with others is never more meaningful than when one is hard pressed to find a sufficient supply for himself. When this sharing takes place under one’s own roof, it is labeled “hospitality.” The Greek term (philoxenos) is more expressive than the English, or it means “love for strangers.”