Paul begins with an all-important statement about the quality of the love that is to be in the Church: “Let love be genuine” (v. 9). The word for “love” here is agape, which to this point had been used in Romans only for divine love (5:5, 8:35, 39), except in 8:28 where it is used for man’s love for God. But here the word is used to indicate the kind of love Christians are to show to others – a Godlike love that loves regardless of the circumstances, a deliberate love that decides it will keep loving even if it is rebuffed. We are challenged to live out the highest love and to do so with the highest sincerity. Our love is to be genuine, not counterfeit.
This little statement is foundational to Christian conduct. But despite its simplicity, it is not easy to put into practice because much of our life is shot through with hypocrisy. Our culture encourages us to live an image. We even deceive ourselves into thinking we have love for people we neglect and, in fact, do not even like. Paul tells us that we must get beyond pretense – we must sincerely love. If we claim the commitment of Romans 12:1-2, we must love without hypocrisy. This is not optional! The Scripture repeatedly sets this requirement before us (1 Pet. 4:8, 1 Tim. 1:5, John 13:35). This is a call to honestly examine our own hearts, asking the question, “Do I love others, especially those in the Church, without hypocrisy?” If the answer is uncertain, we must go to God in prayer, because the Holy Spirit is the only One who can pour love into and through our hearts (5:5).
Having established that love is the foundation for Christian action, Paul now advances his thought in verses 9-13 with several challenging specifics. First, we see love’s morality: “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (v. 9b). Some might suppose that love is soft on evil. Not so! Evil is to be hated. Sincere love demands God-honoring moral resolve regarding good and evil.
Next, Paul mentions love’s commitment in the Church: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (v. 10). The word “love” is a translation of a Greek word that combines the words for friendship love and family love. Family-type devotion to one another is more than friendship. Such love involves commitment like that experienced in good families. The natural desire will be then, as the last half of the verse commands, to “outdo one another in showing honor” (v. 10b). Healthy families have a mutual respect for one another. They defer to one another and take pleasure in the elevation of other family members.
Next Paul challenges us with love’s energetic expression: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (vv. 11-12). The word “fervent” carries the idea of burning. Our love is to be dispensed with burning energy toward those around us. Such fervent loving calls for our best and is costly. True love labors!
Lastly, there is love’s care: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (v. 13). Our care for brothers and sisters in Christ should reach down right into our wallets and purses and cost us. Paul presents this as a privilege rather than a sacrifice because the word “contribute” is one of our great Christian words, koinonia, which suggests a common sharing or fellowship. Love’s care is natural and right and joyful! When Christ’s Church is living in love, the needs of its people are met through sharing and caring. Love’s care is exhibited when we “show hospitality.” Here we must note something both beautiful and convicting: “show” and “pursuing” or “chasing.” The word sometimes even denotes strenuous pursuit. The idea is that the loving believer does not wait for the stranger to show up on the doorstep but goes out and gets him.
Of course, this was terribly important during the early years of the Church when believers were disinherited. Today it is equally important in many parts of the world where similar situations exist. Moreover, it is important to the life of the Church anywhere. The benefits that mutual hospitality brings to the Church are incalculable: relationships enhanced, love disseminated, souls encouraged. All of us are to do this. Peter put it this way: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). And our text in Romans says we should aggressively pursue it. Genesis 18 gives us an example of Abraham, and Hebrews 13:2 tells us, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”
Let us review what we have seen about love. Love’s quality: “Let love be genuine.” Love’s morality: “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Love’s commitment: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Think of what it would be like to see such a family love in the Church. Love’s energetic expression: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Think of such blessed fire in the life of the Church. And Love’s care: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
Romans 12:9-13 Reflection Questions:
What do you find particularly challenging in verses 6-13?
How does this chapter so far (vv. 1-13) relate to what Paul has just been talking about in the previous chapters of Romans?
Which of the “love characteristics” do you need to work on this year?