Christian vs. Christian: Romans 12:10
This week I am continuing with my series of posts on Christian behavior toward other Christians (please read my introductory post for why I am doing this). I have decided to continue with Romans chapter 12 this week. Here is the Holman Christian Standard translation of Romans 12:9-11:
9 Love [agapaō] must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good.
10 Show family affection [philostorgos] to one another with brotherly love [philadelphia]. Outdo one another in showing honor.
11 Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord.
What can I say about this passage? Here we have another passage where the Apostle Paul is urging Christians in the church at Rome to love one another. In fact if you read a longer excerpt running from verses 9 through 21 (click here for full quote) the Apostle Paul is setting down guidelines for treatment of both the believer and unbeliever.
Paul certainly knew that other believers could be unpleasant stinkers. There wasn’t a church that he visited where he didn’t get resistance from members of the church. Sure, some of these people could have been unbelievers but I don’t remember Paul ever saying that everyone who opposed him must be unbelievers. No, many believers wrongly resisted him. Yet in this passage he is urging all members of the Roman church to love one another without qualification. I am sure that a bright theologian (or lawyer) could say that there are indeed contingencies in this passage and if they are not met then we are not held to these high standards of conduct. I don’t see that.
In his commentary on the Book of Romans (Romans Unlocked) Pastor René A. López has a very instructive write-up on this passage. In fact, I like his commentary so much that I am going to quote all of his comments on Romans 12:9-21. The ideas presented here are certainly worth reflecting on.
Here is Pastor López:
c. Extend sincere love, kindness, and mercy to all (12:9-21)
12:9-13. Paul now moves from discussing the proper use of spiritual gifts (vv 6-8 to the motivation undergirding those gifts). Love is the foundation that should move believers to heed Paul’s commands, from vv 19-21, to behave honorably among believers and unbelievers.
Beginning with vv 9-13, Paul develops the theme of love describing its characteristics or attributes. Mentioning love first conforms to Paul’s use elsewhere (Rom 13:8-10; 1 Cor 12:31-14; Gal 5:14; Eph 5:2; Col 3:14; 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Tim 1:5). The text of vv 6-21 bear a striking resemblance to 1 Corinthians 12-13. First, Paul discusses the proper use of spiritual gifts in vv 6-8 (=1 Cor 12), then these gifts propelled by love will cause one to abhor evil (cf.Ps 97:10; 119:104; 128, 163; Prov 8:13; 13:5; 28:16; Heb 1:9; Rev 2:6) and to act good (cf. 1 Pet 3:11) in vv 9-21 (=1 Cor 13:1-7). The terms evil and good appearing in v 9 and in v 21 form an inclusio (cf. 1:15 for definition) showing how the commands directed at Christians (to abhor evil and cling to what is good) in this section are propelled by love without hypocrisy (anypokritos means genuine and sincere, lit. “without play-acting”, BDAG, 91) Elsewhere believers are commanded to express genuine love (2 Cor 6:6; 1 Pet 1:22), not just role play as if it were a job. Through numerous participles (abhor, cling, preference, fervent, serving, rejoicing, patient, continuous, distributing, given) describing the characteristics of love are not (technically speaking) imperatives, the context indicates Paul uses them as commands to obey specific mandates (cf. Schreiner, Romans, 663-664).
Christian love should manifest itself in concrete ways: love (agapē), kindly affectionate (philostorgos) and brotherly love (philadelphia) manifested towards one another. These are three (out of the four) different kinds of love in the New Testament that overlap but have different nuances. (1) The highest form of love is agapē, known as self sacrificing love for all. (2) the Greek word philadelphia refers to an affection one has for a fellow Christian friend (BDAG, 1055; Louw & Nida, Lexical Semantics, 25:34). (3) The other Greek word philostorgas refers to an affection for the relative’s of one’s immediate family (Louw & Nida, Lexical Semantics, 25:41). (4) The final Greek word eros refers to a sensual type of love. This term does not appear in scripture.
By using all three of these forms, Paul covers all angles of what type of love believers ought to manifest towards their spiritual brothers and sisters, and how they should practice it: giving preference to others by putting them first (cf. Phil 2:3; Büchsel, TDNT, 2:908-9), not lagging (lit.”lazy”; Matt 25:26) in diligence and be fervent which literally means “to boil with heat” (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, 271) in their spirit (cf. Acts 18:25; 1 Cor 5:3; 7:34; Col 2:5; 1 Tim 4:12) by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Schreiner, Romans, 665). Today, one expresses this way of serving by the metaphorical phrase: to be on fire. Thus, Paul encourages believers to be excited and zealous in serving Jesus, not just go through the motions in a half-hearted way.
Then, if one is on fire for Jesus, he will be rejoicing in hope. Though hope in Romans primarily refers to the eternal destiny all believers will enjoy (Rom 4:18; 5:2; 8:17a; 30), there is also the potential hope of sharing in rulership with Christ as fellow-sufferers (5:3-5; 8:17b-25; 1 Pet 1:3-9). However, to achieve this hope, one must be patient when tribulation comes. How does a Christian do this? By continuing (lit. “to persist” or “be devoted to,” BDAG, 881) steadfastly in prayer (cf. 1 Thess 5:17). Constant communication with God is the lifeblood that gives the believer power to endure problems.
The final elements in Paul’s list ought to be two of the major virtues that characterize Christians. First, believers should be distributing (koinōneō, lit means “to share”) to the needs of other saints (i.e., believers; cf. 1:7). Usually the word group associated with the verb koinōneō is often employed in the New Testament as helping those with financial or material needs. (Acts 2:44; 4:32; Rom 15:26-27; 2 Cor 8:4; 9:13; Gal 6:6; Phil 1:5; 4:15; 1 Tim 6:18; Heb 13:16).
René A. López