A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 12:9-16. Our relationship to one another: love in the family of God.
A number of commentators have noticed that Paul’s sequence of thought in Romans 12 resembles that in 1 Corinthians 12-13. ‘The logic is that of 1 Corinthians 12-13’, writes J.A.T.Robinson: ‘from the fact of the body of Christ (vv.4, 5 = 1 Cor.12:12-27) to the diversity of ministry within it (vv. 6-8 = 1 Cor.12:28-30) to the absolute and overriding requirement of love (vv.9-21 = 1 Cor. 13).
Without doubt *agape*-love now dominates the scene. So far in Romans all references to *agape* have been to the love of God – demonstrated on the cross (5:8), poured into our hearts (5:5) and doggedly refusing to let us go (8:35, 39). But now Paul focuses on *agape* as the essence of Christian discipleship. Romans 12-15 are a sustained exhortation to let love govern and shape all our relationships. Soon Paul will write about love for our enemies (12:17-21), but first he portrays it pervading the Christian community (12:9-16). This is clear from his use of the words ‘one another’ (three times in verses 10 and 16), ‘brotherly love’ (10, *philadelphia*) and ‘God’s people’ (13). Some commentators can see in verses 9-16 only a ragbag of miscellaneous instructions, a series of epigrammatic commands with little or no connection with each other. But in fact each staccato imperative adds a fresh ingredient to the apostle’s recipe for love. It seems to have twelve components.
1). *Sincerity. Love must be sincere* (9a). The word ‘sincere’ translates *anypokritos*, ‘without hypocrisy’. The *hypokrites* was the play-actor. But the church must not turn itself into a stage. For love is not theatre; it belongs to the real world. Indeed love and hypocrisy exclude one another. ‘If love is the sum of virtue, and hypocrisy the epitome of vice,’ wrote John Murray, ‘what a contradiction to bring these together!’ Yet there is such a thing as pretence-love, which was displayed in its vilest form in the betraying kiss of Judas (Lk. 22:48).
2). *Discernment. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good* (9b). It may seem strange that the exhortation to love is followed immediately by a command to hate. But we should not be surprised. For love is not the blind sentiment it is traditionally said to be. On the contrary, it is discerning. It is so passionately devoted to the beloved object that it hates every evil which is incompatible with his or her highest welfare. In fact both verbs are strong, almost vehement. Love’s ‘hatred’ of evil (*apostygeo*, unique here in the New Testament) expresses an aversion, an abhorrence, even a ‘loathing’ (REB), while love’s ‘clinging’ to what is good (*kollao*) expresses a sticking or bonding as if with glue.
3). *Affection. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love* (10a). Paul brings together in this verse two family words. ‘Be devoted’ translates the adjective *philostorgos*, which describes our natural affection for relatives, ‘typically, love of parent for child’. The other word is *philadelphia*, brotherly love’, which denotes the love of brothers and sisters for each other. Both words were applied originally to blood relationships in the human family, but Paul reapplies them to the tender, warm affection which should unite the members of the family of God.
4). *Honour. Honour one another above yourselves* (10b). This is the second ‘one another’ exhortation in the same verse. Love in the Christian family is to express itself in mutual honour as well as in mutual affection. It is uncertain, however, whether the command is to ‘esteem others more highly than yourself’ (REB, as in Phil. 2:3) or whether an element of competition is implied and we should translate ‘outdo one another in showing honour’ (RSV). In either case we are to accord to each other the highest possible honour.
5). *Enthusiasm. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord* (11). Religious ‘enthusiasm’ is often despised as fanatical. The word was applied in a derogatory way to the early Methodists in the eighteenth century, and R.A.Knox perpetrated the caricature in his historical study *Enthusiasm*. He portrayed ‘enthusiasts’ as perfectionists, given to exaggeration, who will tolerate ‘no weaker brethren who plod and stumble’. But Paul has something different in mind when he bids the Romans not to flag (literally, ‘be lazy’) in zeal, for zeal is fine so long as it is according to knowledge (10:2). In telling the Romans to be ‘aglow with the Spirit’ (RSV,REB), he is almost certainly referring to the Holy Spirit, and the picture is not so much of a glowing lamp as of a boiling, bubbling pot. The additional clause (*serving the Lord*) may well be meant as a ‘control or check in what might otherwise be interpreted as an invitation to unbridled enthusiasm’ Practical commitment to the Lord Jesus, as slave to master, will keep zeal rooted in reality.
Tomorrow: Romans 12:9-16. Our relationship to one another: love in the family of God (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.