A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 12:9-16. Our relationship to one another: Love in the family of God.
6). *Patience. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer* (12). At the heart of this triplet is the reference to hope, namely our confident Christian expectation of the Lord’s return and the glory to follow (cf. 5:2; 8:24f.). It is to us the source of abiding joy. But it also calls for patience, as meanwhile we endure tribulation and persevere in prayer.
7). *Generosity. Share with God’s people who are in need* (13a). The verb *share* is *koinoneo*, which can mean either to share in people’s needs and sufferings, or to share out our resources with them. *Koinonokos* means generous. One is reminded of the *koinonia* in the early Jerusalem church, whose chief expression was that its members ‘had everything in common’ (*koina*) in the sense that they shared their possessions with those more needy than themselves (Acts 2:42ff.).
8). *Hospitality. Practice hospitality* (13b). If generosity is shown to the needy, hospitality is shown to visitors. *Philadelphia* (love of sisters and brothers) has to be balanced by *philoxenia* (love of strangers). Both are indispensable expressions of love. Hospitality was especially important in those days, since inns were few and far between, and those that existed were often unsafe or unsavoury places. It was essential, therefore, for Christian people to open their homes to travellers, and in particular for local church leaders to do so (1 Tim.3:2; Tit. 1:8). In fact, Paul did not urge the Romans to ‘practice’ hospitality, but rather to ‘pursue’ it. Origen commented: ‘We are not just to receive the stranger when he comes to us, but actually to enquire after, and look carefully for, strangers, to pursue them and search them out everywhere, lest perchance somewhere they may sit in the streets or lie without a roof over their heads.’
9). *Good will. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse* (14). Although our persecutors are outside the Christian community, and this verse anticipates verses 17-21, yet the call to bless them is a necessary challenge to Christian love. ‘Blessing’ and ‘cursing’ are opposites, wishing people respectively good or ill, health or harm. Paul must have known that he was echoing the teaching of Jesus, who told us not only to ‘bless’ those who curse us (Lk. 6:28a), but also to ‘pray’ for them (Lk. 6:28b; Mt. 5:44) and to ‘do good’ to them (Lk. 6:27). There is no better way to express our positive wishes for our enemies’ welfare than to turn them into prayer and into action.
10) *Sympathy. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn* (15). Love never stands aloof from other people’s joys or pains. Love identifies with them, sings with them and suffers with them. Love enters deeply into their experiences and their emotions, their laughter and their tears, and feels solidarity with them, whatever their mood.
11). *Harmony. Live in harmony with one another* (16a). The Greek sentence reads literally: ‘Think the same thing towards one another.’ That is, ‘be of the same mind’, and so ‘live in agreement with one another’ (REB). The phraseology is almost identical with Paul’s appeals to the Philippians to be like-minded’ and ‘one in spirit and purpose’ (Phil. 2:2). Once again we note the fundamental place occupied by our mind. Since Christians have a renewed mind (2), it should also be a common mind, sharing the same basic convictions and concerns. Without this common mind we cannot live or work together in harmony.
12.) *Humility. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited* (16b). Few kinds of pride are worse than snobbery. Snobs are obsessed with questions of status, with the stratification of society into ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ classes, or its division into distinctions of tribe and caste, and so with the company they keep. They forget that Jesus fraternized freely and naturally with social rejects, and calls his followers to do the same with equal freedom and naturalness. As JB puts it, ‘Never be condescending, but make real friends with the poor’.
What a comprehensive picture of Christian love Paul gives us! Love in sincere, discerning, affectionate and respectful. It is both enthusiastic and patient, both generous and hospitable, both benevolent and sympathetic. It is marked by both harmony and humility. Christian churches would be happier communities if we all loved one another like that.
Tomorrow: Romans 12:17-21. Our relationship to our enemies: not retaliation but service.
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.