In this section of Romans Paul gives many commands or imperatives that he grounds first with “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good” (v.9). The command to love necessarily implies we are to resist, actually hate, what is evil or abhor its opposite. It seems here that hypocritical love is evil when believers treat each other not in accord to God’s mercy they have already received.
John the apostle commands the church to love not only in words but also with actions (so does James), and Paul now is following suit. Thus, I take hypocritical love to be masked by gracious words, not backed by actions. Paul says that is evil and sadly many of us are not aware that we are transgressing. So Paul now is going to describe what love looks like…and it is costly for it demands my time, treasure and talents to be used for the good of another.
(v.10) “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love”; I take this to be a familial reference since we believers relate to each other as “adopted children” by God, a special relationship obtains and is to reflect in our interaction. Devotion is a powerful word, the opposite of indifference. It means that my brother or sisters joy in God is my goal for them and will contour how I pursue their good, not hypocritically, but sincerely.
“Give preference to one another”; is a call to serve one another since we’ve received this amazing mercy from Christ. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for the other”, Paul here is simply re-iterating what Jesus previously commanded. And now attached to this command to love and give preference to one another is a string of participles modifying or nuancing what love looks like.
(v.11) “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”; this triad is a call to the relentless pursuit of seeking the others good by fighting sloth that so easily captivates our work, as we ultimately look to the Lord for our reward, not our brother or sisters as we serve them. This reality should compel us to pray for God to show us how to minister to each person that crosses our path, not least believers.
(v.12) “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer”; I take this to mean that our kingdom work is to be characterized by a joyful disposition because our focus is the kingdom of God and its purposes. This purposeful kingdom work however is accompanied by hardships that often beat down the soul. Regardless, what is to buttress said work is prayer, intercession by those devoted to Christ and his people.
(v.13)“contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” Here is where our treasure is shared with those in need and where our homes are the Bastian of where such acts manifest (e.g., at the dinner table, sofa, or patio) for God’s glory. This is where we invite others to see how we live from a closer view. These verses seem to focus on the redeemed community, but the following verses can apply to believers and non-believers alike.
(v.14) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This reminds me of Mathew 5:9-12 where the peacemaker as a kingdom subject is blessed and thus when persecution arises for the sake of the name of Christ, rejoicing is to be the response. The reason is because unlike the rotting “lotto” ticket, an imperishable reward awaits in heaven.
I’m also reminded of Isiah’s vision of God in (Isa.6) where in the presence of the Ancient of Days he confesses; “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” The holiness of God stripped the prophet of any possible pretense and his confession revealed the indwelling sin that the mouth reveals. Jesus said that, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” and Isiah’s confession exposed his heart and that of his society’s.
Today, we are no different. Gross conduct and lewd language is lauded and encouraged as a form of self-expression, it’s a form of art to many. “F-bombs” are common place today. It’s as if they were discipled by “Tony Montana”. Why should this command be obeyed? Because it demonstrates the reality of the mercy and grace believers have received, the reward that awaits for them in heaven, and a wake-up call to persecutors that there’s a heavenly reality of which they too can be partakers.
(v.15)“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We tend to neglect both of these commands. When someone is rejoicing it’s usually because an immediate good has come to them (e.g., promotion, marriage, children born, a home purchase) and if we are not finding our happiness in God, it becomes difficult to sincerely be happy for another. What a waste of energy. Why this attitude? Many reasons I suppose but one seems to be core: we forget God has not overlooked us but is uniquely working out His purposes in and through our lives.
Moreover, we don’t like to be sad in the 21st century so why go and weep with someone down in the dumps? It’s a sign we love them and that Christ whom we serve, came down from heaven to embrace suffering and remedy it, rather than avoid it and leave things as they’ve been. It’s a way of imitating Christ when he wept for his friend Lazarus and their family. It reveals that we like Christ, are not “fair-weathered friends” but are ready to endure life’s hardships with them.
(v.16) “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” Paul here is calling believers to walk humbly with each other, refusing to look down at each other because of social status, but rather associate with those unlike ourselves. Too often, the rich and the poor think they have nothing in common, but in Christ we have adoption as sons in common.
Moreover, it’s been the tale of history that the rich are “better than” those less fortunate, but not ontologically, for we all share in the image of God, both male and female. But not just that, as believers we share a common inheritance which Christ purchased for us through his bloody sacrifice on the cross.
(v.17)“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” On the one hand, the first part of this command seems quite clear: two wrongs don’t make a right. Again, we are never to mistreat even those who commit misdeeds toward us.
Now when Paul says to, “Respect what is right in the sight of all men”, does he mean that we are to value what is good, not what is evil, and by our lives show it? Or, does he mean that we are to somehow value a relativistic view of truth and morals which the culture holds to be dear? I affirm the former and deny the latter contextually, since the objective realities of the Gospel are true regardless of culture or historical chronology.
Having said that, Paul may however be saying that when we are mistreated because of our Gospel stance (I see no other reason here) that by “respect” we leave people to their own persuasions and let matters rest because in verse 18 he says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. ”
Paul continues on this vein and says:
(v.19)“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”
(vvs.20-21) “20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It seems that Paul wants to stay the tendencies for personal retribution by believers by reminding them that God is much better at meting out justice than they are, that He is better at repaying people for their evil deeds than we ever can be. Again, this deals with personal revenge and retributive acts not the meting out of justice by the state as the following chapter considers. May You Lord teach Your people to walk in the depths of this kind of love. A love that is grounded in the truth of Your existence and trusts in your divine justice. (SDG)