I believe that Paul is continuing the theme of mind renewal began in vv. 1-2 and continued in vv. 3-8. Just as we need to learn to “think as a body”. We also must have our mind renewed in order to put genuine love in action to the family of God, humanity in general and even to our enemies. This passage is all about developing the mind of Christ and showing what the will of God is: “the good, perfect and acceptable.”
As in 1 Corinthians 12-13, the apostle Paul moves from his discussion of spiritual gifts to the topic of love. I think it is very interesting that in both of these passages one may observe the themes of: humility toward one another, unity in the body, diversity in spiritual gifts and love in action.
As we look at the second half of verse 9 in more detail, we see that genuine love includes an abhorrence of evil, as well as a commitment to the good. In other words, genuine love is not a passive, effeminate quality that sugarcoats evil, but rather an active, righteous quality that opposes evil. Allow me to be provocative and suggest a new slogan based on the description of genuine love in this passage, namely: “True Love Hates!”
As we look at this passage we will see genuine love in action looks as it is shown to the family of God, humanity in general and our enemy in particular.
Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. (10) Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; (11) Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; (12) Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; (13) Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. (14) Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. (15) Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. (16) Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. (17) Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. (18) If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (19) Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (20) Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. (21) Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21
I. Genuine Love in Action to the Family of God, vv. 10-13.
Paul moves from his description of believers as the body of Christ in verses 3-8 to the metaphor of believers as the family of God in verse 10. That familial love is referred to in this passage is shown by two compound Greek words that are used in this verse.
The first is philostorgoi which is translated “kindly affectioned” and combines two Greek words for love. The first is a general term for love in the New Testament, the other a word that refers specifically to natural affection as shared between parents and children. “Kindly” is here being used in its original sense as related to our being “kin” to one another. In other words, we are to love one another as family. Just as you don’t have to take classes to learn to love your children or love your parents, our love for one another as believers should be that natural.
But there’s another term used in this verse that indicates that familial love is in view. The word is philadelphia which means “brotherly love” (which is why we call Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love.” This word is the combination of two Greek words philos (meaning “love”) and adelphos (meaning “brother”). So you can now see how much emphasis Paul placed on this love being shared in the family of God. The next few verses spell out for us the specifics of what this love looks like.
First, “in honour preferring one another” which means we are to consider our brothers and sisters in Christ to be more worthy than ourselves.
Second, in verse 11, “Not slothful in business” which means we are not to be lazy in our duties to one another.
Third, “fervent in spirit” which literally means to have spirits which are boiling over. This happens when we our spirits are inflamed by the Spirit.
Fourth, “serving the Lord” meaning we are to be in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Fifth, in verse 12, “rejoicing in hope”
Sixth, “patient in tribulation” meaning that when persecuted we are to endure, not passively set by but actively to persevere.
Seventh, “continuing instant in prayer” carries the idea of urgency and steadfastness in prayer.
Eighth, in verse 13, “distributing to the needs of the saints” uses the verb form of the word koinonia to denote the fellowship or sharing in each other’s needs.
Ninth, “given to hospitality” which involves sharing of one’s home and resources.
This is Genuine Love in Action!
II. Genuine Love in Action to Humanity in General, vv. 14-16.
I believe that Paul begins discussing how a believer’s genuine love should be displayed to humanity in general in these verses. Some connect verses 14-16 with verses 10-13 because of the content of verses 15 and 16. Others link verses 14-16 with verses 17-21 because of the content of verse 14. Since there is clearly a break here (note the shift from participles to imperatives), I prefer to think of this as a separate section dealing with humanity in general. These are general attitudes and actions we should have toward believers and unbelievers alike.
The first way in which love is to be shown to our fellow human beings is that we are to bless those who persecute us! This is a revolutionary concept that is reminiscent of the teaching of Jesus in Luke 6:27-36,
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, (28) Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. (29) And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. (30) Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. (31) And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. (32) For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. (33) And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. (34) And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. (35) But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. (36) Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Next, in verse 15, Paul says to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” May I say that it is much easier to do the latter than the first. Some have suggested that reason Paul put rejoicing with those who rejoice first was for that very reason. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 these words,
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (26) And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. (27) Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
Then, in verse 16, Paul exhorts to unity and humility. Isn’t it interesting how often in Paul’s writings these two ideas come together. This is because that the means to true unity is always humility! Since the means to true unity is humility, Paul gives the example of Christ in Philippians 2 as a motivation to humility and therefore unity. This is genuine love in action!
III. Genuine Love in Action to an Enemy, vv. 17-21.
This is where the rubber meets the road. This proves whether or not your love is genuine. It’s easy to pretend to love when everyone loves you, but what about when someone hates you and persecutes you.
Paul here says to “repay no one evil for evil”! Again, Paul shows a familiarity with the teaching of Jesus who said in Matthew 5:43-48,
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. (44) But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (45) That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? (47) And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? (48) Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
One reason that Paul gives for not repaying evil with evil is that we might “provide things honest in the sight of all men”. This means that others are watching how we are responding to the evil that is being done to us! We must be blameless. This is exactly what the next verse (18) calls us to be. We can’t control others actions and reactions, but we can control our own. With some people it will prove impossible to have peace, but we can be blameless so that the lack of peace is not our fault! We can be peaceable even if we can’t have peace.
Paul emphasizes his point again in verse 19 by saying “don’t avenge yourselves!” We are not to take vengeance for evil done toward us into our own hands! Instead we are to “give place to wrath” which means we are to get out of the way and allow God to bring judgment. In other words, “Let go and let God!” This is clearly what is meant because Paul next quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35 the following statement, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”
But what is our response to be to our enemies. We are to bless those who persecute us (verse 14). As Paul now quotes from Proverbs 25:21-22 in verse 20. We are not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good (verse 21).
But what does this mean? How does doing good to our enemies heap coals of fire on their heads? Why is this a good thing?
Well, this is the way you can get rid of your enemies. This passage is simply stating that acts of kindness done to your enemy shame him and bring him to a place of repentance. As Bible commentator James Denney wrote, “The meaning of ‘heaping burning coals on his head’ is hardly open to doubt. It must refer to the burning pain of shame and remorse which the man feels whose hostility is repaid by love. This is the only kind of vengeance the Christian is at liberty to contemplate.” Greek scholar A.T. Robertson wrote that the burning coals were a “metaphor for keen anguish.” St. Augustine said, “We should incite those who have hurt us to repentance by doing them good.” This view corresponds to an ancient Egyptian custom. When a person wanted to demonstrate public contrition, he would carry on his head a pan of burning coals to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt.
This passage provides a dramatic picture of how God deals with man in goodness to lead him to repentance. As Romans 2:4 states, “knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Likewise, in the verse we have been examining, we are commanded to do good to our enemies to produce a state of repentance in them. Martin Luther comments, “God converts those whom He does convert by showing them goodness. It is only in this way that we can convert a person, namely, by showing him kindness and love.” Wasn’t this the very way that God responded to His enemies at Calvary? As commentator John Phillips has written,
The cross represents the greatest manifestation of the hatred in the heart of man toward God and at the same time the greatest manifestation of the love in the heart of God toward man. That very spear which pierced the Saviour’s side drew forth the blood that saves” (Phillips, John. Exploring Romans. p. 211).
So do you have enemies? Do you want to get rid of them? Try showing kindness to them! Then not only will you have gotten rid of an enemy, you will also have gained a friend!
This is the result of genuine love in action to our enemies!
In the end, the question that remains is: Are you a hypocrite or do you have genuine love?