Summary: Another song of agape love.
In Greek, the first clause of Romans 12:9 has no verb, so could literally be rendered “love without hypocrisy” or “love unfeigned”. From this, I have taken ‘Genuine Love’ as a title for this section. The second clause talks about evil and good, forming a kind of bookend with Romans 12:21.
So far in Romans, ‘agape’ has spoken of the love of God toward us (cf. Romans 5:5; Romans 5:8; Romans 8:35; Romans 8:39). But now it is like a title for a song relating to our Christian exercise of agape love (Romans 12:9-13), similar to the ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
Love is “abhorring evil; cleaving to that which is good” (Romans 12:9b). The word for “abhor” speaks of someone throwing their hands up in horror and turning away from something detestable. Thus, Christian love ‘hates’ that which is evil (cf. Psalm 97:10! Just as strong - if not stronger - is the word for “cleave”: Christian love so strongly adheres to good that you might say it is ‘welded’ or ‘glued’ to good!
“In ‘brotherly love’ towards one another ‘kindly affectioned’” (Romans 12:10a). This introduces two more love words, and both words are familial. The “affection” spoken of is like the natural tender affection that should exist between family members: after all, we are brethren, and all children of the same heavenly Father (cf. Psalm 133:1)!
“In honour preferring one another” (Romans 12:10b). This can be illustrated by the custom of moving ahead of someone to hold the door open for them and letting them pass through first. But that is simply good manners. Within true Christian community it is ‘EACH esteeming EACH OTHER better than themselves’ (cf. Philippians 2:3), and acting accordingly.
Two or three verses back, the Apostle spoke of rulers ruling with ‘diligence’ (cf. Romans 12:8). The same noun now makes a second appearance, but this time KJV translates it as ‘business’: “Not slothful in business” (Romans 12:11a). For the sake of both clarity and consistency, I prefer to literally render this: “In diligence, not slothful”. This is agape love in action!
This is not so much about workplace ethics; nor even ‘busyness’ in the sense of scurrying about multi-tasking: but rather about fervour in our Christian service: “in Spirit, fervent” (Romans 12:11b). Far from quenching the Spirit (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19), Christian love fans the flame and ‘stirs up the gift’ within each one of us (2 Timothy 1:6).
And overarching all this, Christian love is not slothful but zealous in “serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11c). We are not our own, we are ‘bought with a price’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Christian service is service of Him. He is watching over us, and we honour Him.
“In hope, rejoicing” (Romans 12:12a; cf. Romans 5:2). This hope is not nebulous, but is based in the expectation of the Lord’s return (cf. Titus 2:13). It is the confidence that the Lord will complete that which He has begun (cf. Philippians 1:6). The rejoicing is not effervescent, but abiding joy, based in that reality: as such it overrides circumstances (cf. Philippians 4:4).
“In tribulation, enduring” (Romans 12:12b). Tribulation speaks of crushing, pressure, distressing circumstances. According to Jesus, we should expect it (cf. John 16:33). With an eye to the hope, Christian love is patient in tribulation (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
“In prayer, persevering” (Romans 12:12c) It is in light of this same hope that Christian love is found ‘steadfastly continuing’ in prayer. In other words, in all circumstances of life, God’s people are in conversation with Him. It is a personal relationship, and for each one of us He is near. Sometimes prayer is wrestling (cf. Colossians 4:12). It is a major part of our armoury (Ephesians 6:18-19). And because of what Jesus has done, we have access to boldly approach the throne of grace (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16).
“Distributing to the necessity of saints” (Romans 12:13a). The word translated “distributing” speaks of entering into fellowship with their need, partnering with them in it. We are talking here of fellow believers, all of whom are ‘set apart’ by God (cf. Romans 1:7), fellow-members of ‘the household of faith’ (cf. Galatians 6:10). This kind of stewardship is illustrated in Romans 15:25-26. We are also, incidentally, talking about “needs” not greed!
“Given to hospitality” (Romans 12:13b). Christian love is actively ‘pursuing’ (as the word is) hospitality (cf. Hebrews 13:2). “Hospitality” is literally ‘love of strangers’. Again, the context is within the faith (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2; 3 John 1:5-7), and not without discernment (2 John 1:10-11).
I end with an exhortation from 1 John 4:7-11.