Summary: This text shows us three triplets of graces that proceed from the wholehearted offering of ourselves to God.
9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:9-12)
Romans 12 is the continuation of Paul’s exposition of the righteousness of God, the theme of the entire letter to the Romans. In this chapter, however, as in all the final chapters of Romans, the apostle expounds his theme concretely and not theoretically. He teaches that duty is the right product of orthodox doctrine.
The beloved defender of the faith claims that it all begins in the wholehearted offering of our bodies to God and is seen in humble service to one another to whom we are spiritually united but from whom we differ in spiritual gifts (Romans 12:1-8).
The remainder of Romans 12 contains a number of commands to deep, vibrant and practical love. The love that Paul wishes to see is one that produces holiness and right living.
Thomas Watson, one of the Puritans, said, “Faith deals with invisibles, but God hates that love which is invisible.”
And another of the Puritans said most pointedly, “Affection without action is like Rachel, beautiful but barren.”
Of course, the kind of love that Paul sets forth is a far cry from the sentimental softness that the modern world calls “luuuuuuuve.” In the Bible love is in complete harmony with divine righteousness and holiness, and thoroughly congruent with the punishment of sinners.
Love to our world is gushy and mushy. Biblical love has a ruggedness about it, mixed with the tenderness of the deepest commitment of the will to the object of divine grace. It is holy love, free, distinguishing, and gracious.
Romans 12:9-12 contains three triplets of graces. We shall look at them in the order in which they appear in the text.
Our response to the mercies of God, Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, is the “Christian Offering,” the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices to God. That is the foundation of the life that pleases God.
The method of achieving this is found in nonconformity to this world and transformation by the renewing of our minds. Along the way to the accomplishment of the divine command is the recognition of our true place before God and men in humility (12:3), of our true unity in the one body of believers, and of the diverse spiritual gifts that have been given by God to believers (12:3-8).
Paul now expresses more specific commands, directed to the accomplishment of the “Christian Offering.” These more specific commands are not random commands, but they are closely related to one another, as we shall see.
I. The First Triplet: A Love That Can Hate (12:9-10)
The first of the exhortations, in verses 9-10, structured as a triplet of grace, reads, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
The opening words of Paul are important, “Let love be genuine” (12:9a). Paul is speaking of a sincere love, not like that of men described in Scripture whose words are “smoother as butter,” but whose true feelings are “drawn swords” (Psalm 55:21).
One might ask at this point, “How can I possibly measure up to Paul’s command?” The answer lies in the context, which has to do with the melting influences of “mercies of God” (12:1).
Reflection upon the extent of the divine mercy shown to us in our lost condition ought to be sufficient to bring us to authentic love for one another (cf. 1 Peter 1:22).
It is clear that if God has loved and saved others as he has loved and saved us, then we can and must love them, too. In the love of them we share in the love of Christ for his people.
In the second part of the triplet Paul urges his readers to “abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (12:9b). Is this an irrelevant interruption? Not at all. This is just as essential to the noblest love without hypocrisy as is sincerity.
One notices that the second precept, the cleaving to the good, is the ground of the first, for, if one is to hate evil, he must love the good.
This command will cause certain character differences among people to surface. Some types of individuals seem to naturally hate evil more easily than to love the good.