Romans 12:9–21. Lesson 23. Sets of Homely Instructions.
Key Notes: Useful Greek words. Genuine love. Practice hospitality. Comparison chart of needed and usual attitudes.
This passage appears to be a stack of sixteen or more instructions on living the Christian life. It is best to read them in clusters of two or three, as the sentence structure and verse divisions suggest. We will start with some enrichments of the words from the Greek. Then look for a theme that runs through. Note that concern about avoiding evil is at the top and bottom of the passage, bracketing the other rules.
12:9 Let love (Gr. "agape") be genuine (Gr. "anhypocritos", without hypocrisy). Stick (Gr. "kollao", stick like glue) to the good.
12:10 Let brotherly love (Gr. "philadelphia: "philia" is love; "adelphos" is brother) be like family love (Gr. "philostorgia, family love). Note that agape, phile, and storge, are all found in these verses. Only eros is omitted, as it is from the rest of the NT.
12:11 Fervent in spirit—like a pot bubbling.
12:13 Contribute (Gr. "koinonountes", to have in common). Koine Greek is the common language of the New Testament. So the word moves from being common to having resources in common—in other words, being generous.
12:13 Practice hospitality (Gr. "philozenia", love of the stranger). [The opposite is zenophobia, fear of strangers].
Now consider the instructions in clusters, because they amplify each other.
12:9 “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
Eros is deceptive and may participate in evil. Agape cannot. “It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” (I Cor. 13:6)
Genuine love is hard to accomplish for several reasons.
Love is not a constant. It comes and goes, especially the need-love component,"eros". which is hard to separate from agape. Much of what we think is agape is really need-love, the bond between tennis partners, or book club members. Much of the love of parents for their children is need-love—it depends on the performance of the children and the good feelings they give to their parents.
Also, love is something we learn, and learn by practice. Love may start out with mixed feelings. At the beginning of a love relationship, we may struggle with simple things like Emails and Facebook to extend love to the other person. But we know that in the process, loves grows. We must cling to the good and hate the evil. We renounce selfish motives for our loves, such as compelling our children to fulfill the dreams of their parents.
12:10 “Let your affection be like that of a family. Honor others above yourselves.”
I should honor other people more than myself? How can I do that without being hypocritical?
If you think of the family, you are often boosting the morale of children, sibs, cousins—with encouragement and praise, not expecting praise in return. If you can do that in the family circle, you can learn to apply the same thinking to the Christian community.
12:11 “Don’t lose your zeal; keep your spirit bubbling; serve the Lord.”
We serve the Lord, even with zeal, but with a buoyant spirit?
I find that it is often the enthusiasm of others that lifts my spirit. I come to church often worn and discouraged and leave uplifted. Thank God for happy Christians. They are infectious.
12:12 “Rejoice in your hope; patient under pressure; constant in prayer.”
We should articulate our hope--of "sharing the glory of God." Rom. 5:2-- and keep it uppermost in our minds.
Hope, patience and prayer are linked. I suggest that prayer is the key to hope and patience. Through God’s help in prayer, hope is kept in front of us and patience is cultivated.
12:13 “Contribute to the needs of the saints; practice hospitality.”
We give to the needs of the church that is around us, and the people we know. We also give to the needs of those who labor in the Gospel in distant places. We minister to those who are transient, and unknown. In our town, the largest vulnerable contingent is the annual influx of 800–1000 international students, who need more love and help than we are prepared to give. To keep a new foreign student for a week, to orient a stranger to the culture and the city and help find a room, is a good work. If you have ever been in a strange land, you know how that feels.
Overnight hospitality is becoming rarer as excellent inns and motels proliferate. But the need persists, especially for those who work with students and missionaries. Providing meeting space and meals for individuals and groups is still an important task. A coffee for neighbors may be the basis for a Bible study and an evangelistic outreach.
Practicing hospitality requires planning. A freezer with a stock of food. A spare bed, perhaps inflatable. A folding table and set of folding chairs. A cold drink, and a cold washcloth for the summer traveler. A lit fireplace and hot cider for the winter guest.
12:14 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
The blessing that Chinese believers have repeatedly expressed to their persecuting Communist masters has had a powerful effect in turning atheists into believers. Even those who are not persecuting us directly need our prayers and blessing. Find the list of countries that officially persecute Christians: N. Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc. and pray for them. The list of those who need blessing is endless.
12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”
Commentators recognize that rejoicing over other people’s victories is more challenging than commiserating with others’ defeats. This is especially true if the other’s victory is also my defeat, as in tennis. We look for the loser to congratulate the winner even in professional sports. That is “sportsmanship.” Christians should be able to do better than that.
12:16 “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.”
Those who labor for a living have a lot to offer to those of us who do not work with our hands. I strive to appreciate and learn from every craftsman I see.
The poor have a great deal to offer us. “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith…?” (James 2:5). The generosity of poor people is a rebuke to us all. Sit with the down-trodden, Latino, Hmong, African-American, or Native American, and learn. Great rewards come from friendships with international students.
12:17–20 “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”
Paul has us as if in an arena in which people are looking on to see how we will react to injury. Will we strike back? Will we be as mean as the other? Open political meetings are great places for verbal jousting, back-biting and personal vindictiveness. The British Parliament is notorious for verbal whippings. William Wilberforce had to endure much hostility and verbal abuse in his twenty-year-long parliamentary struggle to abolish the slave trade. The calm response of judicial appointees in the face of the U.S. Senate’s hostile criticism is a mark of integrity and an automatic endorsement of their credentials.
The Good Samaritan laws instruct us to help anyone in need to be best of our ability. The Marshall Plan to reconstruct Germany , Italy and Japan after WWII was unique in world history and is in line with Paul's teaching.
Paul says we should leave room for the wrath of God. Get out of the way and let God do justice. You will probably have to wait for that. Revenge and unforgiveness are sins. The passage is quoted from Prov. 25:21–22, which adds “and the Lord will reward you.” Elisha fed and watered the blinded, captured Syrian troops that raided Israel and the Syrians stopped the raids. II K. 6:11–23
Commentators puzzle over “heaping coals of fire,” because that would be painful and we are to be kind to our enemies. Food and drink for captured enemies should induce remorse and that would be painful, but it may not have any apparent effect. Do it anyway and the Lord will reward you.
The theme of love is woven through the passage. It is serving the Lord, contributing to the saints, rejoicing, living in harmony, blessing even the cruel, and being kind to enemies.
It is instructive to look for the character traits that are the opposite of those we are taught here.
|sticking to the good||
|love as a family||
|deferring to others||
|serving the Lord||12:11||self-serving|
|rejoicing in hope||12:12||pessimistic|
|enduring trouble||12:12||giving up|
We can see that we have a long way to go.
I presented a code of Christian behavior to a church made up of NT quotations including these in Romans 12. The senior elder read the 2–3 pages and jumped up angrily, “If this is the way it is going to be, we may as well quit right now!”