NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXIV)
Paul knew what he was talking about when it came to being real and genuine with others. One thing he learned, you never need to apologize for telling the truth. So he has some more advice for those who he is encouraging to get involved with the Lord’s work and use their gifts for His glory. In so doing he uses the Greek verb apostygeō (KJV “abhor”) that is found only in this verse in the Final Covenant. It means to detach yourself from something because of dislike or in horror. He counters this with another Greek verb kollaō (KJV “cleave”) that means to be glued to something with a full embrace. Thayer, in his Lexicon, lists its use here as referring to giving one’s self steadfastly to, to work hard for. We would say today, be totally dedicated to. And the thing that Paul advises them: have nothing to do with “evil,” but have everything to do with “good.”
King David says exactly the same thing: “Turn away from what is sinful. Do what is good,”1 which may have been Paul’s inspiration for this quote. And in a love song by the descendants of Korach, set to the melody of “Lilies,” we read this line: “You have loved what is right and good. You have hated what is wrong.”2 And in another Psalm it says: “Let those who love the Lord hate what is evil.”3 Perhaps that’s why David made this a part of his oath of office as king: “I will set no sinful thing in front of my eyes. I hate the work of those who are not faithful. It will not get hold of me. A sinful heart will be far from me. I will have nothing to do with sin. I will stop whoever talks against his neighbor in secret. I will not listen to anyone who has a proud look and a proud heart.”4 It is clear that Solomon learned this truth from his father, for he wrote: “Reverence of the Lord is to hate what is sinful. That’s why I hate pride, arrogance, immoral living, and being two-faced.”5
On the other hand, being against everything for no reason is not healthy, wise, or effective. The Jews have a list of 613 Laws that Moses received on Mt. Horeb in Sinai – 365 of them are “do not’s.”6 There must be an even greater desire, attraction, and love for things that are good and beneficial. In fact, Paul goes so far as to tell the Thessalonians: “Do not let anyone pay back evil for the evil they receive. Rather, look for ways to do good to each other, in fact, to everyone.”7 The Apostle Peter was also on-board with this idea. So he quoted from the Psalms: “If you want to enjoy life and have satisfying days, keep your tongue from saying bad things and your lips from talking bad about others. Turn away from what is sinful. Do what is good. Look for peace and go after it”8.9
Oddly enough, early church scholar Origen finds both love and hate listed as good virtues. For one thing, love of any kind and by any other name is artificial unless God is included. For God, the Creator of the soul, filled it with the feeling of love, along with the other virtues, so that it might love God and the things which God wants. But if a person loves something other than God and what God wants, this love is said to be an imitation of the real thing. For instance, if someone says they love their neighbor but does not warn them when they see them headed for danger is only pretending to love.
Origen agrees that it would seem odd to find hatred listed among virtues, but the Apostle puts it here out of necessity. We all will agree that among our many emotions are both love and hate. But it’s how they are used that makes the difference in whether they should be considered a virtue or a vice. When it comes to hatred, it is praiseworthy to hate evil, to hate sin, and to hate the devil.10 And here is the secret, unless a person hates evil they cannot love what is good. For example, if someone intends to preserve chastity, they cannot keep it safe unless they hate and despise immorality.11
The KJV adds a qualifier to show that love for others is to be shown without “dissimulation.”12 The Greek adjective anypokritos, that Paul uses here, means to show an expression undisguised, be sincere. We see it used when Paul employs the same word in writing to Timothy: “We want to see our teaching help you have a true love that comes from a pure heart. Such love comes from a heart that says we are not guilty and from a faith that does not pretend (KJV – unfeigned).”13 And the Apostle James also makes use of this word: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. Then it gives peace. It is gentle and willing to obey. It is full of loving-kindness and of doing good. It has no doubts and does not pretend (KJV – hypocrisy) to be something it is not.”14 Even the Apostle Peter makes good use of this term: “You have made your souls pure by obeying the truth through the Holy Spirit. This has given you a true (KJV – unfeigned) love for the Christians. Let it be a true love from the heart.”15
Genuine love is what Reformer Martin Luther concentrates on first. As far as he’s concerned, this is very necessary and a significant addition. He states, “For as nothing should be so altogether free from hypocrisy as love, so nothing is actually more defiled by it than is love.” Everything a person may say or do can be covered with the rouge of hypocrisy, and veiled under the deceitful mask of friendship. There are two types of hypocritical love. One shows itself and glitters outwardly, while there is hatred in the heart. The other does not hide the fact that it is uninterested, but it also does not show the reality that it is pure hatred. But between these two kinds of emotion, there is hypocrisy. No matter what they say or do, you can’t tell if it’s good or bad.16 In other words, you’re not sure if they are being honest or deceitful in their words and actions.
Fellow Reformer John Calvin also places the same emphasis on genuine love. As Paul begins to speak of particular duties for members of the body of Christ, he blends in love, which is the glue that holds it together. Furthermore, Paul adds another necessary step and that is that all disguises and pretensions must be thrown away so that love can be expressed with sincerity and a pure mind. There are thousands of stories that tell how imaginative many people are when they pretend to cherish someone or something with a love they really do not have. When this happens, they not only wound others but inflict harm on themselves.
Even worse, they try to persuade themselves that they are really loving others when in fact they are pushing them away. As Calvin sees it, Paul wanted to make sure everyone understood that love must be free of all pretension, and that everyone must judge themselves as to whether they are doing so. It must be noted, that Paul is not saying that if you cannot love with purity and sincerity then do not attempt to love at all. What he is saying is that when you are just being courteous to someone, don’t try and pass it off as true love if it is not.17
John Bengel points out that the same way Paul treated faith in verse 3, he now treats love in verse 9. He also indicates that verses 9-11 refer to Chapter 7; verse 12 to Chapter 8; verse 13 to Chapter 9, and the following chapters deal with the question of the communion between Jewish and Greek believers. On the subject of Paul’s speaking about good and evil, Bengel takes Paul’s statement as being very emphatic. If you cannot prove that you truly hate evil, then you cannot claim to love good. Then from here on in the narrative, Bengel sees Paul building his discourse in pairs of sentences. For example, there are those who (1) defend evil and attack good; (2) who love good, but do not hate evil as earnestly as they should; (3) who detest evil, but do not cherish good as warmly as they should; (4) and those who hate evil and cling to good in such a way that it can be clearly seen by everyone.18 Henry Alford attributes genuine love to not only being glued to that which is good, but repulsed by that which is bad. He uses an old English phrase – Not from any by-ends. For this we would say today – With no ulterior motives.19
On the subject of love being without deception, Robert Haldane believes that Paul is making an indirect allusion to those fake pretensions of love that he heard of in Roman society. People who socialized just to be seen, would pretend to have the greatest love to each other, when in fact they had no affection at all. Christians ought to be careful that do not conform to this worldly way of pretended love. While they may address each other with the endearing language of brother or sister, they must do so with the full meaning and importance that this language implies. The Apostle Peter expresses this to his readers as follows: “Most of all, have a true love for each other. Love covers many mistakes.”20 Believers should always be ready to throw the mantle of love over the numerous faults that scar and wound their brothers and sisters. This is not to cover up their mistakes, these must be taken to God in repentance for forgiveness. But this may help them lead their follow believer to God to receive that forgiveness while showing true love to them21.22
Charles Hodge has an interesting take on Paul’s use of the terms good and evil. These are to be understood as types of moral good and evil. That’s why the Apostle exhorts the Romans to hate the one and love the other. But a great number of commentators, out of regard for the context, take these terms in a restricted sense, making the former mean “evil” as injurious, and “kind” as loving. This would give this whole verse a sense of openhandedness: “Let love be sincere; strive to avoid what is injurious to others, and earnestly endeavor to do whatever is kind and useful.” When we take Paul’s words and understand them to mean either of these interpretations, the choice we make depends upon the context.23
1 Psalm 34:14
2 Ibid. 45:7
3 Ibid. 97:10
4 Ibid. 101:3-5
5 Proverbs 8:13
6 See Mishneh Torah by Moses Maimonides.
7 1 Thessalonians 5:15
8 Psalm 34:12-15
9 1 Peter 3:10-12
10 See Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13; Amos 5:15
11 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Synonym for this is: “pretending,”
13 1 Timothy 1:5; also see 2 Corinthians 6:6; 2 Timothy 1:5
14 James 3:17
15 1 Peter 1:22
16 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 174
17 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 342-343
19 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 112
20 1 Peter 4:8
21 Ephesians 4:2
22 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 563
23 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 615