NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXV)
Frédéric Godet offers insight on what he sees as a critical part of these spiritual gifts. Although the gifts themselves are varied, there is still one gift which is at the root of all the rest, and which ought to be common to all believers. Even though a believer may not have any of the gifts Paul’s lists here, they must have this gift – Love. The Church grows by faith in divine love, lives so it can share that love. All true believers know the power of God’s love. When this love is sincere, it produces in every believer spiritual fruit which is seen and shared their whole lives by the manifold activity of love. This charitable activity is exercised, first, toward those in need of tender loving care the believer finds around them, then toward the hostile elements which they happen to meet, whether within the church itself or without. As Paul said, love never lets you down1.2
Then Godet goes on to combine the next two elements of “holding on to” and “letting go of” in defining real love. He takes the two words Paul uses here translated by the KJV as “abhor” and “cleave.” Paul is the only Last Covenant writer to use the Greek verb apostygeō which means to dislike, be in horror of. It is used here as a participle. That means it is a word formed from the verb love and is better translated as love that abhors evil. The same goes for the Greek verb kollaō which means to be glued to cemented to, joined to, fasten together. So as a participle formed from the verb love, it is better translated as love that cleaves to good. So we can see that these two verbs as participles to the subject Love, they intended to qualify such Love as an act of the will that genuinely hugs good and can’t stand evil. Also, it is a constant reminder that Love as the essence of any Fruit of the Spirit virtue is what makes that virtue worthy of its name.
For instance, let’s look at the virtue of kindness. Without love, it is most likely a selfish act to make oneself appear as a good person in the eyes of onlookers. At the same time, we must admit that it is not a commonplace occurrence to be told that we should detest evil in order to love good. This was Paul’s way of saying that Love is not pure unless it is the declared enemy of evil. This then makes it possible for us to still love a person even though we hate what evil is doing to them. When we apply love with all its energy, it is not to get rid of the evil but to work hard in helping them develop goodness to a greater degree. Love will drive out evil. For anyone claiming to be a believer who is lacking this moral principle, which is the spirit of holiness, love for them is only a form of selfish pride.3
F. F. Bruce was impressed by the process that Paul uses in this section requiring those to whom it is addressed to follow the procedures of both participation and avoidance as outlined. It reminded Bruce of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In this list of spiritual gifts, Paul emphasizes that the mutual love, compassion, and honor within the brotherhood of believers are to be expected to be above and beyond average. But another thing caught Professor Bruce’s attention, this love and forgiveness were to extend outside the fellowship of believers. Not just to friendly neighbors, but even to those who persecute them and wish them harm. So there is only one conclusion: love must be genuine. The Greek adjective Paul used was anypokritos, literally “without hypocrisy.” The New English Bible renders it, “in all sincerity.”4
John Stott is struck by the same use of the Greek adjective anypokritos (without hypocrisy) and also defines it as sincere love. He goes on to point out that hypokritēs was the name for play-actors. This was Paul’s way of saying that the church must not be turned into a staged performance. Love is not a make-believe theater; it belongs to the real world. In fact, love and hypocrisy can’t stand each other. Scottish theologian John Murray wrote: “If love is the sum of virtue, and hypocrisy the epitome of vice, what a contradiction it is to bring these together!”5 Yet, there are plenty of examples of “pretense-love,” which was displayed in its vilest form in the betraying kiss of Judas Iscariot.6
It may seem strange to some that Paul follows his exhortation to love with an immediate command to hate. But we should not be surprised. For “love is not always blind and cannot see,” as the Merchant says in the Canterbury Tales.7 On the contrary, Love must be very discerning. That’s because it is an act of the will, not unperceptive emotion. True Love then should be so passionately devoted to its beloved object that it hates evil with equal intensity as a form of protection. In fact, both Greek verbs Paul uses here are strong, almost vehement. Love’s “hatred” of evil apostygeō, unique to the Book of Romans here in the Last Covenant, expresses a strong dislike, a detestation, a complete disgust. The Revised English Bible renders it: “Loathing evil.” When we take the literal meaning of the Greek, Paul is not saying we should have a casual attitude about how we show God’s love to others, but do so with fire burning in our hearts.8
Verse 10: Love each other in a way that makes you feel close like brothers and sisters. And give preference to honoring others over honoring to yourself.
Now Paul focuses in on the very core of what Jesus taught as part of His new commandment: “If you love each other, all men will know you are My followers.”9 Then after reminding His disciple that they did not choose Him, He chose them, He told them: “This is what I command you: keep loving each other!”10 No wonder, then, why Paul reminded the Galatians why they were also among the chosen: “Christian brothers, you were chosen to be free… Live this free life by loving and helping others.”11 And to the Ephesians, Paul had this advice: “Do not be hard on one another. Let love keep you from doing that. Work hard to live together as one with the help of the Holy Spirit. Then there will be harmony.”12 Not only that, but Paul thanked God when he heard the message that all the brethren in Colossae had great love for all those who belonged to Christ.13 And when he wrote the Thessalonians, he told them: “You don’t need anyone to write to you about loving your Christian brothers. God has taught you to love each other. You love all the Christians in all the country of Macedonia. But we ask you to love them even more.”14 In his second letter, Paul praised the Thessalonians because their love for each other had gotten stronger and stronger.15
But just telling them to love one another, wasn’t good enough for Paul. He wanted to be more specific. And when applied to a special case, it usually means that some particular need or deficiency has been noted. He told them that their loving one another should be in the form of brotherly love. The Greek noun philadelphia that Paul uses here, had a special connotation. Within any family, we all know that the love we have for our mother is different than the love we have for any other person in the world. It is unequaled. The kiss we give our moms is totally different than the kiss we may give to someone else. By the same token, the love we have for our siblings is unique as well. We can say things to them we can’t say to anyone else without getting into trouble.
The idea of brotherly love was not uniquely Christian. The Jews used the same phrase when speaking of love that expresses a special purpose. We can see this illustrated in Job where his seven sons and three daughters used to take turns giving banquets at their houses and invite all their siblings to come and enjoy the feast.16 And in one of David’s Psalms, he begins by saying: “Oh, how good, how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in harmony.”17
Then in one Jewish historical document, we read where they are told how they are well aware of what it means to be brothers, something which God as Creator imparted to them through their fathers and incorporated it in them in their mother’s womb. Because of this, brothers having been born one after another; and having lived together while growing up, and all sharing the same blood; having been raised on the same principles of living; having been fed from the same breasts, grew up with each other having a brotherly relationship and thereby increasingly grew strong by reason of this common nurture, daily companionship, mutual education, and practicing God’s teachings. With such brotherly love being so full of understanding and such care for one another ingrained in their hearts, it developed a closeness and bond with each other that cannot be had with anyone else.18
Also, the great writer Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher who was acquainted with both Jewish and Greek philosophies, wrote to a friend named Gaius on this matter of having love one for another. He points out that all the great philosophers were admired on account of the benefits they conferred on their fellowman with their thinking, and that they are admired up to the present time because they deserve great esteem and the highest of honors. But Philo has a question for his friend Gaius. He wanted to hear his friend tell him personally what achievements on his part did he take pride in and brag about as something that came anywhere close to what these venerable philosophers accomplished. He asked him for instance if he tried to imitate the twin sons of Jupiter in their brotherly affection. If so, then they could begin there with a discussion on brotherly love.19 In other words, it is one thing to admire the concept of brotherly love, but it is another thing to actually practice it. You may read and know all about it, but unless you put it to use, all of your knowledge is useless.
1 1 Corinthians 13:8
2 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Godet: ibid.
4 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Eerdmans, 1968, Vol. 2, p. 227
5 John Murray: On Romans, vol. II, p. 128
6 Luke 22:48
7 Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales, The Merchant’s Tale, as translated by A. S. Kline, 2007, p. 294
8 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit
9 John 13:34-35
10 John 15:17
11 Galatians 5:13
12 Ephesians 4:2-3
13 Colossians 1:4
14 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10
15 2 Thessalonians 1:3
16 Job 1:4
17 Psalm 133:1
18 4 Maccabees 13:19-23
19 Philo of Alexandria: Legatio ad Gaium (On the Embassy to Gaius) § 12 (86-87)