Chapters 1-11 of the book of Romans is a rich theological treatise on Salvation. The Apostle Paul discusses the condemned nature of the world (1:18-3:20), justification (4-5), sanctification (6-7), the security that comes with it (8), and how Israel fits into the game plan (9-11).
In chapter 12, Paul begins to describe the life of the believer. He says that it is a consecrated life (12:1-2), a humble life (12:3-8) and now he says it is a life of love (12:9-13). A believer’s life should be a life of love for others.
Love is the most important aspect of the Christian life. It is more important than any spiritual gift he may have. Compare Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians:
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
It is the first “fruit of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5:22, and our love for our brethren is how all men will know that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35). It is also what Peter admonishes all believers to display:
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).
This love of which Paul, Peter and others (1 John 3:14) speak is genuine love. It is sincere and fervent, without hypocrisy and completely untainted by self-centeredness. Christian love is pure, sincere, true and honest. It is agapē-love.
It is this love that now dominates the context of Paul’s writing. Up to this point in Romans all references to agapē have been to the love of God. But now, Paul focuses on this type of love as the essence of Christian discipleship. And it begins in the family of God:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
It is clear from his use of the words, one another (vs 10, 16), ‘ brotherly love (v.10), and the saints (13), Paul is referring to the Christian community, the Church. And far from being a series of commands with little or no connection to each other, he lays out his recipe for love, with each imperative building on the previous and adding a fresh ingredient to the mix.
- Sincerity – Love must be without hypocrisy (9a). Hypocrisy and sincerity are mutually exclusive. We get the word Hypocrisy from a Greek word meaning “play-actor”. Our love must not be a pretending kind of love. It must be sincere.
- Discernment – Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good (9b). Love is not the blind sentiment it is sometimes made out to be. It is discerning. This hatred of evil is an expression of aversion, an abhorrence, even a loathing, while love’s “clinging” to what is good expresses a sticking or bonding as if with glue.
- Affection – Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (10a). The words ‘devoted’ and ‘brotherly’ were applied originally to blood relationships in the human family – a parent’s love for a child, and love between a brother and sister. But Paul reapplies them to the type of love that should unite the members of the family of God.
- Honor – Give preference to one another in honor (10b). Love in the Christian family is to express itself in mutual honor as well as in mutual affection. It is to give the highest possible honor.
- Enthusiasm – not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord (12:11). Love for one another should never be lazy, but it should be at the point of boiling over. Fervent in spirit is this idea, but not in an out of control sense.
- Patience – rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer (12:12). Hope is at the heart of this admonition. It is the confident expectation of the Lord’s return. It is our source of abiding joy, but it also calls for patience as we endure tribulation and persevere in prayer. Our love should be marked by patience.
- Generosity – contributing to the needs of the saints (13a). The word for contributing is the Greek word ‘koinōneō’ which means to share in, or share with. It is the kind of love displayed in the early church when its members had everything in common in the sense that they shared their possessions with those more needy than themselves (Acts 2:42ff).
- Hospitality – practicing hospitality (13b). Hospitality is an indispensable expression of love. This phrase is literally, “pursuing the love of strangers”. Our love must be that we not only show hospitality when the occasion arises, but we should seek out opportunities to do so.
The life of a Christian should be a life of love. It should be marked by these virtues in such a way that is noticeable. A life of love stands out from the crowd.