Back to the Core
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9, 10).
In verse 9, the Greek word agape is the kind of love commanded. Refer back to the definitions and examples of agape love.
Having returned to the core value of the chapter and of the Bible, the text continues by delineating practical means of fulfilling the admonition to love in sincerity. “Love must be sincere” is followed by another guideline that may seem disassociated with the first: “Hate what is evil.” It is an interesting statement. Hatred normally is a negative action and could be taken as the opposite of love. It compares with the familiar saying “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Also, evil denotes the lack of love. Loving evil would not be sincere love, but a distorted emotion. Finally, this admonishment to hate what is evil emphasizes the importance of sincere love, not deceptive or hypocritical love. Both of the latter are, of course, rated as being evil.
Evil seeks to overwhelm or destroy what is good and loving. As Christians, we should ardently strive to avoid and work against anything evil. An example, gossip, which is found in the church as well as outside its door, is capable of destroying the personal integrity of those gossiping and the reputations of those talked about. It can ruin relationships and even spoil the reputation of a church. A small church had a secretary whose office was adjacent to the pastor’s office, separated only by an un-insulated wall. The secretary was in the habit of listening to conversations between the pastor and his visitors, including counseling sessions. The secretary violated the rule of love by spreading what she heard, often with variations. She was clinging to evil and ignoring what is good by violating the trust expected by the pastor.
Also interesting in verse 9 is the verb cling, which implies the strength of the priorities we need to establish. An example is found in Philippians 4:8 as to how we should think: “ … whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Grab the thought, grasp it, and don’t let it go. Cling to it.
The second of the two direct referrals to love in chapter 12 is found in verse 10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” This devotedness involves phileo-delphi, or love that is driven by feelings and emotions. Devotedness suggests support, encouragement, and concern for someone, usually a friend. Phileo is not applied to strangers and enemies in the sense of agape, because it does not rely on the will and determination.
Third, “Honor one another above yourselves.” Honor (phileo- storge) is another variation on phileo love. Note that this admonition is counterpoint to Romans 12:3. One opposes giving honor to ourselves, and the other encourages giving honor to someone else. In either case, the focus is on another person, or even God. Since this is mentioned so often in various ways, it must be a continuous challenge to living the Christian life, especially as to the issues of love (Romans 12:3; Philippians 2:3).
Accepting this as true and obeying it ties in with the character of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve. Paul is saying that we should esteem others, respect them, and submit to them. This, I believe, applies to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not something we should back away from, for He promises great reward for obedience in this respect. “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). It is a true expression of love. Jesus’ servanthood led to His death—for us. God does not see things as we do. Unless we gain an understanding concerning His love, how and why He demonstrated that love on the cross, we will never fully understand our role in loving others. We will not be able to adequately explain to others their need for a Savior. That in itself is an expression of love.