Righteous Living Before the World
In Romans 12:9-11 Paul lists set of practical instructions to the brethren at Rome to be carried out not just among the body of believers, but to everyone the saints may come in contact. Some of these come in pairs and others in groups of three. For the most part they will be investigated individually.
First, “let love be without hypocrisy.” In ancient Greek dramas the actors were “hypocrites” in that they wore mask and pretended to be someone or something they were not. Love does not wear a mask. It never needs a disguise. There is to be no hidden selfish motive behind the Christians’ love for another. Love is the greatest of virtues and will out last all the spiritual gifts and even hope and faith (1 Cor. 13:1-13).
Glued to Good
The next two commandments compliment each other: “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” They are like Siamese twins that cannot be separated. The term “cling” comes for a term meaning glue. Saints can never be glued to what is good until they learn to abhor or shrink back from evil. Imagine opening a door to a dark closet and someone in a monster outfit leaps out at you. You would fall back and run away. Hating evil and loving good has always been a characteristic of God’s people (Ps. 37:10; Prov. 8:13). Christians are to flee fornication, youthful lusts, and idolatry. Paul also wrote, “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
Devoted to Brotherly Love
The phrase “be kindly affectionate” comes from a compound Greek term meaning love of family. This they are to have toward “one another with brotherly love” (12:10a). Love your fellow brethren in Christ as if they are family. And they are!
Next Paul states one of the many “one another” commands given to Christians: “in honor giving preference to one another.” “Family first” is the slogan for the church. A genuine respect is to be shown to one another. Each one is to try to show this love to the other by being the first to be respectful. Like two Christians opening a side of double doors for each other and insisting the other one go in first in order to honor them as being that important.
Boiling Over For the Master
The next three statements are triplets connected to one idea: “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” The brother in Christ at Rome was to serve the Lord. This serving is describe first by a negative action to avoid and then by a positive behavior to be employed. The term for “serving” is often used of the labors performed by a bondservant for the master how owns them. A slave of the Lord is not to be slothful like the one talent man (Matt. 25: 26). He is to be diligent in his work as Solomon wrote, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Eccl. 9:10). The term “fervent” is from the same Greek word from which the English word “zealous” is derived. The ancients employed the term to denote boil water. Christians need to keep the temperature high in their hearts when slaving for the Master.
Celebrating Dreams Coming True
The term “hope” in verse twelve is not just wishful thinking, but it is desire for someone or something with an expectation to realize the thing desired. One can be joyful over the prospect of seeing their hope become a reality. Joy and hope are often paired in the New Testament (15:13; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 John 12).
Suffering Long with Short Sufferings
The tribulations faced by the saint is only a temporary or momentary affliction (1 Peter 1:6). Therefore they should be “patient in tribulation.” So facing it with longsuffering is the key to victory. Paul previously wrote, “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance” (5:3).
Be Busy Begging
Next, they are to be “continuing steadfastly in prayer.” Paul commanded the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). The phrase “continuing steadfastly” means “busy oneself with, be busily engaged in entreating or petitioning or begging God.”
Sharing With the Needy Saints
The term “distributing” also means fellowshipping or communing. It is used in 1 Tim. 6:17-18 in a similar way to command the rich on how to use their money: “command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.” The Roman saints were command to be “distributing to the needs of the saints.”
Love Every Stranger
They are to be “given to hospitality.” Not only are the saints in Rome to give to the needs of the saints but to give their generous loving aid to strangers with whom they come in contact (Gal. 6:10). Elders are to have this attitude (Tit. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:9).
You Do Good to Those who Do You Bad
When Christ was reviled by those who persecuted Him even to the point of the cross, He did not retaliate with a curse but blessed them with forgiveness (1 Pet. 2:21-23; Luke 23:34). Stephen did the same with those who martyred him (Acts 7:60). The Romans were to “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” The greatest blessing for God will confer upon them is their soul’s salivation.
When an enemy suffers calamity some rejoice. Christians are to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” A wise saying goes: “he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished”. (Prov. 17:5b) Paul also wrote concerning church members, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
Join the Pity Party
Next, Paul states the opposite: “weep with those who weep.” There will be times when people are weeping. No one loves to attend a pity party. As God has pity on those who cry, so we are to have compassion.
“Be of the same mind toward one another.” Christians are elsewhere told to have the same thoughts about matters of faith. Here Paul is encouraging the brethren to think the same with regard to each other.
Setting Your High on Low
“Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.” There is no room for a chaste system in the body of Christ. No need exist even in the world for Christians to consider anyone to be socially inferior to them. No matter what or who the saint is he will associate with those with the lowest income, little education or are less intelligent, and even those who do menial labor.
Not only should the Roman brethren not set up social barriers with anyone, they should not think of themselves smarter than others. If you really know God, you know He is the smartest. He really is the Big Know-it all in the universe. To act and even think like your are so much more intelligent than another is down right embarrassing to the Throne in Heaven. To be able to hang out with everyone requires the Christian to not get too hung up on his opinion of himself. “Do not be wise in your own opinion” (12:16b).
Hot Coals for Hot Heads
Finally, Paul informs the Romans saints how to deal with their enemies. “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Peter warned the Gentiles saints “not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). It is not good enough just to withhold retaliation, the Christian must go the second mile/turn the other cheek and provide for their enemies. Jesus said, “but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
Besides this, man is not able to mete out just punishment for wrongs like God can. Furthermore, God has appointed the government for the punishment of evildoers (13:1f). No matter who punishes, God’s wrath must be given the opportunity to effect justice. This is His domain and sovereign right.
“The phrase ‘heap burning coals upon his head’ referred to an ancient Egyptian custom. When a person wanted to demonstrate public contrition, he would carry on his head a pan of burning coals to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt” (MacArthur 203). Others claim it refers to a man whose home fires were carelessly allowed to go out and he had to beg hot coals to restart them from an enemy. Either way, the good shown in return has the same effect, it produces hot shame and guilt in the conscience of the offender. By doing this, the Christian is not conquered by the carnal and natural inclination to return evil for evil, but is victorious over evil by doing good. Who knows? Perhaps the enemy can become the persecuted’s friend or better yet – a brother in Christ.
– Daniel R. Vess