If you missed last weeks message please listen to it, it is very important in our understanding of these closing chapters. If I could summerize very briefly what I said last week it would be that the believers in Rome were all meeting in the synagogue; believing Jews, unbelieving Jews, and Gentiles. Evidence indicates that in Rome Christianity and Judaism shared a common heritage and were probably inseparable before the middle of the second century. So Jew and Gentiles are meeting in the synagogue, and the believing Gentiles are being tempted to look down on and even consider unbelieving Jews excluded from God's purposes.
In Chapters 12-15 it seems that Paul is specifically addressing the Gentile believers. He wants them to treat the non-believing Jews in the synagogue with love so that they don't put a stumbling block in the way of them and the truth:
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this — not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. Romans 14:13 NASB
The Gentiles are to live righteously so as not to cause the unbelieving Jews to stumble.
In a sense, we begin a new section here at verse 9. Verses 4-8 have been about the use of spiritual gifts, and now Paul turns from the focus on gifts to the focus on love in the church. This is just what he did in 1 Corinthians 12-13. 1 Corinthians 12 is all about spiritual gifts. But then Paul says at the end of chapter 12:
But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1 NASB
So Paul moves from spiritual gifts to the more excellent way of love. He does that in 1 Corinthians, and he does it here.
In Romans 12, verses 9-21, we have the believers' response to the mercies of God. If we understand what the Lord did for us in Romans 1 to 11, it seems the normal grateful response to Him is the love given to me in a life of obedience, as indicated in chapters 12, 13, 14 and 15. In these verses we find the more specific exhortation, the more specific series of exhortations that tells us just exactly what it is to present one's body a living sacrifice. Nowhere does the contrast between the world's way of thinking and biblical thinking become more apparent than in verses 9-21.
The five verses from Romans 12:9 to 12:13 contain 13 exhortations. Paul is giving commands. These words are very similar to the words that our Lord spoke in the "Sermon on the Mount." We really need to meditate on these exhortations and do not breeze over them:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Romans 12:9 NASB
Paul's first and foremost command is "love" — this is a command, believers are to love. Let me ask you something: If love was the natural outflow of the life of a believer, as some teach, would we have to be given these commands?
John MacArthur was asked, "How does one know when he's truly a Christian and that it isn't just some momentary emotional activity that happened in some past time? How does one really know?" MacArthur's answer was, "The way you know and the only way you know is to look at your life and see what is there." What are we looking for exactly? Is love the evidence? If so, how much love? 20%, 50%, 85% or 100%?
How many of you know that love is a priority in the Christian life and that you should be striving to love all who you come in contact with? How many of you are doing it? Before you answer, notice what love looks like:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NASB
So when you look at your life, is this what you see? Is this how you always treat others? Calvin Coolidge said, "People criticize me for harping on the obvious. Yet, if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves." For the Christian who wants to honor God, the most basic of all activities is love. Although most Christians would agree with this statement, as the frustrated Coolidge pointed out, most of us don't do the things we ought to do.
Love is the greatest spiritual virtue. It is the sine qua non of the Christian life. God takes love seriously. He loves us, and he expects us to love one another. I doubt if anyone here needs to be sold on the importance of love. I'm sure that most of us are already convinced this is the lifestyle God wants for us. From cover to cover, the Bible teaches how important it is. Here are just a few of the injunctions in the Scripture that call us to love one another:
'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18 NASB
Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Colossians 3:14 NASB
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 NASB
The Greek word that Peter uses here for "fervently" is ektenos. This Greek word means:"intently." It comes from ektenes, which means: "without ceasing." We are to intently love each other without ceasing.
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 NASB
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NASB
The greatest Christian virtue is love. Faith and hope are embodied in love. Love is the surpassing virtue; it is the most essential factor in the spiritual life. Life without love equals ZERO. Paul says that if we live life without love, we are nothing and produce nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Our culture uses the word love to mean just about everything except what the Bible means by it. So Christians are easily misled into thinking love is primarily a feeling, something we fall in or out of. The biblical word used for love is "agape." Agape was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love), a self-sacrificial love.
Agape love is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave his Son for it. That was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were His enemies:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NASB
That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interests. That is what love is.
How much you love is determined by how much you do. Biblical love is something you do. Therefore, you can only say, "I love you" by your actions:
If someone has worldly possessions and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how can he be loving God? 18 Children, let us love not with words and talk, but with actions and in reality! 1 John 3:17-18 CJB
Contrary to this, our society teaches love is a feeling, it's a mystical sensation that sweeps over you one day and may disappear the next. The Bible teaches just the opposite. Love is not a feeling. It's an action. It's something you do.
Agape is a sacrificial love of choice. You must choose to love. It is expressed in meeting a need, doing a deed of kindness, caring for someone in a practical way. It is not the love of feelings, but action. Love is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 by the use of 15 verbs. Love is action, a series of actions. It is what you do, not feel. It is sacrificially meeting needs. The world's love is totally the love of impulse and emotional attraction. It knows very little about the love of the will. All that human love knows is response to a feeling.
Love is the single greatest virtue in the church. It is the mark of our discipleship. Rinehold Neibor, the German theologian, said, "The church reminded him of the ark, you couldn't stand the stink inside if it wasn't for the storm outside." Too often this is very true. The church too often lacks love.
Ray Steadman writes, "Everyone knows that the church is a place where love ought to be manifested, and many people have come to church hoping to find a demonstration of love, only to discover an encyclopedia on theology."
Believers, when we truly love others, we are living in obedience to Yahweh. This should be all the motivation that we need, but when we love others, it also is of great benefit to ourselves. Fulton Oursler, some years ago, told the following story that illustrates this point:
A uniformed chauffeur approached the desk of a clerk in a cemetery and said, 'The lady is too ill to walk. Would you mind coming with me?' Waiting in the car was a frail, elderly woman whose sunken eyes could not hide some deep, long-lasting hurt. 'I'm Mrs. So-and-so,' she said weakly. 'Every week for the last two years I have been sending you a five-dollar bill in the mail.' 'Oh yes-for the flowers!', the clerk remembered. 'Yes, to be laid on the grave of my loved one. I came today,' she confided softly, 'because the doctors have let me know I have only a few weeks left. I shall not be sorry to go. There's nothing to live for anyway, so I wanted to drive for one last look at the grave."'
The clerk blinked at her irresolutely. Then with a wry smile he spoke, 'You know, ma'am, I'm very sorry you kept sending the money for the flowers.' 'Sorry?' she asked. 'Yes,' he replied. 'The flowers last such a little while, and no one ever sees them.' 'Do you realize what you're saying?' she asked. 'Oh, indeed I do. You see, I belong to a visiting society,' he said. 'I go to state hospitals and insane asylums where people dearly love flowers— and they can see them and smell them. Lady, there are living people in places like that.' The woman sat in silence for a moment, and then, without a word, she signaled the chauffeur to drive away.
Some months later, the clerk was astonished to receive another visit. Only this time he was doubly astonished, because the woman was driving the car. 'I take the flowers to the people at the hospitals myself,' she said with a friendly smile. 'You were right! It does make them happy; and it makes me happy, too. The doctors don't know what is making me well— but I do. I have somebody else to live for.'
Surely the number one reason both for mental and physical illness in our society today is the overwhelming preoccupation with self. When everyone is fighting for his own rights, no one can really succeed or be happy. In an age in which demanding one's rights is considered a virtue, we must read again and again that love is not self-seeking.
The reason the early church made such a difference in their world was because they loved one another. In fact, even their critics marveled at their love for one another.
All believers have the capacity to love, but do we all love? No! Why? Because love is a product of a Spirit controlled life.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Galatians 5:22 NASB
The fruit of the Spirit, like all of spiritual living, comes only from living a Spirit controlled life. Apart from the control of God's Spirit we cannot love. I can't love my neighbor no matter how hard I try. Love is supernatural. It is living that can only occur when its energized by the divine Spirit of God.
Augustine said, "God gives us commands we cannot perform, that we may know what we ought to request from him."
True love is manifested by learning from the Word of God how you should behave in a certain situation, and then, depending on the Spirit of God to give you the strength to do it, then moving out and doing it. I see the prohibitions and imperatives in Romans 12:9-21, and I see this is how Yahweh wants me to live, and it drives me to Him. I look to Him in faith to do in me what I cannot do myself.
Who are we to love? When the Lord said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," the question came to Him, "Who is my neighbor?" and Yeshua told a story about a man lying in the road, on the way to Jericho that had been beaten and left for dead. What was the point of that story? Yeshua asks, Who is the neighbor? Most commentators and Bible teachers say that your neighbor is anyone with a need. If we refuse to respond to the need, we are not acting in love, we are not being kind, we are not being useful."
According to the text, who is the neighbor?
"Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." Luke 10:36-37 NASB
The three he is talking about are; a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. Who is the neighbor? The one who showed mercy. Who was that? The guy that was beaten up? No! It was the Samaritan! So what is the answer to the man's original question: Who is my neighbor? The Samaritan! Who is it that you have to love? The despised Samaritans! Yeshua was forcing this man to say: Even my enemy is my neighbor. Yeshua says to the man: You go, love your enemy! And this is exactly what He taught in the Sermon on the mount. We are to love our enemies.
So Paul tells the believers in Rome to love: "Without hypocrisy"-the Greek word used here for "hypocrisy" is anupokritos. Hypocrisy is a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not. The Greek word which is translated hypocrite, originally referred to an actor, one who was playing a role, so it carried over to indicate one who was not genuine or sincere. Hypocrites are those who are playing roles, pretending to be something they are not. Paul is saying, let love be genuine, let it be true, not an act or show.
Struggling against hypocrisy is something that you and I have to understand, because the struggle against hypocrisy comes into the life of every one of God's children. We see what hypocrisy is as we look at how it is used in Scripture:
"You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. Matthew 15:7-8 NASB
They honored Yahweh only with their lips, it was just outward. They only appeared to honor Him. Yeshua called this hypocrisy. We see that their hypocrisy caused Yeshua to pronounce wrath on them in Matthew 23:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. Matthew 23:25 NASB
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Matthew 23:27 NASB
The Greek word used for "woe" is ouai; it is hard to translate for it includes not only wrath, but also sorrow. Yeshua, the Messiah, is here pronouncing judgment for their hypocrisy. They were pretending to be something they were not. We see hypocrisy and its judgment in:
And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price." Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well." And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Acts 5:8-10 NASB
Hypocrisy tries to make the outer appearance look better than what is really happening inwardly. It is driven by the craving for other people to think much of us. For example, in Matthew 6:2 Yeshua said,
"So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Matthew 6:2 NASB
When they gave their charitable gifts for the needy, they wanted to draw all the attention they could to the fact that they were doing this so that people would think of them as being godly, spiritual people.
"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Matthew 6:5 NASB
Like giving, prayer can be offered in hypocrisy, to attempt to make others think more of you.
We see another manifestation of hypocrisy in:
"Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. Luke 6:42 NASB
They were drawing attention to other people's flaws in order to hide theirs. Paul is saying real love doesn't act this way.
Do you think that it is hypocritical to say we love Yahweh and then spend no time with Him? How do you love someone that you spend no time with? Read the Word!
Paul says, "Love without hypocrisy". And then, without starting a new sentence (in the original Greek), it goes on to say, "abhorring what is evil; holding fast to what it good." The link between the command to love and the command to abhor evil and embrace good is very close. It looks as if Paul is saying something essential about love.
"Abhor what is evil" — anyone who truly loves will hate evil and cling to what is good. The use of the imperative in the present tense denotes, "Be continuously or be constantly hating that which is evil." If you love you must hate anything that will hurt that love. The prophets commanded this:
Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Amos 5:15 NASB
Let me say here that evil and good are not subjective concepts; that is, we do not have the liberty to abhor what we think is evil and cling to what we think is good. Otherwise, no standard would exist for good and evil. What is good to me, subjectively, might be evil to you, subjectively. Unfortunately, this is where too much of Christian abhorrence and clinging lands. It focuses on our sentiments instead of what is clearly revealed in the Word of God.
From Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. Psalms 119:104 NASB
The standard for identifying those things we are to abhor and the things that we are to cling to is found in Scripture not in opinion polls. Today's society, like those in the days of Micah have this backward:
"You who hate good and love evil, Who tear off their skin from them And their flesh from their bones, Micah 3:2 NASB
The love of evil and the hatred of good is a characteristic of our sick society. The murder of unborn children is seen as woman's right to choose. Yahweh hates murder and so should His children:
There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, Proverbs 6:16-17 NASB
If you love life, you will hate abortion, it is evil.
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD. Proverbs 17:15 NASB
Those who support abortion do both, they justify the act of murder as a right, and they condemn the righteousness unborn child to death.
If you want to know what is evil and what is good, we have an objective standard, it's called the Bible. The more we dig into the Word, paying attention to context, seeing the commands in their appropriate setting, and observing how they are modeled for us in Yeshua, the clearer we see what is good and what is evil.
'You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22 NASB
Homosexuality is an abomination! It is something Yahweh hates. But our society loves and supports it and if you speak out against it you can be arrested for a hate crime. Well I hate it, and it's no crime to hate what Yahweh hates. Our society hates good and loves evil.
Homosexuality is not an alternative lifestyle, it is a sin. God uses Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of the devastating effects of God's judgment. Sodom is a picture of devastation. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and Amos all use Sodom as an illustration of Judgment. Yeshua uses it, as does Peter and Paul, as an illustration of God's vengeance. Sodom and Gomorrah is the severest example of judgment because homosexuality is sin at its worst.
It is sad when the church accepts this sin under the guise of love. If you really loved them, you would tell them their sin. True love hates what Yahweh hates. The Bible condemns homosexuality, don't miss this. So the real menace of society is not those who oppose immorality, but those who promote it. Now I need to add here that we are to treat homosexuals as Samaritans and love them. We do not accept their lifestyle but we are to treat them with respect and kindness. We are to show them the love of Christ.
In our society the criminal is pitied rather than blamed. And there are a multitude of government agencies that are so occupied in elevating wrong doers that they lose sight of the biblical doctrine of punishment for the correction of evil.
Hate evil, you who love the LORD, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Psalms 97:10 NASB
If we love Yahweh we will hate evil. And remember good is not what you want to be good. And evil is not what you want to be evil. Liking something does not make it good and hating something does not make it evil. It is the objective standard of the Word of God that makes something good or evil.
"Cling to what is good" — the word "cling" is the word cleave, it's the same word used of a marriage bond. It's a word that means to glue. Be bonded, be stuck to that which is good, agathos, inherently good, genuinely good, qualitatively good. The same Greek word is used in:
And as He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Mark 10:17 NASB
This man calls Yeshua, "Good teacher"-a somewhat improper way to address a Rabbi. In Jewish circles goodness was seen as belonging only to God. Goodness was never attributed to a rabbi, but only to God. There is no instance in the whole Talmud of a rabbi being addressed as "Good Master." In typical Rabbinic style Yeshua answers his question with a question:
And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:18 NASB
Yeshua's question is "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone." Why did Yeshuaask him this? The issue is goodness. In the definitive sense of that word, He could not be "good" if He was a mere man. The Tanakh taught that no one was good except God:
The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. 2 The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one. Psalms 14:1-3 NASB
Man is not good, but Yahweh is:
O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! Psalms 34:8 NASB
Only God was good, and that could mean only one thing. Yeshua could not be good unless He was also God. Yeshua was trying to get this man to see who He was. The man was seeing Yeshua as a good man, a wise teacher who had some answers. He was not seeing that all that is truly good is found in God. He was not seeing Yeshua as the Christ, as God in the flesh. He was also trying to get the young man to see that if none are good, then he is not good. Only God is good.
The young man can't understand anything else Yeshua will tell him unless he grasps that our relative standards of goodness are much, much different than God's absolute goodness and God's standards of righteousness. And this is something that we must see also. Good is only what Yahweh says is good.
We need to find what is good from the Scriptures and cling to it, while hating what is evil. This will only happen as we line our thinking up with the Word of God. May our love for Yahweh cause us to hate all that would damage that love.
Paul is talking to the 1st century Roman Christians, but the command is universal and timeless. All believers are to love without hypocrisy, hating what is evil and clinging to the good. I pray that the world in which we live will know we are Yeshua's disciples by our love.
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