Romans 12:9-21


The entire first half of Paul’s epistle to the Romans set forth God’s act of love in bringing salvation to those who were lost.  Chapters 12-16 sets forth our response to God’s love that was demonstrated to us.  Our response is one of love.  We love because we have first been loved.  But there is more in these verses than merely a command to love.  Love is expressed in what it DOES; it is seen in its ACTIONS.


In the movie “Forrest Gump,” the main character has a saying – “Stupid is as stupid does.”  The same applies to love.  Love is as love does.  And that is true, not only in God who gave His only Son out of love for us, but also in our acts of love for one another and for the world at large.





            Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9).


Paul begins this section with an introductory command concerning love.  He will then move to the specifics of HOW that love is to be manifested.







Introductory command to love without hypocrisy

That love is manifested toward fellow believers by...

By giving preference to one another

Being fervent & diligent

Rejoicing, persevering, praying

Meeting needs & practicing hospitality


Love is to be without hypocrisy.  That means love is TRUE.  It is not merely a mask for underlying motives.  In the 1960's this country faced the issue of Situation Ethics.  The question was this:   Is it okay to do wrong if the outcome is loving?  One popular play that dealt with this question was The Rainmaker.  The movie depicts an aging spinster who enters into a sexual relationship with a passing con-artist.  When her brother objects that such an action is morally wrong, he is admonished, “Son, you are so full of what’s right that you’ve lost sight of what’s good.”


We don’t talk much about Situational Ethics these days, not because it is dead and gone, but because it is so universally accepted in our culture that it does not need such a label.


We have entered an age where right and wrong are defined by whether or not they are loving.  And so, if a man and a woman (or even two people of the same gender) wish to enter into an adulterous relationship, it is deemed to be okay as long as they love one another.  But real love is not like that.  Real love is not merely situational.  Real love does not embrace evil; it clings to that which is good.





            Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11  not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12  rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (Romans 12:10-13).


There is a play on words when Paul says, “Be devoted (filostorgoi) to one another in brotherly love (filadelfia|).”  We could translate it to say, “Show family love in your brotherly love.”

Having given a general call to love without hypocrisy, Paul now moves to specifics.  He will speak specifically of love among believers.  This does not mean that we ought not to love unbelievers.  It does mean that the love we believers have for one another is to be a special love, a brotherly love.  Paul elsewhere says that God is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).  There are many such commands in the Scriptures.  The Bible has quite a lot to say about how we are to treat one another.  We are family and we are supposed to act like family.


My mother used to teach her children that nothing is as important as family.  It was important to her because she had been raised without a family of her own.  She had been given away when she was a little child and she had never been adopted and had never experienced the love of a family.


Family IS important.  Nothing that I say here should take away from that fact.  But earthly family is only temporary.  There is another family that is going to transcend these temporal limits.  The family of God is going to be family for all eternity.


What follows the command to “be devoted to one another” is a series of Greek participles.  A participle is a verb that is changed to further describe the main verb that it modifies.  These participles each tell us a bit more of how we are to be devoted to other another.  They describe the love that we are to show for one another.


1.         Love that Lifts: Give preference to one another in honor (12:10).


We are to be in the business of lifting one another up.  This is the language of putting someone on a pedestal.  We’ve been told that we should not lift up others onto a pedestal, but Paul says that we should be doing that, not in a bad way, but to honor one another with a proper attitude of love.


Love does not demand the spotlight.  Love is happy to see others honored and preferred.  What is you reaction when someone gets more credit and more recognition than you?  Do you feel a twinge of jealousy?  That is not the reaction of love.  Love sees others as more important that yourself and seeks to honor others more than yourself.


2.         Love that does not Lag: Not lagging behind in diligence (12:11).


Diligence and lagging are opposites.  One is to characterize us; the other is not.  Our love is to be active.  It is not to be a lazy love.


What is a lazy love?  It would be a love that loves in word but not in deed.  It is a love that says, “I love you and one of these days I will get around to demonstrating that love.”  How would you like to be loved like that?  We are to be active in our love.  Ours is to be a love that moves us with all diligence.  Real love keeps on loving.  It endures.


3.         Love that is Heated: Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord (12:11).


The term that is translated “fervent” is from the Greek root zew.  It means “to boil.”  This is describing the diligent love of the previous clause.  When water boils, it is hot, but it is also moving.  Our love is to be hot and moving.  It moves us to the service of the Lord.


This heated love involves serving the Lord.  The Greek text reads tw kuriw douleuonteV, literally “acting as a slave toward the Lord.”  How different has been the attitudes of those within the church.  All too often, we come to church seeking to have our own desires and needs served.  But our attitude is to be that of a love slave to the Lord.


4.         Love that Hopes: Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation (12:12).


Ours is to be a hopeful love.  The quality of hope points to that which is still in the future.  Hope is defined as faith in the future tense.  When we rejoice in hope, we are rejoicing in that which we look to be fulfilled in the future.


The problem with the future is that it is future and we are still in the present.  In the present we have things like tribulation.  But in the future, there is hope for that which will bring rejoicing.


Present Experience

Future Hope

We persevere in present tribulation

We rejoice in our hope for the future


5.         Love that Prays: Devoted to prayer (12:12).


Our love for one another is to be manifested in our prayer life.  How much time do we spend praying for one another?  We are not only commanded to engage in such prayer, we are to be devoted to such prayer.


What do you do when someone asks you to pray for a special need?  I’ve gotten into the habit of taking such a shared need and going into prayer over that need immediately.  I do that, not in order to be more spiritual, but because I recognize my own lack of spirituality.  I typically pray for such a need immediately because I know that, if I wait until a future time, I run the risk of forgetting all about it.


6.         Love that Gives:  Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality (12:13).


With these last two qualities of love, we see that love put into action.  Love is not really love if it does not act.  The action is to be twofold.  The first area is directed toward believers, the second is directed toward everyone else.

CONTRIBUTING (koinwnounteV) to the needs of the saints.  Real fellowship involves meeting needs.


First, we are to contribute to the needs of the saints.  This does not stop us from giving money to unbelievers, but we ought to have a special concern to meet the needs of our fellow Christians.


The early church was characterized by such giving.  Acts 4:34 tells us that there was not a needy person among them because those who had wealth would use that wealth to meet the needs of those who had nothing.  Such funds were collected and brought to the apostles for redistribution.  The function was later taken over by the deacons of the church.


Secondly, we are to show hospitality.  The term “hospitality” is translated from the Greek word filoxenia.  It is a compound word, made from the joining of two separate words together.

           FiloV – Love

           XenoV – Stranger

This points to the activity, not only of showing hospitality to family and to close friends, but to reaching out and showing that sort of hospitality to strangers.


Love is the mark of the Christian.  Jesus said that by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).  He never said they would know we are Christians because of our doctrinal statement or because of our Reformed faith or because we speak in tongues or because we don’t speak in tongues.  Love is the sign that you are His disciple.





            14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. (Romans 12:14-16).


The love that we have for God is to be reflected in our love for others; even for those who set themselves up against us to hurt us.  Paul takes us to this arena of love by quoting the words of Jesus:  Bless those who persecute you.  Jesus said this in His Sermon on the Mount.


1.         A Heart of Blessing:  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (12:14).


There is an interesting play on words to be seen between verse 13 and verse 14 that fails to come through in our English translation.  It revolves around the two different meanings that can be carried by the Greek word diwkw.


Verse 13

Verse 14

...PRACTICING (diwkonteV) hospitality

Bless those who PERSECUTE (diwkontaV) you


On the one hand, the Christian is to be pursuing people in order to do good toward them.  On the other hand, he is to bless those who are pursuing him for evil intentions.


We are to bless because we have been blessed.  We are to avoid cursing because there is One who became a curse for us.


2.         A Heart of Empathy:   Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (12:15).

Literally, “Rejoice with rejoicing ones, weep with weeping ones.”


This is a description of incarnational relationship.  It is pictured in the ministry of Jesus.  He is the One who left heaven to take on flesh and to live among us and to experience that which we experience.  We are called to do the same thing with others.  We are to share their rejoicing, even when it does not benefit us.  And we are to share their pain, even when it does not hurt us.  Why?  Because we are connected and both the benefit and the hurt really are our own.


3.         A Heart of Unity:    Be of the same mind toward one another (12:16).


When Paul speaks of “one another,” he is speaking of believers.  We are to be unified, not only in what we do, but also in how we think.  That does not mean that we stop thinking, but it does mean that we have that which guides our thinking.  When he says that we are to be of the same mind toward one another, he is speaking of our outlook on the important things.  We are to see ourselves and our world the way God sees and this gives us the same mind toward one another, especially in the area of how we treat one another.


4.         A Heart of Humility:  Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation (12:16).


Someone has said that humility is not thinking lowly of yourself; it is not thinking of yourself at all.  I think there may be some truth to that, but it is hard not to think of yourself.  The point here is that you are not to focus on self exaltation.


Most of us have a tendency to exalt self.  We want to be recognized and appreciated and exalted.  Just look at a child who calls out, “Daddy, look at me!”  We want to be seen and we want to be known and those desires are not necessarily bad.  They become bad when we begin to exalt ourselves over others and lift ourselves to a higher level of importance.


How do you avoid such a snare?   Paul says to associate with the lowly.  We are to go out of our way to make the unimportant feel important.  Why?  Because they ARE important.  They are so important that the Father has numbered the hairs of their heads.  Francis Schaefer wrote a book a number of years ago entitled No Little People.  The book consisted of a number of sermons, but I believe the title was a sermon unto itself.  It tells us that, to God, there are no little people.  There are no unimportant people.  There are only those who are made in the image of the God of the universe.





            17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21).


It is one thing to be told to love those whom you already love.  It is another thing entirely to be told to love those whom you love to hate.  This describes a supernatural love.  It is the sort of love that Jesus manifested when He went to the cross to die for those who hated Him.


1.         The Release of Revenge:   Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men (12:17).


An assumption is made that bad things are going to happen and that people will do you wrong.  The Bible is realistic about such things.  It does not teach that once you become a Christian that your life will get easier and everyone will be nice to you.  What it does teach is how you are to act when things go wrong.  You are called to release you desire for revenge.


Revenge has no place in the heart of a Christian.  Before Paul taught this, Jesus said the same thing in His Sermon on the Mount.


            38 You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'  39 But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.  40 And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.  41 And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two.  42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38‑42).


If this sounds like pacifism, it is because it is, at least insofar as it concerns the taking of revenge.  The principle of revenge is to strike back.  The principle of Christianity is to forgive.


This sort of response seems both naive and unrealistic for today’s world.  It sounded no less naive and unrealistic in the world of the first century.  But we are called to a supernatural standard because we have been forgiven with a supernatural forgiveness.


2.         A Pursuit of Peace:   If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (12:18).


Notice that it is not always possible to be at peace with all men because such a stance does not always depend upon you.  But when it does depend upon you, then you are called to be at peace with all.


3.         An Allowance of God’s Justice:  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (12:19).


The Greek text says, “Leave room for the wrath.”  The translators of the NAS have added the phrase, “Of God,” but it is not a part of the original.  They meant well and it must be admitted that the context makes is clear as to whose wrath is being referenced.


Paul cites the Old Testament.  The passage from which he quotes is Deuteronomy 32:35.  It is a passage that teaches that God will one day balance the books.  And it means that, if He is going to balance the books, I no longer have to try to take things into my own hands.


4.         A Response of Grace:  But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head (12:20).


This is still another citation from the Old Testament.  In this case, it is taken from the book of Proverbs.


21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;

And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 

22 For you will heap burning coals on his head,

And the LORD will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21‑22).


The image of heaping burning coals onto the head of one’s enemy has been interpreted in two different ways:


The same Hebrew word for “burning coals” is used in Psalm 140:10.
May burning coals fall upon them;
May they be cast into the fire,
Into deep pits from which they cannot rise.

           A Symbol of Judgment.


Used this way, the image is one of making the future judgment of your enemy all the more severe.  On the one hand, were you to take your own revenge upon that same enemy, then you would not be leaving room for the judgment of God to come upon him as per verse 19.  On the other hand, if you treat his hatred with kindness, then God’s judgment against his unrighteous actions toward you will be all the more severe.


           A Symbol of Repentance.


It has been suggested that the heaping of burning coals upon the head is the language of repentance, similar to one repenting in dust and ashes.  The problem is that this particular term is not used elsewhere in the Scriptures to speak of repentance.  However, Egyptologist Siegfried Morenz documents the ancient Egyptian practice of carrying a pan of burning coals upon one’s head to symbolize repentance. [1]  Similarly, 2 Samuel 13:19 tells of Tamar, the violated daughter of King David, placing ashes upon her head as a sign of mourning.


Which is in view here?  I think it possible that they are both true and that both have application to this passage.  To the unbelieving heart, these works of kindness bring a man to greater and greater condemnation before the terrible wrath of God.  But in some cases, these same works of kindness bring about a burning shame that melts a rebellious heart and that leads to repentance and a new birth.


You remember the story of David and Saul.  Saul had set out to murder David and he pursued him throughout the length and breadth of Canaan.  There came a time when Saul stopped to refresh himself in a cave.  It happened to be the cave where David was hiding.  David had at his mercy this jealous king who had chased him and who had made him a fugitive.  Instead of killing him, David merely cut off a piece of his robe.  After Saul had left, David called out to him.  He held up the cut cloth as evidence of his recent proximity and he said, “I was able to kill you but I did not.”  What was Saul’s reaction?  At least for a time, there was repentance.  He acknowledged the sinfulness of his own actions and he permitted David to go in peace.


You are called to treat your enemy with kindness.  There is a possibility that such kindness will bring him to repentance.  If this takes place, you have lost your enemy and won a friend.  On the other hand, if your enemy continues to be an enemy of God despite your kindness toward him, then his future judgment and condemnation is made all that much worse.


5.         A Conquest with Good:   Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (12:21).


We are in a battle between good and evil.  The temptation is to use the weapons of the enemy against him.  But the call of the Lord is to overcome evil with good.  That is hard to do because it involves trusting in the Lord and leaving things like vengeance and judgment in His hands.


In all of this, our example and our motivation is Jesus.  He is the One who overcame evil with good.  He is the One who showed us love at a time when we were at enmity with Him.  He is the One who has brought us into a position of peace with God and peace with one another through His own suffering and death that were wrought in our place.  How do I show real love to the one I love to hate?  I do it by looking to Jesus who showed real love to me.


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[1]  Egyptian Religion, Siegfried Morenz, page 254‑257.