rejoice in hope (12:12a)
Living the supernatural life inevitably brings opposition from the world and sometimes even sparks resentment by fellow Christians. Even after years of faithful service to the Lord, some see few, if any, apparent results from their labors. Without hope we could never survive. “For in hope we have been saved,” Paul has already explained, “but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom. 8:24–25).
Rejoicing in that hope, we know that, if we are “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” our “toil is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). We can therefore look forward to one day hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). We know that “in the future there is laid up for [us] the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to [us] on that day; and … to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).
persevere in tribulation (12:12b)
It is because we can rejoice in hope that we also can persevere in tribulation, whatever its form or severity. Because we have perfect assurance concerning the ultimate outcome of our lives, we are able to persist against any obstacle and endure any suffering. That is why Paul could declare with perfect confidence that “we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:2–5).
be devoted to prayer (12:12c)
Doubtless one of the reasons the Lord allows His children to go through tribulation is to drive them to Himself. The believer who has the strength to persevere in trials, afflictions, adversity, and misfortune—sometimes even deprivation and destitution—will pray more than occasionally. He will be devoted to prayer, in communion with his Lord as a constant part of his life. So should we all be, no matter what the circumstances of our lives.
Proskartereō (devoted) means literally to be strong toward something, and it also carries the ideas of steadfast and unwavering. It was with such devoted … prayer that early Christians worshiped, both before and after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14; 2:42). It was to enable the apostles to devote themselves “to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4) that deacons were first appointed in the church.
Devoted, steadfast prayer should be as continual a part of a Christian’s spiritual life as breathing is a part of his physical life. The victorious Christian prays “with the spirit and … with the mind” (1 Cor. 14:15). As he prays with his own spirit, he also prays “in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20; cf. Eph. 6:18). He prays “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Paul therefore admonished Timothy to have “the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands” (1 Tim. 2:8).
Love in Action
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
I pointed out in the last study that although the various exhortations of Romans 12:9–13 seem in most translations merely to be strung together in no specific order and with no apparent relationship to one another, in the Greek they are arranged quite carefully. To begin with, they fall into two separate portions: s: verse 9, which introduces the subject of love in a general way, and verses 10–13, which show how genuine love is to function. We saw that the Greek words for hate and cling in verse 9 are actually participles linked to the words “love must be sincere.” So the sentence actually reads, “Love must be sincere, hating what is evil and clinging to what is good.” This tells us that the love Paul is talking about is no mere sentimental mush but rather is concerned for what is good. It is both genuine and discriminating. In the next verses, after describing this love generally, Paul shows how it is to operate in nine areas.
That is the second important fact about this arrangement. In the Greek text these are nine nouns in the dative case, each of which comes first in its clause for emphasis. We usually translate a dative with the word to, as in “to the store” or “to church.” But in this case the meaning is something like “as regards” or “with respect to.” John Murray does not stick to the nine items specifically, but he provides a translation of verses 10–13 that gives a good idea how this goes: “In brotherly love being kindly affectioned to one another, in honor preferring one another, in zeal not flagging, in spirit fervent, serving the Lord, in hope rejoicing, in affliction being patient, in prayer continuing instant, in the needs of the saints partaking, hospitality pursuing.”
This is how the love introduced in verse 9 is to function.
Kindness to One Another
The first thing Paul writes about is being kind to one another. Our translation says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” I pointed out in the last study that in the Greek language there are four words for love: agapê, philia, storgê, and eros. The last word refers to sexual love and does not occur in the New Testament, no doubt because this kind of love had become so debased among the heathen. The first word, agapê, is the great New Testament word for God’s love and for the love of Christians for God and one another. It is the word used in verse 9. The remaining two words, philia and storgê, are in this verse, which means that all three of the New Testament’s words for love are in verses 9 and 10.
But they occur in combinations. In the Greek text the first words of Paul’s command are “in brotherly love.” That is philadelphia in Greek, the word for love being combined with the word for brother. The second combination is the Greek word philostorgoi, rendered devoted in the New International Version. These words mean that “in respect to the love of our Christian brothers and sisters, we are to be marked by a devotion that is characteristic of a loving, close-knit, and mutually supportive family.”
The King James Version reads, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love.” Kindly is based on the word kin, meaning family. So again, we are being told that we are to love and treat Christians as we would members of our family.
Christians are our family, of course, regardless of their background, race, nationality, occupation, wealth, or education—or even whether we are attracted to or like another believer. That is irrelevant. The first verse of “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds” goes like this:
Blessed be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
“Kindred minds” means the minds of those who are spiritual kin—members of God’s new family on earth. So our devotion to one another is not to be a matter of liking but of life. The contemporary church will never have the power of the early church until today’s Christians love one another as a close-knit family.
Preferring One Another
The second of Paul’s datives is about honor and is closely related to what has just been said. A literal translation might be, “And in respect to honor, lead the way for each another.” In other words, “Don’t wait around for people to recognize your contributions and praise you. Instead, be alert to what they are contributing and honor them.”
Unfortunately, if we look at today’s church, we must conclude that the exact opposite is more often the case. Instead of thinking about and appreciating other Christians and what they are doing, our minds are usually on ourselves, and we are resentful that we are not sufficiently recognized or appreciated. Therefore we are jealous of other Christians. Great harm has been done by such jealousy. Ministries have been seriously weakened. Churches have been split. Valuable causes have been set back for generations and sometimes for good. Paul must have seen this as a potential danger for the church at Philippi, for he wrote to those believers: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).
This is how true love functions. It gets to the front of the line not to receive its own honors, but to show honor and respect for other people.
Never Flagging in Zeal
Verse 11 contains three statements about true love, beginning with a negative: “Never be lacking in zeal.” A more literal rendering, highlighting the dative construction, would be: “In regard to what you ought to be doing, don’t be lazy.” This is directed against weariness in well-doing (Gal. 6:9), and it is a real problem when trying to live the Christian life for any length of time. It is easy to get discouraged. It is hard to keep on steadily.
At this point the King James Version says, “Not slothful in business.” To most people business suggests commercial dealings only, which is why newer versions drop that word. But it is helpful to think of it in this way.
- The business of being a Christian. It is a puzzle to me how anyone can take on the most important business of all, the business of being a follower of Jesus Christ, and do it in a passive, apathetic, part-time, or slovenly manner. Yet many do. What we should do is follow after Jesus Christ with all our hearts and minds and with all the energy at our disposal. We should work at being Christians. Robert Candlish writes about this wisely: “Your sanctification must be made a matter of business. It must be cared for and prosecuted in a business-like way; not indolently and slothfully, as if it were a process that might be left to itself, but industriously, sedulously, diligently, with regularity and punctuality, as you would manage a worldly concern, on the common principles of worldly energy and worldly care and worldly zeal.”
- The business of being a Christian father or mother. Raising a family takes work, and Christian love demands that this too be done steadily and without being lazy. Children will not raise themselves in godliness. Left to themselves they will grow up like an untended garden, full of weeds and other wild things. It takes work to raise children well.
- Church business. I am always surprised how church leaders will so often conduct the work of the church in a slipshod manner, doing whatever needs to be done to just get by, when they would never think of conducting their own business in that way or running their own home on such principles. The work of the church, including how we manage the building, should be done in the best possible way we know how. After all, if it is done well, the church will remain as a place for worship and work long after we are gone and our businesses and homes have passed to other hands.
We should be diligent in our spiritual battles too. Candlish says, “If you would fight for Christ, you must fight deliberately, with [a] cool head as well as [a] warm heart; with fixed and resolute determination, upon principle rather than upon impulse. If you would work for Christ, you must work systematically, and you must work on with patient and persevering energy, with firm purpose not to give up or to give in.”
- The business of earning a living. I said earlier that the word business in verse 11 (kjv) does not refer to commercial enterprises, but to everything we should be doing. On the other hand, it does not exclude the ways in which we make our livings but rather embraces them. Christians should excel in how they work. Paul told the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23–24). The last sentence means that love for Christ should prod us to work both well and hard in everything.
Fervent in Spirit
The word fervor (niv) or fervent (kjv) is from a verb meaning to boil. So a literal translation of this phrase would be: “In respect to the spirit (or Spirit), boiling.” Unfortunately, since boiling suggests heat and we think of heat as having to do with anger, it would be better to think of this as a Christian “bubbling over” or even, as the Revised Standard Version has it, “being aglow with the Spirit.”
This probably refers not to the Holy Spirit, but to a personality that radiates the presence of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, this does not happen apart from the Holy Spirit, and in this sense the translation Spirit is not wrong. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote, “The glow of the Spirit is the warmth of the soul touched by the love of Christ. It cannot exist apart from the knowledge that we have been loved, that Christ gave himself for our sins, that we have been redeemed, and that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in our hearts. Such knowledge causes us to yield in full surrender to him as Lord of all. The Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers, will glow through those who allow him to fill and direct their lives.”
Serving the Lord
“Serving the Lord” has probably been added to “keep your spiritual fervor” to show that the “glow” of the Spirit is not without direction but is instead focused on the work and cause of Christ. Still, this is another dative construction that sets it apart as a separate item. Literally it reads, “As regards the Lord, serving.” We remember how Jesus once asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46), meaning that if he is our Lord, we must obey and serve him. We will do no less if we truly love him. Moreover, the way we will show we love other people is by serving them. Even Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
Rejoicing in Hope
Verse 12 introduces three more items, which also go together. It might be paraphrased, “In so far as we have cause to hope, let us be joyful; in so far as we have cause of pain, let us hold out; in so far as the door of prayer is open to us, let us continue to use it.”
In the Bible hope always has to do with what God has promised but that we have not seen or received yet. In particular it refers to that “blessed hope,” which is “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) and to the fact that when he appears “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The fact that we do not see this yet is important, for it means that as Christians we will have our eyes fixed on invisible, spiritual things, like Abraham, who did not set his affection on the things of this life but who “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
More than anything else, this is what sets Christians apart from those about us who are merely secular. Others have their horizons bounded by what is seen. Like Carl Sagan, for them “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” The horizons of Christians are not cut off like this. They are wider even than the universe, for Christians look to God, hope in God, and look forward expectantly to an eternity with him.
And what a difference this makes in daily life. Robert Haldane says, “The hope of the glory of God, in which the apostle here affirms that Christians ought to rejoice, is provided as an important part of the believer’s armor—a helmet to cover his head to defend him against the attacks of spiritual enemies (1 Thess. 5:8). It supports him when [he is] ready to be cast down.… It soothes the bitterness of affliction when the believer is resting on the promises of God. In prosperity it elevates his affections, and fixing his expectation of the glory that shall be revealed, disengages him from the love of this world.… It comforts him in the prospect of death.”
Patient in Affliction
While waiting for the glory that is still to be revealed the Christian sometimes suffers persecution or affliction. Therefore, Paul adds that “in respect to affliction” the one who trusts God should be “patient”—not just resigned in a fatalistic, stoic sense, accepting what cannot be changed, but waiting confidently for God’s own resolution of the problem, knowing that he will reward the good and punish evil in his own time.
Meanwhile, we should not to be overly confident that we are among the good or that our actions, especially those that are criticized, are without any evil motives or are beyond reproach. Rather, we must be careful to “make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) and examine ourselves to see whether we truly love Jesus Christ and are serving him or are merely pursuing our own interests.
In Prayer Continuing Faithful
A literal translation of this verse might be “and in regard to prayer, continuing.” Continuing is an interesting word to use. We might have expected any one of a number of other words. But Paul says continuing because he was aware that this is just the problem. It is not that we never pray. We almost have to, if we are Christians. But we get tired of praying, our minds wander, and we neglect prayer precisely when we most need it.
Our Lord was aware of this too, which is why he said so much about prayer. If you go through the gospels and study what he said, you will find that in nearly all instances the bottom line of his teaching was simply that we should pray—not that we should be paragons of prayer, or eloquent in prayer, or even that we pray on until we get what we desire, though that is sometimes implied—simply that we should pray. He said this because we don’t, at least not when we most need to.
Do you remember Jesus’ teaching about prayer in Luke 11? After he had given the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told about a man who knocked on a neighbor’s door late at night because a friend had come and he had nothing to give him, and although the neighbor did not want to get out of bed to help, eventually he did because of the man’s persistence. Jesus also told about human fathers who willingly give their children food when they ask for it, not substituting a snake for a fish or a scorpion for an egg. Those stories were meant to illustrate our need on the one hand, and God’s willingness to meet that need on the other.
Then Jesus said, “So … ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). In other words, “Pray.” Just pray! The only reasons we might fail to pray are that: (1) we do not think we need God’s help, thinking that we are adequate of ourselves, or (2) we do not believe God really is a loving heavenly father. Why else would we not pray or even be in prayer continually?
Participating in the Need of the Saints
The last of Paul’s nine datives is a compound phrase that fills all of verse 13. In our translation it appears as two distinct ideas: (1) “Share with God’s people who are in need” and (2) “Practice hospitality.” But the Greek text actually combines the ideas, saying, “In regard to the need of the saints, participating, practicing hospitality.”
This means that Paul is not just talking about giving money to poor Christians. In fact, he is not thinking about money specifically at all. He is thinking about the needs of Christians and about identifying with them in those needs. If a person is mourning, we should identify with him in his sorrow and give what comfort we can. If another is lonely or abandoned, we should be company for her to the degree we are able. We should give to the financial needs of impoverished people, too. Jesus made such things a test of whether a person is truly a Christian, saying in Matthew 25, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:34–36). Those who had not done that were sent away “to eternal punishment” (v. 46).
I do not know how anything can be more practical than this. To love one another, to honor one another, to serve one another, to pray for one another, and to meet one another’s needs is the very heart of applied Christianity.
12 The nature of “hope” (elpis, GK 1828) as confident expectation is something that should always be the cause of rejoicing. But because hope is in reference to something not yet seen, it can often weaken instead of providing the strength that it should. Hope is meant to sustain the servant of Christ and enable him or her to be “patient in affliction” (thlipsis, GK 2568). Paul brought together the same constellation of ideas earlier in 5:3–4. The last item in these verses is the Christian’s need to be “faithful [proskarterountes, GK 4674; lit., “persevering”] in prayer.” Regular prayer, of course, is a characteristic of the vibrant Christian. In brief, the thrust of vv. 11–12 is that Christians are called to live in a way that is consistent with the grace they have received.
12 The three admonitions in this verse are closely related in both style and content. For hope, endurance, and prayer are natural partners. Even as we “rejoice in hope,” gaining confidence from God’s promise that we will share the glory of God, we recognize the “down side”: the path to the culmination of hope is strewn with tribulations. Paul, ever the realist, knows this; and so here, as he does elsewhere, he quickly moves from hope to the need for endurance.49 At the same time, we realize that our ability to continue to rejoice and to “bear up under” our tribulations is dependent on the degree to which we heed Paul’s challenge to “persist in prayer.” (Note that Paul moves from hope to endurance to prayer also in Rom. 8:24–27.)
12:10–13 / Ten poignant examples of agapē comprise this section, all of which are cast in parallel form. Each begins in Greek with a substantive in the dative case which is followed by a response in the participial mood; i.e., first a virtue, then an action with respect to it. The sequence is enclosed between two homophones in Greek, Philadelphia (brotherly love, v. 10) and philoxenia (hospitality, v. 13). The following attempts to reproduce the flavor of the original:
In brotherly love, being devoted to one another;
in honor, outdoing one another;
in zeal, never flagging;
in the Spirit, being aglow;
to the Lord, serving;
in hope, rejoicing;
in tribulation, being patient;
in prayer, being constant;
to the needs of the saints, sharing generously;
in hospitality, being diligent.
The sequence begins with Christian fellowship: be devoted to one another in brotherly love (v. 10). Two words define the love of verse 9 in terms of the family. The first, Philadelphia (brotherly love), refers to sibling love, while philostorgos (devoted) refers to the love of parents for children. Intimate affection among family members thus becomes a fitting model for the church. In reality, of course, families are not always charitable, and neither are churches. Nevertheless, with this term at the head of the sequence, Paul establishes familial love as the ideal characteristic of Christian fellowship.
The second word is to honor one another above yourselves. The Greek is somewhat obscure, but it seems to mean “prefer one another with honor” (cf. Phil 2:3, “consider others better than yourselves”). If our neighbor is one for whom Christ died, and if, as Matthew 25:31–46 makes abundantly clear, the Son of Man is mysteriously present in our neighbor (and especially in the needy neighbor), then our neighbor represents Christ to us and is worthy of greater honor than we show ourselves. This essential virtue became the masthead of the Rule of St. Benedict, namely, to receive all strangers as Christ.
The third word is, never be lacking in zeal (v. 11). True love, like any meaningful experience, wants to express itself, and it is no different with Christian love. Christians are constantly confronted by new challenges in life, in the face of which they cannot remain spectators. When such challenges represent the call of God and present opportunities for serving Christ, idleness is disobedience. The word translated never be lacking (Gk. oknēros), means the indolence or laziness of a slave as opposed to the eager motivation of a free citizen. The real enemy of zeal is not opposition but complacency, being “neither cold nor hot” (Rev. 3:15).
In conjunction with zeal Paul says to keep your spiritual fervor (v. 11). The Greek word for fervor, meaning to “boil or bubble,” is used to describe the ardent spirit of Apollos in Acts 18:25. Is there a more attractive model of faith or a more worthy vessel of love than the glowing spirit of a Christian? The very image of ardor, however, warns against zealotry or false enthusiasm. Therefore, lest zealous Christians think themselves more deserving of God than others, let them recall the words of Jesus, “So that you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’ ” (Luke 17:10).
To zeal and spiritual fervor Paul adds, serving the Lord (v. 11). A few ancient manuscripts read “time” here rather than Lord, but the niv, following the majority of manuscripts, is doubtlessly correct in its rendering. Paul is not thinking of seizing or savoring the moment (e.g., the classical idea of carpe diem), but of serving Christ. And lest anyone were to confuse zeal and spiritual fervor with mere spiritual effervescence, the apostle interjects the sanguine note of serving. The ardor of the Spirit does not dissipate in emotionalism but produces the constructive energy of service.
The sixth word is, be joyful in hope (v. 12). There is a slight oxymoron in the combination of hope and joy. Joy normally stems from favorable circumstances in the present, whereas hope looks to the good of the future. Consequently, joy may be shortsighted regarding the future, and hope oblivious of the present. Paul, however, says to be joyful in hope. Christian joy finds its source not in the present (whether favorable or not), for that is a hope which “disappoint[s] us” (5:5). Christian joy consists in the hope of “our adoption as sons [and] the redemption of our bodies” (8:23–25).
Not coincidentally, Paul follows being joyful in hope with being patient in affliction (v. 12). Earlier he said that suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope (5:3–4). Afflictions are not illusions as some religions maintain, nor are they necessarily the result of human or even religious failure. If the world hates Christ (Matt. 10:22; John 15:18), then affliction is one of the inevitable consequences for the follower of Christ. James says to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials” (1:2). Where affliction cannot be accepted with joy, then it must be endured with patience. Endurance (5:3; Col. 3:13, “putting up with”) is itself a Christian virtue. If one cannot overcome one’s enemies, one may still hope to outlive them! Since the present world is not the final state of affairs, Christians hold on and hold out for the hope to come (John 16:33). For the present, enduring troubles prepares the soul for “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
There is a logical connection between being patient in affliction and faithful in prayer (v. 12). Prayer makes endurance possible. The verb rendered faithful carries the sense in Greek of “holding fast to” or “persisting in,” and is frequently associated with prayer (Luke 18:1; Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:4; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17). There is nothing either in the ot or in Judaism corresponding to the early Christian ideal of constant prayer. Here again constancy in prayer prepares the soul for its future glory. With the possible exception of faith, nothing in the Christian life requires more effort than prayer. It is a battle between flesh and Spirit, the world and God (Gal. 5:16ff.). Christians pray, and rightly so, for deliverance from harm and adversity on their earthly pilgrimage. But if their prayer is not answered accordingly they must not conclude that God is punishing them or give up their faith. The gospel is indeed a hospice of heaven in this life, but it is more often, and more importantly, a training camp for the life to come. The Spirit does not exempt Christians from hardship, but he promises to support them in it. The nt lays great emphasis on the virtue of endurance (Mark 13:13), and on patience, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23) as signs of genuine faith.
The ninth admonition is to share with God’s people who are in need (v. 13). Hospitality and generosity were hallmarks of early Christianity, and sharing was an important way by which Christians identified themselves (Acts 2:43ff.; 4:32ff.; James 2:14ff.). Sharing (Gk. koinōnein) is a concrete expression of “brotherly love” (v. 10) and defines the ideal of the church as a koinōnia, a sharing community of believers. Sharing was an appropriate reminder for Roman Christians who, because they lived in the capital city, received many visitors. In at least some quarters local inns were places of ill-repute. When this was the case, principle was augmented by necessity to provide lodging for the community’s needy, and particularly for itinerant missionaries and preachers. In light of the probable conflicts between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome following the edict of Claudius (see Introduction), verse 13 may have been more than a general platitude. Paul clearly envisioned practical acts of giving as a way of overcoming the estrangement between Gentiles and Jews (15:26ff.). Given the fact that Western Christians today enjoy a standard of living considerably higher than the majority of people in the world, the relevance of this particular injunction would appear to surpass mere historical interest.
Paul concludes with hospitality (v. 13). This was a matter of practical necessity in a period when there were no church buildings or social agencies. The Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, literally means “kindness to strangers” and complements Philadelphia, “kindness to the brotherhood,” at the head of the list (v. 10). The word for practice (Gk. diōkein) actually means “to press or pursue.” Practice hospitality, therefore, carries the sense of intentionally striving to embrace strangers and needy individuals. Again, in the modern West where jobs are increasingly characterized by bureaucracy and depersonalization, and where cities contain entire districts inhabited by ethnic and racial minorities, it would seem incumbent on the church to consider anew the implication of this imperative for the present day.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IN EVERYDAY ACTION
Your love must be completely sincere.
Hate that which is evil and cling to that which is good.
Be affectionate to one another in brotherly love.
Give to each other priority in honour.
Do not be sluggish in zeal.
Keep your spirit at boiling point.
Seize your opportunities.
Rejoice in hope.
Meet tribulation with triumphant fortitude.
Be persevering in prayer.
Share what you have to help the needs of God’s dedicated people.
Be eager in giving hospitality.
Paul presents his people with twelve concise rules for ordinary, everyday life. Let us look at them one by one.
(1) Love must be completely sincere. There must be no hypocrisy, no play-acting, no ulterior motive. There is such a thing as cupboard love, which gives affection with one eye on the gain which may result. There is such a thing as a selﬁsh love, whose aim is to get far more than it is to give. Christian love is cleansed of self; it is a pure outgoing of the heart to others.
(2) We must hate that which is evil and cling to that which is good. It has been said that our one security against sin lies in our being shocked by it. It was Thomas Carlyle who said that what we need is to see the inﬁnite beauty of holiness and the inﬁnite damnability of sin. The words Paul uses are strong. It has been said that no virtue which is not passionate is safe. No one whose life consists of a prudent avoidance of evil and a calculating adherence to that which is good is safe. We must hate evil and love good. With regard to one thing, we must be clear: what many people hate is not evil but the consequences of evil. No one is really good when that goodness simply comes from fear of the consequences of being bad. As Robert Burns had it in his ‘Epistle to a Young Friend’,
The fear o’ Hell’s a hangman’s whip
To haud the wretch in order;
But where ye feel your honour grip,
Let that ay be your border.
Not to fear the consequences of dishonour, but to love honour passionately, is the way to real goodness.
(3) We must be affectionate to one another in mutual love. The word Paul uses for affectionate is philostorgos, and storgē is the Greek for family love. We must love each other, because we are members of one family. We are not strangers to each other within the Christian Church; much less are we isolated units; we are brothers and sisters, because we have the one father, God.
(4) We must give each other priority in honour. More than half the trouble that arises in churches concerns rights and privileges and prestige. Someone has not been given his or her place; someone has been neglected or unthanked. The mark of the truly Christian man or woman has always been humility. One of the humblest of all people was that great saint and scholar John Cairns, Principal of the United Presbyterian Divinity Hall, Edinburgh. Someone recollects an incident which showed Cairns as he was. He was a member of a platform party at a great gathering. As he appeared, there was a tremendous burst of applause. Cairns stood back to let the man next to him pass, and began to applaud himself; he never dreamt that the applause was for him. It is not easy to give each other priority in honour. There is enough natural instinct in most of us to want others to recognize our rights; but Christians have no rights—they have only duties.
(5) We must not be sluggish in our zeal. There is a certain intensity in the Christian life; there is no room for lethargy in it. Christians cannot take things in an easy-going way, for the world is always a battle ground between good and evil; the time is short, and life is a preparation for eternity. Christians may burn out, but they must not rust out.
(6) We must keep our spirit at boiling point. The one whom the risen Christ could not stand was the person who was neither hot nor cold (Revelation 3:15–16). Today, people are apt to look askance upon enthusiasm; the modern battle cry is: ‘I couldn’t care less.’ But Christians are people who are desperately in earnest; they are aﬂame for Christ.
(7) Paul’s seventh rule may be one of two things. The ancient manuscripts vary between two readings. Some read: ‘Serve the Lord,’ and some read: ‘Serve the time,’ that is, ‘Grasp your opportunities.’ The reason for the double reading is this. All the ancient scribes used contractions in their writing. In particular, the more common words were always abbreviated. One of the most common ways of abbreviating was to miss out the vowels—as shorthand does—and to place a stroke along the top of the remaining letters. Now, the word for Lord is kurios and the word for time is kairos, and the abbreviation for both of these words is krs. In a section so ﬁlled with practical advice, it is more likely that Paul was saying to his people: ‘Seize your opportunities as they come.’ Life presents us with all kinds of opportunities—the opportunity to learn something new or to cut out something wrong; the opportunity to speak a word of encouragement or of warning; the opportunity to help or to comfort. One of the tragedies of life is that we so often fail to grasp these opportunities when they come. There are three things which do not come back—the spent arrow, the spoken word and the lost opportunity.
(8) We are to rejoice in hope. When Alexander the Great was setting out upon one of his campaigns, he was distributing all kinds of gifts to his friends. In his generosity, he had given away nearly all his possessions. ‘Sir,’ said one of his friends, ‘you will have nothing left for yourself.’ ‘Oh, yes, I have,’ said Alexander, ‘I still have my hopes.’ Christians must be essentially optimists. Just because God is God, Christians are always certain that ‘the best is yet to be’. Just because they know of the grace that is sufﬁcient for all things and the strength that is made perfect in weakness, Christians know that no task is too much for them. There are no hopeless situations in life; there are only men and women who have grown hopeless about them. There can never be any such thing as a hopeless Christian.
(9) We are to meet tribulation with triumphant courage. Someone once said to someone who bore suffering bravely: ‘Suffering colours all life, doesn’t it?’ ‘Yes,’ came the reply, ‘it does, but I propose to choose the colour.’ As the poet William Cowper’s hymn has it:
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
‘Even let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may,
It can bring with it nothing
But he will bear us through.’
When Nebuchadnezzar cast Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the burning ﬁery furnace, he was amazed that they came to no harm. He asked if three men had not been cast into the ﬂames. He was told it was so. He said: ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the ﬁre, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god’ (Daniel 3:25). We can meet anything when we meet it with Christ.
(10) We are to persevere in prayer. Is it not the case that there are times in life when we let day add itself to day and week to week, and we never speak to God? When we cease to pray, we rob ourselves of the strength of Almighty God. We should not be surprised when life collapses if we insist on living it alone.
(11) We are to share with those in need. In a world intent on getting, Christians are intent on giving, because they know that ‘what we keep we lose, and what we give we have’.
(12) Christians are to offer hospitality. Over and over again, the New Testament insists on this duty of the open door (Hebrews 13:2; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9). The sixteenth-century Bible translator William Tyndale used a magniﬁcent word when he translated it that the Christian should have a harborous disposition. A home can never be happy when it is selﬁsh. Christianity is the religion of the open hand, the open heart and the open door.
12. Be joyful in hope, enduring in affliction, persistent in prayer.
The hope of future salvation (cf. 5:2, 4, 5; 8:24, 25; 15:4, 13) stimulates present joy; in fact, to such an extent that God’s children are even able patiently to endure in the midst of affliction. This endurance indicates strength to bear up under stress, plus the persistent application of this strength. It is not the product of human wisdom or skill but of God’s grace. Therefore Paul immediately adds “(Be) persistent in prayer.”
Without constant prayer such joy and endurance would be impossible. The opposition coming from the side of the world and the doubts from within would prove too strong. In fact, without steadfastness in prayer obedience to none of the exhortations of chapter 12 or of other passages can be expected.
12:12. While Paul refers to life in the church in verse 10 (referring to “brotherly love”), here is the first hint of persecution—Be … patient in affliction. Paul, no stranger to affliction for the sake of the gospel, stated a principle in Acts 14:22 which summarizes what he is beginning to share with the believers in Rome: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Only the believer who has made a decision to be a living sacrifice can maintain zeal and patience in affliction. Joy in hope was a theme in Romans 5:2, as was prayer in Romans 8:26–27. Once again we see Paul going back to the doctrinal part of his letter and making application for the present situation. The knowledge that the Holy Spirit is able to intercede through us in times of trouble can be a lifeline to the other side of the quagmire.
12:9–13. While one should serve mainly in the area of his giftedness, sometimes he or she must help more broadly, and this passage explains how that must be done. An act of love (v. 9) can be hypocritical if it cloaks an attitude of reluctance or self-seeking. Abhor means “a strong feeling of revulsion or aversion.” Cling means “to glue something together.” Devoted (v. 10) means “to be tender and affectionate” to another, as if to a cherished family member (brotherly love, Gk. philadelphia). Give preference … in honor means “being eager to value or promote the reputation of another” ahead of oneself. Not lagging behind (v. 11) means “not being slack in accomplishing what is worthwhile.” For diligence, see 12:8. Fervent means lit., “boiling, seething,” but here connotes having eagerness and enthusiasm (cf. Ac 18:25). In spirit may refer to one’s inner disposition, but probably refers to the genuine gusto that comes from the Holy Spirit. Rejoicing in hope (v. 12) indicates “rejoicing because of hope.” Contributing (v. 13) is from the verb koinoneo, and means “to share”; in this context, sharing one’s resources to help when others have serious needs.
12:9–13. Paul now moves from discussing the proper use of spiritual gifts (vv 6–8) to the motivation undergirding their use. Love is the foundation that should move believers to behave honorably in their service. Love as a priority is a typical theme for Paul (Rom 13:8–10; 1 Cor 12:13–14; Gal 5:14; Eph 5:2; Col 3:14; 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Tim 1:5).
Paul develops the theme of love by describing its characteristics or attributes. First, Paul discusses the proper use of spiritual gifts in vv 6–8 (cf. 1 Cor 12). Then these gifts propelled by love will cause one to abhor evil (cf. Ps 97:10; 119:104, 128, 163; Prov 8:13; 13:5; 28:16; Heb 1:9; Rev 2:6) and to do good in vv 9–21 (1 Cor 13:1–7; cf. 1 Pet 3:11). The terms evil and good in vv 9 and 21 serve as an inclusio to emphasize love without hypocrisy (anypokritos, lit., “without play-acting”).
Christian love should manifest itself in concrete ways. Believers should be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love. Members of God’s family must treat one another with the kindness, respect, and love that human families should show each other, even to the point of giving preference to one another.
This is done by not lagging in diligence and being fervent in spirit (cf. Acts 18:25; 1 Cor 5:3; 7:34; Col 2:5; 1 Tim 4:12). Being fervent literally means “to boil with heat.” Today, one might express this kind of serving the Lord as being “on fire for Jesus.”
If one is on fire for Jesus, he will be rejoicing in hope for the future that awaits in heaven. This will require being patient when tribulation comes. How does a Christian do this? By continuing steadfastly in prayer (cf. 1 Thess 5:17). Constant communication with God is the lifeblood that gives a believer power to endure life’s problems.
The final elements in Paul’s list are two of the major virtues that ought to characterize Christians. First, believers should be distributing to the needs of other saints (i.e., believers; cf. 1:7). One way to do this is through hospitality, sharing one’s home with traveling Christians. In those days lodging was expensive and travelers lacked funds to acquire it (cf. Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9).
12. Rejoicing in hope, &c. Three things are here connected together, and seem in a manner to belong to the clause “serving the time;” for the person who accommodates himself best to the time, and avails himself of the opportunity of actively renewing his course, is he who derives his joy from the hope of future life, and patiently bears tribulations. However this may be, (for it matters not much whether you regard them as connected or separated,) he first forbids us to acquiesce in present blessings, and to ground our joy on earth and on earthly things, as though our happiness were based on them; and he bids us to raise our minds up to heaven, that we may possess solid and full joy. If our joy is derived from the hope of future life, then patience will grow up in adversities; for no kind of sorrow will be able to overwhelm this joy. Hence these two things are closely connected together, that is, joy derived from hope, and patience in adversities. No man will indeed calmly and quietly submit to bear the cross, but he who has learnt to seek his happiness beyond this world, so as to mitigate and allay the bitterness of the cross with the consolation of hope.
But as both these things are far above our strength, we must be instant in prayer, and continually call on God, that he may not suffer our hearts to faint and to be pressed down, or to be broken by adverse events. But Paul not only stimulates us to prayer, but expressly requires perseverance; for we have a continual warfare, and new conflicts daily arise, to sustain which, even the strongest are not equal, unless they frequently gather new vigour. That we may not then be wearied, the best remedy is diligence in prayer.
Ver. 12.—Patience, hope, and prayer. In the preceding verse the active, energetic side of religion is presented with vivacity and completeness. And this is perhaps the most important of all the trustful results of true Christianity. It was an end worthy of the Divine interposition to introduce amongst men the purpose and the power to serve the Lord with fervour and with diligence. Yet this is not all which our religion does for us. Our life is not altogether in our own hands; we cannot control and govern all that concerns us. We have all to learn the lesson that Divine providence has appointed for us; not only to work, but to submit; that we have not only to serve, but to suffer. True religion must give us, not only a law and impulse for fulfilling life’s duties, but also a power by which we shall endure life’s calamities and weakness. However our natural character may make active exertion congenial, however our lot may be, on the whole, one of cheerful and devoted service; there comes a time to all—a time, it may be, of sickness, or of infirmity, of calamity, or of old age—when another aspect of religion must be realized; when we must turn to Christ for grace, that we may be found “in hope joyful, in trial patient, in prayer unwearied.”
- To Christians tribulation is Divine discipline. The text implies, not only that the human lot is characterized by affliction, but that affliction is the occasion of the calling forth of Christian virtues. There would scarcely be such an emotion as hope unless the present were a condition from which (in some respects) it is desirable to be released, or, at all events, a condition susceptible of great improvement. Unless we had something to bear, there would be no scope for the virtue of patience. If all things were as we could wish them, if we had nothing to contend with, if nothing occurred to make us feel our own helplessness—in such case prayer would scarcely be felt to be urgently, or at all events constantly, necessary. Life is a very different thing to those who are enlightened by revelation, as this verse conclusively shows us. How truly Christian are these precepts, and how truly Christians those who fulfil them, appears, if we think of the heathen, and realize how they failed alike in patience, in hope, and in prayer. Philosophers inculcated patience in adversity, but they imparted no principle or power which enabled people generally to cherish this disposition. The hope which the unenlightened pagans cherished respected this life alone, and even the wisest and best knew nothing of a hope of immortality so vivid and powerful as to awaken joy. Their prayers were either purely matter of custom and form, or, being addressed to deities morally imperfect and capricious, were faithless, fitful, and uninfluential even upon their own nature. It is the glory of Christianity to have changed all this. Among the lowliest of the Saviour’s followers we find fortitude in the endurance of affliction, arising from the conviction that it is the chastening of a Divine Father. Hope—especially as reaching beyond this brief existence, and as a mighty sustaining power—is a virtue distinctively Christian. Whilst prayer, instead of being an occasional, doubting, and unprofitable exercise, is the atmosphere the Christian breathes, the power which sustains him in all trouble, and which inspires within him a hope founded upon the faithfulness and the promises of his redeeming God.
- As respects the present, the Christian is supported by patience. Patience suffers without murmuring the ills which Providence permits. Patience waits for the relief which, in due time, Providence will send. Suffering and waiting complete this unusual virtue. It is not easy for any one to be patient; it is easier to work with diligence and strenuousness than to endure trial without complaint—than to wait until a power not our own shall bring the trial to a close. Christian patience is not a stoical aquiescence in the inevitable, upon the principle “What can’t be cured must be endured” 1. It is the result of a belief in a wise and merciful Providence. We do not bow to fate; we submit to a Father in heaven. Often we cannot understand why he should permit all that befalls us. But faith assures us that the counsels of God towards us are counsels of love. We cannot shut out from the universe the unseen hand that guides and governs all for our highest and eternal good. We believed in our own earthly father’s heart, though sense could never have told us of it; and similarly our souls are patient, because we are assured that a heavenly Parent cares for us, and strengthens and heals as well as smites. 2. It is the fruit of fellowship with Jesus. There was no quality for which our Saviour was more to be admired than for his patience. He was patient with the misunderstandings of his own disciples; he was patient with his enemies and murderers; he was patient under insult and agony. In all this he left us an example; and an apostle prays that God may direct our hearts into the patience of Christ. Many, through faith in the meek and patient Saviour, have been enabled by Divine grace to overcome a naturally impatient and imperious, hasty and violent temper. 3. It is a virtue in which we are instructed and practically disciplined by the Spirit of God. “Tribulation worketh patience.” The lesson is not learned all at once. Let not those dispositions to which it is not naturally easy be discouraged. “Let patience have its perfect work.” Patience is tried, not that it may give way, but that it may be established. It is the handiwork of the living Spirit; and the day shall come when the Maker shall pronounce this and all his works to be very good.
III. As respects the future, the Christian is inspired by hope. Now, hope is an easier and more natural exercise of the human spirit than is patience. A person may rebel and fret under present discipline, and yet may hope for better times.
“… the darkest day,
Live till to-morrow, will have passed away.”
The Christian’s hope is, however, far superior to any other. Whilst he has higher pleasures and stronger supports now, he has brighter prospects for the great hereafter. There are several elements of superiority in this hope. 1. It is well founded, resting as it does upon the faithful promises of God. God is designated “the God of hope.” Hence the Christian’s hope is not vague, but definite; it is not hesitating, but sure. 2. It is hope of grace for all the needs that are to come. This means hope of deliverance from all dangers, support under all difficulties, consolation under all troubles, guidance in all perplexities. 3. It is hope which reaches beyond this present life; such hope as none has been able to inspire but he who “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.” Hope of rest, of victory, of a kingdom; a hope as “an anchor unto the soul, sure and steadfast, which entereth into that within the veil.” 4. It is hope which brings joy. Making the future real, bringing the future near, hope chases away the gloom and darkness, and creates a spiritual joy, pure, serene, and unspeakable. Thus, in the night, songs of joy and gladness ascend to heaven. “Patience worketh experience, and experience hope.”
- By prayer patience is perfected and hope inspired. It is evident that the admonition to prayer is introduced here with a special purpose in view. It is intended to point out to us that the demeanour here commended can only be maintained through cultivating a prayerful spirit. It is not easy, whilst pursuing this pilgrimage, to be patient amidst its difficulties, to be joyful when the present is dark, and the ray of hope alone illuminates the night. Still, though not easy, it is possible. That is to say, it becomes possible by prayer. Grace can be obtained, if sought in God’s appointed way; but it must be sought, not occasionally or fitfully, but steadfastly, perseveringly, constantly, habitually. This is reasonable enough. There is nothing in our condition that should put a close to our prayers, and nothing in our hearts. We do not become independent of the aid which such fellowship with Heaven alone can bring. There is every inducement, in the declarations and promises of God’s Word, to “pray without ceasing,” “always to pray and not to faint.” God’s fatherly heart does not cease to pity; Christ does not cease to intercede for his people. As long as our Lord is on the throne of power, and we are in poverty and need and helplessness, we may well continue our prayers. Private, domestic, and public; silent and uttered; stated and ejaculatory;—the prayers of God’s people are acceptable, and are heard.
Application. 1. The tribulations of life are common to all mankind. Why should any hearer of the gospel endure those tribulations without the grace that can sustain and comfort, the hopes that can animate and inspire? 2. If Christians are weighed down and distressed by the trials of life, is it not because they fail to give heed to the admonitions of God’s Word, because they neglect to use the means of grace and help which are placed within their reach? Tribulation will come. We can be sustained under it only by patience and by hope; and these virtues are the fruits of prayer.
12 τῇ ἐλπίδι χαίροντες, “rejoicing in hope”; “let hope keep you joyful” (neb). As earlier, ἐλπίς has its usual Hebraic sense of confident trust (sure hope) rather than the more Greek sense of tentative expectation (hoping for better things); see on 4:18. Since the dative can contain both senses, we should not push for a choice between a local dative (“rejoice in”—TDNT 9:369 n.91; Schlier) and an instrumental dative (“rejoice by virtue of”—BDF §196; Michel). Paul here may be deliberately recalling earlier and more developed words of encouragement, or was following familiar parenetical sequences: in vv 12a and 12b the thought is obviously very close to that of 5:2–5 (χαίρω/καυχάομαι, θλῖψις, ὑπομονή/ὑπομένω); and a similar progression of thought to that in 8:24–27 is evident in vv 12a, 12c (hope, prayer). Clearly implicit also is both the sense of eschatological excitement (“rejoicing”) and the note of eschatological reserve (“in hope”); cf. 15:13 and 1 Thess 2:19. For joy as a characteristic of earliest Christianity, cf. also, e.g., 14:17; 15:13; 2 Cor 6:10; Gal 5:22; Phil 1:4, 25; 2:17–18; 3:1; 4:1, 4; 1 Thess 3:9; 5:16; Acts 2:46; 13:52; 1 Pet 1:8; 1 John 1:4.
τῇ θλίψει ὑπομένοντες, “steadfast in affliction.” The sequence again echoes 1 Cor 12–13 (here 13:7); see Form and Structure. For θλῖψις see on 5:3. ὑπομένω occurs regularly in earliest Christian literature in the sense “endure, hold out, stand one’s ground” in trouble, affliction, persecution—e.g., Mark 13:13; 1 Cor 13:7; 2 Tim 2:10; Heb 10:32; 12:2; James 1:12; 1 Pet 2:20; 1 Clem 45.8; Did. 16.5; Mart. Pol. 2.2 (see further BGD). The translation “endure” should not be given a too passive connotation: as with its correlate ὑπομονή, ὑπομένω implies a positive attitude to suffering (TDNT 4:586–87); as also does the connection with the preceding phrase (cf. 2 Cor 7:4; 8:2; 13:9; Col 1:24; 1 Thess 1:6). The degree to which Paul successfully integrates suffering into his understanding of the process of salvation is one of the strongest features of his soteriology (see further on 5:3 and 8:17; Dunn, Jesus, 326–88).
τῇ προσευχῇ προσκαρτεροῦντες, “persisting in prayer.” προσκαρτερέω is an even stronger, or more positive, word—“to busy oneself with, be devoted to, hold fast to or persevere in something” (BGD). It is particularly so with reference to prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:4; Col 4:2); cf. the equivalent thought of unceasing prayer (Luke 18:1; Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 5:17); and contrast the more sober rabbinic advice in Str-B, 2:237–38. As in 8:26–27, prayer is the natural expression of the eschatological tension: only by maintaining a constant “open line” to God in the Spirit can the tension be experienced as a positive sign and recreative force.
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