Romans Bible Study (The Righteousness of God Revealed)

Romans 12:9-21, The Fruit of Love

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In this next section Paul gets very practical in his instructions about the fruit of love. This is a description of what true love looks like. This is love in action. I debated how to approach this text. Should go over each exhortation slowly, being sure to explore every thought in great detail? Should I take the section as a whole, grasping the overall point and not stopping over every detail? I decided to go with the latter for two reasons. First, Paul does not slow down on each point. He gives quick, proverbial-like statements about love in action. Paul does not stop and explore the meaning of each exhortation. Second, the 2008 Haverhill Road Lectureship was a series from Romans 12. This was an excellent series by Dave Schmidt and Andy Cantrell who went into great depth over most of the exhortations found in this section. Therefore, for greater depth I encourage you to go to our website (, click "listen to sermons," choose "lectures," then select the "2008 Lectureship." In our lesson we will go more quickly through these short exhortations.

Let love be genuine. Quite simply, be real. Be authentic. Do not be fake. The Christian life is not pretending to love people when in your heart there is bitterness, strife, hatred, or malice. Jesus’ command to love one another and to love our neighbor was not to be fake. We are to exhibit genuine love. That is, get over what someone did to you and show them love. Don’t be a hypocrite. We have sinned against God, but God still acts in favor of us and works on our behalf. How dare we turn around and have a grudge or a problem with someone after we have seen the love of God poured out.

Hate evil, cling to good. We should have a holy hatred for everything that is evil. We cannot take joy in evil. We must hold on tightly to the things that are good. Paul is calling for a total commitment to what is good and a total rejection to what is evil. I want us to consider something very important. Real love does not love everything. We are commanded to hate evil. For love to be genuine then we must not love everything. We cannot love everything people do. We cannot love the decisions people make.

It is critical that we teach this godly worldview to other people and to our children. There is an evil and there a good. There is right and there is wrong. We do not make what is right and wrong. Good and evil is not subjective to our desires and knowledge. Good and evil exist independent of our labels. Just because we call something good, "evil," or call something evil, "good," does not make it such. There is an objective standard that defines what is evil and what is good. We are to love good and hate evil.

Love with love. Love is not merely a thought or a principle. Love is to be shown to people. Love is not a thought. Love is not a feeling. Love is not an emotion. Love by doing. Show brotherly affection to one another. This is a call for acts of kindness toward others. Do good things for each other. We all too often are consumed with ourselves and thinking about what people are doing for us. Such thinking destroys love and community among God’s people. Worship is typically thought of in this light. People are thinking about what they are going to get out of it. They are not thinking about what we are putting into to it to encourage others and love others. Our gatherings are not solely about what we get out of them, even though we certainly strive to edify. But we need to think about how we can show kindness and love to each other with these opportunities.

There is a picture of family love with this command. I think many do not have a good idea what family love looks like because there are so many families that are broken and dysfunctional. So we have get beyond acting toward each other in Christ like we act toward those in our physical families. There is not competition. There is not hurting others. Family is where we are supposed to be able to let our guard down and relax. We build a trust that you will do good things for each other because that is what family does. Family sacrifices for family and we are in the family of Christ.

Outdo one another in showing honor. I really like this thought because it suggests "one-upping" each other. Don’t seek honor but show honor. Showing honor for others truly requires humility. Without humility we are going to think that we deserve the honor, not another. I have heard of Christians speaking about not wanting to complement or honor the elders or the preacher so that they do not get a "big head." Hopefully, these men are full of humility and this will not be problem. Rather, they need our encouragement and honor because they do work with humility and love. Our focus cannot be on trying to bring another down a notch. We must outdo one another in honor.

Not slothful in zeal, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Be zealous, not lazy with God. Don’t be lazy with what you ought to be doing for the Lord. This is a powerful reminder. Do not slow down in your service to God. Keep boiling with fervor for him. Jesus’ warning to the church at Laodicea was to not be lukewarm. Do not grow weary doing good. Don’t let the flame die down. How easy it is for the zeal that we begin with for the Lord can disintegrate into pew sitting and slothfulness.

Rejoice in hope.We see this point made by James in the first chapter of his letter. Our hope in God and in his promises lifts us out of our present difficult circumstances, bringing joy. Paul is not saying that life is easy or that there are not trials. But we have hope in our suffering because of the promises of life and deliverance God has made.

Persevering in tribulation. The ESV reads, "patient in tribulation," but I think this rendering can give the wrong impression. Paul does not mean that we are passively putting up with things. When we hear the word, "patience," we typically think about being passive. Paul is not saying to sit back and take a "chill pill" while going through suffering. Paul is teaching that Christians require an active, steadfast endurance. We are serving God, even in the midst of suffering and tribulation.

Be constant in prayer. Always praying. Is this true of our prayer life? Can we say that we are persistent in prayer? Many of us may need to rededicate ourselves to talking to God constantly.

Contribute to the needs of the saints and show hospitality. We cannot become self-absorbed so that we neglect the needs of other people. We must show our care for people and the best way we show that is with our time and money. If other Christians are in need, we must help. I am glad to see the joyful giving to the Christians who were suffering in Zimbabwe. When we learn of ways to help other Christians, we must do so.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. How difficult it is to speak well of those who do harm to us. To keep our tongues under control and speaking properly. The teaching is easy in theory and so difficult in practice.

Be sympathetic. Perhaps we are seeing a common theme arise at this point. Do not be self-consumed. Do not think about yourself. Rejoice with those who are rejoicing. You may not feel like rejoicing. So what? We need to join in with the joy of others. Weep with those who weep. When others are suffering, we must not parade our joy but join them in their sorrow. We must not be indifferent to the joys and sorrows of others.

Live in harmony with one another. We must do what we can to have good relationship, not relationships that are full of strife and turmoil. The recipe for living in harmony is to think about ourselves properly. Paul instructs us to not be proud. Associate with the lowly. This sentence can be understood in two ways and both ways are probably correct. Lowly can refer to people or refer to things. Associate with those who do not have notoriety or success. We will be with those who are have a low position. Paul can also mean that we are willing to do menial work. We must not think that there are tasks that are beneath us. It carries the same idea that we should not think about ourselves as if there are things that we should not do because we are "somebody."  "Never be wise in your own eyes." Do not think of yourself as something. Have Christ-esteem, not self-esteem. Christ is everything.

Don’t repay with evil, but be honorable in the sight of all. Consider how to act honorably instead of retaliating. Think beforehand to give honor, not to do to others what they have done to you.

As it depends on you, live peaceably with all. You won’t be able to be at peace with everyone because we live in a wicked world. But you must do everything on your part to live in harmony and have peaceful relationships. Disharmony and conflict may come, but you must not be the reason.

Do not avenge yourselves; let God take care of it. God will punish. God will bring justice. God gives justice fairly and powerfully. Let the situation to be taken care of by God. Instead of retaliating or avenging ourselves, we need to do good of every kind. Verse 19 is to not take justice into your own hands because God will take care of it. In verse 20, Paul presses the point further. We can do good to our enemies because we know God will bring wrath on the head of our enemies. There are often questions about what "heaping burning coals on his head" means. But this is an image used in the Old Testament that typically signifies God’s judgment (2 Samuel 22:9,13; Psalm 18:8,12; Psalm 140:10). Do good because God will punish. Do not retaliate because God will punish.

Verse 21 acts as a summary. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Do not let their evil acts cause you to turn to do evil things. You must overcome their evil acts by doing good, righteous acts.

Concluding Thoughts:

  • Have real love for others. Give to other Christians and show them hospitality. Show honor toward others. Don’t be lazy in doing good. Live in harmony with others. Live peaceably with all. Be sympathetic.
  • Be humble. Never be wise in your own eyes.
  • Do good and let God be the judge. Bless and do not curse those who persecute you. Do what is honorable in the sight of all.
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