Various admonitions, applicable to all; headed by inculcation of the all-pervading principle of love.
In brotherly love ( φιλαδελφίᾳ ) be kindly affectioned ( φιλόστοργοι ) one to another ( φιλαδελφία , expressing the love of Christians for each other, is a special form or manifestation of general ἀάπη . In it there should be ever the warmth of family affection, στοργή ); in honour preferring one another ; literally, according to the proper sense of προηγούμενοι , taking the lead of each other in honour—i.e., in showing honour, rather than equivalent to ἀλλήλους ἡγούμενοι ὑπερέχοντας ἑαυτῶν in Philippians 2:3 .
Church-life is very important; but human life is wider and more important still. In the first age, and when Christian communities were few and small and persecuted, the life the followers of Jesus led was very much a life in common, and very distinct from that of the world around. We cannot wonder that so many of the apostolic counsels and injunctions referred to the conduct of Church-members towards one another, and towards one another as connected with actually existing societies. Still, many admonitions were given to Christians as men and women moving more or less in general society. They were bidden to "honour all men," to "walk in wisdom towards those without." So, in this practical chapter, when Paul has instructed the Roman Christians in their mutual duties as members of a society, and has shown how each ministry is to be discharged, how each office is to be filled, and how each gift is to be employed, he proceeds to more general counsels. He describes the spirit which is to be displayed in the common intercourse of life, both amongst themselves and in their association with the unchristian world. First and foremost among his exhortations is this to brotherly love and kindness. For all precepts beside are merely the unfolding of that Divine law of charity which is designated "the bond of perfectness."
I. Consider THE DIVINE PRINCIPLE AND MOTIVE OF CHRISTIAN BENEVOLENCE AND LOVE . We are sometimes told that mutual good will is evolved in settled society, being found advantageous to all, and preferable to suspicion, distrust, and malevolence. But the fact is that this is very much a matter of individual character, and that in very primitive societies there are found Christians who are superior to the malice and hatred which prevail around them; whilst in the most civilized communities there are multitudes who prefer their own pleasure and interest to all beside. Christianity reveals to us the true principle of universal brotherhood, basing it upon the Fatherhood of God and the redemption of Christ. The apostle of love, St. John, tells us that "God is love," and makes this the Christian's motive to the love of his brother. And Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says, "Walk in love, even as Christ also loved us, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God." And here the precepts of the apostle must be taken along with what goes before in this Epistle, and it must be remembered that the entreaty is urged "by the mercies of God." All earthly duties have a heavenly origin. Religion is designed to govern our whole spirit and life. The man who believes in the infinite love, in the fatherly heart, of God, who believes that God sent his Son to save us from hatred and all other sins, has a root for his renewed dispositions and his changed habits of regarding and treating his fellow-creatures; it becomes natural to him to live a life of love.
II. LOVE INVOLVES ALL VIRTUE , AND IS THE COMPENDIUM OF THE MORAL LAW . We have the unquestioned authority of our Lord for this view of love; for Jesus approved of the summing-up of all duty, of the whole Decalogue, in both tables, in the two precepts, "Love God," and "Love thy neighbour." Where there is true love, vice and crime are banished. And every virtue and grace may be regarded in practice as the fruit of this plant. Even justice, the first of the virtues, is not above this alliance; for how can we wrong those whom we love? It is thus we must account for the exhortation, with which verse 9 closes, coming in this place. Evil is hatred, and is therefore abhorred; good is love, and is therefore so right and held fast with a firm grasp. Some, indeed, interpret this clause, "Cleave to the Good One, i.e. Christ," bringing; the motive of a personal attachment to the Saviour to bear upon the redeemed nature. Let us not neglect the Divine method, or spurn the aid which infinite wisdom and grace have preferred. Is it in any respect hard for us to obey God, and follow in the steps of Christ? Then let us call to mind the love of God revealed in his dear Son, and allow that love to prompt us to obedience, gratitude, and consecration. And let us, adopting Christ's new commandment, live in the spirit of love and kindness. This, by the help of the Holy Spirit, will render difficult duties easy, and will enable us to fulfil, in the right spirit and in the right way, the will of God concerning us, in all our relations with our fellow-creatures.
III. CHRISTIAN LOVE SHOULD BE UNFEIGNED . As variously rendered, "without dissimulation," "without hypocrisy." There were hypocrites, not only among the Jewish Pharisees, whom Christ denounced for their pretences and insincerity, but also among the Christian communities. Thus Ananias and Sapphira professed love and generosity, but there was no reality corresponding to the profession. It is hard to understand how, in those times, there could have been any inducement to hypocrisy. However, the language of the apostle here seems to imply that there was a danger of some professing disciples of Christ avowing a love which they did not really feel. There is certainly such danger now. Public sentiment requires that charity should be professed among Christians. Yet there obtains very much which is inconsistent with such profession. There are those who call one another "dear brethren," who nevertheless slander and injure one another when opportunity occurs. It is the curse of the so-called religious world; and it would be well for a while to have in this matter a little less profession and a little more practice. The pretence of brotherly love without the reality is self-delusion, and it is most pernicious in its influence over the unbelieving world.
IV. CHRISTIAN LOVE SHOULD BE CHARACTERIZED BY SYMPATHY AND TENDERNESS . The language used by the apostle here is very remarkable: "Be tenderly affectioned one to another." There is a quality in Christian love which is peculiar to our religion, which was but little known previously to our Saviour's coming, and which may be sought almost in vain in the heathen world today. We are not to show kindness merely from a sense of duty; but to do so in the spirit of him who brake not the bruised reed, who was often moved with compassion, who, even on the cross, was meek and gentle, considerate and foraying. Paul had much of the same spirit. A keen logical mind, a rhetorical style, a commanding will, were in him united with the tenderness of the nurse, the mother. His was the love of forbearance and patience, of sympathy and pity. Now, there are many classes whom it is especially desirable that we, as Christians, should deal with in this spirit and temper. For instance, the young, the destitute, the afflicted, the wayward. All of these need to be approached in the spirit commended in this passage; not in a hard, cold, mechanical manner, such as seems habitual with some people, who in some respects might be called good; but in a Christ-like attitude, and with Christ-like tones, such as are proper to disciples of him who is touched with a feeling of human infirmities.
V. CHRISTIAN LOVE SHOULD DISPLAY ITSELF IN MUTUAL RESPECT AND HONOUR . Brotherly affection is opposed to self-seeking, pride, and arrogance, as pole to pole. It fosters humility as regards self, and it prompts to put honour upon others. In both these respects the Christian spirit is opposed to the spirit of the world, which impels men to push themselves forward, to urge their own claims, and, on the other hand, to depreciate their neighbours and to thrust them into obscurity. It is a precept of Christianity, "Be courteous." And true courtesy has its deep, Divine root in brotherly love, springing from the soil of fellowship with God in Christ.
1. Let any one who may be living in hatred and malice towards any fellow-creature learn to suspect the reality of his Christianity; for such dispositions are not the fruit of the Spirit.
2. Let those whose demeanour towards their neighbours is hard and unsympathetic, consider whether this is the temper of mind which their Lord exemplified in himself and approves in his followers.
3. Let all Christians cultivate that spirit of love which will fit for the immortal fellowship of heaven, the abode of harmony and charity.
Now we come to the great central principle of the Christian life in its social relations among men—true love. And, as the apostle addresses Church-members, he paints this love, by a few vivid strokes, as they owe it to their fellow-members, and also to those that are without.
I. First, as members of Christ, they are to love one another.
1. The ethical character of this love. It is holy. Not a mere sentimental tenderness, but a love that abhors the evil, in whomsoever found, and cleaves only to the good (comp. James 3:17 , "first pure," etc.).
2. The manifestations of the love. Tender affection, as of the members of one loving family; self-sacrificing respect, so contrary to the spirit which asks, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"—zealous to practise this regard for others with a diligent industry; animated to this diligence by the fervour of the spiritual life; sanctifying the love and service by loving and serving them in Christ.
3. The supports of such love. The exultant joy of Christian hope, in view of that appearing of our Lord; the patient endurance of trial and pain, by the power of that hope; the abiding fellowship with God, which ever rekindles the hope and makes it holy.
4. The practical working of this love in the matters of the life that now is. Relief of needy ones, as being the needy ones of God's household; hospitality to all who for the Lord's sake have left their home and rest.
5. The forbearance of this love. When, unhappily, even Christian brethren misunderstand and strive and persecute, they are still to be loved and blessed; not for any provocation is cursing to be rendered back.
6. The sympathies of the love. A real and manifested joy, in sympathy with rejoicing ones; a real and manifested sorrow, in sympathy with sorrowing ones.
7. The unity of love. Of the same mind.
8. The humility of love. Not high, ambitious aspirations, but willingness for lowly work; and to this end, not serf-conceited wisdom, but the heart of a little child.
II. Secondly, as showing forth Christ to men, they are to love even those that are without.
1. No revenge to be allowed. Think of their temptations to old habits and practices.
2. Honourable conduct to be strictly maintained. Yes, even with the emphatically " heathen " man.
3. Peace to be sought with all. On our side at least it is possible, and so the sanctities of the Christian's own heart shall not be violated.
4. Again, no vengeance towards those whose crimes may seem to cry for vengeance upon them. No, not even in the way of justice, for a higher One is Judge, and all wrath must be left to him, whose very wrath is love; and, in truth, our rising wrath itself must be transformed to love, a love which shall even feed and give drink to the enemy in his distress. And shall not this shame his heart? and his shame may be to him for salvation. So shall the evil not conquer us, but be itself conquered by the good.
"Who is sufficient for these things?" The high perfection of this Christian love seems far beyond our reach. But it has been shown forth once, in him who said, "I have overcome the world." Yes, its evil was vanquished by his sacrifice of love. And, through him, we may conquer too. May the living Christ be ours, and his grace shall be sufficient!—T.F.L.
From Churchmanship, which was discussed by the apostle in the preceding verses, we now pass to the Christian in society; and our endeavour will be to appreciate the Christian socialism which Paul here inculcates. The great error of the Christless socialism which prevails, alas! in many lands, is that it tries to do from without and by mere material manipulation what can only come from within through the Christian spirit. Into the various forms which socialism has assumed it would be improper here to enter; but any who wish to get some idea of the subject will do well to get the late Dr. Roswell D. Hitchcock's powerful and compendious treatise on 'Socialism,' where, after treating of "Socialism in General," "Communistic Socialism," and "Anti-Communistic Socialism," he reaches his climax in expounding the meaning of "Christian Socialism." £ Our duty just now is to appreciate the spirit of love which Christianity infuses into society, thereby securing all that socialism could possibly reach by its coarse materialistic methods, and infinitely more.
I. CONSIDER THE CHARACTER OF LOVE . ( Romans 12:9 , Romans 12:10 .) For this is the one thing needful ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 .). Well, the apostle tells us it is not to be hypocritical ( ἀνυπόκριτος ); not to be a profession, but the reality of love. It is from this loving spirit that Christianity proceeds to the regeneration of society. If, then, we start with a genuine spirit of love, we shall not be found rejoicing at evil, but always abhorring it; while to good at all costs we shall ever cleave. Thus "pure Christian love manifests itself in two phases—the ethical recoil from moral evil, and the cleaving to moral good. The former, full as much as the latter, evinces the sincerity of the affection. Indifference towards sin, and especially an indulgent temper towards it, proves that there is no real love of holiness. The true measurement of a man's love of God is the intensity with which he hates evil (cf. Psalms 97:10 ). The ethics produced by the sentimental idea of God and of moral evil, is 'easy virtue'" (so Shedd, in loc. ) . Such love, then, will bloom into the intense "brotherly love" ( φιλαδελφίᾳ ), which is the great evidence of the Christian spirit ( John 13:35 ). And when brotherly love is entertained, instead of a selfish race for honours, there will be a pushing of worthy brethren forwards—a contest not for the first rank, but for worthier men than we are to put therein. How striking a Christian spirit becomes in presence of the severe competition going on around it, when it is seen exerting itself to honour others rather than to honour itself! It is this self-effacement which the world cannot understand.
II. LIFE IN EARNEST . ( Romans 12:11-13 .) Now, when a Christian declines honour, and seeks to put the better man thereinto, it is not that he may shirk work. For, as a matter of fact, hard work and honour are not inseparably associated in this world. Hence the Christian can show his "zeal for the Lord" while setting no store by honour for it. The next element, therefore, in the Christian life and spirit is earnestness. As Luther puts it, "In regard to zeal, be not lazy." The Christian will show a zealous spirit in all legitimate lines of effort. £ His life will be intense. And to maintain it in intensity, it will require to be "fervent in spirit," and in all "serving the Lord." The serving of the opportunity, as in some ancient manuscripts, is not so likely, nor so emphatic, as "serving the Lord;" for the Christian is one who has learned to serve God in everything—to "do everything as unto the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord he shall receive the reward of the inheritance as he serves the Lord Christ" ( Colossians 3:23 , Colossians 3:24 ). Moreover, with this fervent, faithful spirit there will come a buoyancy and hopefulness which is most important in all Christian work; a patience too in tribulation; a prayerfulness at all times; a liberality towards the saints; a hospitality towards all men. The Christian keeps "open house" because he is open-hearted. Now, if such an earnestness were infused into all Christian living, society would soon be regenerated.
III. LIFE MAGNANIMOUS AND SYMPATHETIC . ( Romans 12:14-16 .) Jesus set the great example of magnanimity. He blessed his persecutors; he prayed for his murderers; he converted some of them at Pentecost. Hence, if we would carry out his spirit, we must bless them that persecute us; we must meet the weak spirit which descends to intolerance and persecution with the one weapon of blessing. The Christian martyrs have crushed the opposition to the gospel by blessing their persecutors. But we must show sympathy as well as magnanimity, prepared to congratulate those in joy, to weep along with those in tears. Sympathy adds largely to the experience and benefit of life. £ And this sympathy is to be genuine all round; we are to be "of the same mind one towards another." We are not to be selecting for our sympathy those in good positions, but we are to "condescend to men of low estate." This is, indeed, the luxury of the Christian spirit to be able to take men up in a low condition, and treat them as God has treated us. We are also to avoid being "wise in our own conceits." In this way the Christian will exhibit large-heartedness; there will be nothing small or petty about his movements; he will be the noble brother-man in his little sphere that Christ has been and is in the wide sphere of the Church.
IV. LIFE LOVINGLY AGGRESSIVE . ( Romans 12:17-21 .) We pass, lastly, to love encountering opposition, yet triumphing over it. And first we are not to take the law into our own hand and recompense evil for evil Now, the world cannot well understand this Christian spirit. It can appreciate better "the blow for blow" which characterized the early ages. "Thomas Paine, in reference to our Lord's injunction to turn the other cheek to the smiter, charges Christianity with the 'spirit of a spaniel,' asserting that it destroys proper self-respect, and renders man indifferent to insult and affront" (see Shedd, in loc .). But when the Christian is charged to "provide things honest in the sight of all men," the meaning being "things honourable" (Revised Version), then it couples with forbearance true Christian dignity. £ In strict accordance with this Christian dignity is to be our living peaceably with all men, if possible. It may be necessary by Christian testimony sometimes to provoke and exasperate worldling; but, at the same time, pugnacity will be seen not to belong to the Christian spirit. And as for vengeance, let us leave all that with God. He will do justly at last. Meanwhile it is our prerogative to feed and give drink to an enemy; and by every means in our power to heap coals of fire on his head. The only vengeance allowed in the code of love is to kill our enemy with kindness. As the king was directed by Elisha to feed the Syrian soldiers and send them home in peace, and as they came not in that generation into Palestine again, so we are to avenge ourselves by kindness. £ The apostle leaves us here in the last verse with the great principle in the aggressive Christian life. Evil can only be overcome by good. We are not to be exasperated by the enemy; we are to turn the tables on him by love. And has not this been God s own plan? Is not his government and administration to overcome evil by good? Even "everlasting punishment will be covered by the principle of good. May we entertain and practise the Christian spirit in all our intercourse with men!—R.M.E.