12:9-13 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 ten telegraphic rules for ordinary, everyday life. Let us look at them one by one.
(i) 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.
(ii) 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 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 is safe which is not passionate. He must hate evil and love good. Regarding one thing we must be clear--what many people hate is not evil, but the consequences of evil. No man is really a good man when he is good simply because he fears the consequences of being bad. As Burns had it:
"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.
(iii) We must be affectionate to one another in brotherly love. The word Paul uses for affectionate is philostorgos ( Greek #5387 ), and storge ( G ) 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.
(iv) 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 has always been humility. One of the humblest of men was that great saint and scholar Principal Cairns. 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 him pass, and began to applaud himself; he never dreamed that the applause was for him. It is not easy to give each other priority in honour. There is enough of the natural man in most of us to like to get our rights; but the Christian man has no rights--he has only duties.
(v) We must not be sluggish in zeal. There is a certain intensity in the Christian life; there is no room for lethargy in it. The Christian cannot take things in an easy-going way, for the world is always a battleground between good and evil, the time is short, and life is a preparation for eternity. The Christian may burn out, but he must not rust out.
(vi) We must keep our spirit at boiling point. The one man whom the Risen Christ could not stand was the man 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 the Christian is a man desperately in earnest; he is aflame for Christ.
(vii) Paul's seventh injunction 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 commoner words were always abbreviated. One of the commonest 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 ( Greek #2962 ) and the word for time is kairos ( Greek #2540 ), 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 fall to grasp these opportunities when they come. "There are three things which come not back--the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity."
(viii) We are to rejoice in hope. When Alexander the Great was
setting out upon one of his eastern 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 have still my hopes." The Christian
must be essentially an optimist. Just because God is God, the
Christian is always certain that "the best is yet to be." Just
because he knows of the grace that is sufficient for all things
and the strength that is made perfect in weakness, the Christian
knows that no task is too much for him. "There are no hopeless
situations in life; there are only men who have grown hopeless
about them." There can never be any such thing as a hopeless
(ix) We are to meet tribulation with triumphant fortitude. Someone once said to a gallant sufferer: "Suffering colours all life, doesn't it?" "Yes," said the gallant one, "it does, but I propose to choose the colour." When the dreadful affliction of complete deafness began to descend on Beethoven and life seemed to be one unbroken disaster, he said: "I will take life by the throat." As William Cowper had 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 took no harm. He asked if three men had not been cast into the flames. They told him it was so. He said, "But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods" ( Daniel 3:24-25 ). A man can meet anything when he meets it with Christ.
(x) 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 a man ceases to pray, he despoils himself of the strength of Almighty God. No man should be surprised when life collapses if he insists on living it alone.
(xi) We are to share with those in need. In a world bent on getting, the Christian is bent on giving, because he knows that "what we keep we lose, and what we give we have."
(xii) The Christian is to be given to 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 ). 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.