9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
It is easy to read these five verses (Romans 12:9-13) as simply a to-do list. In English translations it reads as a list of commands: “let love be,” “abhor what is evil,” “hold fast,” “love one another,” “outdo one another,” “do not be slothful,” “be fervent,” “serve the Lord,” etc.
There is nothing wrong with translating them as commands but in the Greek all the verbs are participles, meaning they somehow modify the main verb. And the main verb is implied in the first clause in verse 9. There actually isn’t a verb there – it literally reads, “the love genuine.” Now, “the love genuine” doesn’t mean anything in English and so translators supply a verb. Most translations supply an imperative with a linking verb “Let love be genuine.” The NIV is perhaps a little stronger “Love must be genuine.” But, the point is all the other clauses in these five verses are somehow describing how to “let love be genuine.” Love is genuine when we abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good. Love is genuine when we love one another with brotherly affection. Love is genuine when we are looking for ways of outdoing one another in showing honor. You get the idea.
Sorry for all the detail. But “love” here is not just one command among many other commands. Love is what all the other clauses are describing. We are being transformed by the renewal of our minds (12:2) into a new way of being where the totality of our lives is being used to the glory of God (12:1). Paul summarizes that new way of being with the words “genuine love.” The point Paul is making is more than just another to-do-list. It is a new state of being. We are new creatures, new people. As Dale Bruner notes, if to-do-lists were all that the world needed then Moses would have been sufficient. But they aren’t and so we need Jesus.
Fleming Rutledge helped make this clear for me. She says that life in Christ does “result in obedience, [but] this ‘obedience of faith’ (Romans 1:5; 16:26) is not accomplished by a human choice…there is a decisive difference between a call to obey and a transfer to a new world order.” A new life has been imparted to us not simply a new list of commands. This is the radical nature of New Testament Christianity.
Here is how Rutledge puts it:
“The freedom we have in Christ” (Galatians) is not like the freedom to cross cultural boundaries and grab at whatever we want; such “freedoms” are simply exchanges of one type of bondage for another. We are still driven by our desires. Freedom in Christ is to be released for perpetual inner conflict into “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21) where we are enabled to live, not by our own tyrannical wishes, but for the love of others. This is what true obedience to God is like."
What Paul is saying is that those who are in Christ have begun to live in a whole different dimension. It is like there are two different worlds out there and they aren’t marked by the differences we typically divide things into – political (conservative/liberal), economic (rich/poor), religious/secular, rebels/rule followers, sophisticated/simple, etc. Followers of Jesus come from any and all of those categories. The different worlds that Paul is describing (“do not be conformed to this world but be transformed”) are about two different rulers. Either I am in charge or Jesus is. The gospel is not simply about choosing one or the other. The gospel is about the power of God moving us from the dominion of our own rule to the dominion of the rule of Jesus. The scandal of the gospel is that only the power of God can do that. And the result is genuine love. Now, there is choice every day. You will choose this morning how you interact with your spouse, how you engage on social media, how you approach the mundane daily tasks that are waiting in your kitchen and living room and office. But, the choice for those living under the dominion of Jesus is different than choosing what cereal I will eat today. The choice is whose world am I living in?
Jonathan Rogers puts it this way: “One problem with pursuing your own selfish interest is that you might get it. You might achieve supremacy in a world shriveled down to the scale of your self-interest--a world that you can enjoy only when you're a shrunken version of your self, oblivious to the suffering and the dehumanization of others.”
You can be conservative or liberal politically, rich or poor economically, religious or secular culturally, rebels or rule followers naturally and still be under the tyrannical rule of your self. And you can fall under any of those categories and be under the gracious rule of Jesus. Jesus will challenge, correct, reject or affirm different aspects of all of those categories. A conservative under the rule of Jesus will live differently than a conservative under the rule of self. A liberal under the rule of Jesus will live differently than a liberal under the rule of self. A natural rebel living for Jesus will live differently than a natural rebel living for herself. The difference is Jesus. The result is self-giving love. This transcends the categories of this world. Romans 12 is not just telling you to be nicer today. Romans 12 is proclaiming you are living in a whole new world.