February 6, 2011
In writing to the Romans about love, Paul indicated that relationships among believers must be radically different from those in the unbelieving world. True, biblical love is radical in that it abhors evil and maintains a steadfast allegiance to whatever is good. As those who are in Christ become more like Him, Alistair Begg explains, our love for one another should increase in sincerity, purity, warm affection, and humility.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Before we come around the Lord’s Table, we’re going to turn again to Romans chapter 12, to where we were this morning. Romans 12:9–10:
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
Father, help us as we look at the Bible together. Bring us to Christ. Conform us to the image of Christ. Make us more like your Son, we pray. In his name. Amen.
For those of you joining us this evening, we’ve been looking at Romans 12 together. We didn’t get very far this morning, and we’ve come back to it this evening. We were dealing with the fact that what Paul does here in relationship to the love that is to be expressed in the family of God is actually not dissimilar to what he does when he writes to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians, you will perhaps recall that, having dealt with the issue of spiritual gifts, he then goes immediately to the question of Christian love. “I will show you [a more] excellent way,” he says.
Here in Romans 12:3–8, he is again dealing with the issue of spiritual gifts—diversity within the body of Christ. And having done so, once again, he follows the same pattern and goes immediately to the question of Christian love. As I said in one of the services at least this morning, quoting from John Murray, this juxtaposition of sincerity and love is absolutely vital, because, as Murray observed, “If love is the [epitome] of virtue and hypocrisy [is] the [very sum] of vice,” then it is a phenomenal contradiction to try and merge those things to put them together. So he says we should have no fake love for one another, and the love of which he speaks is the love that is “shed abroad in our hearts.”
And we made much of the fact this morning that Paul is not giving to us here a series of directives—an external code, as it were, human instruction to which men and women are supposed to try their best to conform—but, rather, he has identified his readers as those who are justified by faith in Christ, as those who “have been set free from [the law of] sin [to] become slaves [of] righteousness,” and in many ways, in chapters 12 to the end of the book, he is explaining what a slave of righteousness really will look like, both as an individual fellow or girl and then as an individual within the context of God’s family. And essentially, what he’s doing here is giving to us a series of characteristics of Christian love, the first of which is sincerity—the love that enables us to serve one another without any kind of hidden agenda.
Then we move on to the second characteristic, which we might summarize as being a radical mentality in relationship to both good and evil—a radical mentality in relationship to both good and evil. Again, he does the same thing in 1 Corinthians 13, just as it comes to mind. When he deals with love, you’ll remember, one of the things he says about love is, “Love does not delight in evil.” “Love does not delight in evil.” And here in Romans 12, he moves from the necessity of sincere love amongst the body of Christ to making the very same point: that this love is not some sentimental thing, but it is a love that is marked not only by sincerity but also by purity. Therefore, I cannot tell you that I genuinely love you if I cherish evil in my heart, if I distance myself from good , and if I toy with the issues, seeking to establish, if you like, some laissez-faire approach to these matters. Paul has no notion of neutrality in this statement here. It is impossible to misunderstand it. “Hate what is evil; cling”—or, in the King James Version, “cleave”—“to what is good.”
I remember my father using the illustration with me when I would ask him if I could go to certain places or if I could be with certain people. And like most dads—like most of us as dads—he only had a few that he would trot out every time, and one was the carriage. And the carriage, of course, as soon as he started on the carriage, I knew what was coming. It was the story of a very prosperous lady who lived in a very nice palace at the top of a very winding cliff-edge road. And when she hired a new carriage driver, what she did was she took them into the carriage and she asked them to take her down this cliff-edged road—narrow road—down to the bottom and back up again. And she said she wanted to see how close they were able to come to the edge. Of course, a number of folks immediately lost any possibility of the job by getting as close to the edge as they possibly could, misunderstanding the woman’s expectation. The fellow who got the job was the fellow who stayed as far away from the edge as he possibly could and took the carriage down the center of the narrow road, which is exactly what someone was looking for.
Genuine Christian love does not ask, “How close can I take the carriage of my life to the edge?” Genuine Christian love does not always ask the question, “Can I really love and do this? Can I really love and do that?” Most of those questions, when they come from teenagers, are questions hoping that we will allow them to push the boundaries as far as they possibly can to be as little like Jesus in their actions as they can possibly be to get by on a Friday or a Saturday. And, hey, guess what? When you are now no longer a teenager but a twenty-, thirty-, forty-, fifty-, sixty-year-old, the same temptation faces you every day of your life. And so, with amazing clarity and common sensibility, Paul moves from the sincerity that love demands to the purity that is expected of it.
Analogies are plenteous. I’m looking out on you, and I can think of some in the congregation who have undergone bone marrow transplants. And you know just how vital it was that you were removed from any possibility of infection during that whole process, because, apparently, your immune system is so shot that you are susceptible to the tiniest of germs. And there’s no sense in which you were happy to welcome someone into your room—someone who’d come in, coughing and spluttering and saying, “But I’ve only got a slight touch of bronchitis. It’s not really gonna matter to you at all.” No, it was abhorrent to you; any germ—any microgerm at all—is to be resisted, literally, like a plague, because it may result in death.
Or at a far more superficial level, I just read a piece in an airline magazine the other day about people who put covers on their iPhones to protect the glass. And apparently there’s a whole website about those who are the coverers of the glass and those who are the noncoverers of the glass, and apparently, a whole literature has grown up about whether, you know, you’ve got the real intimacy if you have the cover on and so on. I was completely fascinated by it. But I understood what was going on because I have on occasion tried my very best, without the help of my wife, to put one of those covers on the iPhone. If you’ve tried this, you know how unbelievably annoying this is. And they give you a little thing that’s got a little bit on it that’s a hard piece, and then you’re supposed to take the thing, and then you just—it’s “very easy,” it says on the directions—all you do is you just smooth it out. Because inevitably there are all these air locks and bubbles underneath. Well, if you are obsessively compulsive, it can bring about premature death, because it is virtually impossible to get rid of the bubbles. And if your policy is zero bubble tolerance, then you won’t be able to sleep. You’ll wake up in the night, going, “I think there’s a bubble under…” And in the magazine, it explained how it can be done, and afterwards I can tell you, if you’re remotely interested.
But we get the point, don’t we? One is a superficial illustration, one is a fairly graphic and understandable illustration, and it so happens that in my favorite magazine—in my Life that arrived in my doorstep yesterday as well—as I read through it last evening, I came on Stephen Charnock, who provided in his literature the cure of sinful thoughts. And they’ve recorded in this magazine sixteen of the principles involved. Very demanding. And I’ll just read one of them to you. (You haven’t forgotten what we’re dealing with here, have you? “Hate what is evil.”) Here goes Charnock. This is number four:
Avoid entangling yourselves with the world. [This is the seventeenth century, incidentally.] This clay will clog our minds and dirty happiness will engender but dirty thoughts. If the world possesses our soul, it will breed anxious thoughts. Much business meets many crosses and then it breeds murmuring thoughts. If the world’s business is crowned with success, then it promotes proud and self-applauding thoughts. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. Such lusts make men fools, and one part of their folly is to have wild and senseless fancies. Mists and fogs are in the lower region near the earth, but do not reach near the heavens. If we are free from earthly affections, these contrary vapors could not so easily disturb our minds. If the world once settles in our hearts, we shall never fail to have these senseless thoughts torment us. Covetous desires will stuff us full with foolish imaginations, and they will smother any good thoughts cast into us. 
That’s number four of sixteen. You think Charnock has taken seriously the notion of “hate what is evil”?
Then he turns it positively—from the negative to the positive. “[And] cleave”—or “cling”—“to what is good.” And the phraseology here is the phraseology that is used of what’s involved in a husband and wife’s relationship as it is given to us in the Bible. Hence, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother” —“and [he will] cleave to his wife.” The closest union possible in all of an earthly pilgrimage—physically, organically, socially, psychologically, intellectually, spiritually, and in every way. You can’t get closer than that. That’s the verb that is used.
And Paul doesn’t use this arbitrarily here. He uses it elsewhere. When he writes to the Thessalonians, and he finishes in a similar fashion, punching home the nature of living as a slave for Jesus, he says the same thing to them. He reverses it, though; he says, “Hold on to the good. [And] avoid every kind of evil.” A superglue conviction about goodness. I don’t know if superglue even exists anymore, but remember—that stuff as well; what a nightmare that is. The thing you’re trying to glue is… who knows what happens to that? But two or four of your fingers are glued together before you’re finished. You have to go to your spouse: “Can you do something with this, would you please?” “Well, what were you trying to do?” “Well, I wasn’t trying to do this, obviously!”
That’s the kind of commitment to goodness: a superglue commitment to goodness. That’s the kind of guy… You want to talk about who you want to marry? Who you should marry? Marry a girl who’s got a superglue commitment to goodness. Marry a guy who has an abhorrence of evil. That’s who to marry. Straightforward!
Think of what this meant in the Roman Empire—for the little we know of the Roman Empire. Think of the nature of leadership in the Roman Empire. What we know, that history has recorded for us, of who these fellows were, of the inroads of perversity, in sexual terms, that were part of Roman culture, that led in large measure to its ultimate demise. And this is where these people lived. And he says to them, “Now, you love Jesus, and Jesus loves you. Make sure you love each other sincerely, and make sure that your love is not marred by the toleration of evil, and make sure that you don’t distance yourself from the cultivation of good.” So basically, you got two words: abhorrence, allegiance—abhorrence, allegiance.
And we must work it out for ourselves too. One of the marks of a culture that has turned its back on God is not simply that it is confused about what God has said, but it is opposed to what God has said. We won’t delay on this, but the prophet speaks to the people of his day in Isaiah 5, and he says to them, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
Now, think about this. Just think about the word “evil.” Think about the word “evil.” Ask yourself whether it’d be possible in an airport terminal to go around and get even four people that would agree on the nature and basis of evil in contemporary American society. I’ve never tried it, but I bet it can’t be done. And those same people who are sitting beside us are constantly bombarded by thought forms, concepts, worldviews, that turn the moral code upside down—that don’t simply distance themselves from it but reverse it. And the distinguishing feature of God’s people is that we’re not involved in this—that there is a time for love, that there is a time for hate, that we need God’s Word to understand these things correctly, that we need God’s Spirit to enable us to behave properly.
Let’s just go to verse 10, on a more positive note. What then should we do in relationship to each other? Well, we should “be devoted” to each other. Phillips paraphrases it, “Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers [and sisters in a family].” Some of the children are probably nudging each other now, going, “Oh, really? That’s how it’s supposed to be?” Well, I cast my eye down, and you probably should, to verse 18 in respect of that: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” including the boy that you have to share the room with every night, your little brother. But we understand this. Both of the words that are used here are family words. One is philostorgos. Storge is a Greek word for love; it is essentially the love of parent for child. That’s the word that is used here. It’s an adjective that is translated, “Be devoted.” And then the word that we understand from our city Philadelphia is also there. Romans 8 has told us that we’re together as members of the one family by God’s grace. And because we both have been brought into the family on the same basis, we have every reason to be devoted to one another.
And I often quote to you the corruption of the—I think it’s a Gaither song, “I’m so glad [that] I’m … part of the fam’ly of God”—that when we’re honest and we look around on one another, sometimes we’re singing, “I’m surprised that you’re part of the family of God,” because we often give one another occasion to feel that way. But Paul says, “Now, don’t do that. Let’s have real warm affection.”
So, sincerity, purity, affection, and finally, humility: “Honor one another above yourselves.” Either the thought is, as we just read in Philippians 2, “Counting one another better than ourselves,” or, as the RSV translates it, “Outdo one another [at] showing honor.” “If you want to have a competition with each other,” he says, “compete with one another about who can honor the other person most.”
He’s already told us that we need to have a sane estimate of ourselves, not think of ourselves more highly than we ought; that was back up there in verse 3, wasn’t it? So he’s not suggesting that we overturn what God has done in the dispersing of spiritual gifts; he’s not calling on the believers in Rome to ignore the diversity of gifting. But what he’s calling upon them to do is give credit where credit is due; to acknowledge the place—the position—of each other; to learn, essentially, to play second fiddle without complaining or perversely seeking to be commended for doing so. That’s like saying, “I’m very humble and proud to tell you about it,” or writing a book called Humility and How I Have Attained It. There is a way of playing second fiddle that is horribly proud; that’s not what he’s talking about.
In brief, he just brings us back to Jesus, doesn’t he? He just brings us back to where we were in Philippians 2: “If there’s any encouragement, if there’s any way you’re going to figure this out, let this mind be among you that was in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, did not think equality with God something to be grasped, but he made himself of no reputation, taking upon himself the form of the servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” The whole work of God in the life of a child of God is to make us increasingly like the Son of God. We have been “predestined”—in Romans 8—“to be conformed to his likeness.”
In 2 Corinthians 3, he says, “We are being changed in increasing measure into his likeness.” And in 1 John, he says, eventually, when the whole canvas unrolls, “We shall be like him.” Because, remember, this is not the external conformity of someone trying their best to fulfill the rules and regulations that are found in these verses, but this is the overflow of the righteousness of Christ, credited to the sinner, on the basis of which we have fellowship with God and with one another.
Well, let’s just pray together. In a moment, we’re going to sing unfamiliar words to a familiar tune, but first I want to lead you in prayer. I’m going to use Baillie’s Private Prayer. It’s set up for an individual; I amend it for our corporate benefit. This is the evening prayer of the sixth day, in some measure, and interestingly, this is the prayer for the sixth day:
O God, you who are the only origin of all that is good and fair and true, unto you we lift up our souls.
O God, may your Spirit enter our hearts. Now as we pray, let not any room within our lives be furtively closed to keep you out.
O God, give us the power to follow after that which is good. Now as we pray, let there be no secret purpose of evil formed in our minds, that waits for an opportunity of fulfillment.
O God, bless all our undertakings and cause them to prosper. Now as we pray, let us not be still holding to some undertaking on which we dare not ask your blessing.
O God, grant us chastity. Now as we pray this prayer, let us not say to ourselves secretly, But not yet, or But not too much.
O God, bless every member of this household. Now as we pray, let us not still harbor in our hearts a wrongful feeling of jealousy or bitterness or anger towards anyone.
O God, bless our enemies and those who have done us wrong. Now as we pray, let us not still cherish in our heart the resolve to requite them when occasion offers.
O God, let Your Kingdom come on earth. Now as we pray, let us not still be intending to devote our own best hours and years to the service of lesser ends.
O Holy Spirit of God, as we rise from these acts of devotion, let us not return to evil thoughts and worldly ways, but let that mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 1 Corinthians 12:31 (NIV 1984).
 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (1965; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 2:128.
 Romans 5:5 (KJV).
 See Romans 5:1.
 Romans 6:18 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 13:6 (NIV 1984).
 Stephen Charnock, The Works of the Late Rev. Stephen Charnock, B. D. (London, 1816), 8:544–45. Paraphrased.
 Matthew 19:5 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 19:5 (KJV).
 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22 (NIV 1984).
 Isaiah 5:20 (NIV 1984).
 See Ecclesiastes 3:8.
 Gloria Gaither and William J. Gaither, “The Family of God” (1970).
 Philippians 2:3 (paraphrased).
 Romans 12:10 (RSV).
 Philippians 2:1, 5–7 (paraphrased).
 Romans 8:29 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 3:18 (paraphrased).
 1 John 3:2 (NIV 1984).
 John Baillie, “Sixth Day, Evening,” in A Diary of Private Prayer (1949; repr., New York: Fireside, 1996), 31. Language modernized and pronouns made plural.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.