The twelfth chapter of Romans makes for some inspirational reading. It begins with a challenge for disciples to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” and concludes by telling us “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In between, it is chock full of all manner of practical instruction for daily living.
In verse 9, Paul tells us that “Love must be sincere.” Love is such a broad, vast subject that it’s always interesting to hear what aspect a writer chooses to speak about. For Paul it’s the idea that love has to be real. It might be weak or strong, consistent or inconsistent, mature or immature—it can be any of those things but it must not be phony. If it’s contrived or disingenuous, it’s not love. God can work with whatever other imperfections exist in our love but His hands are tied when we refuse to be real.
For the recipients of this letter, Paul’s instruction is challenging. The church at Rome is a mixture of Jewish and Gentiles disciples. Before coming to Christ they were worlds apart in their attitudes and lifestyles. Now in Christ they are part of one body and have much to learn in regard to fleshing out this unity. It could be a temptation at times to just love the disciples who are like them and fake it with the rest. Paul lets them know this is not an option. Their love for each other is to be as real as their redemption.
Even though they are challenging, there are few people who would dispute Paul’s words. And if he was writing a greeting card he would have stopped here. But he’s writing to people who are in a spiritual war so he has more to say—and many people aren’t as receptive to these things.
He tells them to “hate what is evil.” We’re not to hate people or to hate something because it is different than what we’re used to or what we prefer. But we are called to hate what is evil. More to the point, it we are to do this out of a sincere love. Even more to the point, this holy hated for evil should flow from our relationship with God. “Let those who love the Lord hate evil” (Psalm 79:10). “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech” (Proverbs 8:13).
We are to hate what is evil—not be enamored or entertained by it. We are to peel away whatever “attraction” there appears to be and see the destructiveness of it, the pain it brings to people’s lives and to God’s heart. It’s Jesus weeping outside Jerusalem or denouncing the Pharisees. We’re not to throw stones, be self-righteous or live in a bubble, but we are to be discerning. We wouldn’t think of drinking a little poison or exposing ourselves to radioactive material—playing around with evil is toxic. Samson found this out the hard way.
Instead, Paul urges us to “cling to what is good.” There is something inherently powerful about goodness. Whether it is someone going out of their way to be helpful, parent’s love for their children, a person doing the right thing regardless of the circumstances—goodness inspires us to be better and gives us a glimpse of what the world can be. We need all of this we can get.
Be real, love what’s right and hate what’s wrong. These are words to live by.