Paul summarizes by saying, “Love must be sincere” (v. 9). All service should be sincere — gifts should be motivated by generosity; mercy should be given joyfully.
Paul does not give these commands as requirements for salvation. Rather, these are what we should do after being saved, after God has shown us his mercy.
Harmony in the body of Christ
In verse 9 Paul begins to list some qualities that should characterize Christian love. He begins with a general principle: “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Love is not a vague feeling, but it discerns the difference between good and bad.
He is focusing on attitudes within the Christian community: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (v. 10). Most people struggle to get more honor, but as we imitate our Savior, we should try to excel in humility and give more honor. Our status is secure in Christ, so we do not need to fight for it.
“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (v. 11). Or as Paul says in Galatians 6:10, Do not grow weary in doing good. It’s not always easy or fun; we have to remember that we are serving God.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (v. 12). When life is difficult, don’t give up hope — be patient and keep on praying, looking to God for a way to deal with the problems.
“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (v. 13). Our possessions, like other gifts, should be used to serve others. Even if we don’t own a home, we can be hospitable. At church, for example, we can be hospitable by welcoming others, being easy to approach and willing to help.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (v. 14). Most people want revenge, but that is a destructive approach. If we respond to people in the way that Christ has treated us, then we will respond with good rather than evil.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another” (vv. 15-16). If other Christians are blessed, rejoice with them, rather than being jealous. If they are suffering, empathize with them rather than looking down on them.
“Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (v. 16). Some Christians are in a high position; others are low — that has not changed. But those external matters are not the basis of a person’s real value. If people are less fortunate than you, don’t think less of them for it. Count them as an equal.
Responding to enemies
In verse 17, Paul returns to the way that we should respond to persecution or injustice: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” In other words, do not harbor grudges, and be sensitive to social values.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (v. 18). We should do our best to avoid offense. Sometimes that means accepting restrictions on what we can do (1 Cor. 9:20). At other times, it is necessary to stand up for the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:11).
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (v. 19, quoting Deut. 32:35). Let God take care of whatever punishment is needed — that will stop the cycle of violence.
Instead of vengeance, Paul assigns us a different job: “On the contrary,” Paul says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (v. 20, quoting Prov. 25:21-22). Various suggestions have been made about why it might be good to put burning coals on someone’s head, but the expression is probably figurative, meaning simply that if we treat our enemies well, they may blush with shame.
Paul concludes the discussion by saying, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21). That is the way of Christ. Evil cannot be beaten by more evil — it can be conquered only by good.
Things to think about
- What steps can I take so that my mind is being conformed to God’s will? (vv. 1-2)
- Am I using my abilities to serve others? (vv. 6-9)
- In what ways can I give honor to others? (v. 10)
- What social values do I need to pay more attention to? (v. 17)
Author: Michael Morrison, 2004, 2011