Exhortations 12:1-15:13

i] The marks of a Christian community, 12:3-13:14

b) Let love be genuine


In 12:1-15:13 Paul deals with the practical business of believers living together within God's new community. In the passage before us, Paul speaks of the way of love, of love within the Christian fellowship and its extension to the wider world. The practical implication for Paul is that kindness, in the face evil, will disarm hate.


i] Context: See 12:1-2.


ii] Background: See 1:8-15.


iii] Structure: Let there be love:

The nature of Christian love, v9-16;

Exhortations toward love.

The contrary nature of love, v17-21:

Exhortations toward non-retaliation.


iv] Thesis: See 3:21-31.


v] Interpretation:

A new section is indicated by the lack of a connecting conjunction. Paul heads this section with the key word agaph, "love", the meaning of which he explains in v9-21. The old AV translation "charity" has long since lost its power, and so most translations opt for "love", even though it carries powerful sexual connotations. It does seem that a word like "compassion" comes closer to its intended sense. The predicate adjective anupokritoV, "sincere", is usually treated imperatively, as are the following ten participles, again indicating our preference for the imperative over the indicative. Paul's words are certainly framed as an imperative, the second expression of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, v1-2 (the first being that of exercising our gifts, v3-8), but the adjectives and participles more likely describe / specify the "love" which Paul calls on us to offer as a sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God.

Paul tells us that the nature of "love" is found in its hatred of evil, compassion toward the brotherhood, respect toward others, spiritual enthusiasm, hope, fortitude, constant prayerfulness, and practical care toward those in need. Love is expressed in blessing those who persecute us, empathising with people in times of joy and sadness, getting along with people, not being stuck-up, or conceited, forgiving rather than hitting back, seeking the honourable path in life, and living at peace with everyone. Love resists getting even, leaving justice with the Lord, and this because evil is best defeated by kindness.


Is Paul contextualising his instructions on love? Paul's instructions may well reflect the hostile environment within which first century Christianity finds itself. This is possibly evident in the exhortations from v17 on, and may explain the placement of the instruction that believers be subject to government authorities, 13:1-7. But it is also possible that Paul, at this point in his treatise, sets out to summarise the church's catechetical instructions on the subject of love within the Christian community, so Fitzmyer, Moo, ... He may even be addressing a situation similar to that faced by the church in Corinth, namely the rash use of spiritual gifts. This certainly fits with the context, given that Paul has just addressed the issue of spiritual gifts. Given also that Paul is about to personally address the touchy issue of division in the Christian fellowship between the "weak" and the "strong", the law-bound and the free in Christ, 14:1-15:13, he may well view the unifying power of Christian compassion as the answer to this divide.


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 12:9

Love, v9-21. As noted in 12:1-8, Paul adopts a stylistic approach from v9 through to v21 where information is piled one upon another. He does this with the use of participles, and a limited number of verbs. It doesn't quite work in English, so we are forced to supply numerous verbs, often treated as imperatives (eg., v9, "love must be sincere"), and to guess at the function of the participles.

i] The nature of Christian love, v9-16. Paul has described the situation of econteV carismata, "having gifts", doqeisan hJmin, "given to us." He now looks at the gift of love. As indicatives, what we seem to have here are nominative adjectives and nominative adjectival participles limiting "love" by describing / specifying; "The love which is not hypocritical, abhorring evil, glued to the good. With brotherly love, a love which loves the other dearly; with honour, a love which holds others in esteem; ......." Although a rather condensed construction covering v9-21, this does seem to be Paul's intention. None-the-less, most often the adjectives and the ten participles in this passage are treated as imperatives, with the present tense taken as durative, "always", so Turner. Either way, we are to love our brothers and sisters in the sense of showing compassion toward them. Such love must be genuine and not deceitful. We are to oppose what is morally wrong and support what is morally good.

hJ agaph (h) "love must be" - offering your bodies as a living sacrifice entails love. Today the word carries an erotic and sentimental sense, but in the NT it means something like compassion, being other-person-centred. Most translations assume an imperative verb to-be; "let love be unashamed, sincere, the real thing."

anupokritoV adj. "sincere" - unashamed. Attributive adjective, limiting love by describing / specifying; "love, a love which is unashamed." "Love is to be the real thing, genuine, and not counterfeit", Cranfield; "don't pretend to love", TH.

apostugounteV (apostugew) pres. part. "hate" - abhorring [the evil]. The first of a series of ten nominative participles, the present tense being durative; "always .....", Turner. As with the following participles, this participle may be classified as attendant circumstance, expressing action accompanying an assumed imperative verb like "offer, let be, ...", and therefore translated as an imperative. On the other hand, Paul may well intend it to serve as an attributive modifier, further limiting "love" by describing / specifying it; "a love which breaks with evil and is devoted to good." "Hate violently", Dunn.

kollwmenoi (kollaw) pas. part. "cling to" - cleaving to, glued to, be joined firmly to. The participle as above. A love that hates evil, flees from it, but joins itself to the good, is passionate for the will of God. "Hold on to", Harvey.

tw/ agaqw adj. "what is good" - the good. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of direct object after the verb kallaw, "to cling to."


We are to show affectionate kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly when they are in need. We must always remember, a kindness to a brother is a kindness to Christ.

th/ filadelfia (a) dat. "in brotherly love / in love" - with brotherly love. The first of a series of datives which can be understood in numerous ways, eg., local, "in the sphere of brotherly love"; instrumental, "by means of brotherly love", TH; as a dative of reference / respect, "with respect to brotherly love", Morris, Moo; dative of manner, "as between brothers", Phillips; dative of advantage, "for the brotherhood", Moffatt. The term "brother" for a fellow adherent of a religious faith, is not peculiar to Christianity, but it was used by Christ and adopted by the first believers. "With respect to brotherly love, a love which loves dearly toward the other" = "your brotherly love must make you one loving family", Barclay. The gift of love is expressed in "kindness", Hunter.

filostorgoi (oV) adj. "be devoted [to one another]" - loving warmly, cherishing, devoted. Again, we have a nominative adjective, presumably modifying an assumed nominative "love", which pattern is repeated by the ten participles in this passage, serving as attributive modifiers, "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice (v1-2) with respect to brotherly love, a love which is devoted toward one another = which makes you one loving family." This adjective, as with the ten participles, is usually treated as an imperative. "Tender affection, particularly family affection", Cranfield.

eiV + acc. "to [one another]" - to, into. Local, expressing the direction of the action, and arrival at.

th/ timh/ (h) dat. "Honour [one another]" - [preferring one another] in = with honour. The dative as above; "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice .......... with respect to honour, a love which holds other people in esteem"

prohgoumenoi (prohgeomai) pres. part. "above yourselves" - leading the way = esteeming highly [one another]. As already indicated, these participles are either adjectival, "with respect to honour, a love which gives precedence to others", or attendant circumstance, expressing action accompanying the assumed main verb "offer, let be, ......", v9, so treated as an imperative, "give one another precedence." The word means "to give a lead to." This has prompted translations like "let us have .... a willingness to let the other man (person) have the credit", Phillips. The gift of love is expressed in "fine courtesy", Hunter.


We are to be dedicated toward God, bubbling over with enthusiasm toward the Holy Spirit and devoted in service to our Lord.

mh oknhroi adj. "never be lacking in" - [in = with a zeal] not slothful, lazy, slackness, hesitating, irked by the demands of (Murray). Again this adjective is usually treated as an imperative in line with the ten participles in this passage, also treated as imperatives; "be constant in zeal", so Moule. Imperatives make the point well to a Western mind, and from Paul's perspective, a moral instruction is his intent (cf., v1-2), but as already indicated, this set of adjectives and participles are more likely attributive modifiers; "with respect to dedication, a love which is never lacking." The phrase highlights the attitude that drives a person to sidestep their responsibilities in favour of as little work as possible. cf. Matt.25:26.

th/ spoudh/ (h) dat. "zeal" - in = with earnestness, diligence, dedication. Again, the dative here, as with the two other datives in this verse, may be translated in numerous ways. Probably again a dative of reference / respect works best; "with respect to dedication (toward the Lord / the brotherhood?), a love which is never lacking." Other possibilities: dative of cause as in v12, "in zeal" = "by virtue of", BDF, "on the basis of", etc. The gift of love is expressed in "fervour", Hunter.

tw/ pneumati (a atoV) dat. "but keep your spiritual" - in = with spirit. Dative as above, "with respect to the spirit", although Harvey opts for a local sense; "in the sphere of your spiritual life". "With respect to the human spirit (possibly the Holy Spirit).

zeonteV (zew) pres. part. "fervour" - burning or boiling / the burning within, fervour. Participle, as above; "with respect to the spiritual self, a love which is bubbling over with enthusiasm."

tw/ kuriw/ (oV) dat. "the Lord" - in = with the lord [serving]. Reference / respect is probably still intended, "with respect to the Lord, a love which is serving = dedicated to service." The verb douleuw, "to serve", normally takes a dative of direct object, so does Paul simply mean "serving the Lord"? "Serving", as a slave serves. Presumably Paul is using this participle in line with the others. Note the alternate reading "time" = the present time, serve it; "seize your opportunities", Barclay.


With a view to eternity, be joyful; in persecution, be patient; in prayer, be constant.

th/ elpidi (iV idoV) dat. "in hope" - in = with hope [rejoicing]. The dative again prompts numerous translation possibilities, eg., a dative of cause; "be joyful in hope, ie. by virtue of hope"; "if you have hope, this will make you cheerful", JB. Possibly instrumental, expressing means, even local, so Schreiner. A dative of reference / respect remains the best all-round option; "with respect to hope, a love that rejoices." "Base your happiness on your hope in Christ", Phillips. The gift of love expresses itself in "a radiant hope", Hunter.

th/ qiliyei (iV ewV) dat. "[patient in] affliction" - in tribulation [enduring]. Dative, as above; "with respect to affliction, a love which endures." "You must meet trouble with the power to pass the breaking point and not break", Barclay. The gift of love expresses itself with "fortitude in suffering", Hunter.

proskarterounteV (proskarterew) pres. part. "faithful in" - [in prayer] persevering. The participle, as above; "with respect to prayer / your prayer life, a love which perseveres." "Busy oneself with, be busily engaged in", BAGD. "Faithful" doesn't quite express the "keeping at it" sense, although Paul is not saying that we should keep praying until God gives us what we want. Probably "consistent" carries the sense better than "persevere". The gift of love expresses itself with "consistency in prayer", Hunter.


We must be generous in our dealings with our fellow believers, and offer practical care and hospitality when needed

koinwnounteV (koinwnew) pres. part. "share with [the Lord's people]" - [to = with the needs of the saints] sharing, contributing, taking part in. Participle as above; "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice (v1-2), with respect to the needs of the saints, a love which entails practical assistance." Contribute a share", BAGD. "Contribute to the needs of God's people", NEB. Poverty was a fairly serious problem for the early church, as it was for the Roman Empire as a whole. The genitive adjective twn aJgiwn, "the holy", serves as a substantive, "the saints = believers", the genitive being adjectival, possessive;

diwkonteV (diwkw) pres. part. "practice [hospitality]" - pursuing, seeking [hospitality]. The participle as above, here forming a participial phrase coordinate with "sharing"; "with respect to the needs of the saints, a love which offers practical assistance and which offers hospitality / is never grudging in offering a meal or a bed to those who need them." The final feature of agaph, "love" is "open-handed hospitality", Hunter. Accommodation was limited and expensive for travellers, so this exhortation meets a very practical need.


As the master instructed us, let us bless our persecutors, cf., Matt.5:44, Lk.6:27. The phraseology of this passage is reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount. In v14-16 we have three positive imperatives followed by three negative imperatives. The first two and the last are imperative verbs, the third and fourth are infinitives, taken as an infinitive of command, and the rest are participles usually treated as attendant circumstance / imperatival.

eulogeite (eulogew) pres. imp. "bless" - bless. In the sense of "invoke God's blessing upon" cf., Murray, Mounce, ...; "call down blessing on", NEB. Calvin says of this exhortation, "although there is hardly anyone who has made such advance in the law of the Lord that he fulfils this precept, no one can boast that he is the child of God, or glory in the name of a Christian, who has not partially undertaken this course, and does not struggle daily to resist the will to do the opposite."

touV diwkontaV (diwkw) "those who persecute you" - the ones persecuting, pursuing [you, bless and do not curse]. The participle serves as a substantive.


Let us stand with those around us in their times of trouble. These words may refer to empathy within the Christian fellowship, but there is no reason why they can't apply to the world at large.

cairein (cairw) pres. inf. "rejoice" - to rejoice. This infinitive further exegetes "love", a love that rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn. As with klaiein, "to weep, mourn", it is usually classified as an independent infinitive with imperatival force, an uncommon infinitive in the New Testament. Imperatival infinitives are common in secular writings, eg., Homer. "Share the happiness of those who are happy, and the sorrow of those who are sad", Phillips.

meta + acc. "with" - with. Expressing association; "in association with."

cairontwn gen. pres. part. "those who rejoice" - the ones rejoicing [weep with the ones weeping]. This participle, as with klaiontwn, "weeping, mourning", serves as a substantive, even though it is without an article.


When Paul encourages us to "live in harmony with one another" he probably means "agree together, one with another"; "be of the same mind." This exhortation calls on believers to work at unity in the brotherhood, but also possibly encourages a wider sense of community. Paul also denounces snobbery, encouraging us to be willing to associate with people from a lower social stratum. Also, he makes the point that it is dangerous to think too highly of our intellectual ability. "I think and therefore it is true" (rather than "I think and therefore I am"), is a disastrous assumption.

fronounteV (fronew) pres. part. "live in harmony with" - thinking [the same to one another]. Again, the participle is usually treated as imperatival, "treat everyone with equal kindness", JB, although this is not quite the sense. Probably better, "be of the same mind", Morris. As already noted, given the condensed nature of v9-21, Paul may be using the participle as an attributive modifier, limiting his key word agaph, "love", v9; "a love which involves living in harmony with one another." Paul is not encouraging us to paper over differences since we are always bound to stand for the truth as we see it.

fronounteV (fronew) pres. part. "do [not] be proud" - thinking [not the high things]. The participle, as above; "a love which is not haughty or contemptuous."

alla "but" - but. Adversative standing in a counterpoint construction. ; "not .... but ...."

sunapagomenoi (sunapagw) pres. part. "associate with" - being led, carried along with. The participle as above; "but a love which associates with the lowly." We should not be "carried along" by high-mindedness, but rather by "the humble tasks in community", Black. Christians who think they are socially superior are really not standing with Christ.

toiV tapeinoiV dat. adj. "people of low position" - the humble things / ones. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of direct object after the sun prefix verb, "associate with."

par (para) + dat. "conceited" - [do not become wise] with [yourselves]. Here expressing association, "with", but possibly instrumental, "by", "be not wise by your own estimation", or even local, "in your own eyes", Moo; "don't be the great somebody", Peterson.


ii] The contrary nature of love - exhortations for non-retaliation, v17-21. Do not return evil for evil. This exhortation on vengeance is oft repeated in the Bible, even by Jesus, cf., Matt.5:38f, Lk.6:29, 35. Paul goes on to encourage right behaviour; "let your aims be such as all men count honourable", NEB. Verses 17ff are taken as general exhortations for believers in their contact with non-believers, but they can just as easily be viewed as church specific. Again, the verse is controlled by two participles, usually treated as imperatival (technically attendant circumstance); "Returning to no one evil for evil! Having regard for good things before all men!"

apodidonteV (apodidwmi) pres. part. "do not repay" - repaying. Again, the participle may serve as an imperative, attendant on an assumed imperative like "offer, let be, ....", referencing what Paul urges his reader to do (under the category of "love", v9), namely, offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, v1, so "repay no one evil for evil", ESV. The participle may also serve as an attributive modifier limiting an assumed "love"; "a love which does not repay evil for evil."

mhdeni dat. adj. "anyone" - to no one. Emphatic; dative of indirect object.

anti + gen. "[evil] for [evil]" - [evil] in return for [evil]. Expressing exchange.

pronooumenoi (pronoew) pres. part. "be careful" - taking thought for, having regard for. The participle, as above; "a love which is above reproach in the eyes of all", cf., Moffatt. The exhortation to do what is right in the sight of others is interesting. The NIV sense can easily imply the performance of goodness, but the NEB gets to the heart of it with "let your aims be such as all men count honourable."

enwpion + gen. "in the eyes of [everyone]" - [good things] before [all men = everyone]. Spatial; "in front of, before."


Where possible, be peaceably disposed toward everybody.

ei + ind. (assumed) "if" - if [possible]. Introducing a conditional clause, 1st. class, where the proposed condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, ..... then living in peace with all men."

to ex uJmwn "as far as it depends on you" - the from you. The article to, "it, what", is an accusative of respect, so Moule = "with respect to what comes from (ex +gen. = source / origin) you" = "so far as it is in your power." Calvin says of this verse, "we are not to strive to attain the favour of men in such a way that we refuse to incur the hatred of any for the sake of Christ." We are to maintain peace as best we can. "To the extent that it depends on you" Moo.

eirhneuonteV (eirhneuw) pres. part. "live at peace" - living in peace. The participle, as above: as an imperative, "be at peace with all people"; as an attributive modifier, "a love which, where possible, on your part, is at peace with all people. Either way, Paul is encouraging us to live at peace with everyone, not just the members of our Christian fellowship.

meta + gen. "with [everyone]" - with [all men]. Expressing association, as NIV.


Retaliation, in the face of hurt and offence, is a natural response. Paul affirms the standard Biblical line, namely, leave the matter in God's hands.

mh .... ekdikounteV (edkikew) pres. part. "take revenge" - [beloved] not avenging. The participle, as above: imperative, "do not take revenge"; or as an attributive modifier, "my beloved ones, offering your bodies as a living sacrifice entails a love which does not take revenge." The word implies a wrong has been done for which a suitable reaction is called for. A believer, standing under the grace of God in Christ, cannot wield the sword of revenge against another sinner, rather we should leave the matter in God's hands, for his mercy, or his wrath. The wrath is best witnessed at Gethsemane. "We give place to wrath only when we wait patiently for the proper time for our deliverance, praying in the meantime that those who now trouble us may repent and become our friends", Calvin.

eJautouV reflex. pro. "-" - yourselves. Serving as the object of the participle "avenging".

alla "but" - but. Adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not .... but ...."

topon (oV) "[leave] room" - [give] place. Accusative object of the verb "to give." Referring to a space where something goes on, here divine recompense; "Let the wrath of God have its way", Moffatt, although a more gentile approach may be called for; "stand back, and let God punish him, if he so wills", Hunter.

th/ orgh/ (h) dat. "for God's wrath" - to the wrath. Dative of indirect object, or adverbial, reference, "with respect to, or possession, "his wrath", "God" understood; "leave it to the wrath of God", ESV.

gar "for" - for [it has been written]. Introducing a causal clause explaining why we should "leave it to the wrath of God", ESV.

emoi dat. pro. "it is mine [to avenge]" - [vengeance] to me [says the lord]. Dative of possession; "vengeance is mine."

egw pro. "I [will repay]" - i [will repay]. Emphatic by use.


Proverbs 25:21-22, LXX. Render help to anyone in need. An enemy is not necessarily someone outside the fellowship.

alla "on the contrary" - but. Adversative, as NIV. Introducing a counterpoint to the negation mh, "do not ....", v19.

ean + subj. "if" - if [the enemy of you hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink]. As with ean diya/, "if he is thirsty", the conjunction introduces a conditional clause, 3rd. class, where the proposed condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, .... then ...."

gar "-" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why we should act this way; "because ...."

poiwn pres. part. "in doing [this]" - [this] doing. The participle is adverbial, best taken as instrumental, expressing means; "by so doing."

swreuseiV (swreuw) fut. "heap" - you will pile up. The piling up of good deeds toward an enemy serves to stir their bitter conscience and hopefully move them toward reconciliation with God.

puroV (pur puroV) gen. "of fire" - [coals] of fire. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "coals"; "burning coals." "A burning sense of shame", Moffatt. "Such kindness to an enemy will overwhelm him with remorse", Hunter. An image of "the burning pangs of shame and contrition", Cranfield.

epi + acc. "on" - upon [the head of him]. Here spatial; "upon".


Ultimately, good will triumph over evil. "It is the victory of the man who has been justified by faith, who is borne up by the grace of God in Christ, who is indeed confident, but confident in the knowledge of the victorious power of the gospel, and not in any sense of his own moral superiority", Cranfield.

mh nikw pres. mid./pas. imp. "do not be overcome" - be not be conquered. The change from plural to singular here probably serves to emphasise the personal nature of the exhortation. Present tense = "do not continue to be overcome", but Turner classes this present as perfective, rather than imperfective (ie., durative). Possibly "don't allow yourselves to be overpowered by evil", Phillips, but better, don't "respond to evil with evil", Morris. Take the path of love rather than vindictiveness.

uJpo + gen. "by" - by [the evil]. Possibly instrumental, means, although this is an unusual use of the preposition. Usually, agency would be implied so the substantive adjective tou kakou may be "the evil one" rather than "evil".

alla "but" - but. Adversative standing in a counterpoint construction, "not ...., but .....".

en + dat. "with [good]" - [conquer the evil] with [the good]. Instrumental, expressing means / agency, as NIV. "The most powerful weapon against evil is the good", Mounce.


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