Paul continues in these verses with his discussion of our response to grace. Here, he sets the tone with verse 9: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Our response to God’s grace must be one of love, both love for God and love for others, and this love must be sincere. It is interesting that Paul should modify this sincere love statement with the concept of hating what is evil and clinging to what is good; it would appear that in our sincere love, we are to maintain the highest of ethical standards, not allowing ourselves to misuse our new freedom.
So then, what does love in action look like in practice?
Paul begins shedding light on this question in the verses that follow, first of all with an emphasis on what we should do to put love into action:
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (12:10). Because our response to grace is that we love others, we should be devoted to one another, and we should put others ahead of ourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord (12:11). Because our response to grace is that we love God, we should serve Him with enthusiasm always. Because our response to grace is one of love, our attitudes should reflect that love for God and other people: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (12:12). Since we have a whole new attitude because of the grace we have received, our love should result in generosity toward other people: Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (12:13).
Many commentators refer to this section as the “Law of Christ” but at least for me, it doesn’t really read that way; I highly doubt that Paul is intending to give us a list of rules that we check off as we go. Instead, I think he is simply pointing out some no-brainers as if to say that since we love God and love others, these are the natural kinds of things that should follow. In the next three verses, his emphasis shifts slightly, but he is still speaking of sincere love:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
As we read these verses, notice that they are not things that are common in this world. I’ve never met someone who blessed their oppressors, for instance; have you? I don’t always see people rejoicing with their friends who are rejoicing, for all too often a person sees their friend rejoicing while harboring resentment because their friend was fortunate in an area where they hadn’t been as fortunate. Harmony is surely lacking in our world, while pride and conceit are commonplace; and so many decline to associate with the less fortunate. Real sincere love is a very rare thing in our world, but within the church, it is supposed to be a given.
In fact, the apparent lack of love in some church bodies is a sore subject for many people. Some of them complain loudly and criticize bitterly about the lack of love in this or that church, some even leave church entirely because of it. While on the one hand I might be inclined to feel for such people, on the other hand, after going through these verses, I can’t help thinking that they aren’t exhibiting love either. Thus, I’ll add a response to grace that Paul alluded to in verse 14, but hasn’t mentioned yet by name: Sincere love requires quite a lot of forgiveness, for all of us are works in progress.