ROMANS 12:9 9 Don’t let love be a mere outward show. Recoil from what is evil, and cling to what is good. 10 Love each other devotedly and with brotherly love; and set examples for each other in showing respect.
Paul’s first general instructions concern love and hate. We’re going to spend a few minutes with the subject of love and hate because it can sometimes be hard in this modern world (including within Christianity) to define these two terms due to what they have come to mean in the West as opposed to what they meant 2000 years ago in a Jewish Middle Eastern context. What ought to matter to us is what love and hate means from God’s perspective. First and foremost love means a wholehearted acceptance and hate means a complete rejection. Thus as it relates to our relationship with God, to love Him is to fully accept Him and to hate Him is to firmly reject Him. To love what is good is to fully accept and internalize what is good. To hate what is good is to purposely and knowingly reject what is good. Second, love is complete devotion to a person, an ideal, a god or perhaps a way of life. Hate is a complete disregard and aversion towards a person, an ideal, a god, or a way of life. But third, as biblically defined, love and hate intrinsically involve actions: outward behavior. And this may be the largest departure from how those two terms are thought of today whereby love and hate are seen as mostly products of emotion. While love and hate can certainly involve our emotions, biblically speaking love and hate are not the names of two of our emotions nor are love and hate primarily about emotion.
Because the Bible makes it clear that love and hate both emanate from the heart, then because of the modern romantic sense of the heart being the seat of our emotions (especially of love) then the knee-jerk reaction of Christians and secular people alike to the terms love and hate is to think of them as super-intense emotions. So for modern people to love is to “like” someone or something to an extreme level and to hate is to “dislike” someone or something to an equally extreme level. However as we’ve discussed innumerable times, when the Bible uses the term “heart” it means it as the seat of our will and our intellect; not of our emotions. In that era the kidneys, liver, and even stomach were seen as the inner sources of human emotions. To summarize: in Bible times the heart was NOT seen as the seat of our emotions, but rather as the seat of our intellect. Yes; back then it was assumed that the human heart organ was where our mental processes, our thinking, took place. They knew nothing of the brain as part of the thinking process. So the better way to perceive what the Bible means by “heart” (lev in Hebrew, kardia in Greek) is to substitute the word “mind”.
God tells us that it is our minds that give birth to love and hate, but He also tells us that our actions (our outward behaviors) are used to express love and hate. Thus when in Romans 12:9 Paul speaks about not letting our love be a mere outward show (not letting love be only insincere actions) instead of our behavior expressing our true inward mind, it is meant to connect nicely with what he has been teaching in previous chapters of Romans about following the Law of Moses in inward spirit and not only in an outward, mechanical following of religious instructions. I think it would be fair to say that Paul is telling Believers not to be hypocritical or phony.
Building upon what I explained about biblical love and hate ALWAYS involving action, Paul says to recoil from what is evil and instead to cling to what is good. Once again while certainly the instruction to recoil from the one and to cling to the other begins with our minds making a decision (and for Believers this decision should based upon what the Lord has taught and commanded us) recoiling and clinging also characterizes our outward behaviors. So let me give you an example of this in our time; I’ll use something that can be most challenging to deal with. The matter of homosexuality is approached in a straightforward manner in both the Old and New Testaments and it is listed as among the worst sins possible; thus it is biblically immoral and even called abhorrent by God. Therefore what is to be the Christian reaction to this lifestyle that God calls evil? Paul says we are to recoil from evil. So what does that mean; are we merely to intellectually reject it and leave it at that? No. Does it mean being outwardly nasty and even abusive to the person who has embraced the sin of homosexuality? No; that violates the principle of loving your neighbor. Does that mean we should be accepting, excusing, and tolerant of the lifestyle of the person who has embraced homosexuality in a show of our love? No to that as well. To recoil means to reject any particular evil for ourselves; first mentally and then behaviorally. But it also means to never compromise and accept any evil as merely reasonable personal choice for others. Unfortunately in some cases it can mean having as little to do as possible with the unrepentant person who has fully embraced that sin and its accompanying lifestyle.
Therefore we must not recoil in our conscience from something but at the same time cling to it in our behavior. Nor should we cling in our conscience to something but outwardly recoil against it. To try to do so reveals that we are self-deceived or it is the epitome of hypocrisy. That may not be a politically correct viewpoint today, but biblically that is how it is.
So what does it mean, biblically speaking, to cling to good? In our time, just as it meant in Paul’s day, it means to constantly behave in a righteous manner that conforms to God’s Torah: the Law of Moses. It is the Torah that sets down the standard of good for the entire world; so the good it mandates should be especially embraced by followers of Yeshua. We don’t have the time to get into the deep discussion of exactly how to bring across the intent (the spirit) of each of the 613 laws to modern times…..some are much more difficult to do than others. But rather I mean to generalize (just as Paul is doing) to say that our outward behaviors need to stay closely tied to the biblical definitions of good that we mentally agree with, even if our friends or authorities think we are being too prudish, inflexible, or intellectually backward for the 21st century. It is a fine thing to mentally agree with God’s definitions of good and that these principles should be obeyed; it is another to act it out especially around others who don’t walk with the Lord or don’t take their faith as seriously as do you.
Quoting from his article, “8 Modern Errors Every Catholic Should Know and Avoid”
Consider this eightfold list of modern errors that are common even in the Church. Msgr. Charles Pope
“Equating Love with Kindness –Kindness is an aspect of love. But so is rebuke; so is punishment; as is praise. Yet today many, even in the Church, think of love only as kindness, affirmation, approval, encouragement, and other positive attributes. But true love is, at times, willing to punish, to insist on change, and to rebuke error.
Yet the modern age, equating love with mere kindness says, “If you really love me you will affirm, even celebrate, what I do.” In this sort of climate, when Church teaching does not conform with modern notions of sexuality, for example, the Church is accused of “hate” simply because we do not “affirm” what people demand we affirm. Identity politics (where people hinge their whole identity and dignity on a narrow range of behaviors or attributes) intensifies the perception of a personal affront.
But instead of standing our ground and insisting that setting love and truth in opposition is a false dichotomy, most Catholics cave and many also come to believe that love can be reduced to mere kindness. Many of them take up the view of the world that the Church is unkind and therefore mean or even hateful. Never mind that Jesus said things that were, by this standard, unkind, and that he often spoke quite frankly about sin (beyond mere social justice and pharisaical attitudes to include things such as sexual sin, adultery, divorce, unbelief and so forth). No, forget all that, because God is love, and love is kindness and kindness is always pleasant and affirming. Therefore they conclude that Jesus couldn’t really have said many of the things attributed to him. This error reduces Jesus to a harmless hippie and misconstrues love by equating it with mere kindness and unconditional affirmation.
Many Catholics have succumbed to this error and sacrificed the truth. It has a high place in our compendium of modern errors.”
Deuteronomy represents the core of what God revealed to Moses at Mount Horeb. The word love is at the heart of the message. Neither a list of dos and don’ts, nor law, nor legalism, nor rules for living, nor good works, nor even a high moral standard was primarily in focus. Basic to all of these was a vital relationship with God—a relationship of love. Out of this love relationship issued all other considerations that were important to man. Love for man was initiated by God and did not come in response to human action or activity. (You cannot initiate God’s Love through emotional plea, He loves you first)
As a recipient of God’s love, which was evident in His redemption and constant care, the Israelite was expected to respond with wholehearted love and devotion. This response tapped all the resources of his entire being—heart, soul, mind, and strength. This love and devotion was exclusive. No other gods could be allowed or tolerated in such a relationship. Out of this unique relationship with his God, the Israelite was to express his love horizontally to his neighbor. Only as he experienced being loved by God was he qualified to extend love to his neighbor.
The concept of “cleaving” or “holding fast” to God is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) in Jewish tradition, a word that derives from the root davak (דבק), meaning to “cling” or “stick” (the Modern Hebrew word for glue comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man cleaves to his wife so that they become basar echad – “one flesh” (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). Some have described devakut as “God consciousness imbued with love.” “To cleave to Him – that means the cleaving of the mind to Him, for there is no devakut except that of the mind and the meditation of the heart” (Sh’ar ha-ahavah). We are able to cling or cleave to God because He first clung to the cross in love for us (1 John 4:19).
Moses points out positively that the essence of Israel’s relationship with God is one of mutual love. This is the basic commandment, and out of this relationship toward God issues the second commandment, which is to extend love toward others. This theme with its corollary is developed in Deuteronomy 5-11.
DEUTERONOMY FOR TODAY When Jesus pointed to the two basic essentials which represented the sum and substance of the Old Testament, He spoke of wholehearted love for God and of love for one’s neighbor. These two commandments represent the core of the Mosaic revelation as delineated in Deuteronomy. Much can be learned from the instructions given by Moses in this summary. The Israelites were carefully taught by Moses how to express their love for God and fellowmen in daily life. The fulfillment of the law of love according to Jesus brought with it the promise of eternal life (Lk 10:25-28). Although Jesus Himself came to exemplify the perfect fulfillment of the law of love, the Deuteronomic instructions are of great practical value for today’s Christian who is concerned about expressing his love for God and for his fellowmen. God has not changed nor has human nature since Mosaic times. The basic principles governing the relationship between man and God and between man and man are the same today as they were in Bible times. Cultural differences have occurred, but the basic principles are unchanged.
LOVE AND OMNIPRESENCE OF GOD
The love of God is hatred of the world and love of the world hatred of God. This is the colossal point of contention, either love or hate. This is the place where the most terrible fight must be fought. And where is this place? In a person’s innermost being. Whether the struggle is over millions or over a penny, it is a matter of loving and preferring God – the most terrible fight is the struggle for the highest. What immeasurable happiness is promised to the one who rightly chooses. If anyone is unable to understand this, the reason is that he is unwilling to accept that God is present in the moment of choice, not in order to watch but in order to be chosen. Therefore, each person must choose. Terrible is the battle, in a person’s innermost being, between God and the world. The crowning risk involved lies in the possession of choice.