Love in Action

Monday: God’s New Family

Romans 12:10-13 In this week’s study, we’ll look at what love does, and why believers are uniquely able to offer consistent love to those around them.
God’s New Family

There are times in Bible study when an examination of the Greek text is very helpful. This is not always so, because most Bible translations convey the meaning of the original languages accurately and a person who does not know Greek can get along very well with the English. But sometimes the Greek is helpful, and one of those times is now. 

I pointed out last week that although the various exhortations of Romans 12:9-13 seem in most translations merely to be strung together in no specific order and with no apparent relationship to one another, in actual fact they are arranged quite carefully. To begin with, they fall into two separate portions: verse 9, which introduces the subject of love in a general way, and verses 10-13, which show how genuine love is to function. We saw that the verbs “hate” and “cling” in verse 9 are actually participles linked to the words “love must be sincere.” So the sentence actually reads, “Love must be sincere, hating what is evil and clinging to what is good.” This tells us that the love Paul is talking about is no mere sentimental mush but is rather concerned for what is good. It is both genuine and discriminating. In the next verses, after describing this love generally, Paul shows how it is to operate in nine areas. 

And that is the second important fact about this arrangement. Nine specific functions of love are highlighted. In the Greek text these are nine nouns in the dative case, each of which comes first in its clause for emphasis. We usually translate a dative with the word “to,” as in “to the store” or “to church.” But in this case the meaning is something like “as regards to…” or “with respect to….” John Murray does not stick to the nine items specifically, but he provides a translation of verses 10-13 that gives a pretty good idea how this goes: “In brotherly love being kindly affectioned to one another, in honor preferring one another, in zeal not flagging, in spirit fervent, serving the Lord, in hope rejoicing, in affliction being patient, in prayer continuing instant, in the needs of the saints partaking, hospitality pursuing.”1 

Another commentator calls this “practical advice,” but it is more than advice. It is how the love introduced in verse 9 is to function. 

The first thing Paul writes about is being kind to one another. Our translation says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” In the Greek language there are four words for love: agape, philia, storge and eros. The last word refers to sexual love and does not occur in the New Testament, no doubt because this kind of love had become so debased among the heathen. The first word is the great New Testament word for God’s love and for the love of Christians for God and one another. It is the word used in verse 9. The remaining two words, philia and storge, are in this verse, which means that all three of the New Testament’s words for love are in verses 9 and 10. 

But they occur in combinations. In the Greek text the first words of Paul’s command are “in brotherly love.” That is philadelphia in Greek, the word for “love” being combined with the word for “brother.” The second combination is the Greek word philostorgoi, rendered “devoted” in the New International Version. These words mean that “in respect to the love of our Christian brothers and sisters, we are to be marked by a devotion that is characteristic of a loving, close- knit and mutually supportive family.” 

Let me say this another way. If you are familiar with the King James translation of this verse, you will remember that it reads, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love.” “Kindly” is based on the word “kin,” meaning “family.” So again, we are being told that we are to love and treat Christians as we would members of our family. 

Which they are, of course. Christians are our family, regardless of their background, race, nationality, work, wealth or education— or even whether we are attracted to or like another believer at first glance. That is irrelevant. Do you remember the first verse of “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds”? It goes: 

Blessed be the tie that binds 

Our hearts in Christian love; 

The fellowship of kindred minds

Is like to that above. 

“Kindred minds” means the minds of those who are spiritual kin, that is, who are members of God’s new family on earth. So our devotion to one another is not to be a matter of liking but of life. In my opinion, the contemporary church will never have the power of the early church until today’s Christians love one another as a close-knit family. 

1John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), vol. 2, 129.

Study Questions
  1. How do the exhortations in Romans 12:9-13 fit together?
  2. What are the four Greek words for love? What does each refer to specifically?
  3. How does the image of family help define Christian love?

Application: For each of the following phrases from Romans 12:10-13, think of a specific way that you can live out this kind of love:

  1. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
  2. Honor one another above yourselves.
  3. Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
  4. Be joyful in hope.
  5. Be patient in affliction.
  6. Be faithful in prayer.
  7. Share with God’s people who are in need.
  8. Practice hospitality.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Love Letters from the Lord.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

Tagged under
More Resources from James Montgomery Boice

Subscribe to the Think & Act Biblically Devotional

Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals

About the Alliance

The Alliance is a coalition of believers who hold to the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformed faith and proclaim biblical doctrine in order to foster a Reformed awakening in today’s Church.

Canadian Donors

Canadian Committee of The Bible Study Hour
PO Box 24087, RPO Josephine
North Bay, ON, P1B 0C7