Romans - Lesson 50

Romans 12:9-21

In this lesson on Romans 12:9-21, you'll gain insights into the multifaceted nature of love as outlined by Paul. He emphasizes the importance of sincere love, which entails hating evil and clinging to good. Paul draws from teachings attributed to Jesus, urging believers to bless those who persecute them and live in harmony with others. Translation decisions and issues regarding the significance of red-letter editions are discussed, highlighting the importance of textual interpretation. The passage concludes with a reflection on the enigmatic metaphor of "heaping burning coals" on one's enemy, prompting contemplation on the complexities of love and judgment.

Lesson 50
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Romans 12:9-21

V. The Transforming Power of the Gospel: Christian Conduct (12:1-15:13)

A. The Heart of the Matter: Total Transformation (12:1-2)

B. Humility and Mutual Service (12:3-8)

C. Love and Its Manifestations (12:9-21)

D. The Christian and Secular Rulers (13:1-7)

E. Love and the Law (13:8-10)

F. Living in Light of the Day (13:11-14)

G. A Plea for Unity (14:1-15:13)

  • This lesson offers a deep dive into Paul's Letter to the Romans, revealing its pastoral aims, Paul's intentions to visit Spain, Jerusalem, and Rome, and its relevance to early Christian dynamics and theological inquiries about the Law in Christ's time.
  • This lesson offers a fresh view of Paul's theology, focusing on Romans. It emphasizes the first-century context, highlighting Gentile inclusion and unity in Christ, challenging traditional views. Gain insights into Paul's message and its relevance today.
  • Explore the book of Romans for modern faith conflicts: balance tradition with contemporary practices, learn from history, and grasp Paul's ministry and Gospel's complexities.
  • Follow along with Dr. Moo as he begins a thorough review of Romans 1:2-5. You will learn how Paul emphasizes Jesus' earthly life, resurrection, and his appointment as the Son of God in power. This lesson examines the interconnectedness of faith and obedience, underscoring that while faith initiates salvation, genuine faith inherently entails obedience to Christ as Lord, maintaining a balanced Christian life.
  • By delving into Romans 1:16-17, you'll understand the Gospel extends beyond individual salvation, encompassing God's reign over creation and His establishment of justice. The Gospel challenges worldly powers, offering hope and transformation to all who embrace it.
  • Listen along as the class discusses questions and answers revolving around Romans 1:16-17.
  • In Romans 1:18-28, you learn that all people are held accountable by God, having knowledge of Him through natural revelation but some turn away. This passage highlights the manifestation of God's wrath against sin, the exchange of truth for falsehoods, and the absence of excuses for humanity's actions, ultimately emphasizing God's fair judgment.
  • Listen in as the class and Dr. Moo discuss aspects of Romans 1:18-28.
  • The lesson discusses Romans 2:1-11, it highlights the use of the diatribe device and the transition from focusing on Gentiles to Jews. It underscores the Jewish belief in their special status and their potential misunderstanding of God's judgment. The lesson reviews the focus of the text on key themes such as judgment, righteousness, and the relationship between faith and good deeds.
  • In this lesson, you'll review the significance of the Law, notably the Law of Moses, in God's judgment. Paul stresses that mere knowledge of the Law isn't sufficient for righteousness; obedience is key. The primary message is that salvation ultimately relies on God's grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as human efforts and consciences alone cannot secure salvation. This lesson highlights the importance of understanding these concepts in interactions with people of different religious beliefs.
  • The key takeaway in this lesson is that while being a Jew comes with a great heritage, it doesn't guarantee salvation. Obedience to God's law is crucial, and reliance on religious heritage or rituals won't save you. The lesson emphasizes the universal human condition of being under the power of sin, and people cannot be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the Law or by the works of the Law. Only through faith in Christ are we made righteous.
  • This lesson explores the New Perspective on Paul, emphasizing that the Law was for Jewish covenant status, not just salvation. It promotes a holistic faith view, balancing vertical and horizontal aspects, Spirit-led obedience, and 1st-century Judaism diversity, enriching Pauline teachings in the church.
  • In exploring Romans 3:21-26, you'll gain insights into the relationship between righteousness, faith, and salvation. Paul highlights God's righteousness, which is accessible to all through faith in Jesus Christ. By weaving together themes of righteousness, faith, and inclusivity, Paul challenges conventional Jewish and Gentile perspectives, emphasizing the continuity of God's salvation plan while underscoring the centrality of faith in Christ for all believers.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the potential challenge in translating Romans 3:23-24, particularly the term "all" and its connection to the debate on universalism in evangelicalism. Dr. Moo stresses the importance of coherence in biblical interpretation and explores the themes of God's righteousness, faith, and grace in justification. The lesson reviews the cultural background of redemption, drawing parallels with the Greco-Roman slave market and emphasizing the need to understand both the problem of sin and the Gospel solution.
  • Embarking on this lesson, you'll gain insight into the historical development and contemporary challenges surrounding the doctrine of justification. Through exploring classic Reformation principles and contemporary reassessments, you'll understand the tensions between Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives, particularly regarding the infusion of righteousness and the role of grace.
  • The lesson explores the intricate connection between faith and works, justification, and sanctification in contemporary theological discourse. It delineates divergent views on justification, with scholars like Piper advocating for the preservation of biblical distinctions amidst modern theological trends. The lesson examines key questions regarding the meaning, basis, time, and means of justification.
  • Students in Dr. Moo's class ask multiple questions about justification.
  • By studying Romans 3:27-4:25, you gain insight into Paul's theology, where faith, exemplified by Abraham's righteousness, transcends works and ethnicity, emphasizing the universal scope of salvation through Christ.
  • Hear the questions the students ask regarding Romans 3:27–4:25. And discover Dr. Moo's answers to the questions posed.
  • In Romans 5 – 8, you gain insights into profound theological concepts like justification, identity in Christ, and the tension between present reality and future hope, guiding you to embrace your changed identity and hope for future transformation amidst life's trials.
  • Students as deep questions about Romans 5-8. Hear what Dr. Moo presents as answers to their questions.
  • Through Romans 5:1-11, you'll review the contrast between the Old and New Realms, understanding the essence of living in grace, finding hope amid suffering, and experiencing the assurance of eternal security rooted in Christ's sacrifice and God's love poured into believers' hearts by the Holy Spirit.
  • In Romans 5:12-21, Paul contrasts Adam's sin with Christ's redemptive grace, emphasizing humanity's hope and victory over death through union with Christ, while various interpretations of original sin underscore the universal need for redemption and Christ's pivotal role in restoring humanity to God.
  • Listen to the thorough questions the students ask regarding Romans 5:12-21.
  • The students ask excellent questions of Dr. Moo in this insightful discussion on Romans 6:1-14.
  • Through this lesson, you will gain a deeper understanding of the theological implications of Christ's death and resurrection as explained in Romans 6. You will explore different interpretations of Paul's language regarding the old self and the new self, considering the implications for the Christian life. Ultimately, you will be challenged to recognize your identity in Christ and to actively live according to that identity, rejecting the slavery of sin and embracing servitude to God.
  • Hear the questions the students ask of Dr. Moo regarding Romans 6:1-23.
  • In diving into Romans 7, you'll explore the Law's role in Christian life. Paul's discourse clarifies the distinction between law and gospel, emphasizing the Torah's significance in understanding divine commandments.
  • Class discussion on Romans 7:1-6
  • In Romans 7:7-12, Paul explores the Law's role in intensifying sin and contrasts it with Christ's liberation. His narrative prompts reflection on individual experience and collective identity, enriching understanding of Christian faith.
  • The class discusses the previous lesson on Romans 7:7-12.
  • This lesson covers interpretations of Romans 7:13-25; whether Paul's description is of pre- or post-conversion struggle with the Law.
  • In Romans 8:1-22, discover the Spirit's transformative power over sin, leading to a life free from condemnation, intimacy with God, and anticipation of future glory amid present sufferings.
  • Explore the theological insights on environmental stewardship, emphasizing Christian responsibility in light of Romans 8:19-22.
  • Gain insights into Romans 8:23-27, understanding destined glory despite present suffering. The Spirit intercedes, bridging current and promised futures, offering assurance amid weakness.
  • Romans 8:28 offers profound insights into the nature of God's providence and the believer's journey of faith. Beyond its surface meaning, the verse challenges misconceptions about 'good' and underscores the transformative power of God's grace. It invites believers to trust in God's unfailing love amidst life's trials, anchoring their hope in the assurance of His sovereign care and redemptive purposes.
  • Romans 9:1-5 highlights Paul's profound concern for Israel's salvation and the theological complexities surrounding God's promises. Reviewing salvation history, you'll learn that God's offer of salvation for both Jew and Gentile, fits within the Old Testament narrative.
  • Paul discusses Israel's role in God's plan, emphasizing grace over race. He illustrates divine choices and sovereignty, sparking debates on salvation.
  • Discover diverse views on election, Israel's struggle with faith, and the significance of overcoming theological narrowness in Romans 9:30-10:21. Gain insights into law versus faith in attaining righteousness and the importance of engaging deeply with Scripture for a comprehensive understanding.
  • Gain insights into faith versus works, Christ as the culmination of the Law, and the inclusivity of righteousness through Him. Embrace unity in Christ, transcending cultural divisions, and embodying love and holiness.
  • Gain insight into contrasting righteousness by law vs. faith in Romans 10:5-13. Accessibility of salvation through Christ bridges Old and New Testament teachings, emphasizing unity and continuity.
  • Gain insights into Romans 10:14-21, emphasizing faith, preaching, and Israel's reception of the message. Dr. Moo highlights Paul's use of Old Testament quotes and God's ongoing relationship with Israel, revealing the significance of faith and salvation.
  • Gain insight into Romans 11:11-15. Paul discusses Jewish rejection, Gentile salvation, and Jewish inclusion, aiming to provoke Jewish envy. The phrase "life from the dead" hints at spiritual renewal or future resurrection.
  • Gain insights into the Olive Tree analogy in Romans 11:16-24. Understand humility, faithfulness, and the purpose of warning passages in Scripture.
  • Discover the mystery of Israel's salvation in Romans 11:25-32. Paul reveals unity of Jews and Gentiles, challenging arrogance and emphasizing God's inclusive love.
  • Gain deeper understanding of Christian-Jewish ties, navigate theological challenges, address Israel-Palestine tensions, and embrace God's inclusive grace.
  • Gain deep insights into Romans 12:1-2: True worship extends beyond rituals, urging sacrificial living and transformation in response to God's mercy.
  • In Romans 12:3-8, Paul stresses humility, unity, and diverse gifts within the body of Christ, urging faithful stewardship for the edification of the body of Christ.
  • Gain insights into love's complexity in Romans 12:9-21. Paul urges sincere affection, alludes to Jesus' teachings, and prompts contemplation on love and judgment.
  • Gain insights into balancing submission to authorities with obedience to God. Understand the context of Paul's exhortation to Roman Christians and the complexities of submission, emphasizing humility, unity, and love in the Christian life within God's sovereignty.

Dr. Douglas Moo, from Wheaton College Graduate School, offers an exegetical examination of the book of Romans. This course was recorded during a D.Min. seminar at the Carolina Graduate School of Divinity in May 2012.

Please note that the audio mp3 file numbers on downloaded files are two greater than each lecture number beginning with number 15.

Dr. Douglas Moo 
Romans 12:9-21  
Lesson Transcript


Romans 12:9-21

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 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. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. On the contrary: “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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


A. Manifestations of Love: 

Romans 9:21. Here is a passage that sort of goes all over the place. It defies neat simple outlining. That is fine; we need to be careful sometimes, thinking that we have to have these nice, neat outlines.

Here Paul is talking about a variety of manifestations of love. If you look at the Greek, there is a certain structure that Paul is working with in the Greek text that is almost impossible to bring out in the English. Even there that structure is more grammatical than it is substantive. 

The general point of the paragraph is probably announced by Paul in the opening words. NIV: ‘Love must be sincere.’ Actually, there is no verb here, so you could almost view this as a heading – “Sincere Love.”  Put it in the middle of the text, underline it, and make it the heading for everything that follows here. What form does sincere love take? Then Paul mentions a lot of different things along the way, focusing both on love for those within the Christian community and love for those outside the community.

Let me make observations on a couple of points. One, it is interesting to me having introduced the subject of love, Paul moves to specific moral qualities: hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Paul might be suggesting that love (we have to be careful about pushing too hard lest we go beyond the text) has grounding in the will of God for us. There are certain things that are condemned by God as sinful; there are certain things commended by God as good, and love will recognize that difference, and love will take the side of what is good. Right away Paul may be giving us a word that undercuts the tendency in our day sometimes for love to be this sort of vacuous feeling that doesn’t actually have very specific content. 


B. Allusions to the Teachings of Jesus: 

Second, one of the very interesting things about the passage is that this is perhaps the place in Paul where he is most obviously picking up the teaching of Jesus. This comes out especially in verse 14, ‘bless those who persecute you; bless them and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, etc.’ This is language that clearly alludes to the teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. 

Paul doesn’t quote these as the words of Jesus; indeed, Paul never does quote words of Jesus directly. Occasionally, he refers to the teachings of Jesus. One of the interesting, and over the years, somewhat controversial, absences in the letters of Paul are clear references to the teachings of Jesus. You read the Gospels and look at the teachings of Jesus. Then you come to the letters of Paul, you almost move into a different world. 

There is a long-standing debate on how Jesus is related to Paul. Some say that Paul is the real founder of Christianity, almost independent of Jesus. Obviously, we are not going to go that way, but I think what we have is the teachings of Jesus orally passed down. When Paul writes Romans, it’s unlikely that we don’t have a written Gospel yet, but we have the teaching of Jesus that is being handed down in the churches in various ways which is forming the community and which Paul will pick indirectly as he does here in writing to the Romans.

One of the interesting things that is at least implied by this which is a bit controversial is that apparently Paul doesn’t think that quoting Jesus lends any significant authority to what he is saying beyond what he is saying himself. 


C. Translation Decisions and Issues:

This is why we translators of the NIV detest red-letter versions of the Bible. Please go out and become evangelists contra red-letter Bible. They give people the impression that those words in red are more important than the other words. This is contrary to the doctrine of Scripture. We go so far as to put in the very preface to the NIV this language: beyond “the formatting of the text such as lining the poetry, paragraphing, setting up of lists, indenting letters and lengthy prayers within narratives and insertion of sectional headings, has been the work of the committee.” These are all decisions that we make. “However, the choice between single-column and double-column formats has been left to the publishers. Also, the issue of “red-letter” editions is a publisher’s choice – one the committee does not endorse.” 

Do they make a red-letter edition?

Dr. Moo:  
Oh, yes, thousands of them. That is the majority. Publishers tell us that is what people want, that is what people buy. They want red-letter editions of the Bible.

My experience in reading the red-letter sometimes, it’s almost like reading a book that someone else has highlighted and suddenly you find you’re only reading the highlights. You do get that psychological effect, I’ll just look for the red letters, that’s what is most important.

I have even found one edition that has the Old Testament with the words of God in red.

Dr. Moo:  
I have seen those too. I’m somewhat exaggerating the point here just for the fun of it. 

Is the idea that the Book of Matthew and the Book of Romans were written at a similar timeframe, so Paul can’t refer to a written text. 

Dr. Moo:  
That may be part of it, but I think we put more emphasis on written text than would have been true in the ancient world where the oral word was remembered and passed down-is very important also. 

By the way, the single-column I mentioned, that gets really important to read the poetry well. If you are in the Psalms for instance, and you have a double-column edition of the Bible, it is wrecking the spacing. The lines have to be short enough so that you don’t see the poetry the way you should. That is why a single-column Bible is really helpful if you really want to follow the poetry. We try to represent the Hebrew poetry by carefully identifying the lines, and how many lines there are; when you have a double-column edition, you lose all of that. 

I personally prefer a double-column edition in narrative and a single-column edition in poetry. Sometimes I find in the single-column the lines get really long to read through. That’s where the single / double column issue becomes important.

A little translation committee story here. The red-letter edition thing got us into a trouble with the NIV. Following most contemporary Johannine scholars, we decided that John 3:16 is not a word of Jesus but a word of John the Evangelist. As you know, the original doesn’t have any opening quotation marks, closing quotation marks; you have to figure out where those go. This is especially challenging in John because Jesus and John sound so much alike. Almost all the recent commentators on the Gospel of John think that at the end of verse 15 is where Jesus stops speaking and John the Evangelist starts commenting in verse 16. If you have a black letter edition you hardly even notice, you’ve got the closed quotation mark at the end of verse 15, but who is going to notice that? Now put all that in red, and suddenly John 3:16 isn’t in red letters anymore. How can you degrade John 3:16 in that way? And so, we got the mail from various people. At any rate, translation follies. 


D. Coals of Fire: 

The third point to mention in the passage is the difficulty of understanding why Paul quotes the verse from Proverbs that he does in verse 20. This has become almost standard Christian vocabulary, hasn’t it? “Heaping coals of fire on someone’s head.” Very commonly used. Paul is concerned about people not thinking they need to repay; they need to take vengeance; Paul says let God do that. 

On the contrary, what t we are to do, he quotes from Proverbs here, “if your enemy is hungry, you are to feed him and if he is thirsty give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.” What is this heaping burning coals on someone’s head about? Try to disassociate yourself from the way that metaphor has been used popularly in Christian circles. Pouring burning coals on someone’s head doesn’t sound like a very good thing to be doing. How does that fit into being kind and loving to somebody? What kind of image is that? 

John Piper wrote his dissertation on some of these passages about love and retaliation. He makes the case in typical Piper fashion that the burning coals consistently in Scripture are an image of judgment, and that is what this must mean here. Give your enemy food, give him something to drink. By doing that indirectly you will increase the judgment that will come upon that person. 

In other words, we have a responsibility to love others in this way and in loving others that way, if they remain unrepentant in a sense our love for them provides more ammunition for God to judge them. Piper’s argument is to look biblically at the way the language of fire and coals are used; pretty often and pretty persistently are images of judgment.

I think that view can work into a biblical ethic and world view but it is a strain a little bit I think. Most interpreters have not been inclined to go that way. So, the main option here is to think that the author of Proverbs is himself alluding to some Egyptian practices. Parenthesis - some of you will know that there are some pretty obvious connections between the wisdom that we find in Proverbs and certain Egyptian wisdom traditions. Solomon is writing a lot of the Proverbs; maybe some of his wives communicated that or something. Who knows? But at any rate, there is an obvious connection there. 

We do know of a practice in Egypt in the ancient world in which one would signal repentance by carrying a platter of burning coals over their head. That might be what Proverbs is referring to and therefore what Paul is picking up as well. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. By doing so you might stimulate that person to repentance. This is how this imagery is usually used in Christian circles. Probably, that is right. But I do have to acknowledge that Piper has a case to make when you look at the language that is used in Scripture this way.

So, what Paul does in this passage is to mix together the obligations we have as believers to other believers in the community and the obligations we have to those outside the community. I use the word mix advisedly because it’s not like one part is for the Christians, another part is for the non-Christian world. It goes back and forth which is part of the point that Paul wants to make here. When we think about our duty to love and to love sincerely, that love takes a lot of different forms, both relating to Christians and non-Christians in a way that we can’t neatly set out.