A Look at What Genuine Love Is: Commentary on Romans 12:9-21

Romans 12:9-21 Commentary

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A Look at What Genuine Love Is: Commentary on Romans 12:9-21 reveals to us that love is essential for living the Christian life. This Romans 12:9-21 commentary serves as a treasure trove of guidance, outlining the various dimensions of genuine love in the Christian context.

This chapter implores believers to embody sincere affection while navigating the complexities of human relationships. The genuine characteristics of love outlined in this chapter will not only help you understand God’s love for you but also help you establish a good relationship with those around you, including your enemies. 

Romans 12:9 (NIV): Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

The verse opens with a poignant declaration: “Love must be sincere.” This statement serves as a foundation for understanding the nature of genuine love—a kind of love devoid of pretense rooted in authenticity. To truly love someone means more than surface care. 

Genuine Love Defined

  • Agape Love: At the heart of genuine love lies “agape,” the selfless, unconditional love of Christ. It’s a love requiring a deep commitment to the well-being of others and being invested in people’s lives.

What Does Genuine Love Entail?

Loving one another includes caring for what is happening in someone’s life. This requires letting go of the actions and thoughts holding you back from caring about the personal needs of those around you and learning how to see the positive in your relationships.  

The Dichotomy of Good and Evil

Romans 12:9 also instructs believers to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” This duality poses a challenge: discerning and actively opposing evil while embracing goodness.

  • Discerning Evil: Understanding the concept of The Wrath of God against evil deeds highlights the gravity of discerning and detesting what is contrary to His righteousness.
  • Embracing Goodness: Choosing to cling to what is good involves a sacrificial commitment, a conscious decision to embody Christ’s teachings in every interaction.

Foster Positive Connections

Every relationship is built through planting seeds and genuinely caring about the people in our lives. When we constantly wrestle with negative thoughts about those around us and do not cling to what is good, we lose out on building genuinely good relationships. Genuine love requires fostering positive connections with those around you with sincere love and care. 

  • Focus on the good in a relationship and guard against the evil.
  • Let go of the toxic relationships in your life and rejoice in the good relationships.
  • Reject the evil, accusatory, untrue thoughts you might have about each other. Focus on the truth and put it into practice.

Romans 12:10 (NIV): Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Have you ever experienced unmerited hostility from someone? My therapist once said it’s not our business what someone thinks about us. However, I do wonder what someone feels when they are hostile towards me. I wonder what I did to make them mad at me. This will result in me trying to change their attitude towards me.

But you can’t genuinely change someone else’s feelings towards you. However, you can still honor one another. You can check your heart to see if you are being hostile out of fear or for another reason. You can also be devoted to honor by not participating in the hostility. You do not have to fight back or respond. You can keep honor in the relationship even if the other person chooses not to. 

Responding to Hostility with Love

Romans 12:10 urges us to be devoted and honor others, even in the face of hostility.

Facing Hostility:

  • Acknowledge that changing someone’s feelings toward you is beyond your control.
  • Prioritize honor despite hostile situations, examining your own motives.
  • Stay committed to respectful conduct, irrespective of the other person’s actions.

Compassionate Response:

  • Hostile individuals may be struggling themselves; respond with empathy and kindness.
  • Bless those who struggle to reciprocate genuine love.

Romans 12:11(NIV): Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

How you treat others is closely related to your heart, attitude, and belief in God. Loving others is not always easy, but when you are committed to your faith, you will have the strength to live a life of love.

Cultivating Spiritual Fervor

Romans 12:11 emphasizes maintaining zeal and spiritual fervor while serving the Lord.

The Role of Spiritual Fervor:

  • Holy Spirit’s Guidance: Sustaining zeal and spiritual enthusiasm in serving the Lord is crucial for manifesting genuine love. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to embody Christ’s love daily.

Faithful Commitment:

  • Your treatment of others is a reflection of your inner beliefs and attitudes.
  • Commitment to your faith empowers you to lead a life guided by love.

Love – Four Week Mini Bible Study

God has a plan. His plan includes intimacy, freedom, and holiness. Let’s journey closer to God’s purpose for our lives through the love He has for us.

Romans 12:12 (NIV): Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Genuine love and care for others requires a heart Check. Jesus said from the heart, our words flow. (Matthew 12:34-40) If your heart is filled with anger, bitterness, and despair, it will be difficult to love those around you. Your genuine feelings and pain influence your attitude, actions, and words. 

This verse shows that hope gives you joy, and you can choose to be patient in your afflictions. You do not have to allow what you are feeling or the pain you are going through to control your heart, your attitude, and your actions. When the pain and the feelings are overwhelming, you can always rely on prayer to cast your cares on Him. (1 Peter 5:7)

Hope, Patience, and Prayer in Love

Romans 12:12 reminds us to find joy in hope, patience in trials, and faithfulness in prayer.

Heart Check:

  • Your words and actions stem from your heart; negative emotions hinder genuine love.
  • Hold onto hope, practice patience in adversity, and resort to prayer for solace.

Romans 12:13 (NIV): Share with the Lord’s people who are in need—practice hospitality.

Instead of practicing hostility, we are called to practice hospitality. Hospitality requires you not just to open your home but also to open your heart. Open your heart to the needs of those around you. See a need and meet the need. Genuine love requires a heart of hospitality.

Practicing Hospitality and Compassion

Romans 12:13 urges sharing with those in need and embracing hospitality.


  • Hospitality extends beyond physical spaces; it involves meeting emotional needs.
  • Genuine love involves actively engaging with and aiding those around us.

Romans 12:14 (NIV): Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

What do you do when people do not want what’s best for you or your family? What do you do when the unfairness dampens your hope and makes it difficult to believe in God and love others genuinely?

In Romans 12:14, it is clear that you need to cling to the good. Bless those who are so clearly struggling to love and be loved. When we get to the heart of the matter, those who are persecuting and cursing you are genuinely struggling in their own heart and their spiritual walk with God.

Responding to Adversity with Love

Romans 12:14 advises blessing those who persecute and refraining from cursing them.

Compassionate Responses:

  • Unconditional Love: Romans 12:14 urges believers to bless those who persecute them. This unconditional love mirrors Christ’s actions, transcending hostility with grace and kindness.
  • Living Sacrifice: The call to refrain from repaying evil with evil is a testament to a life surrendered to Christ, committed to overcoming adversity through love.

Romans 12:15 (NIV): Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Taking time to honestly care about what someone else is going through is essential to expressing genuine love. You must be empathetic and aware of the people around you to know their feelings. This verse reminds us of the importance of being present with those around us and sitting with them in their trials and triumphs.

Empathy and Harmony in Relationships

Romans 12:15 encourages sharing in others’ joys and sorrows.

Empathetic Presence:

  • Genuine love entails empathizing with others’ experiences and standing by them.
  • Support others through their highs and lows, fostering deep connections.

Romans 12:16 (NIV): Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Harmony in relationships is about peaceful balance, even if we have different ideas or personalities. We all work together, respect, and understand one another’s viewpoints. It’s about creating an environment where we cooperate, show mutual respect, and share a common goal, making our connections and communities run smoothly. 

Pride will destroy relationships and cause you to miss out on getting to know some great people. Pride also prevents spiritual growth because it is rooted in fear, jealousy, envy, and bitterness. There is no fear in love. You can’t genuinely love others if you are more concerned with the pride of what or who you know. Pride in our hearts rejects others instead of opening our hearts to genuine friendships.

Humility and Genuine Relationships

Romans 12:16 stresses living harmoniously, avoiding pride, and embracing humility.

Embracing Humility:

  • Pride disrupts relationships and inhibits spiritual growth.
  • True love requires humility and openness to authentic connections.

Humility in Relationships:

  • Wholeheartedly embracing humility enables individuals to connect genuinely with everyone, fostering meaningful relationships regardless of societal structures or positions.
  • Practicing humility involves prioritizing the needs of others and exemplifying love through acts of kindness and service.

Romans 12:17 (NIV): Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

Understanding this verse might pose a challenge for some because it could potentially lead to a behavior pattern often termed as “people-pleasing.” People-pleasing is an inclination to constantly seek approval or avoid conflict at the expense of one’s own convictions or well-being. 

Take Jesus, for example. His life wasn’t about seeking everyone’s approval or avoiding friction. He was all about aligning with the will of The Father, even if it stirred up opposition. His actions, while rooted in love, often clashed with societal norms, making quite a few people upset with Him.

The essence of this verse resonates with the old adage, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” It’s a reminder that responding to negativity or harm with the same kind of negativity doesn’t solve anything. Instead, it’s about choosing a higher path, one that doesn’t compromise your values or integrity, even in the face of adversity.

Overcoming Evil with Goodness

Romans 12:17 advises refraining from repaying evil and doing what’s right.

Choosing Love:

  • Don’t engage in toxic behavior; focus on positive actions despite unfairness.
  • Live a life that reflects love rather than seeking vengeance.

Romans 12:18 (NIV): If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

You can’t control the actions of others, nor can you control what they think or feel. But you can control yourself, and you can control how you respond to your own emotions and how you respond to those around you. This is how you learn to live in peace with everyone. While we can’t dictate others’ actions or thoughts, we hold power over our own reactions and emotions. This self-control becomes the cornerstone for fostering peaceful connections with everyone around us.

Navigating Interpersonal Relationships

Romans 12:18 shows us we are responsible for our actions, thoughts, and deeds towards those around us.

Importance of Self-Control in Relationships

  • Preserve Emotional Balance: It helps manage emotional responses, preventing impulsive reactions that can escalate conflicts or hurt relationships.
  • Encourages Empathy: Self-control allows us to consider others’ perspectives and respond thoughtfully, fostering empathy and understanding.
  • Promotes Healthy Boundaries: It enables us to set boundaries, communicate effectively, and navigate disagreements without causing harm.

Importance of Living in Peace with Everyone

  • Cultivates Understanding: Engaging with empathy and respect, even when faced with differing opinions or conflicts.
  • Embrace Resolution: Taking proactive steps toward conflict resolution, forgiveness, and reconciliation, contributing to a harmonious environment.

Romans 12:18 underscores the importance of personal accountability in relationships. By choosing forgiveness and exercising self-control, we actively contribute to peaceful interactions, fostering an environment of harmony and understanding.

Romans 12:19 (NIV): 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.

In Romans Chapter 12:19, it is clear you are to walk away from revenge and not allow your emotions to determine how you treat someone. Hatred and revenge prevent us from having a heart of genuine love for one another. I’ve seen some folks in the Christian community try to excuse hatred because of someone’s wrongdoing. But using Scripture to justify hating anyone is pretty tough. We’re not meant to judge based on just a piece of the whole picture. It’s in these tricky relationships that we actually get a chance to learn how to love as Jesus did.

Pursuing Peace and Letting Go of Revenge

Romans 12:19 emphasizes striving for peace and leaving room for divine justice.

Peaceful Living:

  • Focus on managing your responses and fostering peace, irrespective of others’ actions.
  • Avoid seeking revenge; trust in divine justice.

Romans 12:20 (NIV): 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.”

How do you treat someone lost in their bitterness and sin? Find a need and meet it.

It is good to remain humble and realize we all have our moments. No one is perfect in living out this life in truth and love. Sin and abuse should never be excused. Hurtful behavior is never acceptable. But you must be careful to guard your heart and not behave similarly.

If someone is rude, they probably expect a similar reaction from you. Not reacting in the way they are expecting refines you and them. Your loving and hospitable heart will teach those around you that there is a new way of living.

Responding to Bitterness with Compassion

Romans 12:20 suggests meeting the needs of those who are lost in bitterness.

Compassionate Response:

  • Act with kindness and generosity, offering support to those struggling with bitterness.
  • Your compassion can inspire a change in others’ perspectives.

Romans 12:21 (NIV): Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This last ruse reveals the root of living a life of genuine love. We overcome evil in our hearts and this world through the goodness we find while walking closely with the Holy Spirit.

Overcoming Evil with the Power of Good

Romans 12:21 underscores conquering evil with genuine goodness.

Power of Goodness:

  • Let goodness prevail over evil, guided by a close relationship with the Holy Spirit.


Romans 12:9-21 commentary provides a roadmap for believers, guiding them toward a life steeped in genuine love, rooted in faith, and exemplified through compassionate actions. Applying these teachings enriches relationships, fosters unity within the body of Christ, and illuminates the transformative power of sincere affection.

Learn more about the author, Heather Bixler, by clicking here.

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