Romans 12:10-11, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”
Love is the supreme Christian virtue (1 Cor. 13:13), but not everything that people call “love” is love in the biblical sense. To love as God demands, we must understand what His infallible revelation tells us about genuine, holy love, and we find a description of this love in Romans 12:9-21. As we saw in our last study, love abhors what is evil (v. 9b). No relationship or affection that embraces what the Lord forbids fits the definition of true, God-honoring love. Instead, godly love clings only to what is good. Love seeks out, thinks on, and develops an affection for those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy according to the Word of God (Phil. 4:8).
On the human–human level, John tells us that we must see the love that God demands first and foremost in the church itself (1 John 4:7-8). Thus, it makes sense for the Apostle Paul to focus first on what godly love looks like in the context of our relationships with other believers. We are first to “love one another with brotherly affection” (Rom. 12:10a). Paul wants us to consider other believers as our family, to show the same kind of undying love that binds brothers and sisters together. In fact, fellow Christians are more truly related to us as family members than are our flesh-and-blood relatives who are not believers.
This affection outdoes “one another in showing honor” (v. 10b). We are to be eager to recognize and applaud the achievements and service of others. When we show deference to others and praise them genuinely and quickly, we are showing forth the kind of humility that does not regard ourselves more highly than we ought, and therefore does not fail in its desire to see others properly commended for what they have done (v. 3).
Romans 12:11 emphasizes how godly love works itself out in how we relate to and serve our Creator. First, we read the needed admonition that we should “not be slothful in zeal.” As part of our sinful condition, we often tend to start out on a new path with excitement but then grow weary in doing well. We must not do this in regard to our relationship with the Lord, and the Apostle’s exhortation is one we all need to hear.
Of course, we cannot work up or sustain love and zeal for the Lord by our own efforts, but we must continually rely on the work of His Holy Spirit in our own spirits. That is what the Apostle means when he calls us to “be fervent in spirit” (v. 11). We must daily call upon the Spirit to create in us a zeal for the things of God.
Zeal for the Lord does not mean uncontrolled exuberance or a passion that is not in submission to what God has told us. We see this in Paul’s admonition that our zeal must “serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). We cannot serve the Lord if we do not know what the Lord demands, so we must continually return to His Word. God’s Holy Spirit does not work apart from the Word He inspired, and zeal that transgresses His revelation is not godly zeal.