We have many wonderful English translations of the Bible at the moment, but sometimes a few fail to do justice to the real meaning of the Biblical text. Recently I was doing some study on the word for “hospitality” in Romans 12:13, namely [philoxenía, φιλονεξια = love of strangers, hospitality]. I was surprised to see that the text did not say simply “Practise hospitality” as a new sentence as the [NIV] translates it. Rather it came at the end of a sentence beginning way back in verse 9. This is the [NIV] translation of that passage, Rom 12:9 “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” This translation seems to have at least 7 or 8 different verbs which could be separate sentences in themselves.
As I looked at the short sentence “Practise hospitality” in verse 13 the text showed that the word translated as “practise” was not a verb but was actually a present participle which could be translated as “keeping on practising” or “keeping on pursuing” hospitality. It made me examine all the other words which had been translated as verbs in verses 9 to 13 in the NIV. The result? Only one verb “let love be genuine” in verse 9 and participles in all the other verses. Is that important? It could be when one realises that the single command in verse 9 is followed by all the other verses indicating that these are the results, corollaries or outcomes of exercising genuine love.
If we were to translate these verses 9-13 using the suggested literal English translations from Dr Alfred Marshall’s translation in the RSV Interlinear New Testament, we would have something like the following translation. The main verb is “let love be unassumed” in verse 9 and the rest of the sentence has present participles which in each case could be rendered as “keeping on …” Here then is a possible translation, “Let love be unassumed, shrinking from evil, cleaving to the good, loving warmly in brotherly love to one another, preferring one another in honour, in zeal burning in spirit not slothful, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, showing endurance in affliction, steadfastly continuing in prayer, imparting to the needs of saints, pursuing hospitality.”
Verses 9 to 13 have many wonderful attributes but they are all based on expressing genuine love. So it is not enough for people to pick and choose their favourite attribute to practise from the list in verses 9 to 13 and to neglect the others. Rather in expressing genuine love, all the following attributes should fall into place “supernaturally” naturally. Why do I say “supernaturally”? Because this sort of agape love comes only from God and is imparted to us by His Holy Spirit. It is part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. It is imparted to us as Paul writes in Romans 5:5, “For the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is God’s gift to us.” As the Lord fills us with His Holy Spirit, we can show forth genuine love which motivates and empowers us to show forth all the other attributes in verses 9 to 13.
It means then we can see a real dynamic in these verses. It is the same sort of dynamic that we see in Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul writes, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We are to work out in practice in our everyday lives, what God is working in us by His Holy Spirit. Likewise in this passage, as we allow God to fill us with His divine agape love, genuine love, all the attributes in verses 9 to 13 will be fulfilled in us and through us for the benefit of others and to the glory of the Lord Himself. After all, that divine agape love is “patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.”1 Cor 13:4-8.
Loving people with God’s love! Commanded by Him! Made possible by Him! By His grace nmotivating and empowering us to love [genuinely!]
Blog No.246. Jim Holbeck. Posted Wednesday 1st November 2017