Clinton church of Christ

Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

December 6, 2012

John Allan

In Romans 12:9 the Bible says “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good” (NKJV).

Our attention at this time is on the latter two sentences in that verse: 1) Abhor what is evil. 2) Cling to what is good.

We might be inclined to think that “abhor” is just a fancy word for “hate.” Nonetheless, with the way that the word “hate” gets used today “abhor” does have the benefit of striking us with the intense displeasure Christians should have for evil. “Hate” is a word we hear a lot, and it is misapplied often enough that it loses some of its force.

But whether you prefer “hate” or “abhor” do not miss the point Paul is making. Evil should be detestable to us. It should bother us. Since it is contrary to Christ and pulls people away from him we should genuinely hate it. We certainly should not be toying with it.

Sometimes people confuse hating sin with hating a person entangled in sin. This is where the familiar expression “Hate the sin, love the sinner” can be properly inserted. Speaking out against evil should be done in hopes that people will notice and avoid destructive behavior. Our actions have eternal consequences.

Christians are also to “cling” to what is good. Some have used the illustrative idea of glue to help us understand this notion: the idea is we are stuck to it and we are not going to budge. The expression “cleave to what is good” is sometimes used, and it portrays the same general idea.

From an intellectual standpoint there is nothing difficult about those concepts. Even folks who might disagree about whether some particular acts are evil or not can agree that there are some evil things in the world, and that it is wise to stay away from those things and do good, instead. Understanding the concept and putting it into action are different things.

In the remainder of Romans 12 there are several specific instructions given which are consistent with the general principle “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” It is entirely fitting that Paul include them in this discussion: they provide us practical examples and remind us that our behavior is inconsistent if we are not always clinging to what is good.

Romans 12:14 is one such example: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” When somebody mistreats us, the temptation can be very strong to retaliate with evil words. The world might even tell us that this is normal and appropriate behavior. Christians, though, are not supposed to conform to the world (Romans 12:2). Just because the majority of people around us are doing something does not mean what they are doing is right.

If we truly “abhor what is evil” then we will not do something evil in response to an evil done to us. This is perfectly consistent with Romans 12:17 “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.”

What would you think if somebody told you “I hate donuts”? What would you think if you later saw that same person coming out of a donut shop with a box in one hand and a partly-eaten donut in the other? You would probably think “I guess they do not hate donuts after all!” A similar reaction would be appropriate if somebody who says they hate evil is later found engaging in evil. They have said one thing, but their behavior does not match.

Christians should not repay evil for evil because Christians are to abhor evil. We cannot, in good conscience, engage in something we profess to hate.

When this principle is clearly understood you can easily see that the remainder of the chapter is loaded with examples of that underlying principle put into action:

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:18-21 NKJV).



Because Christians are to abhor evil and cling to what is good their way of looking at things (worldview) will often be very different from the world. Their worldview will positively impact their behavior. By consistently acting in accordance with these commands they will “have regard for good things in the sight of all men” and thus be a powerful example to others of the virtue of Christian living.



This entry was posted on Thursday, December 6th, 2012 at 10:22 am and is filed under Miscellaneous.

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