Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
I talked of the three-fold instruction in this verse as three over-arching instructions, out of which flows all that follows. The first (central) arch is sincere love, love for God and love for fellow-man, flowing out of God’s love for us. The second arch was to abhor or hate evil, and the third arch is to Cleave to Good. If we love without dissimulation, hate evil, and hold to the good, everything else will fall into place. In this post, I’ll conclude with discussing the third arch.
Cleave to Good
We are to “cleave” to that which is good. The modern usage of the word “cleave” is to cut something in two, but the older meaning was to cling or hold to something, and that is what is in view here. The Greek word is kollao, from kolla, which means “glue”. Obviously, we can’t be literally “glued” to that which is good, but Paul uses figurative language to describe how closely we need to adhere to the good.
This builds on the lessons of verses one and two, where we saw that as a result of the renewing of our minds, and the transformation that results, we are able to prove (test and accept) the will of God. That will is good, acceptable, and perfect. This verse is talking about putting that into practice by adhering to those good things.
A few weeks ago, we went to Linlithgow Palace to watch a jousting exhibition. We showed our Historic Scotland membership cards to gain admittance, but they put wristbands on everyone so you could leave and return without any hassles. Unfortunately, the gentleman who put on my wristband got it twisted, and the adhesive stuck to my arm, pulling at the hair, which wasn’t very pleasant when I tried to remove it. I started to wonder if that wristband was going to become a permanent part of me.
I could easily take off my wristwatch by unfastening the clasp, but glue is another matter. Paul used the Greek verb derived from “glue”, and it seems particularly fitting to describe how closely we need to adhere to that which is good. He also used the present tense, which generally indicates continuous action. We need to be continually glued in to, adhering to, that which is good.
There is one aspect of this in the Greek text that doesn’t really come out in our English translation. This is another one of those commands in the passive voice, somewhat comparable to “be transformed” in verse two. This is implied by the very word (“glued”) that is used as well as the passive voice, and it matters.
We are not dependent on our own ability to hold to the good. That is a good thing, because that “old man”, the old sin nature, is still present, still tempting us, still turning our affections the wrong way. The Scriptures tell us we are held by the Lord (John 10:27-29), and that He is able to keep us from falling (Jude 24). We’re reminded that God is doing a work in us (Philippians 1:6), and that He is conforming us to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29).
That doesn’t mean we just sit back passively in this matter. This is an instruction for us to be “glued” to good. I Thessalonians 4:1 tells us to “abound more and more” in the good things we have been told to do. I Peter 3:10-11 tells us to “do good”.
So what does it mean to be “glued to good”, then? Is it something we do, or something God does? Perhaps Philippians 2:12-13 helps here:
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
“Work out your salvation” doesn’t mean we work to earn it, but rather that we work to live out the proper result of the salvation we have received. That’s our responsibly — but the story doesn’t end there. “For it is God which worketh in you”. Our “work” is effective only because God is working in us.
This is why we are commanded to be “glued”, to cleave to that which is good. We cleave to the good, but the glue that really holds us there is God’s. It is His power that is changing us, reforming and transforming us, holding us, gluing us to all that is good.
Ultimately, then, as we look at this third “arch”, we find ourselves once again dependent on God, and that dependence is not misplaced, because we (once again) go back to the Cross of Christ. Romans 8 helps us here:
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? 32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Verse 29 tells us that God has a plan that He is working out in our lives to change us to be like Christ. Paul goes on to explain that our confidence in this working of God goes right back to His love for us as demonstrated at the Cross. If God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, He loves us enough to “glue us to good”. The Cross is our guarantee of a love that doesn’t get disgusted at our failure to love the good as we should, a love that doesn’t despair when we drift off course, a love that continually draws His children back.
And so we have three “overarching” instructions in Romans 12:9, three things out of which everything that follows flows. But when you look at the foundation, these “arches” are built on a rock: the love of God revealed to us at the Cross. It all comes back to God’s love. It all comes back to the Cross.
Without the Cross, the arches would fall, built on a foundation of sand, dependent on human effort that always ultimately fails. With the Cross, these great overarching principles of the Christian life stand strong, and we can trust God to work in us, as we learn to love sincerely, hate evil, and glue into good.