Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
Romans 12:9 KJV
Abhor. Cleave. These two words intrigued me when God brought this passage to mind this morning. What does abhor really imply? What does it really mean to cleave?
Read with me the definitions found in the Merriam Webster online dictionary.
Abhor: to regard with extreme repugnance : to feel hatred or loathing for: loathe
Cleave: to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly
Both words indicate an extreme. We are not to merely dislike evil. We are to abhor it. Evil should horrify us; it should make us sick. To get a deeper understanding, read with me the origin of this word (also from Merriam Webster):
Abhor means “to loathe” or “to hate,” and while loathe and hate have roots in Old English, abhor derives from Latin. The roots of abhor can give us a deeper understanding of both the strength of the dislike expressed by the word and its relationship to other words in English. It came from the Latin word abhorrēre, which meant “to recoil from” or “to be repugnant to,” and was formed by combining ab-, meaning “from” and horrēre, meaning “to bristle,” “to tremble,” or “to shudder.” This word for trembling or shuddering in reaction to something scary or awful is related to the word that names of the cause of those reactions—the Latin word horror, which was later borrowed into English. The -hor of abhor is also the hor- of horror.
Wow. When God calls us to ahbor what is evil, He is saying that the presence of evil should be so repugnant to us it makes us tremble. I know this convicts me. Sure, I don’t like evil, yet I have also become desensitized to it. This world in general has become too lackadaisical when it comes to evil. We see it, but we don’t always run from it.
Now, what I love about God and His Word is He does not just tell us what we should avoid; He tells us what we should welcome. Romans 12:9 states it is not enough just to run from and to detest evil; we are also to cleave to good.
Let me give you two pictures God brought to mind with this word cleave. We have two kittens–cute, frisky kittens with sharp claws. If you have a kitten or cat, you know that if they do not want to move or do not want to go somewhere, then they will dig those claws into whatever or whoever they do not want to leave. They will cleave to that shirt, cleave to that blanket, cleave to that couch. And if you want to move them, then you will have to physically pry them off, claw by claw, which is not an easy task. It often seems by the time you finish prying off one paw, the other paw is back clinging again.
The other picture God gave me was that of a young child cleaving to his mother. You may have one of those children who has no qualms about going into any kind of child care. Bless you. Or you could have one like mine… As soon as we would get close to the entrance of the Sunday school class or preschool, my child would cling to me like a cat clinging to a blanket. I and the person trying to take him would have to work together to physically pry him off me. He did not want to go, and so he did not let go of his own accord. He clung to me as if his life depended on it. We would all be exhausted by the time we were able to unhitch him from me.
And so too the devil should be exhausted trying to get us to let go of what is good. Not only should we hate evil to the point that it makes us sick, makes us tremble, and makes us run away, but also we should cling so tightly to good, that no one and nothing could pry us away from it.
I wish I could sit here today and write to you that this is me–that day by day and moment by moment I abhor what is evil and cling to what is good–but that would be a lie. No, I do not like evil, but I also confess that I do not always abhor it like I should. And yes, I like good, but I do not always cling to it the way I should. Instead of holding tightly to it, I hold lightly to it.
So today I encourage and exhort both you and myself to abhor what is evil and to cling to what is good. In a world where it seems as if Good and Evil have no dividing line, let us determine today to make the distinction clear. Let us not only run away from and abhor evil, but let us cleave to what is good. Let us “be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21 KJV).