Over the next couple weeks, I will be posting a brief series on Romans 12:9-10, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” At first, this passage may seem like a set of unrelated, rapid-fire commands. Rather, the verses we are looking at are perfectly joined as a description of what genuine love looks like.
We live in a culture of people seeking genuine love, but finding only hypocritical, fake love. You only need to turn on your TV and you’ll see sitcoms about people going from relationship to relationship in search of love, or reality shows like the Bachelor (etc.) where the goal of finding “true love” ends up in pain, disappointment, and divorse. You can simply walk through the checkout at the grocery store if you need to see proof of the devastation felt in our culture as is seeks love, but finds hypocrisy. You may see it in the workplace when coworkers express love and concern for each other, yet speak viciously about each other behind their backs. Sadly, we can find insincere love in our churches as well. When we smile and shake hands with each other, yet don’t have a genuine, heart-felt love for each other, we look more like any worldly club than a people who have been united with Christ and with each other in one body.
It is clear that insincere love is all around us, and in us as long as we are following the lead of our sinful nature. We have ways of expressing “love” which are no more than flattery, or a way to get what we want out of people, or to get people to think we’re fabulous. We can love people with words only and offer no tangible evidence that our love is real. We can “love” people in a way that is purely emotional, which is a kind of “puppy love” which has no staying power when reality hits. We can also try to love people purely as an act of the will, and perhaps be very generous or even self-sacrificing, but as Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:3, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Even this kind of extreme determined sacrifice can be a form of hypocrisy if not united with genuine love.
Martin Luther wrote insightfully, “as nothing should be so altogether free from hypocrisy as love, so nothing is actually more defiled by it than is love.” We all know the ugliness of hypocritical love, and we know the beauty and the power of sincere love for each other. If you are a Christian, this is the desire of the new heart that God has given you. I am encouraged to write this today because I know that, if the Spirit of God lives in you, you already want to have more of this.
I do not intend to give a lecture on morality, but rather to encourage you and show you how this kind of community transforming love is possible only through the grace of God. This sincere love is the circulatory system of the body (which is the church), which enables all the members to function in a healthy, harmonious way. Or in other words, genuine love is the proof that the church is actually alive.
“Let love be genuine”: (Romans 12:9a) Genuine love is the defining characteristic of Christians.
1 John 4:7-12 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
There is no greater evidence that you have a saving knowledge of God than the genuine love you have for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Because “love is from God”, He not only provides the ultimate example of love in giving his Son to take on our sins, but also works by his Spirit to replicate this love in our hearts.
The starting point for all genuine love must begin with God’s love to us first – expressed in the giving of his Son for ours sins. As we are warmed by God’s love for us, our love for him is ignited, and only as our love for God burns how are we even able to begin loving one another. If God had not loved us first, we would be totally unable to love Him or each other, but because he has perfectly loved us and united us with Christ “so that we might live through him”, his love will be perfected in his people. As God’s people, we cannot settle for fake love, but must, by his grace, pursue genuine love for one another. This is a kind of love that is totally foreign to the world, and it is the defining evidence to the world that there is supernatural power at work within the church, which is the body of Christ.