Dr. Richard L. Strauss
July 7, 1991
Purpose: To challenge us to express genuine love to each other in the Body of Christ.
I read an interesting story about a professor of psychology who had no children of his own, but whenever he saw a neighbor scolding a child for something, he would say, "You should love the child, not punish him." One hot summer day the professor was repairing his concrete driveway. He was tired after several hours of work, so he laid down the trowel, wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and started toward the house. Just then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a mischievous little kid putting his foot in the fresh cement. He rushed over, grabbed him, and was just about to spank him when a neighbor leaned out his window and said, "Watch it, Professor! Don't you remember? You must love the child!" At that point the professor yelled back furiously, "I do love him in the abstract but not in the concrete!" (Our Daily Bread, February 2, 1988).
The Apostle Paul is concerned about people who love in the abstract, but not in the concrete--people who claim to love, but who really don't. Their love is counterfeit, phony, unreal. They're Christians, so they have to maintain an outward facade of love for others, but they're faking it. It only goes skin deep. They paint on a smile and try to appear friendly, but it's not sincere. There's a lot of people they just don't like--the fellow who's always asking for a favor, or the lady who's always criticizing, or those folks who never seem to do their fair share, or those people who have such strange opinions. They want to appear as though they love them, but deep inside there is disgust and disdain.
What's the answer? Some would probably say, "Why be hypocritical about it? If we don't like someone, why should we pretend that we do? Why not show our dislike right up front and express our anger and irritation with them openly and honestly?" But that's not the answer. We don't solve the problem of hypocritical love by expressing genuine hate. We solve it by learning to love sincerely, without hypocrisy.
In the first two verses of this chapter, Paul urged us to lay our lives on the altar of sacrifice in total surrender. That will mean faithfully using our spiritual gifts to serve one another. But it's not enough just to serve. God wants us to serve in genuine love. So just as in 1 Corinthians, Paul moves from a discussion of spiritual gifts to a description of Christ-like love.
The subject is established right at the beginning. "Let love be without hypocrisy" (Romans 12:9a). There is actually no verb in the Greek text. It's almost like a title--simply, "Unhypocritical love." And the verses that follow tell us what unhypocritical love looks like. At first sight it seems as though Paul has strung together a miscellaneous series of unrelated exhortations. But if you examine them closely, you will discover that each one is related to the subject he has just announced--genuine love, sincere love, true love (a number are introduced with participles). And we can group all of the exhortations into four general categories, four affirmations about true love.
True Love Accentuates the Positive
Paul writes, "Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good." Those are strong words. To abhor something is to hate it so much that we turn away from it. To cling to something is to be glued to it, cemented to it, joined firmly to it. And that's the way we need to respond to the good and bad we see in the people we love. We reject their sin, but we don't reject them. We hate the evil that damages their lives and destroys their testimony. But at the same time, we look for the good things in their lives, and do everything we can to encourage those things and help them grow.
You see, there are two sides to this. On one hand we are going to do everything we can to promote and praise the good. We want God's very best for them so we are willing to do anything we can to secure it. That's what love is. So if they are struggling with temptation, we will pray for them, ask them how they are doing, be there when they need us. If they are slipping in their walk with God, we will encourage them and offer to help them in any way we can. And when we see good things in their lives, we will commend them and affirm them for those things. "I really appreciate your -good spirit." Or "I was truly helped by what you said." That's clinging to what is good.
But on the other hand, our love for them and our desire to accentuate the positive things in their lives will not mean that we are going to ignore their sin. Some people get the idea that because it's wrong to reject people if their lives are not what they should be, we must say nothing about their sin. To say nothing is to imply that we condone it rather than abhor it. God wants us to confront it--lovingly and kindly, but firmly. If we truly love them and want God's best for them, we cannot stand idly by and let them destroy themselves by their sin. We must try to help them. That's not judging. It's not condemning them or rejecting them. It's simply obeying God's Word--endeavoring in a spirit of gentleness to restore them to fellowship with God and usefulness to Him. That's positive and helpful.
I have good friends in the east whose son was away from the Lord for twelve years. He was on alcohol and drugs and living with a girl to whom he was not married. They let him know in gentle ways that they did not approve of his lifestyle, but kept reaffirming their love for him. His mom would drop cookies by with a note in the can that said, "We love you." When he finally came back to the Lord, he admitted that it was the love they showed that got to him. He wanted them to say, "We hate you." He knew he deserved that. And it would have given him an excuse to go on in rebellion. But he couldn't handle, "We love you." They abhorred what was evil, but clung to what was good. And it turned his life around.
True Love Fosters a Family Spirit
"Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love." Some translations say, "Be devoted to one another." But the word devoted (philostorgos) is a family word, full of tenderness and affection and family loyalty. We who have put our trust in Christ as Savior from sin are a family. We're all brothers and sisters, and God is our Father. So we need to have a warm and fervent family love for one another.
Family members are normally loyal to each other. It doesn't matter what my brother does; he's still my brother. I'll rejoice with him in his accomplishments, not be jealous. I'll sympathize with him when he falters, not be secretly elated. I'll speak well of him to others and support him in front of other people. I won't pass along stories that put him in a bad light and hurt his reputation. I won't betray his confidence. If he lets me down, I'll tell him so graciously, but I'll also forgive him and go on. I may not agree with him about everything, but when others attack him, I'll defend him and I'll stand with him through thick and thin.
We could use a little more of this family-style affection in the local church. Oh, I know we need to be careful lest we get too familiar and let our genuine Christian love degenerate into lust. But we can become so careful that we lose something precious and good. The love of the early Christians for each other left the pagan world drooling with envy and attracted many to the Savior. Unbelievers today may hear that Christians are supposed to love each other like that, but unfortunately they are often disappointed.
Ray Stedman tells the story of a man who was walking down the street, and as he passed a used book store he saw a book in the window entitled, "How to Hug." Being somewhat romantic, he went in to buy the book. To his dismay, he discovered that it was one volume of an encyclopedia that covered the subjects "How" to "Hug" (Romans, II, 106). I'm afraid some folks come into the church looking for love, only to discover an encyclopedia on theology. Bible doctrine is extremely important, but it was never intended to replace family love.
Read on: "...in honor giving preference to one another." People in a healthy family want to be sure that other folks in the family get the honor they deserve. They're willing to put others before themselves, and treat them even better than they want to be treated themselves. This isn't pretending that other people are always better or wiser than we are, or that less gifted people are really superior to us. That would be dishonest. Paul is not advocating hypocrisy, but humility--that Christ-like family love that seeks to honor others before oneself.
There have probably been more church fights over the failure to honor people than any other single thing. Somebody didn't get his name printed in the bulletin, or mentioned from the pulpit. Nobody thanked him for the job he did. And worse still, somebody else got the credit. When we truly love, those things don't bother us anymore. We're interested in seeing that others in the family are honored, but we're not selfishly grasping honor for ourselves.
So, true love accentuates the positive, it fosters a family spirit; and third, it keeps on keeping on.
True Love Keeps on Keeping On
That would seem to sum up the next six exhortations, the first of which is, "Not lagging in diligence (or zeal)." Loving other people can be hard work. It's easy to get tired of expressing our love and doing loving things--even in the family. The growing number of divorces among Christians would certainly testify to that. It's easy to give up and quit, especially if we're not getting the love we crave in return. Don't do it! Don't get lazy. Don't give in to the temptation to quit. Keep on keeping on.
But where do we get that never-ending love? Love that never quits comes from being "fervent in spirit." That means, quite literally, a burning, fiery, boiling spirit. There is a debate as to whether Paul is referring here to the human spirit or the Holy Spirit. Actually he may be referring to both. Real spiritual fervor on the human level is the work of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. So be filled with Him. That will help you hang in there when it's tough. A lot of marriages could be salvaged if even one of the partners were filled with the Spirit of God.
The evidence of this spiritual fervor is not necessarily religious exuberance or excitement, but rather humble and obedient service to the Lord Jesus (Cranfield, 311)--"serving the Lord." When we allow the Holy Spirit to develop in us a true servant's spirit, we shall be able to keep on loving, even when it's tough. And that's true love.
Furthermore, when we're walking in the Spirit, we never give up hope. We keep hoping for the best. And that hope lifts us out of the doldrums and gives us genuine joy, further strengthening our determination to go on. "Rejoicing in hope," is the way Paul put it.
And as our determination to go on increases, we are able to be patient with those hard-to-love people who cause us suffering or affliction. We are "...patient in tribulation." It's not hypocritical to express patience when we don't feel patient. It's an expression of true love.
The greatest help we have for stirring up the kind of love that allows us to be patient in affliction is prayer. That's why Paul follows up his exhortation to patience with, "...continuing steadfastly in prayer." If we want to love people sincerely, we will need to be praying for them persistently, even when we don't feel like it.
Are you having difficulty loving somebody? Then pray for him, regularly and diligently. Pray for God's best in his life. It will help you keep on loving when the desire wears thin.
True love accentuates the positive, fosters a family spirit, and keeps on keeping on. There's one more characteristic of true Christian love in this passage: it ministers to the needs of others.
True Love Ministers to Others' Needs
True love both gives out and takes in. Romans 12:13. "...distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality."
True Love Gives
"...Distributing to the needs of the saints."
Whatever the need is, unhypocritical love is there, ready to minister in a tangible way with time, money, energy, resources, or anything else that we can give. Maybe the need is for a listening ear, or a loving shoulder to cry on, or an uninterrupted hour of time to let them know that someone cares. Maybe they need a meal delivered to the home, or transportation to church, or somebody to visit with them and pray for them. True love gives what is needed.
Maybe somebody very close to you in your own family unit needs the affirmation of your love. They need to hear from your mouth those tender words, "I love you." Or they need to see in your actions the evidence of your love. You keep protesting that you love. Are you willing to reach out and meet those needs in tangible ways? True love gives to meet needs. But, it also takes.
True Love Takes
"...Given to hospitality."
Some folks confuse hospitality with entertainment. Hospitality is not necessarily preparing a lovely dinner and serving it in gracious style. That's entertaining. And there are often mixed motives for entertaining--like showing off our culinary skills, or our social graces, or our beautiful home, or our expensive china. Or it could even just be to get an invitation in return. That's entertainment.
Hospitality focuses on people and their needs. It's using our home and using our resources to meet needs, sharing what we have to meet the needs of the moment. That's true hospitality. Some people can't really invite everyone to their home until everything is "just right." They have to get all the work done and get all those cabinets finished, and the carpets redone first. Entertainment is concerned about things. Hospitality is concerned about people. It's ministering to people in need with what God has given you. That's true love.
It would be good for all of us to express another kind of hospitality as well, and that is giving a hospitable welcome to guests who visit our church. I know that's difficult. We may be relatively new ourselves and we're afraid to extend a greeting to someone lest they be a charter member. That can be embarrassing. But you could say, "Hi, how long have you been attending Emmanuel Faith?" Or "It's great to meet you. Are you a newcomer or an old-timer?" Even if this is your first Sunday here, you could do that. Then chat for a few minutes. And in some cases, it might even be appropriate to invite your new acquaintance over for dinner. That would take some pre-planning, but maybe that's what God would have us do. That's practicing hospitality. That's true love.
True love isn't sitting around trying to drum up feelings of affection, trying to make yourself "like" somebody. It's reaching out unselfishly to minister to people, acting in loving ways. Not to show them what a wonderful person you are, and then as C.S. Lewis put it, sitting down and waiting for them to show you their gratitude. If that's what you think it is, it's no wonder that you've been sadly disappointed. True love is simply forgetting about ourselves, caring about other people and reaching out to meet their needs. Maybe the positive feelings will follow, but that's not the issue. Are you willing to demonstrate Christ-like love? That's the issue.
Do you truly love? If not, "I beseech you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God that you present your body a sacrifice: living, holy, well-pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service."
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Of course, the greatest demonstration love the world has ever seen was in Romans 5:8. Remember it? "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." That's love. I can't explain it. My human mind doesn't grasp it all. But somehow in those hours on the cross, Jesus Christ paid an eternal hell--because that's what my sins deserved, and He paid for them. I don't know how that happened, but I know Biblically that's what occurred. God the Father laid on Him all the guilt and the condemnation and judgment and punishment that my sins deserved, and that your sins deserved. He did that because He loves us. And now He offers us His gift of eternal life and the assurance of heaven. Not on the basis of what we can do--as if we were trying to make it there somehow or other--but simply by acknowledging our sinfulness and our need for His grace, casting ourselves upon Him and His mercy, for eternal salvation. Have you done that? Will you respond to His love today and open your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ?
Let's bow together in His presence. And with our heads bowed, let me ask you if you know the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior from sin. If you're religious, that's fine, but that's not the issue. The issue is: Have you acknowledged your sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ as the only one who can provide forgiveness and the only One who can assure you of heaven? Will you do it today? If you have never made that decision before, settle it now. "Lord, I'm a sinner." Tell Him that in the quiet of your own soul.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe that Jesus died in my place, that He paid the penalty that I deserved. Lord Jesus, I'm asking you to come into my heart, wash my sin away, and then help me to live for Your glory."
He will. That's why He left heaven and came to this earth. That's what it's all about. But when we trust Him as Savior, He wants to produce in us His love. For most of us in this room today, that's really the issue. Are you willing to commit yourself to letting the Spirit of God take control of your life and reproduce in you the love of Christ. It will be a growing process; it won't happen overnight. We have so much to learn and so far to grow. Will you begin?
Lord, I pray that there will be some genuine commitments today that will make a difference in our homes and in our marriages, and in our relationships with others in our lives. Dear Lord, help us to love. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 26: The Impossible Dream