“Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:9-11 HCSB)
By now, you have probably realized that I believe this idea of “thinking differently” is a major theme of the remaining chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. My intent is to help you realize that Paul wants us to think differently about each of the practical aspects of living life in relationship with Jesus. As we give ourselves in living sacrifice to God, we must resist being conformed to our culture and, instead, be transformed in our minds (how we think and reason) in relation to Christ – transformed in how we think. When we think differently, we act differently, we value things differently, we respond to others and to crises differently. Why? Because we are different. Christ is transforming us from what we were into what we are meant to be and that includes how we think about love and how we act lovingly.
Love is one of those things that has billions of interpretations and expressions. Each of us takes this innate, God-given need we have to love and be loved and we define it to suit ourselves. We think we decide what love looks like, acts like, and longs for in our own lives. Today, this takes on the form of our culture’s cry of “Love is Love.” In their minds, NOBODY gets to define who, what, why, where, when or how you express love. Nobody that is, except you.
But that model flies in the face of Christian belief and Christ’s teaching. In fact, Paul deals with it first and foremost in our focal passage. Love MUST be without hypocrisy. We shouldn’t pretend or be just be “acting” in our expression of love. Of course, some who would embrace our culture’s view of love would respond, “precisely my point. I shouldn’t pretend to love or be loved in a way that is contrary to my needs or desires. I should be able to love and act on my true feelings. I’m tired of pretending.” But that is precisely Paul’s point. We often “follow our hearts” and do what “feels right” when it is all just our selfish desires and feelings masquerading as love.
Wait, isn’t love really all about our “selfish desires and feelings?” Surely if there’s any feeling that epitomizes selfishness it’s love. Isn’t love all about getting what we want and feel we need? Isn’t it about fulfilling our needs, desires and passions? No, not really. It is at this point where Paul wants to challenge our culture’s call to conformity (if it feels good or satisfies your desires or needs, do it) to Christ’s transforming power (love like God does, selfless – agape). If we are going to love like Jesus does, then it must be genuine and not hypocritical. For love to be genuine and not just “acting” like love then it must be based in truth. True love isn’t selfish, it is selfless. It is sacrificial. It is… well, it is not what our culture considers to be love. I’ll let Paul explain…
First, love that is without hypocrisy detests evil and clings to what is good. We need to think differently about true love and how that manifests itself in our actions towards others. Our culture often sees love as giving someone else what they need or desire. But true love recognizes that our needs and desires are corrupted by sin and we often seek out those very things that will hurt and destroy us. True love will detest those things and will NOT present them to the one loved (our beloved) as good and satisfying. We know this, we just often forget it. Jesus put it this way, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? ” (Luke 11:11-13 HCSB)
You see, we do know this kind of love but we often resist this kind of love for ourselves. For example, when we begin to mature and express our independence then we often bump up against these feelings of selfless love that our parents express towards us. I don’t know about you, but during that time of my childhood I often wanted things that weren’t necessarily good for me and my dad knew that – and resisted it. He was mature enough to see it, recognize it for what it was, and detest it for his son’s life.
In our spiritual immaturity, we often do the same with God and He also resists those things. But Paul’s point is that we should be like this in our love relationship within the church. Are we willing to recognize and resist these evil desires within our Christian fellowship? Are we willing to detest evil when it begins to express itself in a Christian brother or sister? We will, if we consider their desires to be truly evil but we often turn a blind eye or ignore those things where we’ve “conformed” to our culture. We all know that scripture teaches that the “love of money is root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10) but I’m not convinced we believe it because our culture has conformed us to their view. We’ve done something similar with love. John tells us, “love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 Jn 4:7) We don’t define what love is, God does. Love is not love, God IS love!
To love like God is to detest evil in the lives of those we love and we don’t get to define what’s evil, He does.
But we must also cling to what is good. Stick to it like super glue between your thumb and forefinger. So, when we love honestly we detest the evil in their lives but we must also desire and be stuck to what is good for them. Ah, but a very similar and familiar issue. What really is good? Just as we often overlook what is evil, we often overlook what is really good and best for them. Again, I’ll let Jesus tell you… “What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life (or soul)?” (Matt 16:26a) Have you ever lost focus on what is really best for your own life? Have you ever become consumed by the desire to achieve and succeed? We must be dedicated, but to the proper things. When we lie exhausted and spent on the field of battle, it must be in loving, sacrificial service to our Lord and God and not some self serving pleasure that led us astray.
I’ve seen the struggle of this issue, first hand, in the lives of parents who sacrifice to give their child the best of everything and push them to achieve some personal goal the parent secretly desires for themselves. Without even realizing it, our children will pick up on these things and will desire to please, satisfy and receive the parent’s affection. It can often be expressed in sports goals, academic goals, or even social recognition goals. It is often easier to see this tendency in others than it is to see it in ourselves. But when we truly love then we must be willing to point this out to them and be willing to assess and reevaluate when others see the same in us.
To love like God is to cling tenaciously to what is good for others and we don’t get to define what’s good, He does.
Next, Paul calls for us to think differently about how we love one another in the church. In just two verses, we have three different words for love. In verse 9, he said we must love like God does (agape) by being genuine in our love while detesting what’s evil and clinging to what is good. Now he calls us to love one another like family. In verse 10, he starts out by telling us to be devoted to one another like a parent is to his/her child (show family affection – storge) and to do so like we are truly related by blood (through brotherly love – phileo). Well, we are blood related – Jesus’ blood – and that should be reflected in our devotion and affection for one another.
There’s no devotion that is deeper than a parent for his/her child. When the love of God is being properly expressed between a parent and the child then love never gives up, never fails, never quits. A parent will gladly lay down their own life for the life of their child, without hesitation. When that happens, the child is able to trust the parent completely, implicitly. Paul calls us to be that devoted to one another. I don’t think Paul is giving us another definition for love (agape) when he switches words (storge, phileo), I think he’s giving us an example. Your love must be genuine, without any hypocrisy. Like a parent would give themselves for their child, give yourselves for one another. Like brothers caring for one another, love each other because you are truly brothers in Christ.
Then he tells us to “outdo one another in showing honor.” To outdo in showing honor is to lead the way, to be out front as an example in valuing the worth of others. As family, we can often be critical of each other because we often see one another at our worst. When we are tired, irritable, cranky, frustrated and angry. We know one another’s sins. We are well aware of each other’s failures. But when we are transformed in how we think, then we recognize the value of others. We see them as bearers of God’s image, important pieces in God’s puzzle, valuable, contributing members of Christ’s body.
To love like God is to be devoted to one another, like a parent is to a child, and to care for one another like family does because you are a family, to see one another’s value in Christ.
Finally, don’t be lazy (lacking diligence) in your sacrificial service to God, but be glowing with intensity, boiling hot (fervent) in your service to Him. One of the dangers of grace is ingratitude and laziness. In his book “The Cost of Discipleship”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Cheap grace is to receive God’s forgiveness and then to grow lazy in our self-sacrifice and cold in our service to Him. It looks a lot like much of our modern worship, feel good emotionalism and entertainment without the compassion of Christ that leads us into feeding the hungry, caring for the hurting or healing the broken-hearted.
When I was a young Christian, my pastor would often say that too many Christians tend to: “get all they can, can all they get, then sit on their cans (and my mother and grandmother thought I wasn’t listening).” That’s what Paul is addressing in this verse. Now that you’ve received God’s grace, now that His mercy has been poured out upon you, now that your sins are washed away and your heart has been made alive then don’t grow satisfied, lazy and cold. Don’t be lazy, instead be boiling over with love and zeal for serving God. Don’t pretend to love God, really love Him. Give yourself wholly to Him.
It’s ok to be a fanatic in today’s culture, as long as you aren’t a religious fanatic. You can be a sports fanatic. Many of us are – Boomer Sooner. You can be a food fanatic. Again, guilty. You can be a car fanatic. I love classic American muscle cars. You can even be a fanatic for music. I’m a bit eclectic in my music and love many different types and styles, but I love music. But the minute you talk about being crazy in love with God, people want you to calm down and get a grip on reality. Come on, religious fanaticism is what incites terrorism and religious acts of violence. Does it? I think it incites sacrifice and service. At least, it does if we love God the way He desires us to love Him – honestly, truthfully, and without hypocrisy.
To love God is to lie exhausted and spent on the the battlefield in service Him.
Paul says, we should stop pretending to love God and truly begin to love Him the way He desires and deserves. Stop acting like you love God and really love Him. Stop putting on a show for everyone else to see and let Him take control. Detest what is evil and destroys what God created us to be. Instead, super glue yourself to what is good for others, what God desires in them and for them. Love like family. Be devoted to each other. Lead out in showing others how valuable they are in God’s sight. Do all of this with an intensity that might scare the world, but do it in such a way that you are serving God and others.
Don’t just act like you love God, LOVE God!