25 Apr 2021
Let Love Be Genuine
Passage Romans 12:9
Speaker Chris Haley
Series Romans: Unashamed
Let Love Be Genuine
What do you reckon is the most famous chapter in the Bible? There’s no definite answer to it, but if I had to go off the number of weddings and funerals I’ve been to I’d have to go with 1 Corinthians 13.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.
It’s well known as a chapter all about love- a favourite for weddings- though not the one on Friday! What most people don’t know is that it follows a chapter on how we are to use our spiritual gifts as part of the body of Christ. That may ring a bell if you were with us last week- as that was what last week’s passage was about. And just as 1 Corinthians 13 then goes on to describe love, so this section is another ode to love. And just like the one in 1 Corinthians 13 this passage is there to remind us of what genuine love is; not Hollywood love, not Hallmark greetings card love, not paste on a smile love, but genuine love, real love. The love we are to have for one another, especially as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The love described here is how we are to love each other as believers in Jesus, receivers of God’s mercy, and as living sacrifices to God as we were called to be in verse 1. So what does that kind of love look like? Well our first point v1a
Love without a Mask On v1a
Romans 12:9a ESV 9 Let love be genuine…
Paul here calls us to love, but not just any love, genuine love, literally unhypocritical love. Fake love is no good, says Paul, we must love from the heart. Love here is Paul’s shorthand for all the actions that flow from our renewed mind, our new self, all that we do in response to God’s great mercy towards us. Paul will go on to say in chapter 13 that this is the sum of all the law in the Bible
Romans 13:8-10 ESV 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet”, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
But love is such a flexible term in Greek and in English that Paul feels the need to define the love he is talking about. I mean in English you can use the word love whether you love your children, your partner, the queen, and an ice-cream. Hopefully you don’t love your children in the same way you love an ice-cream! Paul here explains the kind of love he means- genuine love, unhypocritical love. What I’ve called in our heading love without a mask. I’m not here insinuating that you should stop wearing a face mask. Actually at a time such as this wearing a mask is a loving thing to do! The mask we wear is far more subtle than a blue and yellow face-mask. The mask we wear is an actor’s mask. In the old world theatre actors would wear masks to act in theatre, to pretend to be someone else. The word in Greek for actor eventually became the word for someone who pretends to be someone else, someone who wears a mask. It became our word too- ‘Hypocrite’.
We are to love, but not love hypocritically. What would it mean to love hypocritically? It would be a fake love, an acted love, a love that is only skin deep. A loving face on the mask, but behind the mask something else is going on. And this is so important: Paul doesn’t just want our actions to change, he wants our hearts to change, he wants our attitudes to change. As we love our brothers and sisters as we’re called to do in v1-8, as we’re called to serve them. We’re not just to fake feelings towards one another. We’re not to ‘fake it till we make it’. We’re to have and show love for one another, not just pretend.
Paul for the next few verses is going to show us what unhypocritical love looks like. Something that shows on the outside, but comes from the inside. Love that is both felt internally and displayed externally. We’re just going to look at the rest of verse 9 and then consider the other verses over the coming weeks, but the first feature of love that is genuine and unhypocritical is our doing good and shunning evil is not just an external thing, but an internal one- so feature 1 of love without a mask is:
Feature 1: Loathing Evil v1b
Romans 12:9b ESV …Abhor what is evil…
The word abhor here is a really strong word. It’s the only time this exact word used in the whole Bible. It’s a really strong old Greek word for hate with a bit added to make it even stronger! It’s like far and away hate. It’s like beyond-hate. It’s detest, really detest, really loathe. Do I really loathe evil? If I want to live a life away from evil I really need to loathe evil from the heart. Do I really loathe evil? I imagine most of us would want to say yes, but do we really? Are we repelled by evil? Does it make out blood boil and our stomachs churn? I guess it partly depends on what we mean by evil?
The word means wickedness, hurtfulness, In Romans 1 it’s what we were filled with before God stepped in- the product of the debased mind:
Romans 1:28-29a ESV 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.
It goes on to say that instead of hating evil, we hated God:
Romans 1:29b-30 ESV They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God
The word for hate there is that strong Greek word, just without the extra bit to make it even stronger. Evil is something we were full of. Not hating evil, but hating God! We were more like the people we heard about in Micah earlier in the year.
Micah 3:1-2a ESV 1 And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice? 2 you who hate the good and love the evil…
Naturally far from hating evil, we love evil! We were full of it! But nobody would claim that for themselves would they? That wickedness, that hurtfulness, goes unnoticed by most people, and that poses a danger for us as believers. Could there still be evil dwelling inside us? So we need to consider carefully: Do we loathe evil, we’d want to say yes, but is that only the evil we already dislike? The evil’s being done to me! That I dislike, loathe even! That gets my blood boiling!
But what about the evil we commit? Do we loathe that? Do we say with Paul in chapter 7, as we consider the evil we commit:
Romans 7:24 ESV 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Or do we say,
“Well, nobody’s perfect!”, “Given the circumstances…”, “You would have done the same”, “It wasn’t really my fault”, “I had no other option”, “He had it coming!”, “She deserved it!” Do we minimize our evil? Making excuses for our sin to make it seem smaller, or do we hate our evil with a passion, not minimizing it, but owning it and loathing it? Evil is not a pet to be coddled and excused away, it’s a predator to be found, bound and killed. How can we do that though? How can we foster a hatred for evil within ourselves?
Let me give you three suggestions:
Consider Its Cause
If you find yourself apathetic to evil inside yourself think about where it came from. Evil came into the world by the devil. Our enemy: the accuser, the father of lies, the one who opposes God. Evil is not neutral- it comes from the enemy. It is a tool of the devil. It is there to hurt us. It is there to trick us. It is there to hurt God. It’s very purpose is anti the God we claim to love and from his enemy! Could you be indifferent to the missiles an enemy sends to hurt the ones you love? Could you live passively with the knife that was made to kill your beloved one? Evil is a tool of the devil, we cannot be indifferent about it!
Consider Its Consequences
The word at the root of this word for evil is ‘pain’, ‘hurt’. This is hurtfulness, this is painfulness, not necessarily for you, but for someone. There are no victimless sins, there is no innocent evil. Evil corrupts us, and it hurts others. That’s the reason if you were wondering, why hating evil is included here as part of our love. How can you not hate something that hurts people you are to love? How can you not hate something that twists warps people made in the image of the God we love? All the suffering and pain we see in the world is the result of sin and evil. Not that individual sin inevitably leads to individual suffering- we’re not talking about the merciless idea of karma, but suffering came into the world as a consequence for evil, death came into our world as a consequence for sin. Some people when they suffer curse God. Some people when loved ones die blame God. Why not blame evil and curse it? Why not let that hatred and anger attack the real cause sin and evil? When you see suffering in this world, let it lead you to hate the evil within rather than God, let it teach you to abhor evil.
Consider Its Cost
Evil sent Jesus to the cross. It led to suffering in a very specific way. “Every bitter thought, every evil deed, crowning his bloodstained brow”- goes the hymn. And it’s true. Your evil, my evil sent Jesus to the cross. He went there to pay it! “What a love, what a cost!” Your evil made the one you love suffer and die in your place. If you don’t hate the evil within you, think about the cross. Think about the most, kind, loving and gentle man that ever lived beaten and hung naked on the cross. Paying debt for your evil. That should begin to take away the indifference in your heart.
So has this got nothing to say about evil in our world, not just in ourselves? Well, we need to tread carefully, if we don’t detest evil in hearts then openly denouncing in the world it would be the model of hypocrisy. It would be exactly what this passage is warning us against. We all know the damage done by preachers preaching one thing only for it to be revealed they were doing the very same things they were preaching against. Not detesting evil, just denouncing, secretly delighting in it! That was the problem at the beginning of Romans. There were a group who were judging the God-haters, the evil-doers, denouncing them, yet their actions didn’t match their words. They disapproved, but did the same things in secret. Don’t go there! Says Paul, don’t be a hypocrite. Let your love be unhypocritical.
It can be loving to help another person in their struggle with sin, and part of that can be pointing it out, and even rebuking, the Bible says. That’s one of the things that a man of God does in 2 Timothy, but equally we must learn the lesson of the man with the plank in the eye, going for the speck in his brother’s. The one with the plank, is the one that Paul is going after here, the hypocrite, cherishing a sin in himself, while denouncing it in another. That doesn’t mean we need to be perfect before we can help others with their sin. We looked at that very passage about the plank a few months ago, I’d refer you back to that. The thing is to make sure you are loathing the sin in yourself before trying to sort it out in others.
And don’t go about it in a harsh, judgmental way, so Paul writes in Galatians 6:
Galatians 6:1 ESV 1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
It also doesn’t mean we can’t speak about evils in our world like genocide and discrimination, corruption, or issues like unrestricted abortion, but it should affect how we speak out about them. We can declare God’s word boldly, but we must do with our own ears open! If I may quote Romans 2, which was directed at the Jews of Paul’s day, but is equally applicable to us as Christians:
Romans 2:21-22 ESV 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols [literally disgusted by Idols], do you rob temples?
Are we doing the things we want to denounce in one form or another? Are we denouncing evil in one form while cherishing it in another? If we are to love unhypocritically we must really loathe evil, all evil, in our own hearts too, in our own hearts more! If we are to avoid hypocrisy we need to make sure we aren’t just looking at others, but at ourselves.
But there’s a flipside to this: We are to loathe evil, yes, but that’s not enough, the second feature of unhypocritical love is:
Feature 2: Gluing Yourself to the Good v9c
Romans 12:9c ESV ...hold fast to what is good.
The phrase there ‘hold fast’ literally means to glue. French teacher moment- do you remember GCSE French? or O level some of you! In my pencil case there is: Dans ma trousse il y a… un baton de colle- a glue stick. They get their word colle- straight from Greek. Same word here: Be glued to the good, he writes, glue yourself to the good. It’s also the same word that Paul uses to describe marriage in other letters:
Ephesians 5:31 ESV 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
We had a reminder of this yesterday at Doug and Laura’s wedding. There’s a new bond there, they are joined together, glued together in marriage. What they are to each other we are to be with good. We are love good so much we stick ourselves to it! We’re to be that close to it! A voluntary supergluing to good! Inseparable- none can tear us apart.
And this is where the genuineness comes in: are you stuck to good or just like people to think you are? What will it take for you to ditch the good? If we keep with the marriage picture what would it take for you to leave good for a few hours, slip your wedding ring off and indulge your own passions? If we are to love unhypocritically we must have integrity, we must be unpartable from good- inseparable. I remember learning at school about the Salem witch trials. Lots of crazy things going on there, but within that there were believers who refused to be separated from the good, who refused to lie, and admit to sorcery even though it would cost them their lives! Are we that married to the good? Are we stuck to it more than our phones or devices? Do we have that much integrity, that we don’t just do good when it’s easy, but when it’s hard too? Do we love the good so much that we will not be separated from it?
But what does he mean by ‘good’. The word ‘good’ is like the word ‘love’ we mentioned earlier- it can mean a lot of things. “What is God like?” “God is good”, “What is your husband like?” “He’s a good man”, “What is that child like?” “He’s a good boy”, “What is that cheesecake like?” “It’s a good cheesecake”, “What is that salad like?” “It’s good, not great, but good!” They can’t all mean the same thing. We don’t mean a child is good in the same way as God, and we don’t mean a cheesecake is good in the same way as a man or woman.
Bible words have Bible meanings. Words in a particular books of the Bible sometimes have particular meanings. In the immediate context what is ‘good’? It’s there in verse 2: The will of God. The will of God, offering our lives as living sacrifices to Him, daily laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters, that is what is ‘good’. Not good like a cheesecake, but good morally. This is the right way to live. This is the opposite of evil. This is the opposite of hurtful. Instead of bringing pain, it brings peace to others. Instead of doing harm, it does good to others. Of course, there are other things that are ‘good’ in Romans; the law when rightly used, the news about Jesus we are to spread, the plan for our lives that God is working out, but all of this is part and parcel of this laying down our lives as living sacrifices. Testing God’s will in the sense of living it out- we’re to glue ourselves to it! We’re to marry ourselves to it! This is our life’s mission encompassing all else. If we are to love unhypocritically we must genuinely love and stick to God’s will, but how can we do that? Love is not something we can just switch on and off. How can we foster a love for the good that God would have us do?
Let me give you three suggestions again:
Consider the Genuineness of God
Consider His integrity. He calls us to a life of sacrifice, but he does not do so hypocritically. He loves us unhypocritically, he calls us to this, but He himself has lived a life of sacrifice. Indeed, he has made the ultimate sacrifice. He has given far more than he asks us to give, He endured the cross, He laid down His life for us. If we had any doubt that this was the best way, we need to consider that God chose to do it this way. He chose to live a life of sacrifice when He came to Earth. He could have made Himself a prince, He could have made Himself a Lord, but instead He came as a humble carpenter’s son. He could have worn a crown of gold, instead he chose to wear a crown of thorns. God has been there, He doesn’t call us to do something he hasn’t. He calls us to live as Jesus did- He calls us to the best way.
Consider the Generosity of God
Consider His mercy. That’s what Romans 12:1 calls us to do. His kindness towards us, his sacrifice for us, should remind us of the goodness of sacrifice for others. If we are astounded by His sacrifice for us, if we are bowled over by His love for us, then we should consider that our sacrifice for others will be, in some small way, a little taste of that. If we can see the goodness of Christ’s sacrifice, if we can love that, then we should see the goodness of our own sacrifice and come to love that too, as a miniature of what Christ has done, as a picture of his great mercy, kindness and generosity for us. Consider his generosity and let that cause you to see the worth and goodness of your own life lived in that way.
Consider the Alternatives
(Sorry no final g!) If we don’t genuinely cling to the good what are the other options. Option 1: We pretend. Two-faced, fake love of good. The very hypocrisy we’re called to avoid. Option 2: We don’t do good. No love of good, no acts of goodness. No hypocrisy, but no good either. A more common option than you might think: we make it all about loathing evil bit, but forget to do some genuine good to people! Option 3: We cling on to something else. We carry on clinging to evil, in our hearts, even if not in our actions, but we’ve dealt with this one in our second point. If we want to foster our love for good we need to keep considering those three things: the genuineness of God, the generosity of God, and the alternatives, and that should begin to help us love the good more, to cling it, to be glued to it.
So here we have the beginnings of unhypocritical love. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll see more of what Paul means by that, but let’s put into practice this week what we’ve already learnt today: Loathing evil from the heart, gluing ourselves to the good, trying to foster those two not just in our actions, but in our attitudes, not just on the outside, but in the inside. This may not be the most famous passage about love, not quite 1 Corinthians 13, but it’s a crucial one, if we want to love the way Jesus wants us to love. If we want offer our bodies as living sacrifices, loving and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s pray that God would give us the strength to do that.