Love Must Be Sincere
Key Verse 12:2
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Read the commands stated in this passage, at least verses 9-13. There is a popular kind or way of thinking that would consider these command unreal and unreasonable since we cannot produce in and of ourselves emotions that would force us to feel this kind of love or affection for someone else. So the thinking is that God would not demand of us to do so. And when we think like this, and we read over these commands, what happens is that we instinctively either skim over them, or brush them off and excuse ourselves from seriously regarding them with our hearts and processing them in our thoughts with the delicate care that they should be regarded with. We have a knack for regarding them as commands we are unable to follow or fulfill. We tend to think that we are unable to produce the act of will that God is asking of us to produce— such as love— and devotion and affection— for anyone other than those we are naturally inclined to have affection for. I have affection and may sincerely love my sister or mother, my son or daughter, and sometimes even a distant family member. But I cannot produce of myself affection and love for a Christian brother or sister in my church or somewhere else for that matter. So naturally I would excuse myself and relieve myself of the guilt if I cannot or do not have such affection towards others. And this way of thinking is so deeply entrenched in our way of thinking and at the same time, it is so subtle, crafty and devious that it scarcely registers with us when we are confronted with such commands as these— that we hardly notice the way we are reacting to the word of God. We hear or read them in passing, and we usually just keep on reading them or skimming over them quickly thinking to ourselves “this is nice”, “this is beautiful”. But in our hearts we regard them as idealistic, as virtues we may or may not be able to touch upon as we live our Christian lives. My point is that we have a way of thinking that does not regard these commands with the seriousness fitting of a Holy God who has issued them to his children to follow and to fulfill.
But let us take a moment right now and think about these commands with the respect and awe appropriate for the Lord who issued them. Let us consider carefully each of them and take them a little more seriously than we are inclined to do. How do you see or understand what God is asking of you here? How many of these commands involve your emotions— how you feel or how we ought to feel? To what depth or degree do you think God is asking of us to obey them? Is God asking us to force feelings into our hearts where there are none? Does God not understand the complexity of our emotions, that a lot of our emotions and feelings are not really ours to control, that we cannot just turn them on and off like a switch— and feel this way or that way— or not feel this way or that way— towards our church members! We can be sure about one thing though! We can be sure that God does not intend for us merely to be nice to each other— and to do good things for one another— nor to behave courteously towards one another. That is not what he is wanting of us when we read these commands. Let us understand this perfectly well. What we read here about what God really wants of us is far more than being nice. What he is asking of us is far more than nice words and good thoughts, and a few acts of kindness towards one another. What he is asking of us is really much more than that! He is literally telling us how we should feel. He wants to bend our emotions in such a way as to actually genuinely love and have affection towards one another. He wants to bend our hearts in such a way as to genuinely feel deeply all that he is asking of us to be and to do. Let’s listen again to what God is saying: Read verses 9-13.
(9) “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (10) Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. (11) Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (12) Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (13) Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” In none of these commands does he ever say that you ought to try or to do your best. He says it just as it is, with the absoluteness that is in Christ Jesus.
Here’s what he’s really saying. (9) “Your “Love” for each other “must be sincere” lacking any kind of hypocrisy. Don’t love superficially but deeply from the heart. You should not try to hate what is evil— but you should actually feel hatred towards evil— resent it, “Hate it with all your heart”; and you should “cling to” and bend your will towards what is “good” to do it. (10) You need to be devoted to one another— and not just in words nor actions— but from a heart full of brotherly love; you should feel and be inclined towards devotion to each other in a loving kind of way. You should also strive to Honor each other far more than you honor yourself. It should be your inclination to first honor someone else before thinking of honoring yourself. (11) And don’t ever be lacking in the passion and enthusiasm associated with the godly life, but in such a way that comes from keeping a spiritual fire burning in your heart at all times— of course, as you continue to serve the Lord— and this, without fail and without losing the passion for Christ. (12) More than anything, you need to always Be joyful in the hope that you have in Christ and for his kingdom in such a way as to project that hope to others; and when you suffer, you should always be patient as you suffer for the gospel; and always pray— in your spirit, pray faithfully. (13) And your heart should compel you to Share what you have and what God has given you with God’s people— especially with those who are in need. Don’t ask them if they need anything. Find out on your own if they need anything and give them what they need without causing them embarrassment. And finally, this is of utmost importance, you should “Practice hospitality” towards everyone, the believer and the non-believer alike because hospitality is God’s will and way of grace.” And the second part, verses 14-21 are equally intense! That is what God is asking of you and me to be and to do. Now who can do that? And the question is, if God is asking of us to do this, how much attention must we give this teaching? And how on earth does God expect us to do this?
Some of the answer lies in the story of creation, fall and redemption. But before we look into that, let me express to you the seriousness and urgency of serving the church and one another in the manner defined and described here in these verses. To be certain, God Almighty does not lie nor does he exaggerate. He does not tease nor mock nor joke about life matters— and these are life matters! He does not excuse those who cannot or will not do what he asks of them to do, but expect his words to be obeyed. God Almighty does not write Scripture— Holy New Testament Scripture— Scripture we are unable to follow or fulfill. What he exhorts us to do here in these few verses is not some Old Testament Laws and regulations that have now been surpassed by the Law of Grace. What is exhorted us here are the very godly dispositions and virtues that Christians who have been washed in the blood and regenerated by the Spirit, are given to live by. They are given to Christians who have tasted the grace of the Lord, who have been given a new nature, who have been blessed to know the depth of God’s glorious love. So why does God give them when they are impossible to follow and fulfill? Also why does he give them when he knows how disposed we are towards ignoring or neglecting or overlooking or avoiding or skimming through such Scripture without remorse or serious thought? What excuse do we have when we do not give these the proper attention and respect that they ought to receive? Shouldn’t we be earnest, and eager to build up each other and the church?
The clearest answer I can give you here is from Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And that’s what happened to us. Right after our creation, we sinned and fell to depths that are beyond description. God created us in his image, to reflect his glory. And his glory is beyond description. The Lord God is glorious in all his majesty. The whole Bible describes the glory of God who created us in his image to be like him. When Adam was formed, God intended for him to be all the things that this passage exhorts us to be, and thereby reflect the glory and majesty of God. Then we fell and we lost the image of God. Sin invaded our hearts and lives and so utterly damaged and destroyed all that God had created man to be, that man no longer reflected the image of God his Father, but he began to reflect the image of the deceiver. But praise God who did not leave us fallen, but planned our salvation from the beginning of time, and in due time sent his Son in the likeness of man to be a sin offering for us. And through the death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus redeemed us to God.
The moment we put our faith in Jesus and believe that he died on the cross for our sins, and was risen for our justification, we are no longer fallen but risen with him— we are no longer dead but alive in him and to him. Jesus makes us a new creation. He begins his sanctifying work in our lives so that we may be restored to the image of God— to the likeness of his Son— to be in every way like Jesus. But think about it! Think about how damaged and distorted is our inner person by the work of sin and the work of the devil, that we are not what God would have us be as related by this passage—that we are no where in the depth of feeling and love and affection and devotion that we should be towards each other. We skim through these words as if they were a foreign language. We read them with a coldness of heart without a thought to their urgency. We glance at them and then turn a deaf ear to the call to live by them. And even if we stop for a moment to reflect on them, likely we get a sense that they are too lofty and difficult to follow, or that we are somewhat following them— and that God never intended them for fulfillment, and then we excuse ourselves with such excuses. But as much of a foreign language as it is, they are for us. And God intended for us to fulfill them. Because we are Christians, and we are his children. They are for us to once again grow in the image of God, into what God intended for us to be and to do. In fact God would have us feel this way towards each other, and live by them!
Just because our hearts are damaged and distorted by sin that we do not feel what we should feel towards each other does not mean that God shouldn’t command— expect— us to feel what is right and good for us as Christians to feel. When we read these words, we have an obligation before God to feel the way he would have us feel towards each other. We have an obligation to take more seriously the commands we read here because God gives them to us, and we are accountable to him for them. Why is this important? For a good reason — because God would have us live by them. And another good reason, because tender family like affection and love among believers is the great witness to the truth that God is our Father. The church— you and I— all of us, are the family of God. We came into this family by the grace of our Lord, who birthed us by his Spirit, and made us part of his family. You were once born to your human family. But when the Spirit of God’s grace fell to you, you were born again into God’s family. We cannot simply and casually dismiss this reality and truth and think and act as we see fit towards each other. We cannot ignore these words that he speaks to us here. We cannot treat them with a fallen mentality but rather with a risen and ascended attitude. As your affection is for your human brother so your affection should be the same and even more towards your spiritual brother who is in your spiritual family. In these verses God tells us how we should have affection and love towards God’s family. So how serious do you think this is? Will we live by the truth we have in our hands here, or by the fallen nature that we are accustomed to?
In the first part of this chapter, Paul set a principle for us to follow. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed, he tells us. Be transformed in the way of your thinking and in the thoughts and attitudes of your heart. Be transformed. No longer regard anything in your life as a Christian casually, do not merely read the words, do not think on them with a fatalistic mind, do not excuse yourself from fulfilling this tremendous responsibility and truth which the Lord lays down here for his church and the relationship we ought to have with each other. But we still have the question. How can anyone do this? You cannot! But nothing is impossible with God. When we see the pathetic situation our hearts are in, in light of these words, and God’s deep desire that we grow in them into his image, then that is the crucial step here. We can now pray earnestly that God, the Holy Spirit would move in us with power upon our hearts and works his miracle of transformation within. We can keep our eyes and hearts focused on the reality of the conqueror Jesus who ascended to heaven and has given us every power we need to become what God would have us be. This is not a small thing. Jesus promised that the truth sets us free. The truth, when we embrace it, sets us free from our defective emotions and feelings. We must remember that Christian love and affection is a growing thing in our lives. Don’t give up. But earnestly desire that your emotions be transformed in such a way that you can fulfill what the Lord would have us do for one another.
Let us examine some of these commands he gives us here more closely and see what God would have from us. Read verses 9-13 again. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” The word of God tells us that Love must be sincere. In other words, it must be the kind of love that has no hypocrisy to it. Hypocritical love is superficial love, the kind of love that shows itself as love on the outside but is empty of sincerity. It is not sincere. It is not passionate towards the family of God and one’s own members. But love must be sincere. God wants us to love each other with sincerity of heart, with genuine love that comes from his own love for us. It is not easy to love this way. Some people know how to love their own family members, but when it comes to church members, they can’t seem to love them. But we should meditate on this command and ask God to help us love each other sincerely because it is what God wants us to do. It is our hall mark as a church. God gave us this command to burden us with one another, but to more fully reveal himself to the world.
The word of God also tells us that as a church, and in our relationships with one another, we must hate what is evil and cling to what is good. We have a tendency to interpret this in our own way. Our perception of what is good and what is evil is often distorted. Evil is not what we ourselves consider it to be, and good is not what we ourselves consider it to be. We have to search out the Bible and see what God says is good is good, and what God says is evil is evil. Even though the whole Bible sheds light on what good and evil are all about, Romans 2:6-9 have a good description of what good is and what evil is. God considers good the pursuit of all that is godly, and considers evil all that is self seeking. You will be surprised how much we seem to love evil and hate good in our lives if you meditate on this even for a few moments. So we must honesty meditate on this, and ask God to help us be transformed into lovers of good and haters of evil.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Devotion is a strong word. It calls for a deep affection for one another, the kind of affection that a mother has when she is devoted to her child. His concerns are her concerns. His wellbeing is her joy and glory. In the same way, Christians in a church should be devoted to each other in a family like bond of love— brotherly or sisterly sort of love. And honor one another above yourselves. When love is sincere, and affection is expressed in devotion to one another, then it would not be so hard to honor each other above ourselves. We are good at honoring ourselves first and foremost, and we hardly think of how we could honor other members of the body of Christ. When was the last time you honored one of your brothers or sisters! But as a Christian, a child of God, we should honor other members as they really are precious to the Lord.
He also tells us these words: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” These are very important commands to live by if we are to be a healthy church with healthy Christ like relationships. Never be lacking in zeal but keep your spiritual fervor. He tells us that we ought to always be on fire for the Lord and his work. Always on fire, with a burning heart for his work and glory. I know this is not easy when we are burning to be the top student or the best employee, or the best player on the team. But the truth is that as Christians, our greatest affection must be for Christ to serve his work.
Be joyful in hope. The only hope worth having in this life is the hope of eternal life in his wonderful kingdom. That is also the source of our joy. God is wanting us to remain joyful as we remain hopeful for all that he has promised us. Be patient in affliction because when we live the Christian life as it should be lived, we will most certainly suffer for what we hope for in a world that knows nothing more important to it than its own comfort and convenience. But for us, suffering is at times a way of life. But we have prayer which comforts us and assures us of God’s eternal grace and mercy for us. So we ought to pray faithfully so that we may not lose heart.
And here is one of the most precious commands we can find in the Bible. “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” This is what God wants of us. He wants us to share with God’s people all that we have and all that he has given us, because all things come from the Lord. God would have us share especially with those in need. He would have us so thoughtful and devoted that we leave no needy person among us but help them as says the word of God. When was the last time we thought about that, or did something like that? Or do we assume that everyone is well off?
But hospitality is what Paul truly would have us be transformed that we might do. In the Bible, so often God commands us to practice hospitality. Hospitality reflects the grace of God in every way imaginable. Grace is God’s hospitality to welcome you and me— unworthy sinners into his home. If we do not practice hospitality we profane the name of God, and despise his grace. That is why we must practice hospitality. Christians ought to invite each other to each other’s homes. Christians ought to invite those whom they do not know to their homes. It is the Christian thing to do. Do not close your doors to one another or to others. But make everyone, even the stranger, feel welcome in your home. That is crucial in the Christian community. It reflects God’s heart’s desire to invite all people to his kingdom. So if you are the kind of person who does not practice hospitality, or no longer think it necessary to practice hospitality, I advise you to against your corrupt desire and find the last person you would offer hospitality to, someone who has offended you, someone you really do not like as a person, someone who has hurt you in some way— and welcome them into your heart and home. You will be like your father in heaven hospitable and loving and fully living the grace of God in your own life. Otherwise, grace for you becomes noting more than a meaningless and dead theological term rather than a life giving experience.
Read verses 14-21. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” There is in this passage room for hospitality even for the enemy, how much more to the child of God who is your brother or sister? These verses continue telling us what our relationship with each other should be. Rejoice with those who have cause to rejoice, even if you do not have any cause to rejoice, you should rejoice for them and with them. If they are mourning, you should not sit aside while they mourn alone, but join them in their distress. Never ever take revenge nor hold a grudge against anyone, neither the friend nor the enemy. But live in God and in his grace and mercy. In that way, the church would be blessed. Do not be overcome by evil overcome evil with good. What a glorious command to live by. We need to deeply meditate on these exhortations, and ask God to help us fulfill them. Lord transform me and help me live by these commands so that I and my church would reflect you and your glory. Amen.