True Love

Everyone knows that the church is a place where love ought to be manifested, and many people have come to church hoping to find a demonstration of love, only to discover an encyclopaedia on theology.

If you have read through this passage, Romans 12:9-21, (NIV) Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in 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 the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

You can see here the theme is clearly given in the very first sentence: “Love must be sincere.” Our English word sincere comes from the Latin sincerus, which means “without wax.” It stems from a practice of the early Roman merchants who set their earthen and porcelain jars out for sale. If a crack appeared in one, they would fill it with wax the same colour as the jar, so a buyer would not be aware that it was cracked. But astute buyers learned to hold these jars out in the sun, and if the jar was cracked, the wax would melt and the crack would be revealed. So the honest merchants would test their wares this way and mark them sincerus, without wax. The word literally reflects what the Greek says here, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” The Revised Standard Version translates it, “Let love be genuine.” Phillips says, “Let us have no imitation Christian love.”

All this indicates clearly that the primary character of the early Christian community was that it was a place where love was demonstrated, so much so that people began to imitate it. You can see this emphasis in the New Testament. Every writer in the New Testament stresses the need for love. In  1Timothy 1:5 (NIV) Paul writes to his young son in the faith and says, The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Peter says 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Paul reminds us here, and in other places, that this love must be a genuine deep love, not phony, not hypocritical.

In those early days of the church it was easy to imitate love if you didn’t really have it because it was so widely valued and so visibly manifested. So people fell into the habit,  as they do today, of pretending they loved, using loving terms and gestures, saying the right things but really not feeling it in their hearts. This, of course, is hypocrisy, and this is what this passage warns against. Don’t let your love be hypocritical, don’t put it on. We are living in an age in which this is the very spirit of the times, to project an image, to pretend you are something that you are not. All the world holds that up before us, through the media of television and radio etc. We actually are encouraged to be something we are not.

No one seems to see how phony this is. But in the church it should not be tolerated. That we should be in any sense phony in our love is a violation of all that the Lord came to do. Sham love, of course, comes from the flesh. It comes from that pretender that is down inside all of us that wants to be thought well of even though we really are not worthy of it. We can easily succumb to this desire, but true love as we have been seeing, comes from the Holy Spirit. In Romans 5:5 (NIV), Paul says,  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. True love is manifested by learning from the Word of God how you should behave in a certain situation, and then, depending on the Spirit of God to give you the strength to do it, moving out and doing that very thing. That is the way you love, by acting in obedience to what the Word tells you by the power of the Holy Spirit within you.

Hypocritical love rejects the person because they don’t behave according to an acceptable standard. You find many churches that do this. In fact, this is one of the things in the church that has turned off more people than anything else. People come and hear the great words of the New Testament about love and peace and joy, and expect to find them exhibited, but instead they find all the world’s attitudes, rejection and prejudice, and even contempt and disdain for people. The church cuts them off and sets them aside, not wanting to have anything to do with them because they don’t meet a certain standard of performance. That is what this word warns us against. It is hypocrisy to reject people because you don’t like their behaviour. But you can go to the other extreme in this too. It is also hypocritical to condone sin because you accept the person. Christians can realise that it is wrong to cut people off and have nothing to do with them because they are not behaving rightly, but some Christians accept these people and say nothing about their evil or sin, and even defend it on occasions. People want to defend or overlook sins, as though they were right, simply because they want to accept the person. “Hate what is evil [loathe it]” but “cling to what is good.” We are to reject sin but accept the sinner.

Let us take a look at our standards and ensure they align with the word of God, and not to a structure made and implemented by man.

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