Let Love Be Genuine
Have you experienced that moment when you get the feeling the Christian you are interacting with, although they are being polite and cordial to you, doesn’t really love you? Perhaps their body language convinces you they are faking it? More directly, have you been that person? Do we put on a veneer of niceness that covers a heart of envy, bitterness, or judgment? In Romans 12:9 the Apostle Paul admonishes us to practice love that is not hypocritical. “Let love be genuine.” (anypokritos) -Hypocrisy in common parlance means “to say one thing and to do another.” However, that’s not what the word hypocrite means. Hypocrisy is a word from the theatre. The church is not a stage. Our love should never be fake. But how do we know that our love is genuine? How can we be confident that we are not hypocritical in our love? Paul provides seven acid tests:
Genuine love is holy love. “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (v.9b) Genuine love is morally discriminating. It is horrified at that which is against the will of God in the life of the one loved. Genuine love in parenting will cause them to restrain their children from evil. Genuine love in a church will sometimes lead to church discipline. Genuine love will reject the culture’s mantra that “love is love” in defense of homosexuality. On the opposite side of the spectrum, genuine love is “glued” to the good. It looks for good. Genuine love has its radar up to detect good. And, when it sees good, it encourages, affirms, and blossoms it. Genuine love is holy love.
Genuine love is a homey love. “Love one another with brotherly affection.” (v.10a) The Greek language had a variety of words for love. This little phrase has forms of two of them. The first is philostorgoi which described a familial love. And, the next word for love is philadelphia, translated “brotherly affection.” Genuine love is family love. Christians are brought together differently than any other group of people. The Church is not brought together because of sameness. (similar stages-of-life, hobbies, etc.) We are brought together by the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the only thing that holds us together. But, the roots are so deep, that our love for one another can only be described as a family. It’s kind of amazing how many idiosyncrasies we can overlook for those in our immediate and extended families, isn’t it? That is what genuine love looks like.
Genuine love is an honoring love. “Outdo one another in showing honor.” (10b) This command sounds a little like a contradiction. We are to compete with others in trying to out-honor them. We see a little of this when two people try to pay for the same lunch bill. Or, when two people try to open the door for one another and they keep insisting, ‘no, you go first.' To honor someone is to give them the prominence. To respect them. Genuine love respects the one loved. It refuses to keep saying, and doing things that cause the person loved to feel dishonored.
Genuine love is a hot love. “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”(v.11) Genuine love is not lazy. It is not passive. It is enthusiastic. Genuine love initiates. It preempts. When our love is genuine it won’t need constant “pep-talks” or guilt-trips. Genuine love is motivated. The word for “fervent” is “boiling.” It means to be “hot.” So, we could say that genuine love is never lukewarm, or tepid.
Genuine love is hopeful love. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (v.12) This triad envisions that, on occasion, love will be called to suffer. Genuine love will prove itself by how it perseveres. Genuine love has a tenacity to it. “Hope” is not wishful thinking. Biblical hope is “confident expectation.” Genuine love, “hopes all things.” It has an optimism about it that is not naïve but is confident that the future is as bright as the promises of God. Genuine love will patiently shoulder difficulty, constantly pouring-out their heart to the Lord.
Genuine love is helpful love. “Contribute to the needs of the saints…” (v.13a) This verse seems primarily to be pointing to caring for the financial needs of saints, although it could certainly be applied more broadly. The key is that genuine love is attentive to needs and seeks to meet them with the resources it has. Perhaps the reason we don’t know about the needs that we could meet is that we are not close enough to the members of our church family to even learn of them. You can’t hear about the “needs of the saints” if you don’t regularly gather with your church.
Genuine love is hospitable. “…and seek to show hospitality.” (13b) Mostly, when we hear the word “hospitality” we think of nice place settings on our dining room table, and a neatly prepared guest room. That’s not entirely wrong. But this word means “to love strangers.” Genuine love seeks to transition strangers to acquaintances, and acquaintances to friends, and friends to family. Genuine love grows by moving from social anonymity to a sense of belonging. And genuine love uses its stuff (home, money, food, etc.) to show its love for strangers.
Let love be genuine.