Biblical Christianity has a vertical as well as a horizontal dimension. When you truly understand the message of the gospel it is going to affect how you relate to God (vertical) and how we relate to each other (horizontal).
In the first eleven chapters of Romans, Paul explains the gospel. When we get to chapter 12 he tells us how this should change us. In the first several verses of Romans 12 Paul addresses the vertical dimension of faith. When we understand the message of salvation we will respond to God by giving ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God which is our spiritual form of worship. We will also seek to serve Him in the area where He has called us to serve.
In verse nine and following Paul begins to describe the horizontal dimensions of faith. He lays out the principle in verse 9: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” The verses that follow amplify on the principle. This morning we are going to look only at the principle. The principles is pretty simple: Love must be sincere and love should be discriminating.
LOVE MUST BE SINCERE
Paul’s first command is “love must be sincere”. This is one of those times when we can understand the text much better after we have looked at the words carefully. The word “sincere” comes from the Latin words sine cera, which means “without wax”. The phrase comes from a practice where people would hide the cracks in cheap pottery with wax in order to pass the pottery off as being worth more than it actually was. Quality products were often stamped with the words sine cera to show it had not be doctored. It would be similar to those products today that are stamped, “all natural” or “100% pure”. Paul is telling us to love in a way that is pure and genuine.
The Greek word translated “sincere” in the NIV is the word Anupokritos. The last part of the word is our word hypocrite. The prefix “an” means “without”. So the Greek word actually means, “without hypocrisy”. In classical Greek the word “hypocrite” meant someone who wore a mask is a play. Once again we have the picture that Paul says the true believer should love without a mask. The love should be real and not pretend. It should be without a hidden agenda.
Why does Paul state it this way? It is because we are much better at claiming to love someone than we are at actually loving them. We all learned the fine art of pretending very early on.
- We tell someone we will pray for them, but don’t actually do so.
- We smile while someone is talking but we aren’t really listening.
- We tell someone that we forgot to do something they asked us to do, but in truth, we just didn’t want to do it.
- We tell someone to call “anytime” but when we see their number on our caller ID we won’t pick up the phone.
- We say positive things to a person in front of them but when we are away from them we speak critically.
- We say “we’ll keep in touch” even though we know we won’t.
I hate to admit this but I saw this in myself again last week. We attended church last Sunday while we were out of town and after the worship I spoke warmly with the Pastor. However, as soon as I reached the car, I started picking apart the Pastor’s message and his presentation! I’m embarrassed and ashamed of the fact that my love was not sincere . . . it was filled with wax! I feigned love on the outside but I was a savage on the inside!
I hope you can see these kinds of examples in your lives (I hope I’m not the only one). We are skilled at duplicity. We are masters of covering up our true feelings. In fact, most of us have been hurt at one time or another by those who professed love but were spreading lies about us behind our backs. It would be nice to think that this doesn’t happen in the church . . . but it does. Many have left the church because of insincerity.
So is this such a problem? I am not expert but I have some ideas. First, I believe many of us are desperately insecure. We tend to feel that life is a contest. Consequently, anything good that happens to another person is at our expense. If someone else gets an “A” in a class it doesn’t mean they have worked hard and should be congratulated . . . it means they have “ruined the curve”! If someone gets something new or has some success we don’t congratulate them, we feel somehow we have been cheated. When someone needs something from us we feel “put out” but when we are in need and someone doesn’t respond to us, we conclude the person is being insensitive or selfish. When a person doesn’t want to do what we want to do for some reason we feel diminished.
As believers we need desperately to hear the message of the gospel. God’s love for us is not based on how we measure up to others. It is not a contest. God loves us because of who we are. He loves us because we have been forgiven through the work of Christ on our behalf. What happens or doesn’t happen in another person’s life does not change our value one iota.
I believe there is a second obstacle to sincere love: we are too busy. I really believe that one of the things that hinders genuine compassion and love is our busyness. We are always in a hurry. As a consequence, we feel we don’t have time for any real meaningful interaction. It isn’t that we don’t want meaningful relationships. Often, that is the very thing we hunger for more than anything. Our problem is that we always have to be somewhere so we can do some thing. Caring and love take time. When we are being pulled in many different directions we can’t help but be emotionally drained. As a result we are without the emotional resources we need for a true and sincere love for other people.
So what is the answer? It seems like there are several things we can do.
First, we must focus on the truth of the gospel. It is only as we come to see the love of God for us that we will be able to love each other. As we come to understand that God loves us not because of our achievements, possessions or titles but because of who we are, we will experience true love. When we are secure in God’s love, we will find that we are better able to love others.
I think you can’t truly love without wax until you have experience that kind of love from the Lord. Every counselor has had to go through a period of counseling, every tradesman has had to serve some kind of apprenticeship, every teacher has been a student, and the best Doctors have been patients. In each case these people needed to experience what they were being asked to do. In the same way, sincere love requires that we experience the sincere love of the Lord. When we experience the freedom that comes as a result of God’s sincere love, we will be eager to share that love with others.
Second, we must make an effort to love. We do this by working to listen to each other. We need to look a person in the eye. We need to hear what a person has to say (rather than simply waiting for your turn to talk). It involves interactive questions. However, to be fair, love also includes being attentive to when it is and is not a good time to share our burdens.
Third, we need to slow down. If you have a schedule you maintain, plan some time in your schedule to visit with those around you. In other words, if it is a 30 minute meeting . . .set aside 60 in your planner so you can interact and care about the others at the meeting. Work at asking people about their lives. Ask them “How are you doing?” and then hang around to find out the answer to the question.
Perhaps you need to cut out some things from your schedule and from your children’s schedules. Where did we get this notion that we need to have our children involved in everything or we are somehow depriving our children of the opportunity to excel? Excessive activity is like a drug. When you are addicted to activity you can’t sit still, you are always bored, and you are always need some new thing to entertain you. It is impossible to excel at anything if you are trying to do everything. We are developing children who don’t know how to read a book, who labor to have an extended conversation, and who wouldn’t have any idea how to simply sit back and enjoy the beauty of creation. True love means setting limits. This leads us to our next phrase.
LOVE MUST BE DISCRIMINATING
Paul follows the command to love sincerely by saying, “hate what is evil, cling to what is good.” In the Greek text the words hate and cling are participles which means the verse should read, “love should be sincere, abhorring evil, clinging to the good.”
This sounds foreign to our ears. We believe that hate and love cannot go together. On the contrary, hating what is evil is a requirement of sincere love! As a parent do you hate it when you child comes home broken-hearted because someone was mean? As an employee do you hate it when an employer humiliates one of your friends publicly? Do you hate it when a drunk driver victimizes your friend? Of course you do.
We hate what is evil not because we are cantankerous. We hate what is evil because evil things hurt people and relationships. In Proverbs 6 Solomon lists some of the things that God hates,
16 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
Solomon tells us that God hates behaviors that destroy people and relationships. We are to hate evil and sin because they destroy people and push them away from God, the source of life. If we truly love people, we must hate what is evil.
We Can’t Hate What We don’t See. William Barclay wrote, “It has been said that our one security against sin lies in our being shocked by it. It was Carlyle who said that what we need is to see the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin.”
Barclay points to a grave danger. When we become numb to evil, when we stop being shocked by it, we are in trouble. This is a real danger. We see murders, adultery, lying, and stealing so much on the television that we are no longer shocked. The newspaper is filled with acts of unspeakable violence. We are so numbed by the depravity around us that we have become somewhat immune to it. We don’t approve of evil deeds but we don’t really hate them either. When evil/sin numbs our heart it also diminishes our ability to love without wax.
There is a difference between hating evil and hating the consequences of evil. It is like the difference between someone being sorry for what they have done or only being sorry that they were caught!
Do you see this in our society? Some teenagers don’t cheat in school not because they value the truth and want to do their own work, but because they are afraid they may get caught and fail. Many of us drive the speed limit (or within that five mile acceptable limit) not because we are concerned with respecting authority but because we don’t want to pay for a ticket and have our name in the paper if we get caught. We report our income accurately not because it is right but because we are afraid of the big fines if we are audited. In other words our true motivation often is not a love for what is good so much as the feeling that we can’t get away with what we really would like to do!
What do we do? How do we escape the numbness of pervasive evil and this tendency to miss the point?
Clinging to the Good. In order to combat the erosive quality of evil in our lives we need to pursue truth. You are all familiar with the words of Paul is 1 Corinthians 13.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor. 13:4-6)
Did you hear verse 6? “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”
Clinging to the good is the same as rejoicing with the truth.
Practically, this means,
- Regularly and attentively reading God’s Word seeking His instruction for our lives.
- Evaluating the events/thoughts of the day before the Lord in prayer
- Pursuing solid Biblical instruction through preaching, books, tapes, radio messages.
- Taking the truth we learn and putting it into practice in our daily lives.
If we do not continually sharpen the knife of truth it will become dull and useless in attempting to cut away the evil in life. If we do not continually return to the source of truth we will find that the line between good and evil will become increasingly blurred. This will lead us to be more self-absorbed and less able to love with genuineness.
We are only beginning our study of the love that God wants us to have in the body of Christ. In the weeks to come Paul will put some flesh on the skeleton we have seen today. However, we can already draw some important principles for how to love without wax.
First, we need to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. Before we can love one another without wax we must be able to see when we are failing to do so. We have to be honest with ourselves and with God about our mixed motives, our pretend love, our manipulative ways, and the love we have of that which is evil. I challenge you to tell yourself the truth; even if it hurts.
Second, we must allow God to love us in Christ. It is time to take God at His word and let Him make you new in Christ. The Lord has promised to forgive us, cleanse us, cherish us, and make us new, if we will but put our trust in what Jesus has done for us. As we draw close to Him, His Spirit will have greater influence in our lives.
The love we are talking about is un-natural. This is a love that God must work in our heart. We need His transformation. That transformation comes as we draw close to Him. May I challenge you once again to put your life in His hands? Will you finally believe Him when He says, “He loves you?”
Finally, we must begin to act in loving ways. In other words, we must always DO what is right even when we don’t feel it completely. I know that sounds like hypocrisy, it’s not. Just as a child babbles before they really talk, so we must act in loving ways before we do so with the right heart. A person learns to cook by trying and sometimes burning the food. A craftsman learns to build by building some things that are flawed at the beginning, but they get better. It is the same way with love. We must try to do the loving thing first . . . .and a loving heart will follow.
What is the right thing for you to do?
call an old friend
send a note to someone who is grieving
release someone from a past failure (in other words, forgive)
anonymously buy some groceries for someone who is in need
sign up for a mission trip
give time to a mentoring program
go to visit someone who is alone
listen to someone who needs to talk
Your heart may not be in all of these things. You may find yourself dragging your feet and really resisting. However, if we will do what God is nudging us to do we will find that our heart will begin to change. We will see God’s grace at work in our efforts and before you know it your love will be sine cere without wax.