September 7, 2023
How can we model love that is authentic? What does genuine love require?
In Romans 12:9, Paul introduces a staccato of commands to his Roman readers. The first is that “Love must be without hypocrisy.” Love cannot be contrived. It cannot be skin-deep. John Calvin commented on this verse, “It is difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are in counterfeiting a love which they do not really possess.” That’s not authentic love. Authentic love is vulnerable and is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It means to have genuine, heart-felt affection for the fellow-members of the body of Christ.
Though this is the kind of love that should be modeled in every Bible-believing church, yet, too often, a critical and condescending spirit prevents many in the church from exemplifying it. How common it is for us to keep a mental list of the wrongs of our fellow men so that we are armed with ammunition should the need arise. This is contrary to Christ’s example of love. Instead, Paul calls us to have a filial relationship with one another in verse 10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” The term, “brotherly love” connotes a familial affection. It’s not a consumer mentality, such as the way you treat a club or a local grocery store, where, if you get tired of it, you simply change stores. It’s a family. You’re in it for the long haul. You must work at it. Certainly, family relationships get sticky and complicated, but authentic love stays invested in the relationship and regards one another as those for whom Christ died.
Authentic love is also welcoming and hospitable. Romans 12:13 relates, “contributing to the needs of the saints, pursuing hospitality.” When we hear “hospitable,” we immediately think, “I need to start having people over for dinner more!” And certainly that can be an expression of hospitability. But that’s not the main thrust of this word in the New Testament context. Rather, “hospitality” is a compound Greek word that means “to be a friend to a stranger” (philoxenian). That may be more challenging to fulfill. Being hospitable to your close family or friends is one thing. But to be hospitable, welcoming, and inviting to strangers you hardly know, that is practicing authentic love.
Romans 12:15 is a verse that is known to many, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those weep.” To really practice this requires vulnerability. Yet, vulnerability of this kind is essential for authentic love. Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep means that you’re there for them. You’re engaged. It means that you’re observant and can identify when people around you are glad or sorrowful, and then, you must lay aside how you are feeling in that moment and work to relate with the other person. As the recipient of this love, this makes you vulnerable, because you must be open with others about your triumphs and your defeats. And as a promoter of this love, this also makes you vulnerable, because you must learn how to resonate your emotions with others. Authentic love requires vulnerability and sacrifice from all.
As Romans 12:17 remarks, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” Verse 19 goes on to say, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ ” At this point, it may seem that these commands can only apply to those outside the church—our opponents or enemies. While that is certainly true, the context of Romans 12 has been the church. Even vengeance can happen among the people of God. Gossip, snubbing others, guilt-inducing comments, passive-aggressive messages … revenge comes in many flavors. But this is not authentic love. Authentic love seeks to honor your enemy, not dishonor him. Authentic love repays evil with acts of mercy and grace, even when your enemy has dishonored you (12:20; cf. Prov 25:21–22).