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This article continues an on-going, verse-by-verse series on the exhortations in Romans 12.
9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
In the last issue, we looked at verses 6-8, which spoke of the different gifts that God has given us to serve Him. These verses begin a section devoted to the manner in which we should serve Him.
First and foremost, when we serve, we must have "sincere love". In order to carry out the work of God--each person in his specific roles, each with his own God-given emphasis and ambitions--genuine love is required. It is love that differentiates Christian service from worldly pursuits. Those who serve God must do so with love for God and love for their fellow man. This fact may seem obvious to the Christian, but it is well worth discussing because, though obvious, it is very difficult to achieve.
To serve with love is to do so with no thought of your own benefits from serving (such as recognition or respect from observers), but with the sole goal of furthering God's will through your service. Being in accordance with God's will and serving with sincere love are intimately connected because "God is love" (I John 4:8). If one is furthering God's purpose by serving in God's will, one is necessarily showing love because God always acts in love.
However, Paul is not merely exhorting us to perform acts that result in love, but to serve with the feeling of "sincere love". This exhortation is, in effect, stating that the ends do not justify the means. If we do good works, yet grudgingly, we are not serving as a Christian. When we serve, we must remember that we are Christ's representatives. If we serve sourly, we misrepresent Christ, who loves to serve His people.
Implicitly, one of our goals in serving the Lord is to reach people for Christ. Serving without "sincere love" may result in good works, but it will not turn people to the Lord. On the contrary, when service is carried out grudgingly, people get the impression that Christianity is a "works-based" religion; one gets the impression that service is mandatory in order to be loved by God; one gets the impression that God is a cruel master rather than a loving Father.
So, indeed, in service, "love must be sincere", without hypocrisy, not pretended, but genuine. Our works should not be meaningless reciprocity of deed for deed, but actions motivated by true love. This requires help from the Holy Spirit. We need Him to ignite our hearts and fill them with His love, giving us the desire to serve His people with His love. Our own limited potential for love will not get us very far. We need God's love. We need to depend on Him, through prayer, to pour out His love into our hearts. We must not forget that "love comes from God" (I John 4:7).
Paul goes on to give three elements that characterize sincere love. First, if one has sincere love he "hates what is evil" and "clings to what is good". Sincere love does not tolerate evil, or smirk at evil, or take evil lightly; rather, sincere love hates evil. Many times, to show love is to hate evil. If we tolerate evil, we give the impression that we approve of it. As Paul states in another place: "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (I Cor. 13:6). At times, sincere love entails speaking out against evil and thus, "rejoicing with the truth".
Certainly, your hatred of evil should be well known to those around you. Your Christian character should reflect that you hate evil. Those around you should feel uncomfortable doing or speaking evil in your presence. Especially, they should feel uncomfortable speaking against or blaspheming our Lord in your presence. To be such is to be light in a dark world. "God is love" (I John 4:7) and, in addition, "God is light" (I John 1:5), so the love in us should result also in our being light.
The second element of love that Paul points out is devotion, for Paul says, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love". Devotion suggests an ardent, selfless, and on-going (not temporary) love. Devotion is not a love of just the moment, but a love that follows up in continuing concern. Persistent devotion can soften even the hard-hearted. Again, as Paul says elsewhere: "Love is patient" (I Cor. 13:1).
The third element of sincere love that Paul points out is humility: "Honor one another above yourselves". Our service should not have the goal of exalting ourselves, of showing the world how pious we are; rather, our service should encourage and edify others. The recipients of our service should feel honored, not patronized; they should feel valued, not used. They should not feel that they have received your service in order that you might "make points" with God; rather, they should feel that you have served them because you love them. Only then will they see your service as an example of God's love for them.
"Sincere love" is necessarily humble and selfless. It seeks out the needs of others, not worrying about any inconvenience to oneself. "Sincere love" never acts in a way that would place a burden of indebtedness on the recipient; it never makes them feel that they must pay the love back. Rather, it leaves the recipient with the desire to have and to seek the same kind of love for others.
In conclusion, seek "sincere love", and see that your service of God is always motivated by it. Indeed, the benefits of sincere love are not just for the recipient. Service motivated by sincere love will give you joy as you serve God. The burden of service is always lighter when it is accompanied by "sincere love".
Now, Father, give us this love by filling our hearts with Your love. May all of our service for You shine with the light of Your love, to bring You glory and to turn others to seek out the same love. We can do this only by the power of Your Spirit, so fill our hearts afresh with Your Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
(In the next issue, we will continue our study in Romans 12 by looking at verses 11 and 12)
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