Transformed Church - r12 7. The Agape Factor: 12 Ways to Love
Romans 12: 9 - 16
What does it mean to have love overflowing in your life? Only God can do that, and he does it whenever he finds a willing heart. If we are full of God’s love, it will overflow to others. Romans 12: 9 - 16 seems at first glance to be an unconnected series of staccato commands, but a closer examination reveals that these verses flesh out what love looks like in the Christian life. The theme of the passage is not hard to find: Love must govern all our relationships. John Stott calls this Paul's "recipe for love" and notes that it seems to have 12 "ingredients."
1. Love Must be Sincere v. 9a
"Genuine" literally "without hypocrisy” - referred to an actor who played a certain role on stage. Anyone who acts contrary to his own true feelings. It particularly applies to those who put forth the appearance of virtue that they do not actually possess. The Message - "Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it."
2. Love Must be Discerning v. 9b
Love hates evil! We think of love as a gooey emotion - far from true Christian love. We cannot love evil and love God at the same time. Don't ever get over being shocked by evil. That's hard to do in a world where almost anything goes. When was the last time you blushed? We used to blush when something risqué appeared on TV or the movies. Now we hardly notice it or we laugh at it. We say, “Love is blind.” God says, “No, love needs clear vision.” Our love needs discernment or else we end up loving things we ought not to love—and entering into relationships that are not good for us. Not every relationship is a good relationship. Not every choice is a good choice. Not every friendship is good for us. Not every job is a wise career move. Not every roommate is a healthy choice. Not every purchase is a wise use of our money. There are really 2 parts to making wise choices: 1. You must know what is right. We live in a world where people have lost all sense of right and wrong. Everything appears as shades of gray. 2. You must have the courage to choose what you know to be right. True discernment gives you vision to see what is right and then the courage to choose to do it. Take Paul's words to heart! Never get over being shocked by evil. Glue yourself to what is good.
3. Love Must Display Tender Affection v. 10a
Philadelphia - literally "tender affection owed to those born from the same womb.” All Christians have been "born of the same womb" through the new birth. Everyone who is saved the same way. God doesn't have 3 different plans - Plan A for Protestants, Plan B for Catholics and Plan C for everyone else. Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:3). To be born again means to receive new life through personal faith in Jesus Christ. It means to be “born from God’s womb.” Everyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to me. I owe all of them tender affection and brotherly love. We are to love all true believers everywhere all the time. That’s hard because most of us have some inner qualifications. We don’t like this group or that denomination. Maybe we’re not comfortable with people who speak in tongues or with those who use a Prayer Book. We may even distrust people who have a different worship style that we do. Maybe we have some preferences regarding skin colour or ethnic background. This thinking is simply wrong and must be abandoned. God’s kingdom is not limited to people of one denomination or to people who look, think and act just like us. God’s kingdom embraces all true believers no matter who they are or what church they happen to attend.
4. Love Must Honour Others v. 10b
Word has a sense of competition about it - “outdo one another.” We live in a day when we hear much about quotas and affirmative action. In the Christian context, it means that we take affirmative action to make sure that others receive preferential treatment before we do. This obviously goes so much against our human nature that it is not possible without the infusion of God's Holy Spirit in our hearts. President Ronald Reagan had this saying on his desk in the Oval Office: "There is no limit to how far you can go if you don't care who gets the credit." Paul would say "Amen!"
5. Love Must be Enthusiastic v. 11
Religious "enthusiasm" is often seen as nothing but excessive emotionalism and fanaticism. But Paul's words have nothing to do with how loud we sing or how much we clap or whether or not we raise our hands when we worship. Paul is challenging us to put as much effort into our Christianity as we do into our work. Amplified Bible - "Never lag in zeal and in earnest endeavor; be aglow and burning with the Spirit, serving the Lord." The phrase "be aglow and burning with the Spirit" refers to a boiling pot. Serve the Lord with zeal and boiling intensity. The world will not be moved by half-hearted disciples who "sort of" serve the Lord.
6. Love Must be Patient v. 12
Behind these 3 phrases lies the hope of our Lord's return. While we wait for Jesus to return from heaven, we must be patient in hard times, constantly praying and rejoicing in the hope of better days to come. That's good advice for all of us.
7. Love Must be Generous v. 13a
On one level it means sharing in the hurts and heartaches of others. On another level, it means opening our wallets and giving so that the poor believers will have their needs met. Here is a true measure of your Christian faith. What are you doing to meet the needs of those who have less than you? We can extend this to supporting God's work around the world. Do you give "off the top" or "off the bottom" of your paycheck? Your answer says something important about the state of your soul. 8. Love Must Pursue Hospitality v. 13b
Literally - "one who loves strangers." Hospitality means "showing kindness to strangers." Hospitality was a central mark of the early church - they didn't have hotels and motels. Paul couldn't check into the Corinth Sun because it hadn't been built yet. The only way the Christian message could spread would be for Christians to open their homes to others. God is the original "lover of strangers." For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We who were once strangers and aliens on the earth have now been brought near to God by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are no longer strangers, aliens, orphans, no longer far away from God. We are now as near to God as His own Son is, for through the blood of Jesus we are brought into His family. That same thing happens today when we show hospitality to others. We are only doing for others what God did for us.
9. Love Must be Kind v. 14
We will be persecuted. We will be hated, mistreated, lied about, misunderstood, gossiped about, and there will be those who go beyond this to hurt us deeply, leaving scars that last for a lifetime. Sometimes the attacks come from those close to us, sometimes from within our own family, often from our circle of very close friends, and sometimes from people we thought were our best friends. There is no escaping this and to deny it is like denying the sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. Sooner or later people we loved and trusted will let us down and some of them will turn on us. We can't predict how or when it will happen or who it will be, but it will happen, and what will we do then? How do you bless someone when you would rather curse them? When faced with someone who has mistreated you, ask God to do for them what you want God to do for you. Seek the blessing for them that you want God to do for you.
10. Love Must Show Sympathy v. 15
Love gets involved. It doesn't stand on the sidelines while others go through a hard time. Many of us probably find it easier to weep with someone than to rejoice with them. It is a good thing when we can laugh with our friends, and then weep with them later.
11. Love Must Live in Harmony v. 16a
"Think the same things toward each other." This does not imply total agreement. After all, if 2 people totally agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary! Harmony implies a beautiful symphony, a collection of instruments - they don't sound alike and they don't play the same notes. So it is in the body of Christ. We don't all look alike, act alike or sound alike. We certainly don't always think alike. Just listen to the different conversations in the foyer of the church. The church--both local and worldwide--is enriched by a variety of different opinions. But there is harmony amid the cacophony of sounds when we understand that the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us.
12. Love Must Show Humility v. 16b
We can say it more directly. Don't be a snob! Don't get a big head. Don't think you are too good to hang out with people who are not in your class. One translation - "Make real friends with the poor." Say what you will about Jesus, but he was no snob. He associated with tax collectors, prostitutes and drunkards. He reserved his harshest words for the Pharisees who robbed widows' homes and claimed to be serving God. Jesus was a true "friend of sinners" who welcomed everyone who wanted to be with him. Our churches would be happier if we took this passage to heart. It's one thing to talk about love. It's something else to put it into practice. Love doesn't look the same way in every situation, and sometimes we must practice "tough love" that may be misunderstood by others. "Increase the dosage" is still God's prescription for dealing with unlovely people. You may wonder how to apply a message like this because it covers so much territory. If we are to grow in this area, our love must reach out to specific people we meet this week. They may come to us through an email or a phone call or a chance encounter or at a meeting or when we are in a big hurry and on our way to do something really important and we don't have time to be bothered and we would be glad to help them later but they need help now, and what will we do then? That's the real test of love. Or the test may come in dealing with the same old grumpy people you live with or work with or go to school with every single day. Grumpy people need love, and who will do it if not you? The most powerful recommendation for any church is this--that the members love one another! The unchurched are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church or a relevant church or a church with plenty of programs. And not just a church where the Bible is clearly taught. As good and essential as those things are, they don’t touch the deepest heart cry of this generation. They want to be loved truly and deeply. When the people of the world find such a place, they stand in line to get in. How does God help us grow in this area? By putting us in situations that force us to practice Christian love. The only way we learn to love is by dealing with unlovely people. I have seen it happen between husbands and wives, parents and children, between co-workers, neighbours, fellow students and relatives. I have seen it happen between church members. By God's grace, people who start out disliking each other often end up as dearest friends. The church is to be a community of love. We owe it to the Lord, to each other, and to the watching world. Let brotherly love abound more and more. Let Christian sympathy go out to those in need. Let us take the banner of God’s concern around the world. Let us pray for one another and especially for those with whom we disagree. Let our hearts overflow with brotherly for all of God’s children everywhere. Dear Lord Jesus, teach us to love each other as you loved us, Amen.