Hovering over Romans 12 this morning. Not all of it. But, in particular, four words of it. Not at the edges of it–neither the part about offering our bodies as living sacrifices, nor the part about not being overcome by evil but overcoming evil with good–but pretty much smack dab in the middle of it. Four words that, in a passage heavy on “commands to obey,” seems to make all the difference when it comes to “acceptable obedience.” Four words that seem to me to be a pivot point determining whether we are simply going through the motions or walking in the way of the Master. Four words reminding me this morning that it’s a matter of the heart when it comes to loving genuinely.
Let love be genuine. (Romans 12:9a ESV)
My soul is stirred whenever I work my way through Romans. Paul’s precept-upon-precept, glorious-truth-upon-glorious-truth treatise of what makes the gospel the power of God for salvation always evokes the awe factor. Being reminded of the deadly dynamics of sin, the deliverance afforded through the Savior, and the new life empowered by the Spirit, never ceases to prime the pump of praise.
I’m ready, by the time I get to chapter eleven, to join Paul in his spontaneous outbreak of worship and shout, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33). And I’m ready, by the time I get to chapter twelve, for the “so what?” For the “Therefore” that reminds me that, along with great doctrine, comes a desire to respond with great duty.
And so, when Paul shifts from what to believe to how to behave, I’m all ears. When he exhorts me to offer my body as a living sacrifice, I’m ready to respond, by His enabling grace and His empowering Spirit, and receive the practical instruction as to what that looks like. And in the middle of instructions about using the gifting I have for the church body, and how to live life in the world boldly, Paul says, “Let love be genuine.”
Four words in my English translation, two words in the original. “Love unfeigned” . . . “love undisguised” . . . “love sincerely” . . . “love genuinely.” Or, as other translations render it, “Love without hypocrisy.”
This is agape love that’s being spoken of here. The love we often consider to be the highest form of love, often described as self-sacrificing love. But it is only the greatest love when it is genuine love. Love without pretense. Not simply having the appearance of self-sacrificing love, but at it’s core sacrificial love expressed because sacrificial love is present. Beyond going through the motions, it’s a love grounded in Christ-like motives.
I’m reminded of Paul’s assessment of love’s actions tendered apart from love’s presence:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
(1Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)
I can be graced with the most visible and impacting of gifts for the church, but if not exercised with genuine love, just a bunch of noise. Knowledge can be mine, even faith can be mine, but without love? Nada, nothing! And I can “one another” until the cows come home, I can serve and sacrifice until I’m exhausted and wasted, but do it without real love and it doesn’t mean a thing. Love hypocritically, and there’s nothing to show for it . . . just smoke and ashes from wood, hay, and stubble (1Cor. 3:12-15).
Love genuinely. More than just a command to seek to obey, it’s a reality to cry out to the Savior to make real.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10 ESV)
By His grace. For His glory.