Romans 12:9 - 13

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

In this period of Lent we have looked at what each of us has to offer and how we can use the gifts God’s given us to bless others. Now Paul reminds us of the importance of our motivation: with love. He emphasises that it’s about the attitude of our hearts rather than what or how much we are doing. 

The key to our behaviour is sincerity. We can do many seemingly good acts, but if they are motivated by anything other than love then they are worthless. This is a theme that Paul also tackles in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

What we might see on the surface as being good, selfless or holy doesn’t cut it with God unless our actions stem from genuine love.

It’s easy to appear nice on the surface but what’s going on behind the scenes? Flattery and superficial niceness doesn’t fool God and doesn’t honour him.  

So why do we need to be sincere in our love.  Can’t we just fake it?

From Mike Riddell, one time Baptist pastor and activist: “We do not become involved in [community activities] in order to win people to Christ. If that is our motivation, our caring is neither honest nor transparent. We are justifying our means by our end. Our motivation to service must be that of obedience to and discipleship of Jesus Christ.”[1]

 

And from Ronald Sider: “Our social concern dare not be a gimmick designed to bribe people to become Christians” [2]

 

1 John 4:19 spells it out to us: We love because he first loved us. And the more that message sinks in, the more our motivation to love others will spring from a genuine desire to please God above anybody else. 

In other words, our motivation to be generous is because God calls us to be generous, not for what we or the church will get out of it.

 

We all experience meeting people whom we find easy to love, and equally those whom we struggle to love. It can be hard to feel loving towards people whose opinions, manners or personality clash with our own.

So how do we make sure that our love for others is genuine? It comes back to verse 2 again. To love sincerely we need that continual renewing of our minds, reminding ourselves daily of how much Jesus has done for us, and reflecting on his life.

An Australian preacher Dave Andrews who runs an inner city Christian community network called the Waiter’s Union working with Aboriginals, refugees and people with disabilities in Brisbane, Australia lectured us at Carey College and I will never forget it.  He spoke about “the least of these my brethren”, the verse which Jesus spoke about when we do for the least we are doing for him.  We created lists. At the end of each list we had to choose the least, and then that would start another list starting with that person. And again and again we did the exercise until we found the least of the least of the least in our estimation.  And Dave pointed out that when we love that person, we love Christ.

It is not loving the lovely that matters. It is loving the unloveliest on our list of unlovely people that matters.

That is why we need a transformed mind, because we cannot do that unless God has changed our thinking and our heart.

There is power in our sincere love. It is a mighty weapon… All other things being equal, the sincere person is far more likely to be a blessing to all those with whom he comes in contact than is the hypocrite[3]

The next two instructions in our scripture from Paul help us to keep that sincerity. The words are really emphatic here: we are to hate what is evil – to loathe it and avoid it at all costs. This might seem obvious, but in Luke 16:15 Jesus reminds us just how contrary God’s opinion of evil is to ours: 

He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.’

We need to make sure we have a right view of evil by clinging to what is good – and the epitome of goodness is God himself. When we see his beauty and goodness, the ideals of the world will seem less attractive to us.

Paul pushes the idea of sincere love further when he tells us to be devoted to one another in love. The word is philio love - ‘brotherly’ love, a kind of instinctive family love, similar to the feelings a mother might experience towards her new-born baby. 

This language is another reminder that as Christians we belong to one another (Romans 12:5) as parts of one body, one family.

Paul tells us then to outdo one another in showing honour (v. 10) – this should be the only element of competition amongst us: which of us can show the most honour to others? Naturally, we often strive for other people’s respect, but Paul twists that whole notion on its head. It’s not about waiting for another person to show us honour, but about making the first move to show regard for someone else.

It’s easy to give up and stop bothering if the respect we show someone is not returned to us. Paul tells us to prefer another person’s interests above our own. A healthy self-forgetfulness is key to creating true unity within the church: seeing the whole over the individual.

When you read this passage we realise why gossip and backbiting are so toxic to community. A few idle comments can develop into a culture that is divisive. This goes completely against Paul’s encouragement to love sincerely. 

It takes energy to love like this, which links to the next verse (11), where Paul encourages us to keep up our effort and determination. But it’s impossible to do this without the Holy Spirit working within us. The word fervour, or ‘fervent’, that Paul uses literally means boiling. A pan of water needs to be placed over a flame in order to bubble and boil. As Christians, we need the flame of the Holy Spirit sustaining us through life or else we’ll turn cold.  

When we find ourselves feeling apathetic, we need to ask to be filled up again. Perhaps when we are worn out, we need to take some time out to reflect and let God refresh us (Psalm 23:2–3).

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake

All three of the directions in verse 12 work together. Paul tells us to be joyful in hope – this joy is the antithesis to apathy. It’s not about happiness, which may be based on our circumstances, or about our temperament – being a naturally positive person. Both of these can come and go.

Paul is talking about a joy that has firm foundations. It stems from the hope that Jesus has given us: that we will one day be with him in paradise. No matter what we are going through, we keep that at the core of our being. To be patient in affliction we need this joy as our foundation or we will easily give up and give in to the sadness of difficult circumstances.

Patience is not just about endurance, but about perseverance: keeping the long view in mind and believing the promise that we have for our future.

Christians who have been in the most horrific of circumstances have nothing but to cling onto the joy of that hope to get through.  When Betsy and Corrie ten Boom were held captive in a concentration camp during the Second World War, they still sang songs of praise to God because of their hope. They knew that they would one day be in a place with no more mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). They constantly called on the Lord in prayer. This verse is similar to 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Joyfulness and prayer seem to go together. When we come to God in prayer, our faith is strengthened and we can find joy and patience.

Finally, in verse 13, Paul focuses again on putting love into action, particularly when it comes to those who are most in need. The hospitality that is mentioned refers particularly to welcoming strangers. It can seem alien or even dangerous to us to open up our homes to people we don’t know, but being willing to do so is a hallmark of sincere love for others.

What this could mean for us…

These verses about love lead us straight back to the greatest commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–39). We can’t truly love our neighbour unless we first love God, because our motives can so easily be skewed.

This week let’s put our very best into serving others, but start by coming to God for the strength that only he can provide. Through the challenge of being generous over this Lent period, we have the opportunity to go the extra mile in serving each other. 

Perhaps think about how you can use your home or possessions to bless someone else in need. Paul tells us not just to give things away but to share with each other. This can actually take a lot more effort and energy because it involves personal relationship – sharing a meal with someone or letting people borrow possessions that we still need means giving of ourselves, our trust and our time too.

Or maybe you feel you have little to give this week because you’re struggling with difficulties or exhausted and lacking in enthusiasm. Begin to remind yourself of the hope of salvation that you have in Jesus and let him restore you with the joy of knowing him who’s gone through the very worst for our sake.

Show radical love for each other, because he showed radical love for us.



[1] Mike Riddell Creed of Compassion  1995, 11

[2] Ronald Sider Good News and Good Works: a theology for the whole Gospel 1999, 179

[3] William Hendriksen Galatians and Ephesians 276