(A summary of the Sunday morning teaching on 20-Mar-16, in AFT Church, English service.
From the series The Foundation For Victorious Living)
WALKING IN LOVE
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Last week, we studied about how love is the fulfillment of the law. Today we are going to start looking at some of the practical applications of walking in love.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF ROMANS 12
Paul explains the doctrines in the first part of Romans. Beginning with Romans 12, he starts to draw out the practical application of these doctrines. He addresses the believers in the Church in Romans 12:1-2 and says, ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God’. As believers, we have put our faith in Lord Jesus Christ and are being transformed to become like Him every day. So it is to us that Paul speaks when he writes verses 9-21.
Primarily these few verses outline the behavior of the Christian as an individual in his relationship with the people in the Church as well with those outside the Church.
We can break them down under these broad categories.
- True love (Verse 9)
- Believer’s attitude towards himself and others around him (Verses 10-11)
- Believer’s attitude towards various circumstances (Verses 12-13)
- Believer’s attitude towards annoying people around him (Verses 14-16)
- Loving our persecutors (Verses 17-20)
- Evil v/s good (Verse 21)
Today we are going to study about true love.
However, before we get into the detailed study, let me quickly point our attention to a crucial misunderstanding.
Many people pit Jesus and Paul against each other. Some say that Jesus’ teachings are very simple and practical whereas Paul’s is very theological and hard to follow. But that is a wrong assumption. In fact we see Jesus interpreting the Ten Commandments in an unusual manner during His Sermon on the Mount. Till then, the Pharisees and the Jews had misconstrued the Law of Moses. But when Jesus came, He clarified and explained the true meaning of the Law. For example – Jesus explained that the commandment of ‘thou shall not commit adultery’ was not limited only to the physical act, but also applied in the case of looking at a woman with lustful eye. So we see that Jesus was also very high on theology.
Similarly it is wrong to assume that Paul did not teach practical applications. In the verses 9-21, we see Paul explaining in simple, practical terms the application of love and the law.
LOVE WITHOUT HYPOCRISY
Now, let’s delve into our topic. Paul is teaching that true love must dominate our Christian life. This is what many people miss out on. They focus on the letter of the law and forget its spirit. It is like when someone plays music by hitting all the right notes and chords. But they need to play it in such a way that the music has life. The music has to be interpreted in a way that it conveys what it originally means to. If not, it will sound chaotic. Or else they could play with all the right mood and spirit but if they didn’t know what notes exactly to hit, the result will be particularly unbearable to hear. Similarly, the Bible talks about the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. The letter lays down the law. The spirit interprets the intention of the law. We can’t isolate one from the other. Both are equally important. The letter and spirit of the law conveys the love of God. We need to look at the big picture of God’s law and shouldn’t get lost in nitpicking the law or the spirit.
WHAT IS TRUE LOVE?
So, how do we interpret the love that Paul talks about – love without hypocrisy? We can simply call it “true love”. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of this true love.
1. True love is the love that has the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. It is about our relationship with God and with others. For example – Suppose a married couple is facing problems in their marriage. So the elders of the family come together to help them fix the problem. Imagine the couple asking the elders to write down rules for both of them to follow. Do you think that would work? If they are bent on only sticking to their part of the rules, then the arrangement will not work. Instead, if they look at it as something to save their relationship then their chances are better. Similarly the law of God is also not about just a bunch of rules. It is about a life of relationship and true love.
2. True love is the unconditional, divine agape love of God. It is not a sentiment or feeling. It was shown to us on the Cross by God even when we were unworthy and undeserving sinners.
Paul refers to this agape love when he instructs us to love without hypocrisy. In fact we can see Paul’s description of agape love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It says ‘that love suffers long, is kind, does not envy, does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in inequity, but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails’. This true love is clearly not like the one we see in the world today. Movies and novels portray a different kind of love that is not divine or true.
3. True love is honest and real. It is not pretentious. There is no artificiality in it. Hypocritical love is often a drama or an act. Sometimes, people know when they are putting on a show. But sometimes people fool themselves into believing that they are showing true love, when all along they are just acting.
4. True love fulfills the law. Many people think that since we are under grace now, the law has no room in our lives. They think that they can be content in love. But like we already saw last week, Romans 13:10 says that love is the fulfillment of the law. True love cannot be present where there is no fulfillment of the law. Let us look at three Bible portions to understand it better.
a. John 14:15 says, ‘If you love Me, keepMy commandments’. Sometimes, people think that their expression of love for God is waving their hands or worshipping loudly in church. While that is not wrong, it is not an necessarily an expression of true love for God. What truly guarantees our love for God is our ability to keep the commandments of God.
b. John 14:21 says, ‘He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me’. Here we see Jesus emphatically saying that it is the one who has the commandments of God and keeps them that loves Him.
c. John 14:23 says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word’. It is not our public demeanor or our style of dressing that assures our love of God. It is our ability to keep God’s commandments.
WHAT IS NOT TRUE LOVE?
We have seen what true love is. Let us now look at what true love is not so that we can have a wholesome understanding of this concept of loving without hypocrisy.
1. True love is not mere politeness and affability. Many of us mistake politeness and affability for genuine love. Imagine this scenario. When we walk into a five star hotel, there is often a man at the entrance who holds the door open for us and welcomes us inside with folded hands. Do you think he does that because he loves us? Absolutely not. That’s his job and he is paid for it. He will politely welcome every person that walks through that door irrespective of who they are. Now that doesn’t mean politeness and affability on the outside is not love. It is a good thing but it is not an indication of true love. Real love is different. It is true, deep and not superficial.
2. True love is not something that is sentimental and weak. The sentimental stuff is what we see in movies. All the drama, tears and highly charged emotions are added to endear the film to the audience. But that’s not true love. True love is strong, powerful and life changing.
3. True love must not be contrasted with the law. Love and the Law are not opposites. They stand hand in hand. In fact love is the fulfillment of the law. For example – when the lawyer asked Jesus for the greatest commandment, Jesus underlined love in his response. He said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself’. In essence, Jesus was saying that the greatest commandment is love. Not only did He talk about it, He also demonstrated what true love was meant to be. And it is this love that He wants us to love others.
Therefore, we can conclude that true love or love without hypocrisy refers to a couple of things. Firstly, we must keep God’s commandments. Secondly, we must show it in conduct, action and behavior. 1 John 2:4 says, ‘He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him’. Love shows itself in action. Thirdly, true love is not a mechanical obedience of the law. It is an obedience that comes from the heart. We see the Psalmist declaring his delight in God’s commandments. That’s the kind of obedience that God wants from us. Psalm 1 says, ‘blessed is the man who delights himself in the law of the Lord day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water whose leaves shall not wither, who yields his fruit in season and whatever he does shall prosper’. Finally, true love not only keeps the commandment but also loves the commandment that results in the obedience. As we realize how much God has loved us, we want to love Him back by fulfilling His commandments. That is what is meant by loving without hypocrisy.