Sermon preached on Romans 12:9-21 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/10/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Let Love be Without Hypocrisy”
This passage has a lot of miscellaneous commands. All very good ones. We will spend multiple weeks on this one passage, to make sure we cover the commands adequately. Some of these commands stand alone, for the most part. Others are clearly interconnected — developing a theme. One of those themes here is love. It’s how this passage starts out — with a call for love. Love of a certain type. Love for certain things. And of course behind this all, is the reason why we can love as Christians. And that will be our basic outline for today as well. We’ll consider first the type of love called for here. Second, we’ll think about what we are to love. Third, we’ll contemplate why we can love.
And so let’s begin first with the type of love commanded here. This is the first half of verse 9. Let love be without hypocrisy. This word in the Greek is literally a single word that means not hypocritical. Hypocrisy, of course, is when someone or something gives off a certain appearance, but in reality is not that thing. And so someone acts hypocritically, for example, when they say one thing, but then act in a way contrary to what they said. So, say you had a politician who spearheaded legislation to ban driving while talking on the cell phone, and then afterwards they get caught driving while talking on the cell phone. We’d say that was hypocritical of them.
And so hypocrisy is about not being true to your convictions. It’s about living or thinking inconsistently to what you supposedly profess to believe in your heart. Of course, the problem with hypocrisy, is you don’t always know when you look at someone acting hypocritically, what’s really the true them. We can see their words. We can see their actions. But we don’t know their hearts. We don’t know if their words reflect their hearts, and they just messed up with their actions. Or maybe their actions reveal where there heart really is, and their words were said because they thought that’s what they were supposed to say; even though they really didn’t believe those words themselves. This is the problem with hypocrisy. Two competing pictures come out, and we don’t know which is really true. The opposite, then, of hypocrisy, is being genuine. Sincere. True to your stated views. You don’t present two different pictures.
And yet this all applies to our love. Since love is something that comes from the heart, this idea of hypocrisy is very important. Because, the problem is that our words, actions, and the state of our heart, may not always line up. We might say we love someone, but hypocritically not show it in our actions. Sometimes we show that we really do love someone by our actions, but don’t ever say it. But ultimately what we want is genuineness. We want our words and actions to not only express love. But we want that love to be true to our hearts. In other words, we want our loving words and actions to flow from a heart that truly does love. So that our love is sincere; genuine; true to the heart.
This is the type of love that this passage commands. Genuine, non-hypocritical love. Love that outwardly reflects what is true inwardly. It’s unfortunately far too easy to have a hypocritical love. Someone might feign love to get on someone’s good side, because they think it will benefit them. Remember the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. When the son had all the money, he spent it in reckless living. You can imagine that suddenly he had lots of friends. But after his money ran out, the parable talks about how no one would give him anything. Evidently he didn’t make any true friends when he was spending his money in reckless living. People might have acted like they loved him while the money was flowing. But after it ran out, he realized he didn’t have any true friends. Or you can think of someone who shows false love to a rich dying person in order to get in on the inheritance. Or you can imagine someone acting like they love a product of a company, in order to get a job. Such false love can come in so many different ways. But the Bible calls Christians to seek love that is true. True to your heart.
And so that is the first point. This is the type of love commended here. Now let’s focus on what we are to love. This is our second point. What we find here in this passage is that there are a number of objects of love for a Christian. A number of things we are to love; and even some things we are to not love. Some things are more specifically spelled out here, but let’s see what we find as we dig in. And so, the first object of love to mention, of course, is God. That’s one that’s not really explicitly stated here. But the idea is at least implied here in verse 11. Verse 11 commends zeal and connects that with our serving God. Well, of course, we are going to look to zealously serve God if we truly love God. And of course, this is the chief command of godliness. To love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. That sounds like love without hypocrisy! Similarly, we can remember how Peter was asked three times by Jesus in a row, Peter, do you love me? And so the chief object of our love is to love God, and related to that, to love Jesus.
A second object of love we see here is to love the good, and to not love the evil. This is essentially the point of verse 9. After talking about this true love, it says to abhor what is evil and cling to what is good. In other words, this helps us to think about our love in a more broad sense. Love that is not just directed toward persons. But love that is directed toward all that is called good. In turn, we hate that which is called evil. This contrast of good and evil here is another main theme in this passage and next week we’ll explore that further. And so this means we need to love things like righteous deeds, and hate things like sin. It means we need to love when people become Christian, and hate it when people reject Christ. It means we need to love when people make sacrifices for others, and hate it when someone rips someone off. That means we must love qualities like honesty, peace, patience, hard work, etc. It means we hate the opposites. We see in Scripture the idea of putting off the bad and putting on the good. Here we are reminded that our heart must be in this process. That we must love those things we are trying to put on, and not love those things we are trying to put off.
A third object of our love here is, to put it broadly, other people. However, this passage describes at least three groups of people to love. We’ll look at each now. The first group of people to love is our fellow believers. This is mentioned in several ways here. It’s mentioned in verse 10 with regard to a special kind of love. We are to have family love for our fellow Christians. A very literal translation of verse 10 is to be dearly lovers with brotherly love for one another. This is how we are to show our love for the fellow saints. This special, intimate, love that family members would show to each other. In other words, we hold a special place in our hearts for those fellow believers in Christ. Because we know that we have become a family together through our common faith in Jesus.
This love for one another gets very practical. Verse 13 says that our love for our fellow saints means that we will partake together with them of their needs. That means we will be there to help them in the midst of their troubles and trials. That’s always a good test if your love is genuine or not! We see this idea of sharing with our fellow believers in a different way in verse 15: Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. We are to emotionally connect with each other. That’s part of our love too: empathizing with each other. Making the emotional commitment to share with each other the joys and the sorrows of life! So that people don’t have to go through these things alone! Think about it — we don’t want to go through either alone! We want to share our joys with someone else, to celebrate with them. We also need to not feel alone in the midst of our sorrows, to find the comfort of others in that time. Verse 16 further broadens this love for the saints by saying that it’s something we need to show to all.
Verse 16, “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.”
And so we have to make sure we don’t only love those people in the church who we think are worthy of our love, or like us. As we understand our unity as God’s people, and as we have some humility, we will see the need to show this kind of love to maybe those fellow Christians you wouldn’t have before. Maybe before you thought certain people in the church would take too much effort to love. Maybe you thought certain people didn’t measure up to the kind of cool people you want to have in your life. Verse 16 challenges such thinking. It calls us to love even the lowly in our midst. Think who those lowly are, and look to genuinely love them!
Another group of people mentioned here that we are to love is strangers. You might not have noticed that, but it’s in verse 13. The translate says to be given to hospitality. But the literal Greek is to be given to the love of strangers. In the Greek, there is a word that means the love of strangers, and basically all translations translate that in English with the word “hospitality.” But that is what the word hospitality historically meant. It’s about the love and welcome and kindness shown to strangers. Back then it often involved opening up your home to out of town saints who were visiting. Sometimes that’s how it is still expressed today. We have an opportunity to welcome and love strangers every time we get visitors here on Sunday. Those are opportunities to show love to strangers. This might seem scary to some, it does involve some risk, and it surely requires wisdom. But God says we ought to find ways to show genuine love to strangers!
A third group of people mentioned here that we are to love is our enemies. This is another one that is clearly implied here, though not explicitly stated. What we do find here is that we are to treat our enemies in a way they do not deserve. Verse 14 says we should bless them when they curse us. Verses 17-21 says that when they give us evil, we should look to overcome that by showing goodness to them. As individuals, we should not take personal vengeance on them. Verse 19 reminds us that God will see that justice is served. God will see that our interests are maintained, and be the one to take vengeance on your behalf. And so in the words of verse 20, we give food and drink to our enemies. That will be like burning coals on their head — in other words, it will hopefully shame them into repentance and reconciliation with you. It’s like the point of verse 18 — as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men. In other words, if someone wants to be your enemy, you shouldn’t be doing something wrong that makes them want to be your enemy. You should look to show love to them in all the ways described here. This was in fact the words of Jesus, to “love your enemies,” Matthew 5:44.
As we talk about loving people, we know that loving fellow Christians, strangers, and even enemies is pretty comprehensive. And yet we know from elsewhere in Scripture that we are to love in general, all our neighbors. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to do unto others as we would have do unto us. And so we’ve seen so far today the type of love that we are to have. Genuine, unhypocritical love. And we’ve seen what we are to love: Love God, love others, especially fellow believers, but even strangers and enemies. Love the good, and hate the evil. Let us now turn to our third point to consider why it is that we can love.
In other words, what is the basis and foundation for us as we seek to love others like this? How is that we can love? How can we know the kind of genuine love that we need to have? Well, we saw this kind of love already described in Romans. Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love, his love in Christ, is the basis and foundation for our love. This is of course what other Scripture tells us. I’m thinking now of 1 John 4:19. “We love Him [God], because he first loved us. That passage goes on to say in 1 John 4 that our ability to love God means we must have first loved our brothers. And so that means that all of our ability to love lies in this fact: that God has first loved us. And how has God loved us? Well, besides the most common reason of him making us, is the more particular reason. That he saved us in Christ. As we just quoted from Romans that he sent Christ to die for us. This is love. This is the love Christians have experienced.
And so just think of how we see the kind of love described here in Romans demonstrated by God in Christ. We said we need to have genuine love. Well, this kind of divine love was of course genuine and sincere. It was a love promised by God long ago through the prophets. God spoke of it and he acted upon it. God who is without hypocrisy, is not like a man that he would lie. And so he promised such saving love, and he fulfilled it. Thus God sent the Christ.
We said we should have love for God. Well, this Christ sent by the father, lived out this love for God. Christ showed love for the Father according to John 14:31. This love for the Father was expressed by Jesus in different ways; expressed in Jesus’ zeal for God and for serving God. Such love in zeal was seen when Jesus cleansed the temple. Such love in zeal was especially seen when he obeyed the Father by going to the cross.
Of course, why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Because God rightly loved the good and abhorred the evil. That meant he abhorred the sin we had committed. That meant he loved justice and had to see its demands fulfilled. God couldn’t keep his promise of saving love apart from the cross. Apart from expressing his hatred for evil via his wrath poured out upon Christ for the cross. Apart from showing his love for righteousness even in his affirmation of Jesus and his righteousness. For the Father declared, this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. And after Jesus suffered the full penalty of our sin in our place, surely it was God’s love of righteousness that stayed his wrath and rose Jesus up from the dead. And so, God loved the good and hated the evil, and we see that even through Christ in his life, death, and resurrection.
We said that we are to especially love the saints. Is that not the case with God’s love in Jesus? That his love in sending Jesus particularly is love that’s directed toward the redeemed saints? And we said that we are to love strangers. Isn’t that the love of Christ for us in redeeming us? That we were once far off, strangers and aliens from God’s household, but now we have been loved so much that we are no longer strangers but adopted into God’s house, Ephesians 2:19. And we said that we are to love enemies. Jesus of course said this is what God does every time he allows the rain and shine to benefit even the evil and the unjust, Matthew 5:45. And this is what is emphasized in Romans 5:10, after talking about how God showed us love in Christ, it says that this was done while we were yet enemies! When we were still enemies, God reconciled us to himself by the death of his son!
This then is the love of God for us. This is the love we have experienced already in Christ, if you are in Christ. This is the sort of love then that God commands us to have here in Romans 12. He has not commanded us anything for which he has not already shown to us. We indeed can love because he first loved us. We have tasted of this love God would have us to show others. And so if you have experienced this love yourself, be encouraged that by the Spirit of God, you can begin to show this love to others. On the other hand today, if you are sitting there today and have not really known this love from God, this is the priority. Don’t think that you can really love the way described here, if you haven’t tasted of God’s love first. Experience it today by turning to faith in Christ. Repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. Trust in the forgiveness and grace held out to you in the cross of Jesus Christ. Know the love of God through faith in Jesus. Then go and love as we see in this passage today.
Brothers and sisters, as we conclude our message for today, let’s pause and get real with one another. We’ve said lots of things that are very true and very important today. We’ve seen the kind of love we are called to have. We know that’s so right and good. We know it. And we know as Christians the truth of what we just said — that we can only really have this love if we’ve experienced God’s love ourselves. This is all so true. We know it to be true. And yet there is still one issue here. We know that our love can be hypocritical. We know our love can be insincere. Or related to this problem: we know that we can love the wrong things.
This is the struggle isn’t it? This is the battle we are a part of for now in this life. This is the struggle to put to death what is earthly in us. Those remaining lusts that want to cling to what is evil and to hate what is good. Those parts of us that would rather not be bothered with some people in our lives — it’s too much work. Too much work especially to help those saints in need. Too much trouble to love the lowly. Too much emotional strain to mourn with those who mourn. Too much time to rejoice in other people’s joys. Too much out of our comfort zone to love strangers. Too much of giving up my rights and what is owed to me if I love enemies who aren’t willing to be reconciled. Isn’t this the problem, brothers and sisters? We know we should love this way. We know it’s right. We sometimes do love this way. Maybe we even often love this way. But sometimes we don’t.
Actually, we probably do show love toward the right things most of the time, but just not always sincerely. Because we know we should love like this, we are really good at showing such love. Maybe others would look at you and think you are so good at loving. But maybe in your heart you know it’s not sincere; at least not to the degree you know it should be. You love outwardly, but inwardly feel put out. You love outwardly, but inwardly wish you didn’t have to love so much. Love can feel like a burden. What then do to if you find that you are able to outwardly love, but struggle at having your love be without hypocrisy?
My encouragement would be this: One, keep loving in word and action, even if your heart is not there. Obedience is still a good thing. And it’s amazing how God can change our hearts is we act the way our heart should feel. Two, repent afresh to God where you find hypocrisy in your love. That means you confess it as sin to God, mourn over it, and look to bend your heart toward genuine love. Three, pray for God who change hearts to heal you heart. Say “Lord, I love, help my unlove!” Yes, this is something we’ll not find perfected until the day of Christ. But that ought never to be an excuse for not seeking it. In fact, it seems this is the whole idea. God could have just perfected us in love the day we became a Christian. Instead he calls us to seek after righteousness. There is a beauty and blessing in the struggle. For you struggle not alone, but with Christ and the strength of his Spirit.
And so brothers and sisters, don’t pretend to yourself that you don’t struggle with sincerity of love. That’s just another kind of hypocrisy where you are trying to deceive yourself! Rather, acknowledge that you are a work in progress, and seek out this item that is so central, so fundamental, so foundation, to our Christian life. Love. True love. Wonderful love for God and others. Love God has first shown us through Christ. Love God is cultivating is us. Praise God! Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.