In a book that I like to refer to, namely the Bible, we find, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good”(Romans 12:9). Easy to read but so difficult to put into practice. Just HOW do we – those of us who profess a commitment to Christ, who have been transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2)– just HOW do we love? How do we love those in the church, and how do we love those in the world?
It seems evident to me that, when Paul wrote these words, he had Facebook in mind. Had he logged into his account in our present time, he would have seen, as I do, no end to public vitriol. Many divisions have formed, each side claiming to be good while the other side is evil. Most of this vitriol, I feel, is born of fear, as in the days when mobs were stirred up against Paul and Barnabus in Iconium (Acts 14:2), and in Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:19)to name a few. We think of Stephen as well.
Do you think this is what Paul was talking about: to love some people and hate other people? Can you love those in the Church and hate those in the world? By no means! You cannot love those in the Church UNLESS you can also love those in the world. The two loves complement each other.
How are we to love the Church and how are we to love the world? Paul says, “Let love be genuine.” The word for “love” here is “agape,” which to this point had been used in Romans only for divine love (5:5, 8:35, 39),but here the word indicates the kind of love that Christians (that’s you and me) are to show TO OTHERS. It’s a love that continues forward, even if rebuffed. We are called to live out the highest love and do so with the greatest sincerity.
We often deceive ourselves into thinking that we love others, but we not only neglect them, but we also, deep down, don’t even LIKE them. I might say, “I love everyone, even homeless people.” No I don’t. I judge them. Too many are able-bodied and ought to get a job. So I have a long way to go.
Paul tells us to go beyond pretense and sham and love sincerely. This isn’t just an optional menu item. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins”(1 Peter 4:8). “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”(1 Timothy 1:5). And let’s not forget John 13:35,“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
We ARE to honestly examine our hearts, asking ourselves, “Do I sincerely and without reservation, or bias, or prejudice love others?” It the answer is uncertain, then it is time to ask God in prayer to pour His love into our hearts through the workings of the Holy Spirit, as outlined by Romans 5:5, “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Paul now continues with, “Hate what is evil.” What I notice on Facebook today is that many people focus solely on hatred. So many posts are expressions of that hatred, which is born of fear.
When you focus only on the hate, you leave a lot of empty space where the love needs to be. Do you remember the story in Matthew 12:43-45about the impure spirit seeking rest? To me, this story demonstrates the progression that occurs when we focus only on our fear and hate. Our lives become fearful and depressed. Evil spirits have taken up residence with ourselves, and we lose the ability to find joy in life or even remain vital, functioning human beings. We barricade our houses against the perceived enemy, we amass the items needed for our survival because it’s only a matter of time before society falls apart.
We forget to trust God and Paul’s admonishment, “Cling to what is good.” In such a seemingly threatening world, remember to count your many blessings. There IS always good. Cling to it.