Sincere Love

Dr. Brian Allison

Many people like a good love story. Last night, I was flipping around the television channels and came across the movie called "Romeo and Juliet." This William Shakespeare play concerns the tragedy of two star-crossed lovers. The scene that I caught was that of Juliet standing on the balcony at night, while Romeo was slipping away from her through the court yard. Suddenly, and anxiously, Juliet called out, "Romeo!" Romeo immediately turned around and hastened back to the balcony to receive her message. She amusingly said, "I have forgotten why I have called you." Then they engaged in further romantic dialogue.

This past Friday I had the opportunity to attend the musical production of 'Phantom of the Opera.' The story concerns a mysterious, disfigured music-lover who skulks through the opera, masterminding the career of the beautiful protégé, Christine Dai. One of the moving parts of the musical is when Christine kisses the disfigured face of the Phantom.

A love story attracts an audience. Another favourite love story is the 'Princess Bride' – the story of true love. Buttercup, the fair maid, and Wesley, the courageous swashbuckler, enjoy the depths of true love; and a theme that runs through the movie is that true love can never be destroyed, broken, or lost.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) and Robert Browning (1812-1889) apparently experienced true love. She wrote the moving and memorable poem, "How Do I Love Thee?" It reads:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of every day's

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love freely, as men strive for Right,

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Christians should have sincere love

Indisputably, love is the greatest of Christian virtues. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) has said that love is the law of the Christian religion. Now there are different kinds of love: romantic love (as referred to above), parental love (which protects and provides for), friendship love (which unites and supports), pastoral love (which ministers to and cares for), etc. The particular love which will be the topic of focus for us is 'Christian love.'

Romans 12 sets forth the practical aspects of the Christian faith. Commencing with verse 9, Christian directives for Christian conduct are presented. Romans 12:9ff. parallels 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 – the love passage. The subject matter of Romans 12:9ff. is love described. Our concentration here will be Romans 12:9. It reads, "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good." First, Christian love should be sincere or genuine – "Let love be without hypocrisy." Now the implication is that love may be feigned, pretended, or faked. We can put on the appearance that we love, and yet, at heart, we do not really love. True Christian love is void of deceit and facade. Robert Haldane (1764-1842), commenting on this verse, writes, "There seems to be here an indirect allusion to those hollow pretensions of love so generally manifested in society." Many women 'fall in love' with men who are wealthy, have status, have prominence, or will provide security for them. Men 'fall in love' with women who are sexy and attractive. Superficial, empty love!

We freely use the language, "I love you," but do we utter such words sincerely? How many times have you said this to someone? Did you really mean it? Haldane further remarks, "Christians ought to be careful that, while they use to each other the endearing language of brethren, they feel the sentiments and perform the actions which this language imparts." Do you have a sincere or genuine love for the brethren, or do you give the false impression of being very nice and friendly; though deep down inside your teeth are grinding and your nostrils are snorting, and if you could, you would devour? Be honest. We can be great pretenders. Let us not be hypocrites. Let us love meaningfully. Do not simply go through the motions because you want to receive praise or recognition, or because you want to make someone think that you are a good Christian. A good Christian does not put on a facade; a good Christian does not deceive and pretend. Deception is not of God, but sincerity is.

Sincere love involves a right attitude

What does sincere love consist of? – "Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good." Sincere love involves a right attitude and requires right action. First, sincere love involves a right attitude – "Abhor what is evil." This term 'evil,' as John Calvin (1509-1564) has rightly said, means the malicious injustice which does injury to people. So when the apostle Paul instructs us to abhor, hate, or despise what is evil, he means that our attitude toward others ought never to be one of desiring harm or damage to them. We ought to "despise in our thinking what is evil." We ought never to imagine, plan, or hope for another person's downfall or hurt.

It is possible to feign love, and yet harbour hatred deep down inside. A number of years ago, I taught at a Bible College. All the students seemed interested and attentive. One student, in particular, seemed to be quite supportive of me. After class, he would come up to the front, and we would engage in discussion. I thought we had a good relationship, but at the end of the semester when I handed out the teacher evaluation forms, I received back a negative one. Guess whose? That student whom I thought 'loved' and appreciated me. So you may feign love, yet deep down inside you may actually harbour hatred. The Scriptures teach, "He who hates disguises it with his lips, but he lays up deceit in his heart " (Pr. 26:24). Someone may pour compliments on you; he or she may flatter you. But if the truth were known, that person may really despise you. With sincere love, what one speaks, truly reflects what one feels.

If you have a bad heart, you will have bad fruit, but if you have a good heart, a pure heart, then you will have good fruit. A sincere love springs from a good heart. Jesus says, "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slander" (Mt. 18,19). So, practically speaking, you ought never to entertain a bad or nasty thought of another. When that unkind thought comes, or when that hateful feeling comes, or when that hostile attitude comes, you have a responsibility to despise and reject it; rather than entertain it, allowing it to foment and fester. This is what it means to 'abhor evil' – we need to slay it before it slays us. We need to take that thought captive immediately before it takes us captive. How is your thinking? How do you really think toward others? Is there someone that you have a negative attitude toward? Have you been feeding it, and deriving some kind of perverted pleasure from it? Is it time for confession and repentance?

This past week I phoned someone and heard the outgoing message on her answering machine. I found the message quite edifying, quite a blessing. This person recorded the following message for her callers, "Please, leave your message at the tone of the beep, but before it comes, here is a little something for you to think about, 'Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things" (Php. 4:8). This verse captures the essence of the point I am trying to make.

Sincere love requires right action

Second, sincere love requires a right action – "cling to what is good." As mentioned, we should not harbour secret hatred, but we should think well of others; and with that attitude, we will bring forth right action. Attitude precedes action. If we really want the best for others, then we will be better prepared to do the best for them. If you have your thinking right, you will then get your behaviour right.

That word 'cling' is an interesting word. When Jesus confronts the Pharisees on the whole matter of divorce, recorded in Matthew 19, we read that the Pharisees sought to test Jesus; so they posed this question to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" Jesus replied, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE ['cleave' is the same word that is translated elsewhere as 'cling']; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (vss. 3-6). 1 Corinthians 6:16 reads, "Or do you not know that the one who joins [same word] himself to a harlot is one body with her."

Thus, 'cling to what is good' means to make goodness a natural extension of you. Let it become one with you so that it defines your character, and thus determines your actions and behaviour. We are to be addicted to performing kindness to our fellow persons – if one is ill, we do good by visiting him in order to encourage and uplift; if one is struggling financially, we do good by giving money to her; if one is destitute, and has no shelter or clothing, we do good by providing for his physical needs; if one is discouraged or depressed, we do good by responding to her with support and comfort. We ought to be addicted to doing good. In other words, we ought to endeavour to make someone else's life just a bit more manageable, just a bit better, just a bit less burdensome than it already is. Are you doing that? Are you addicted to doing good, sold out to making your fellow person's life just a bit better, a bit less burdensome? C. D. Meigs writes,

Lord, help me to live from day to day

In such a self-forgetful way

That even when I kneel to pray

My prayers will be for others.

Help me in all the work I do

To ever be sincere and true

And know that all I do for You

Must needs be done for others.

Let "self" be crucified and slain

And buried deep; and all in vain

May efforts be to rise again

Unless to live for others.

And when my work on earth is done,

And my new work in heaven's begun,

May I forget the crown I've won

While thinking still of others

Others, Lord, yes others!

Let this my motto be,

Help me to live for others,

That I may live like Thee.

My last word is to my unbelieving friend. I have a special word for you concerning love. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:16). Friend, won't you accept that love today? God loves sinners and has demonstrated that love by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world in order to die for sinners; and the saving benefits of that love are yours if you will have them. Won't you receive God's love now?