We live in a time of division, a time of hostility, and a time of uncertainty. Our country is more polarized than ever. Whether your presidential candidate was selected or not, there is a division that has been created between you and someone else because of your political opinions and convictions. Politics, though necessary, aren’t always super helpful as the end result is more often than not division.
Those of you who use social media know we saw the best of people and the worst of people as people expressed themselves during these past few months. One thing I did observe which I hope we can capitalize on, however, is a whole lot of passion. People are passionate about this country. For those of us here this morning that are in Christ, no matter what party you are registered with, there is one party you must register with and that is the LOVE PARTY.
Jesus spent an awful lot of time talking about love and His campaign slogan was this one, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37) Jesus was running on a love platform. In fact, the greatest verse in the Bible, the verse which describes the mission of Jesus, the hope in God’s heart for the whole world, elevated the love platform: “For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
I want us to look at a passage on love that describes what sincere love looks like. If this country is going to come together, love must lead the way.
Please stand as we read God’s Word.
Romans 12:9-18 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Sincere love embraces goodness. “Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.” “Hate” and “cling” are pretty strong words. Paul didn’t just say, “Choose between good and evil,” but there is intensity, there is a resolve, there is a passion with which we are to love the things that are good while we passionately hate evil.
You can do good, but not love it. Paul says we must go beyond going through the motions. We must embrace and LOVE what is good. Sincere love is about cultivating a love for goodness.
There are attitudes, activities, and actions that will produce good results in a person’s life and attitudes, activities, and actions that will bring about evil results in a person’s life. What we love will determine what is produced in our lives.
How is it possible that a person could “love” good or “love evil?” If we don’t hate evil is there is a possibility that we could love it? What moves your heart? What are you emotionally pulled towards? What moves you is that which will take you on a course toward good or evil.
Before I move on let me say that good is not what we determine to be good, but it is what God declares to be good. Evil is not that which we pronounce evil, but that which God says is evil. In other words, good and evil aren’t subjective. What is good is always good and what is evil is always evil. Good and evil don’t change with the times. Good and evil can never be redefined by culture because they have been permanently defined by God.
However, knowing what is good and knowing what is evil and loving what is good come and hating what is evil comes not from learning to be kind in kindergarten. It comes not from “following your heart.” It comes not from being involved in a team sport. It comes not from higher education or reading more “Best Sellers.” Knowing the difference between good and evil and being able to love what is good and hate what is evil is only the result of being in an ongoing and growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
One of the last things to be crucified in the life of a Christian is his or her emotions. When you can seek God’s will in the midst of disappointment, when you can rejoice in the Lord in the midst of hurt, anger, sickness, or frustration, when you can testify to God’s goodness even when the vote or the promotion doesn’t go your way, you know that your heart truly belongs to the Lord.
Salvation saves us from our sin. Sanctification saves us from ourselves. Without the sanctification process (which is the transformation by the Holy Spirit) we will fail miserably to love sincerely. We will choose what feels good or sounds good because we believe it will be good for us. We may be able to make some accurate decisions about what is good and what is evil just from reading the Bible or hearing sermons as God’s Word is the authority on good and evil, but we won’t be able to successfully CHOOSE to love the good and CHOOSE to hate the evil apart from a work of God’s Spirit.
We’re told in Ezekiel 36:26 that the reason the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, the third person of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) the reason the Holy Spirit would come into our lives would be to transform our emotions, to change our desires, to give us a heart for the things of God which are the things that are good. It says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” We will never sincerely love good things and hate bad things until the Holy Spirit gets a hold of our “hearts of stone” and gives us a “heart of flesh.”
You can know what is good in a certain situation, but unless you have “embraced” what is good by loving God’s ways as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit, you won’t choose it. You can know what is evil in a certain situation, but unless you have decided to sincerely hate it because the Spirit has moved you to hate what God hates, you won’t stay away from it and you won’t stand against it when given the opportunity.
The link between sincere love and a love for good and abhorrence for hate is unmistakable. Sometimes the loving thing is to hate evil. Did I really just say that? Did I really say sincere love must have a hate component? Yep. Evil dishonors God and it hurts people. So hating evil is an aspect of love that God’s people must be about if we are going to love sincerely.
Before we take that idea to the extreme, however, let me point out that it is evil, not people, that we are to hate.
Sincere love embraces people. Romans 12:8-18 is littered with ways we are to love others, and the kind of love we are talking about is an “in spite” of kind of love.
Revisit verse 14-“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” And verse 17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” When you are mistreated on purpose, choose love. We all get stepped on once in a while just because someone was having a bad day, someone was in a hurry, someone was distracted or someone wasn’t feeling well themselves. That kind of stuff we ought to be in a hurry to overlook and just regularly let roll off of us. We ought to be sheep whose wool is not easily ruffled. J
But we should be so motivated and moved by the Spirit of God that even when people do something on purpose to us because they want to hurt us in some way, that even in those cases, we choose love. When you can do that, you know your heart belongs to God!
Listen to this true story. Rabbi Michael Weisser lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. And for more than 3 years, Larry Trapp, a self-proclaimed Nazi and Ku Klux Klansman, directed a torrent of hate-filled mailings and phone calls toward him.
Trapp promoted white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and other messages of prejudice, declaring his apartment the KKK state headquarters and himself the grand dragon. His whole purpose in life seemed to be to spew out hate-ridden racial slurs and obscene remarks against Weisser and all those like him.
At first, the Weissers were so afraid they locked their doors and worried themselves almost sick over the safety of their family. But one day Rabbi Weisser found out that Trapp was a 42-year-old clinically blind, double amputee. And he became convinced that Trapp’s own physical helplessness was a source of the bitterness he expressed.
So Rabbi Weisser decided to do the unexpected. He left a message on Trapp’s answering machine, telling him of another side of life…a life free of hatred and racism.
Rabbi Weisser said, “I probably called 10 times and left messages before he finally picked up the phone and asked me why I was harassing him. I said that I’d like to help him. I offered him a ride to the grocery store or to the mall.”
Trapp was stunned. Disarmed by the kindness and courtesy, he started thinking. He later admitted, through tears, that he heard in the rabbi’s voice, “something I hadn’t experienced in years. It was love.”
Slowly the bitter man began to soften. One night he called the Weissers and said he wanted out, but didn’t know how. They grabbed a bucket of fried chicken and took him dinner. Before long they made a trade: in return for their love he gave them his swastika rings, hate tracts, and Klan robes.
That same day Trapp gave up his Ku Klux Klan recruiting job and dumped the rest of his propaganda in the trash. “They showed me so much love that I couldn’t help but love them back,” he finally confessed.
Folks, if that could happen in Lincoln, Nebraska, what could happen here in our community, in our neighborhoods, if we truly began to live lives that showed the love of Jesus to those around us? (http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/searchresults.asp?keyword=romans 12)
Look at verse 16, “Live in harmony with one another.” Loving sincerely means I will love you whether we agree about a Presidential candidate or not. It means that even if you are wrong on a matter, I will choose to love you and if I am wrong on a matter you will choose to love me. (Many matters often wind up not even mattering anyway! J)
I am not talking about compromise. I am not talking about living without convictions, but I am trying to convey that we can express love through a respect for others who disagree with us. Verse 18 highlights our responsibility: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If there is going to be discord it won’t be because we aren’t trying. It won’t be because we are disrespectful, and it won’t be because we aren’t willing to love. It won’t always be possible to live in harmony with some people because some people aren’t going to choose to love sincerely. Loving sincerely would take care of every argument known to humankind! It’s not always up to us, but it is up to us to never quit trying to love.
Verse 15 gives us practical ways to embrace people with love. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” You have influence, you have power, and you have life-changing potential when you speak words of life over people when they have achieved a victory or experienced some kind of success. Your words of celebration and congratulations will go farther than you can imagine because they will communicate worth value to the people you are rejoicing with. Worth and value=love! People may not remember the words you speak, but they will remember how you made them feel.
The same is true for those who are weeping, for those who are discouraged. When you speak words of hope and encouragement and let people know you are praying for them, you dispel their loneliness, you give them energy, you provide comfort on the inside of their souls. They may not remember the words you speak, but they will remember how you made them feel. They will remember that they felt loved and not forgotten.
The end of verse 16 says, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Sincere love isn’t selective! All people are embraced. All races are embraced. All ages are embraced. All genders are embraced. All people of all social classes are embraced. All people of all backgrounds and educational levels are embraced. Special needs people are embraced. Broken-hearted people are embraced. Tattooed people are embraced. Pierced people are embraced. Hyper people are embraced. Airheads are embraced. J People who are living in sin are embraced. Why? Because love promotes healing. Love compels transformation. Love leads people to Jesus who can encourage them or strengthen them or forgive them. The way to get people to Jesus is to love them. As 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Your sincere love could absolutely lead to someone’s salvation! Sincere love doesn’t reject people because of their behavior, but embraces them in spite of it.
Sincere love embraces service. Verse 10 and 11 say, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Look back at verse 13 as well, “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
You may get tired of hearing me say it, but you must not get tired of doing it. The life of a disciple which is a life of love involves daily service. Jesus served people every day. He showed the Father’s love by serving them. It ought to be the aim of every Christian to serve someone every day. It might mean doing some act of service for someone in your family or for someone at school or for your boss or stranger, but it ought to be a daily preoccupation of every Christian to serve people.
Serving involves sharing. Every one of us has stuff we don’t use and don’t need. Why not make a list of everything you don’t use and start praying that God will lead you to someone you can bless with your stuff? Get on Facebook and let someone know that you have 3 can openers and you only need one. You will be amazed and who will take you up on your offer!
Larry and Tami Evans and their family have recently gotten involved with a weekly ministry in Huntington that feeds the homeless. They go every Saturday morning and give out food and supplies like blankets and tents to over 100 people under a bridge across from Red Lobster. The ministry also shares the Word of God with these people who need any hope they can find. Perhaps you have tarps and tents and blankets and flashlights and canned goods you could spare for Larry and Tammy to take with them. There is no shortage of ways you could serve.
I heard the Teays Valley Strings play this week at our Rotary meeting. They were cute kids with violins and cellos who are participating in a string program here in Putnam County that is led by a man who volunteers his time four days a week to teach kids how to play stringed instruments here in Putnam County at their schools! I was moved by his generosity. The preoccupation of his week is in service to children. The kids not only take lessons for free, but their instruments are donated for their use as well. I didn’t have a violin or cello to donate, but I put on Facebook that there was a need and one of our church members brought a violin in. Another church member saw a post about a friend in need of a refrigerator and contacted me to say she had one the person could have.
Don’t you think that is an example of what verse 10 means when it says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love?” Paul says in chapter 13:8, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” Paul says we are to constantly see loving others as a debt to continue to be paid. We never pay down the debt to love others. It is an ongoing pursuit. Don’t wait for the church to create an opportunity for you to serve. Make it your daily aim.
Sincere love embraces faith. Love and faith cannot be separated. Ephesians 5:2 tells us we are to walk in love. II Corinthians 5:7 tells us we are to walk in faith. The way of love is the foundation for our faith. Faith is the expression of love’s desires. Paul says in I Corinthians 12 that “Love is the most excellent way.” It is the road upon which we walk out our life of faith.
Romans 12:12-“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.” It takes great faith to live in a state of hope. It takes great faith to be patient in affliction. It takes great faith to be faithful in prayer. And each one is an expression of our desire to love God’s will, to love God’s way and to wait on God’s timing. This is where that Holy Spirit ability to cling to what is good in every circumstance comes into play.
The bottom line is we can love the way we are supposed to in all circumstances when we trust God in all things.
Hope believes contentment isn’t tied to circumstances. Patience believes God’s way is always perfect, and faithfulness in prayer is the result of believing that God is always working on our behalf.
Think of it this way: Love is the course, hope sees the finish line, patience is the speed, and faithfulness in prayer is what will ensure forward progress.
When Romans 12 opens it opens with a challenge to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. It is very interesting that the chapter includes a whole section on sincere love. We can’t be sincere sacrifices without sincere love, and you can’t love without sacrifice. It will cost you something to sincerely love God and others. Romans 12:2 goes on to say that we shouldn’t conform to the pattern of this world. This world’s pattern isn’t the way of love. We live in a very self-centered society.
A Sunday School teacher, after reading the story of the Good Samaritan, asked her class what they learned. One little boy piped up and said, “I have learned that whenever I get into trouble someone should help me out.” (http://www.sermoncentral.com/print_friendly.asp?ContributorID=&SermonID=43284_
Most people look out for number one. Sincere love requires extending ourselves to meet the needs of others. A sincere love can only come from a surrendered life. Have you surrendered your life fully to the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you devoted to loving that which is good and hating that which is evil? Are you looking for ways to embrace people? Difficult people, hurting people, and people who are different from you? Is love the anchor for your faith and the path you are trying to walk on? Will you join me this morning in pursuing a sincere love?