Sincere love. 12:9-21
In our passage for study, Paul continues to examine the practical application of the doctrine of justification. Because of "God's mercy", because of his sovereign grace toward us in Christ, Paul urges his readers to be the people they are in Christ. In general terms, he speaks of love in action.
v9. First, Paul lists a number of general exhortations: We are to love our brothers and sisters in the sense of show compassion toward them. Such love must be genuine and not deceitful. We are to oppose what is morally wrong and support what is morally good.
v10. We are to show affectionate kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly when they are in need. We must always remember, a kindness to a brother is a kindness to Christ.
v11. We are to be dedicated toward God, bubbling over with enthusiasm toward the Holy Spirit and devoted in service to our Lord.
v12. With a view to eternity, be joyful; in persecution, be patient; in prayer, be constant.
v13. We must be generous in our dealings with our fellow believers, and offer practical care and hospitality when needed.
v14. As the master instructed us, let us bless our persecutors, cf., Matt.5:44, Lk.6:27.
v15. Let us stand with those around us in their times of trouble. These words may refer to empathy within the Christian fellowship, but there is no reason why they can't apply to the world at large.
v16. When Paul encourages us to "live in harmony with one another" he probably means "agree together, one with another"; "be of the same mind." This exhortation calls on believers to work at unity in the brotherhood, but also possibly encourages a wider sense of community. Paul also denounces snobbery, encouraging us to be willing to associate with people from a lower social stratum. Also, he makes the point that it is dangerous to think too highly of our intellectual ability. "I think and therefore it is true" (rather than "I think and therefore I am"), is a disastrous assumption.
v17. Do not return evil for evil. This exhortation on vengeance is oft repeated in the Bible, even by Jesus, cf., Matt.5:38f, Lk.6:29, 35. Paul goes on to encourage right behavior; "let your aims be such as all men count honorable", NEB.
v18. Where possible, be peaceably disposed toward everybody.
v19. Retaliation, in the face of hurt and offence, is a natural response. Paul affirms the standard Biblical line, leave the matter in God's hands.
v20. Proverbs 25:21-22a calls for a positive response to a hurt that may prompt repentance in the sight of God. Yet, we need to remember that a kindness to an enemy does not inevitably make them a friend; it often makes them a greater enemy.
v21. We overcome evil with good when we respond to a hurt in love rather than vindictiveness. In so doing we defeat evil, as Christ defeated evil on the cross.
Let love be sincere
The apostle begins his exhortation on practical ethics with the words "love must be sincere." Calvin says of this verse, "it is difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are in counterfeiting a love which they do not really possess. They deceive not only others, but also themselves, while they persuade themselves that they have a true love for those whom they not only treat with neglect, but also in fact reject."
Any exhortation on personal morality must focus on the heart. It's one thing practicing "brotherly love", "sharing with God's people", "practicing hospitality", not taking "revenge", etc.... but what of the condition of the heart? Paul says, "love must be sincere." When it comes to Christian ethics, the deed cannot be separated from the motive. In ancient Rome the motive was reciprocal - do unto others so that they will do it unto you. In Christian ethics it is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The deed of love has worth in itself when it is free from the need of reward.
Of course, Calvin addresses an even deeper level of corruption when he speaks of deeds of love done to veil a heartfelt hate. When we want the acceptance of others, or even the acceptance of God, we are easily tempted to unknowingly veil our hate (our dislike, disdain....) in deeds of love. Release from this soul-destroying condition is actually quite simple. God's acceptance is freely ours in Jesus. When we hold onto Jesus we are 100% accepted in God's sight. If we can accept ourselves as God accepts us, we will not be very worried about the acceptance of others. We are then free from the need to veil our less presentable motives.
Perfection is beyond all of us, but sincerity is attainable. Let us simple take on the mind of Christ by looking to his renewing Spirit.
Identify the causes of hypocrisy.
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