We throw the term “love” around a lot. “I love pizza!” “What do I think of that one ride at Six Flags? Oh, I just love it!” Even Christians at times, with a greater understanding of what biblical love actually is, can still use the term loosely in a manner not quite fitting its definition. For example, is it the case that we can sing “Oh, how I love Jesus” on Sunday morning while barely giving the Lord a thought during the next six days? Is it true that we tell a brother or sister that we love them on a Sunday in the church building, but the following week when they’re laid up in the hospital we don’t even think to visit them (cf. Matt. 25:31-46)? In such cases, is the love we expressed for Jesus or our brethren genuine?
Paul wrote to the Roman saints, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (Rom. 12:9a, NKJV, NASB). The English Standard Version puts it this way: “Let love be genuine.” The Greek term for “love” is agape, meaning “affection, good will, love, or benevolence” (Thayer), “the highest form of love, charity” (Liddell & Scott). I’ve heard one preacher describe it as “active good will towards men.” My own father, also a minister, taught me when I was a child that agape love was the mindset that says, “I WILL to love you,” i.e., I choose to love you…even when you are unlovable. Agape love is the inherent definition of everything about God’s character (1 John 4:7-8). It is explicitly defined in no small detail both by doctrine (1 Cor. 13:4-7) and example (1 John 4:10-11; John 3:16).
The Greek term for “without hypocrisy” or “genuine” is anypokritos, “unfeigned, undisguised” (Thayer). Paul and Peter would use this term again while describing the kind of love and faith Christians must have (2 Cor. 6:6; 1 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:22). James would use the term as an attribute of the wisdom that comes from above (James 3:17). This trait of genuineness, like the agape love with which it is joined, points back to the character of God towards which we all must strive to grow. God is love (1 John 4:7-8), but God is also truth (John 14:6; 16;13; 17:17). Truth and hypocrisy are incompatible.
Paul then commands, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Rom. 12:9b). It is appropriate that this charge is given immediately after the command for our love to be genuine. After all, how can our love for God be sincere and unfeigned if we speak of loving God in church on Sunday morning while tolerating evil, participating in it, and even defending our doing so throughout the rest of the week? Is our professed love for God real if we barely open our Bibles throughout the week for study and meditation, which would be the very antithesis of holding fast to what is good? If we see our brethren “caught in any transgression,” do we try to “restore him in a spirit of gentleness” or instead dismiss his behavior with a “Well, that’s just how he is” attitude (Gal. 6:1)? Worse yet, do we decide to gossip about him to others instead of lovingly exhorting him to repent? How we react to evil and how we strive to attain good, both in our own lives and in our relationships with our fellow Christians, shows whether our professed love is real.
We are then commanded, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). The church is described in Scripture as a family…God’s family (1 Tim. 3:15; 5:1; Mk. 10:30). The Greek term for “brotherly affection” is philadelphia, which is why the city in Pennsylvania bearing that name is called “the city of brotherly love.” Is our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ genuine enough so that we sincerely want to know each and every one of them…or only the ones in our special clique? Do we make an effort to know and care for all the members of our congregation in a manner similar to how we would with our own biological families? Concerning honoring each other, do we consciously have the mindset that would “prefer one another” (KJV) over ourselves on occasions when honor was being bestowed upon us? Or would we be more like Haman, both assuming and demanding that honor be given to us above all others (Est. 6:1-13; 3:1-6; 5:9-14)? Genuine love would motivate us to care more about showing honor to others instead of receiving it ourselves. Having a “Ask not what the church can do for me, but what I can do for the church” attitude is a sign of sincere love.
Finally, note Paul’s exhortation: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). Has our original love for Christ which had motivated our conversion grown cold (Rev. 2:4-5)? Have we lost our passion for Bible study, prayer, good works, and sharing the gospel? Or are we still “fervent in spirit” concerning how we “serve the Lord” in these areas? If we find that our Christianity is nothing more than “going through the motions” on Sundays in a church building, with not much thought given to God and his cause at other times, then we must wake up and recognize that our love is far from genuine and God knows it! Such insincerity will cost us our souls.