The following is an excerpt from "The Brown Book," my personal devotional journal, dated Sept. 17, 2015.
Let love be genuine. (Romans 12:9a)
As opposed to what? Disingenuous? Feigned? Faked? Counterfeited?
There are many tings that pass for love in our world that are not real. They are superficial. They are counterfeits. They look like love at first glance but, when you get beneath the surface, they have little to do with real love the way Jesus describes it:
- Laying down your own life so that another can live his or hers. Not just physical death, but the far greater challenge of daily dying to our own wants, desires, and wills so that our families flourish, our neighbors flourish, those in need whom God brings across our radar may flourish. In our own wills, we may manage to muster a level of compassion and generosity but genuine love pushes past temporary feelings of altruism to become an ongoing state of being, the perpetual death of our wills for God’s and for those whom He loves. Paul called it a “living sacrifice” just a few verses earlier (Romans 12:1).
- Loving our enemies. Real love doesn’t reserve itself only for those who love us back. It pushes past the natural borders of comfort and even common sense. If I am to follow Christ, that means that once someone has made himself my enemy, he has become a target for intentional love and blessing. This absolutely requires the Holy Spirit. Some days I don’t even like my friends, much less love my enemies.
- Loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus defined the word “neighbor” for us in the parable of the Good Samaritan, just in case there was any confusion or in the unlikely case we would attempt to rationalize away our responsibility to love genuinely when it cost us something. That was the whole reason He even told the parable, to answer the rationale disguised as a question, “Who is my neighbor?” Apparently Jesus thinks of our neighbor as anyone who comes across our path, regardless of race, religion, social status, sexual orientation, or any other reason we might make an excuse to move on down the road and ignore their need. This means allowing God to interrupt our tightly packed schedules of busyness. It means going out of our way to help when it’s not on the way to where we are going in such a hurry. It means getting involved in a messy situation we’d rather stay out of. It might mean risking our own safety to rescue someone from a dangerous situation. We will almost definitely be misunderstood and criticized by someone. Maybe even by everyone. But certainly by someone who means well and is likely very religious.
Another great picture of loving a neighbor is the cross of Christ. Who gave up more to go out of His way to get involved in a mess that wasn’t His own in order to rescue someone else at the risk of being maligned and hated for it?
What we call love today is a pitiful, limping, wimpy counterfeit. We think that because we tolerate and validate every foolish life choice anyone makes without speaking up and telling the truth that we are being “loving.” Sometimes loving genuinely means speaking out when everyone else would rather you keep quiet. Love may require us to go against the flow and risk the hatred of everyone else around us. Genuine love is risky these days....
- We tolerate abortion because we don’t want to seem “unloving” to women or disrespectful of their rights. But who is loving the unborn? Who is defending their rights?
- We support gay marriage because, we are told, it’s the “loving” thing to do. After all, shouldn’t everyone be free to love whoever they want? But what about when scripture is clear that those who choose that life will not enter the kingdom of God? What about the part where it says that those who are not part of God’s Kingdom will suffer His wrath on the earth and separation from Him for all eternity? If that's true -- even remotely -- how is it “loving” to stand silently by and even affirm their choice to expose themselves to that fate? How badly would I have to hate someone to let them launch out into eternity on that trajectory without saying a word?
- We remain silent about the gospel because respecting other people’s beliefs (or unbeliefs) is the “loving” thing to do. Respect, yes. Silence, no. Jesus demands our witness in the public square. We are His chosen vehicle to bring the gospel of the Kingdom to this world. How dare we care more about offending other people than offending our Savior? How is that love? Love for God – whole-hearted, soul-captivating love – is the first and great commandment. That means if the world we live in forces us to choose our loyalties, then we choose Jesus. Every time. Without exception. And we express that to the people around us with real love – not that cheap, fake stuff the rest of the world sings about, makes movies and TV shows about, or glamorizes on Facebook.
When I read this yesterday, the image that came to my mind was of those big, chocolate Easter bunnies I used to get as a kid. It looked amazing – all big and chocolaty, with the candy eyes and the candy bowtie. But when you bit into it, you quickly discovered that it’s hollow. Just a paper-thin shell with chocolate flavored air inside. If you melted the whole thing down, it would barely make a decent-sized candy bar. The solid milk chocolate bunnies are harder to come by: rare and therefore more costly. But imminently more satisfying.
When I read, “Let love be genuine,” I think, Be the solid bunny, not the hollow one. Be the one whose love goes all the way through, to the deepest places where it’s needed most. Don’t be the one that looks great at a glance, but is really hollow and superficial.
God, help me to love genuinely today, in Jesus’ name!