Jesus told His disciples in John 13:34-35 that “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” So in the church we are commanded to love one another, and we will be characterized by our love for one another.
Now Paul is talking to the church in this chapter, giving them practical exhortation on how to live out their salvation. And Paul is saying in this passage that a primary characteristics of the church will be their love for one another. Love is a primary component of this new life in Christ because even though our salvation is inherently spiritual, yet as indicated in vs 1, Paul tells us that the spiritual life will be manifested by our physical life.
For instance, in vs one if we are to offer spiritual service to God, we will do so by physically presenting our bodies to God as a living sacrifice in the assembly of believers, the church. He goes on to say that if we are being spiritually conformed to Christ then it will be manifested by a transformation in our thinking and in our actions. And our actions in the church are made possible by the spiritual gifts that God has given us so that we may serve the body of Christ, which is the church. So that our spiritual gifts result in physical benefits to the church.
But before Paul even talked about spiritual gifts in the church he spoke of the necessity for humility. If we are Christians, then we must be humble, because Christ was humble. In Phil. 2:5 we are told to have the same mind that Christ Jesus had, who although He was equal with God He did not hold onto that, but for our sakes He humbled Himself. And so Paul says back in vs 3 as a precursor to how we act and what we do in the church that we must not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. We should model our thinking after the humility of Christ so that what we do is truly for the benefit of others and not to benefit ourselves, either directly or indirectly.
So then in that context, Paul says in vs9, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” So as we exercise our gifts to the church, we do so without selfish motives, without insincerity, but because of sincere love for the brethren. A hypocrite, according to the meaning of the original Greek word, means an actor on a stage. It’s someone who does something to be seen of men, to win their applause. It’s an act for show. Paul says don’t let your love be for show. Don’t let your spiritual gifts which are given for service to the church be for show to bring attention to yourself but let it be from sincere love.
Now as I said last week and so many times before, love has come to meaning something in our modern society that’s almost totally different than what was intended in the scriptures. In Greek language there were three words that were primarily used to speak of love. In modern English, we use only one to cover every possible meaning. In the Greek there is eros, which means erotic love, phileo which means brotherly love, and agape which means sacrificial love. Paul is using here agape love, which is the type of love that Christ had for the church, and the type of love we are to have for one another. But in English we just have one word -love- which covers any of the various meanings.
But there is a word in archaic English for agape love, sacrificial love, and that is the word charity. If some of you are using the KJV this morning then you will notice that it says charity, rather than love. And I think that is a pretty good word for love, because charity emphasizes the recipient of love, a benevolent love for others. But irregardless of the word that is used, the point Paul is making is that Christian love must be free from pretension, free from selfish motives. It is a sacrificial love which is geared towards other’s needs, and not your own benefit.
I would also say that this type of love is not rooted in emotion, or sentimentality or feelings. We can and we must love regardless of whether or not we find the recipient attractive to us. Agape love is a commitment, not an emotional or sentimental response to attraction. Christian love is similar to the type of love that is sometimes expressed for our country. Sadly, this kind of love is quickly becoming something of the past. But irregardless, it’s a noble love, an honorable love which commands a willingness to serve, perhaps even a willingness to lay down your life in service to your country because you love your country. So this love which is spoken of here is on another level than that which we commonly associate with love based on attraction or feelings.
And Paul says that love must not be hypocritical. It must not be self serving or for show or to get people to notice how nice of a person you are or how spiritual your are but love must be genuinely concerned for others even to the expense of your own needs.
Now in the rest of this section then Paul will tell us what that kind of love looks like. And it’s interesting to notice that juxtaposed against this noble love, Paul says that the Christian must hate. That’s sounds antithetical to Christianity, doesn’t it? It makes sense that Christians should love, but they must also hate?
Yes, if you love, then the flip side of love is hate. Paul says in vs1, “Abhor what is evil.” Some of the most popular Bible translations use the word hate instead of abhor. They mean virtually the same thing. Hate what is evil. You know the Bible talks a lot about hate. The Apostle John says in his epistle, if you hate your brother you are guilty of murder. So what are we to make of this?
Well, notice that our text does not say we are to hate people, but to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. We are to hate sin. We aren’t to hate the sinner, but we hate the sin. Jude distinguishes it this way in Jude 1:22, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” So we are not told to hate the person who is sinful, but hate the sin because of it’s polluting, corrupting influence which destroys people.
Listen, hating sin is the key to overcoming addiction. And all sin is addictive, incidentally. You know, I love ice cream. So consequently I eat a big bowl of ice cream every night. I know that’s not healthy. I know that’s bad for me. But I can’t seem to give it up because by about 7:30 on a hot summer night, I just start thinking about this cold, creamy ice cream that is so satisfying and so delicious, and I don’t even think twice. I’ll quit tomorrow. But if I could see what ice cream was really doing to me and how bad it was for me to eat all that cream and sugar every night, then I would hate it. And though I can’t imagine hating ice cream, I can imagine hating dill pickles. I hate dill pickles. You couldn’t force me to eat dill pickles. So what I hate has no hold on me. What I hate cannot control me. But what I love does control me. And that’s the secret to overcoming our addiction to sin. When you start thinking according to the truth of God’s word as we were told in vs 2, when we start seeing sin as God sees it, when we see the pain and suffering that our sin cost Jesus, then we will begin to see the horror of sin, the deadliness of sin, and then we will hate sin, we will abhor sin, and sin will no longer have control of you.
But let’s not lose sight of the context here either. And the context is Christian love in the church. We are to love with a pure heart, but we are to hate sin, and love what is good. We hate the sin, but love the sinner. Now that gives us instruction as to how we are to deal with those whom we love, but who are living in sin. Who are practicing sin. We love the sinner, but we hate the sin. We hate even the garment polluted by the sin. So we cannot condone the sin. Because we love them we must expose the sin. We must call sin, sin. We cannot condone sin because we know that sin destroys, it kills, it pollutes, it corrupts. Sin is corrupting like cancer, a little sin soon metastasises and grows and eventually it completes destroys. A good doctor does not condone cancer or decide not to reveal his prognosis of cancer because he is afraid of losing your friendship. No, but because he cares for you he must expose the cancer and cut out the cancer if there is to be any hope for your future. And so our perspective should be a holy hatred of sin, Paul says, and on the flip side we must have a love of what is good. He says cling to what is good.
God’s word tells us His law is good. Righteousness is good. Holiness is good. Paul says in Phil. 4:8 “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, think on these things.” That reminds us of what Paul said was to be the result of a transformed mind back in vs 2. Not to be conformed to the sinful pattern of the world, not to think like the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind that we might do that which is good, acceptable, and complete in the will of God. We have to guard our affections. Guard what we love. Because as Prov.23:7 tells us, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
John said in 1John 2:15 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Now the fact that as Christians God is our Father makes us brothers and sisters in the Lord. In the church, we are brothers and sisters. When Jesus was teaching, which at that time His brothers did not believe in Him, He was told that His family was outside the house wanting to see Him. And Matthew 12:48-50 says, “But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.’”
So with that perspective, Paul says in vs10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” He is talking about the family of Christ. We are to be devoted to the church, to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We have a new family, and a responsibility to this new family. There is a sense in which Christians are to love everyone, even our enemies, but there should be a special relationship, a special devotion to the church. Devoted means having a loyalty, a faithfulness to the church. Not to a building, nor a denomination, but to the people in the church, our church family.
This really goes back to this whole purpose of spiritual gifts. In 1 Cor.12, which is another passage dealing with spiritual gifts in the church, Paul concludes the chapter by saying “I will show you a more excellent way.” And the point he makes in the next chapter is that gifts without love for others in the church are like banging a gong. They only serve yourself and to build yourself up. But the more excellent way is the way of love for the brethren, so that all that we do is done because of love for others and for their benefit.
And so likewise in this text, Paul adds, “give preference to one another in honor.” Paul said it this way in Phi.l 2:3-4 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” So particularly in the church, give others honor, instead of seeking honor for yourself. Build up one another. Give others the place of honor in the church as James tells us, not according to how much they are worth financially, or according to how you think they might benefit you, but according to the impartial law of love.
How else does Christian love manifest itself in the church? Vs.11 says we are to be, “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” So if we love one another, if we love the church, then we will serve the Lord and that service will be characterized by diligence. Diligence is doing something whether we feel like it or not, dutifully fulfilling our responsibility. Diligence is love. I think of a mother’s love as being diligent. It’s a diligence in doing the dirty dishes, washing the dirty diapers or clothes, cleaning the house, doing all the things that nobody wants to do. And not doing it because she has to, but because she loves her family. She wants to make things nice for her family and so she works hard, and does the things that need to be done, the unsightly things, the dirty jobs. That’s diligent love. That’s persevering love. It’s love in action.
There is a service to the church that is not found in the glamorous positions. It might be menial service. But in the sight of God it is not menial. Jesus said if you give even a cup of water in His name you will have a reward in heaven. So be diligent in love, fervent in spirit. Fervent in spirit might be better understood to mean in the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the source of our gifts, He is the source of our strength. And so we should be careful not to quench the Spirit, but to yield to His leading and enthusiastically work in His power. We quench the Spirit by yielding to the flesh, yielding to sin, but we are filled with the Spirit when we follow His leading.
Furthermore we see in vs 12,, this Christian love for the church means to be “joyful in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.” I think a common malady of the church is despondency. We become despondent because we don’t often see the power of God manifested in our lives, and in our circumstances. But Christian love is hopeful, it is joyful, even in the midst of tribulation.
So even when, as the hymn the Solid Rock says, “when all around my soul gives way” we are hopeful and joyful because “He still is all my hope and stay.” Jesus is the anchor of my soul. Jesus is the hope of my prayers. He is my advocate with the Father, and all things, all power in heaven and earth are subject to Him. With God all things are possible. And so in spite of everything, in spite of tribulations, we are persistent in prayer. We pray knowing that God hears, that God cares, and that God has told us to come to Him with our petitions.
Listen, I know what it is like to become despondent. I know what it is like to pray for years and years for something, something that we think that is in God’s will, like the salvation of a loved one. And I know what it’s like to become despondent when we don’t see our prayers answered. But God can answer prayer and God does answer prayer.
I was talking to someone the other day who was despondent because they had been praying for a loved one and it looked like that this person they were praying for was going even further from the Lord. And so I told them a story about how my dad had two girls when he went to Bible college shortly after being saved. My brother and I had not been born yet. And my Dad was so enthusiastic about his salvation and the call of God upon him to be a preacher, that he prayed and asked God to give him two preacher boys. As the years went on, he would talk often about that prayer and he would point to my brother and I as proof that God would answer his prayer.
But as my brother and I reached our late teen years, we both went off into the world about as far as we could go. Both of us really got into drugs and a bad lifestyle. My brother went his way and I went mine. I ended up in California, and my brother ended up in a small college in South Carolina. And if anyone would have looked at us during those years they would have laughed at the idea that my Dad had prayed for two preacher boys. In fact, my Dad had long before stopped talking about it. I’m sure he thought that God wasn’t going to answer that prayer. But after a few years, God worked a miracle and my brother got saved. And a couple of years later I got right with the Lord and moved back East. Long story short, in another few years, God called my brother to the ministry, and a couple of years after that I was called to the ministry. But my Dad never lived to see either one of us become preachers. He died before either of us had answered that call by God. But nevertheless, I believe that he is aware that we both are preaching today. But the point is, that God answers prayers. My dad was a preacher, but he wasn’t a perfect man. However, God answered his prayers, and I believe God will likewise answer your prayer and mine if we are persistent in prayer.
Then in vs 13 we see the last of these characteristics of love for the church. In vs13 he says we are to be “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” In Matthew 25: 34 Jesus said concerning Himself, “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me [something] to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me [something] to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You [something] to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, [even] the least [of them,] you did it to Me.’”
What Jesus is speaking of is what Paul calls practicing hospitality. Years ago, I used to be a manager in the Ritz Carlton Hotels. That field of work is called the hospitality industry. Hospitality then means food and lodging, it means service to those who are in your care for one reason or another. It’s interesting though to note that at it’s root the word hospitality comes from the word hospital. We all know what a hospital is, I’m sure.
I was talking with someone just the other day and I told them that the church should be a hospital, not a showroom. The fact is so many people in the church are hurting in so many ways. We try not to show it. So we put on our church clothes, and our church faces and our church personalities and we come and we go without letting anyone know that we are hurting, and consequently not getting the help that we need. But the church is not a place where we put on a show, or watch a show. The church should be a hospital where people who are hurting find help, where people who are dying find life, where people who are despondent find hope. And God has placed each of us in the church to be His hands and feet in ministering to one another by means of hospitality, contributing to the needs of the saints, of the church.
I don’t always know what you need. I would hope that you would tell me. But maybe there are others in the church that can help you as well. That not only can pray for you but that can come over and work with you or help you with something that you find overwhelming, that can be a friend in time of trouble. God wants the spiritual life to be physically manifested in love for one another. Perhaps there is someone that is financially struggling and could use some help but they don’t want to ask. You might be able to discern that as you minister to that person in Christian love.
You know, the Good Samaritan wasn’t a preacher. He was just an ordinary person on the road, perhaps on a business trip. But he showed hospitality. He helped this stranger that was hurting out of his own expenses. And you shouldn’t need me to tell you that there are a lot of hurting people in the world. There are a lot of hurting people in the church. And God would like you to reach out to your neighbor and love them with a Christian love, a sacrificial love that seeks to honor them, to build them up, to encourage them, to give them hope, and as you do so, you will in fact be found to be ministering to Christ, and serving the Lord.
Listen, this is how we worship the Lord, by sacrificially serving one another, loving one another, we serve the Lord. Remember the exhortation which was given to us at the beginning of this chapter in vs 1, with which we will close; “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship.”