Genuine Love

May 2, 2021 ()

Bible Text: Romans 12:9-13 |


Genuine Love | Romans 12:9-13
Brian Hedges | May 2, 2021

Turn in your Bibles to Romans 12, as we continue our series on Christianity Applied. We’re really looking at the outworking and the application of the gospel in our lives (Romans 12-16), and today we’re going to be looking at a number of verses, verses 9-13, where you have a series of commands from the apostle Paul as he’s writing to this church in Rome.

As you’re turning there, let’s just play a little game you can answer in your head. I’m going to give you snippets—I’m not playing it, but I’m just going to give you the snippets to lines of several songs, and I wonder if you can guess where they came from, who the author was.

Anyone recognize this: “Love makes the world go ’round”? That’s from Dion Jackson. Maybe a little old-school for this crowd. “All you need is love.” Surely you know that. John Lennon, the Beatles “Love is a burning thing/And it makes a fiery ring.” Johnny Cash. And then, “We did it all for the glory of love.” If you love the ’80s, Peter Cetera, right?

Isn’t it interesting how whatever decade, whatever genre of music, in the last hundred years or so of popular music, you find just dozens of songs that are about love. We sing about love, we talk about love, the power of love, the glory of love. We talk about love a lot in our culture, and yet the worldly conception of what love is is far removed from the biblical understanding of love. We have to ask, “What is true love? What is genuine love?”

In fact, that’s what this passage is about. This passage is about genuine love, and as we read it, it’s a series of commands, but they’re all kind of under this heading of genuine love, and I think that as we unfold this passage together we’re going to learn some important things about what love is.

Let’s begin with the text itself, Romans 12:9-13. Let me read it.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

This is God’s word.

This is obviously a series of short statements, exhortations, and commands, and scholars vary in their opinions about the overall structure of this passage, whether this is actually a structured passage with a theme or whether this is just a series of short, staccato commands that are all kind of thrown together as Paul is now exhorting the church to live in a certain way.

But virtually all the scholars agree that at least that first statement, “Let love be genuine,” is something of a heading over the rest. In fact, the statement there is really just a statement; it’s a simple phrase, “Genuine love.” The verb is not there. Paul, of course, means us to apply this, he wants us to have genuine love; but he’s simply stating genuine love, we want love to be genuine, and then I think what follows is in some ways a description or a definition, an unfolding of what genuine love actually is, what it looks like.

I want to suggest to you five things from this passage. Now, when Paul says, “Let love be genuine,” that word “genuine” is a word that is actually the opposite of the word for hypocrisy, or a hypocrite. A hypocrite in the first century, that word in the Greek, hypokrites, was the name for a stage actor, someone who acted on the stage. Of course, they did so wearing a mask, a dramatic mask. Maybe it was the smile or the frown or whatever, but the dramatic mask. So the word hypocrite, translate hypocrite into our own language, into English, it’s come to mean someone who’s guilty of pretense, right? Someone who wears a mask, someone who is pretending, so that what you see on the outside does not reflect what they are on the inside.

What Paul is saying here is that he wants our love to not be hypocritical, not to be pretense, not to be play-acting; he wants our love to be genuine, he wants it to be sincere. What he says following I think gives some definition as to what genuine love is, what it looks like, and I want to give it to you in five characteristics.

1. Holy Love

Look at all of verse 9. He says, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” “Let love be genuine,” and then the very next thing he says is, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

Now, the word “abhor” is a very strong word. It means to hate or to detest. Paul is telling us to detest that which is evil. And the word “hold fast” means to cling to or cleave to. It’s the word for the husband cleaving to his wife. It means to be stuck together, to be bound together, and Paul wants us to hold fast to that which is good.

Now, this essentially is just following in line with the Old Testament Scriptures, which give similar exhortations and commands. Psalm 97:10 says, “O you who love the Lord, hate evil.” The prophet Amos in Amos 5:15 says, “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.” And the apostle Peter, quoting from Psalm 34 in 1 Peter 3, says, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.”

Hate the evil, love the good. That is a thread that runs through the Scriptures, Old Testament and New Testament. When Paul says, “Let love be genuine. Hate the evil, abhor that which is evil and hold fast to that which is good,” he is telling us something very important about love. He’s telling us that love must be holy. He’s telling us that love is not merely tolerance.

That’s what our culture wants to say. Our culture wants to say that if you love people, to love them you must tolerate them—tolerance not just in being willing for someone to have a different opinion, but now we’ve actually redefined tolerance.

There was actually a book written a few years ago by D.A. Carson called The Intolerance of Tolerance. In his book, he contrasts the old tolerance with the new tolerance. The old tolerance, the way we used to talk about tolerance, essentially meant this: it meant that we were willing to recognize the right of people to hold a different opinion, a different belief than we hold, even while we disagree or disapprove of it. It can be expressed in this statement, sometimes attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Of course, in a society, a nation, a culture that prizes free speech and the freedom of religion, that’s a good thing. We want people to have the right to say what they believe. That kind of tolerance is good; we want to defend that.

But the new tolerance insists that you must not even express disapproval of someone else’s belief or behavior. That’s what Carson means by the intolerance of tolerance. This new tolerance, in other words, is tolerant of all beliefs and behaviors except those beliefs that are exclusive. It’s tolerant as long as you don’t say that someone is wrong. It’s tolerant as long as you’re not willing to call evil evil. So it ends up being, ironically, a very exclusive kind of tolerance, tolerant as long as you are not making moral judgments. But of course, you see the irony, that in saying that it is itself making a moral judgment, so it ends up being somewhat self-defeating.

Now, almost everyone in the culture, if they’re not distinctively Christian or shaped by a Christian worldview, almost everyone is accepting this new tolerance, and almost everyone thinks that at best it’s very poor taste to tell someone that their beliefs are wrong or that their behavior, especially if it has to do with love, is sinful.

In contrast to that, Paul says that genuine love must abhor evil and cling to what is good. Why does Paul say that? Why is that so hard for people in our culture—maybe even for some of you—why is it hard for us to accept?

The reason it’s hard for us to accept is because of our moral confusion, because we are increasingly viewing the world inside out, upside down. We’re not seeing things clearly. We call that which is evil good and that which is good evil. We are morally confused.

The reason Paul is so adamant here that genuine love is a holy love that must abhor that which is evil and cling to that which is good is because he’s seeing rightly that evil is destructive, that evil always leads to death, it always leads to destruction in our lives. Good is that which leads to our flourishing and to our wellbeing. I think our problem is that we don’t see evil the way it really is.

Someone who has helped me, and I find myself turning to him from time to time over and over again when I feel like my imagination needs to be baptized, so to speak, I turn to C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis helps me with his imaginative writing and with his analysis of literature.

I was just reading in kind of a lesser-known book of Lewis called Spencer’s Images of LIfe, and it’s essentially C.S. Lewis’s teaching notes on Edmund Spencer’s medieval allegory The Faerie Queene. Now, nobody reads The Faerie Queene today unless you’re an English lit. major or something, and I’m not going to use the illustration so much from The Faerie Queene itself. But what’s interesting is there’s a chapter in this book on Spencer’s images of evil, another chapter on his images of good. Lewis is just drawing out the characteristics of evil as depicted by Edmund Spencer and the descriptions of good. I just think the descriptions and the summary itself are helpful and help us kind of right-size our imagination and the way we think about good and evil.

About evil, Lewis says that it appears in five different forms in The Faerie Queene, and these are the kinds of words he uses. He says, “It appears as agonized frenzy or as frenetic anguish. It appears as disease and defect.” There’s a place in The Faerie Queene where each of the seven deadly sins are depicted as having some kind of wasting disease. “It’s depicted as that which is disgusting”; think of bodily fluids, loathsome smells. It’s depicted as “the temptation to fall asleep and the sleep that leads to death,” the death wish. Finally it’s depicted as what Lewis calls a “Waste House,” which is an empty, broken down, dilapidated building, a building that is going into ruin.

Good, on the other hand, is conveyed with images of that which is genuine, real, unspoiled, humble, ordered, fruitful, active, joyful. Here’s the summary Lewis gives. He says, “In sum, then, evil means starvation, good glows with what Blake calls the lineaments of gratified desire. Evil imprisons, good sets free. Evil is tired, good is full of vigor. The one says, ‘Let go, lie down, sleep, die’; the other says, ‘All aboard! Kill the dragon! Marry the girl! Blow the pipes, beat the drum, let the dance begin!’”

Now, that’s vintage Lewis. But can you see what he’s doing? He’s showing us that evil in its true nature leads to destruction, it leads to death. It’s a tired, weary thing that leads away from our true good; whereas that which is truly good is beautiful and it’s true and it’s helpful and it’s wholesome and it leads to flourishing and to joy and to rejoicing.

When Paul says, “Abhor that which is evil and cling to that which is good,” he means that we are to detest with all of our hearts anything—any behavior, any attitude, any belief—that leads away from human flourishing, that leads to destruction, to the dismantling of relationships, to the destruction and the divisiveness of community, that leads away from our relationship with God. Anything that poses an obstruction to genuine love, we oppose it; but rather we cling to that which is good, which leads to full flourishing and to harmony and peace and joy and love in our relationships.

It’s not hard for us to think of examples of this. Let’s say a really loving parent has a teenage child, and this child is beginning to go astray and dabbling in drugs. If a parent loves the child, the parent is going to hate the drug abuse, and really, to the measure that a parent loves his or her child, to that same measure, that same degree, this parent is going to hate whatever’s bringing destruction into their child’s life, right?

When we see someone we love hurting themselves, when we see them destroying themselves through negative behaviors or relationships or whatever, we hate that, but we love the person. It is not loving for us to be tolerant of that which destroys people and relationships. That’s why there is a place for intolerance in the Christian life. There’s a place where holy draws a line and says, “You cannot cross this boundary. This is hurting the relationship. This is hurting the family. This is hurting the church. This is hurting you; this is hurting your relationship with God, it’s dishonoring the Lord. When you go here, we have to stand against it, because we love you.” It’s holy love. Paul says that we need that in the church.

2. Brotherly Love

Here’s the second thing that he says: We need brotherly love. Genuine love is not only holy love, it is brotherly love, and you see this in verse 10. He says, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” He uses two words here. One of the words carries the idea of familial love, maybe a parent’s love for their children, and the other carries the idea of brotherly love, sibling love. It’s the word philadelphia, which literally means “brotherly love,” translated here “brotherly affection.”

Again, this is a thread that runs through the New Testament. In Peter’s letters, 1 Peter 1, he says, “Having purified your souls by obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, let us love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”

Then you remember that ladder of virtues in 2 Peter 1, where he tells us that we are to add to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control, and to self-control steadfastness, and to steadfastness godliness, and then to godliness brotherly love, or brother affection, and to brotherly affection we add love. In other words, this is the culmination of Christian maturity. We mature as we grow in brotherly, sisterly love, familial love in the church.

Then the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 13:1 simply says, “Let brotherly love continue.”

Now, I think this shows us both the depth and the affection that should be characteristic of love in the church. There’s depth because it’s brotherly love. This is a family kind of thing.

Listen, brothers and sisters, we’re not meant to merely be acquaintances with one another, we are meant to increasingly grow in our relationships with one another so that we are developing these close friendships that actually are even more significant than our natural relationships with our blood brothers and sisters, because of this common bond that we have in Jesus Christ.

Now, that does not happen in the church today unless there is some kind of intentionality to pursue it. As I said last week, it takes proximity (shared space), it takes frequency (shared time), and it takes intimacy (shared hearts and lives). Now, the context for doing that in Redeemer is small groups. It’s in a small group, where you’re sharing your life, your time, your space with other people week by week. That’s where those relationships begin to be built. Of course, we should be building it also over lunches and coffees together and inviting one another into our homes.

That’s the depth of this love, but there’s also an affection to it, where there is real warmth, real affection, real delight, real compassion for one another. Sometimes we wrongly say that “love is not an emotion, love is a decision,” or, “Love is a choice; love is an act of the will.” I know what people mean when they say that, because we don’t want to think of love as only an emotion or merely an emotion, but listen, love is not less than an emotion. It includes affection, it includes warmth, it includes kindness that is expressed towards one another. If we don’t have any of that in our lives, we should question whether there really is brotherly love.

Paul gives a tangible expression to this in the second half of verse 10. He says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” What a wonderful command! “Outdo one another in showing honor.” We’re in a race, and the race is to see who can honor others more. You’re not competing to honor yourself, you’re rather seeking to honor one another.

One of the great illustrations of this in church history are those 18th-century evangelists Whitefield and Wesley. George Whitefield, John Wesley; these were the two men that in God’s providence, used by the Spirit of God, were so instrumental in the Great Awakenings in both North America and in the United Kingdom.

As you probably know, they differed from one another theologically. Whitefield was a Calvinist, and Wesley was—well, a Wesleyan; he was Arminian, right, in his theology. They really differed from one another in this. There was strong disagreement. But as they went on in years and in ministry, they actually were able to grow in their affection for one another and in honoring one another. One time Whitefield said this about Wesley: “What the good Mr. John Wesley has done in America is inexpressible. His name is very precious among the people, and he has laid a foundation that I hope neither men nor devils will ever be able to shake.” He’s honoring here his Arminian friend and saying, “His name is precious among God’s people.”

When George Whitefield died, do you know who preached his funeral? It was John Wesley. Some time after the funeral, a woman came up to him, and she was kind of digging for something. She said, “Do you think George Whitefield’s going to be in heaven?”

Wesley paused for a minute and said, “I don’t think we will see him there.”

She said, “Ah, I thought you would say so.”

He said, “No, don’t misunderstand me. George Whitefield was such a bright star in the firmament of God’s glory and will stand so near the throne that one like me, who am less than the least, will never catch a glimpse of him.” “He’s going to be there, but he’s going to be there, but he’s going to be so close that I won’t be able to see him.”

Do you see what they were doing? They were outdoing one another in showing honor. Again, these are guys that are on opposite sides of a theological debate.

Now, certainly we contend for the truth, we contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. Certainly there are hills for us to die on, right? We’re not talking about someone who denies the deity of Christ or the bodily resurrection of Christ or something like that. But listen, there are a lot of secondary doctrines that we should be able to still lock arms, join hands, and embrace our brothers and sisters in Christ, even when we disagree. This is so important. It’s so important in our day, because we are living in a society that is currently being splintered apart by division. We’re just splintering apart! We’re coming to pieces as a society. We are so polarized, we are so divided. In the church, we should be countering that. In the church, we should be a place where we are able to love one another even when we disagree on certain things. We need it both on the local level and in the wider church as well. This is part of brotherly love.

3. Fervent Love 

Holy love, brotherly love; and then number three is fervent love. Look at verse 11. Paul says, “Do not be slothful in zeal,” literally, “Do not lag in zeal,” or, “Do not be lazy.” “Do not be slothful in zeal, but be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Three commands, these commands relating to our activity in the Christian life but also, of course, relating to our love, which is the wellspring of that activity.

Paul first of all is warning here against laziness or slothfulness. Did you know sloth (known as acedia) is one of the seven deadly sins, traditionally speaking? It’s one of the seven deadly sins. It’s not simply someone who’s lazy on the job—you can be very diligent and hardworking in your professional vocation and still be slothful as a Christian. In fact, some of the medieval writers characterized sloth as “a slowness to love.” Dante in The Divine Comedy, when he speaks of those with acedia, he speaks of those who suffer from lento amore, slowness to love. It’s these people who are so paralyzed by self-interest and by self-satisfaction and apathy that they cannot rouse themselves to get outside of themselves to love other people.

That’s a problem in our lives, when we are content to be bench-sitters instead of actively engaged in serving and in loving and in ministering to one another in the body of Christ. We need to be challenged by good examples and saints who went before.

One of my favorites, of course, is Charles Spurgeon, who’s one of my great heroes of the faith. You know, Spurgeon was such a tireless worker, just indefatigable in his work. Now, I think I’m a hard worker—I mean, you could ask my family, the people who know me—I think I work hard. I try to work hard, want to do that. Every once in awhile I get really tired, just bone tired, weary; and there’s always that temptation to be weary in welldoing.

One of the things that helps me is to remember Spurgeon and what he did. Here’s a guy who preached 12 times a week. He edited every week a sermon for publication, he edited every month a theological journal. He founded over 60 parachurch institutions, including an orphanage, which he was often funding out of his own bank account. He was an evangelist, winning people to Christ. He was pastoring this huge church. And he wrote over a hundred books, not including his sermons! It’s no wonder that he died in his 50s; I mean, he killed himself with work, so he probably overworked a little bit. But man, I mean, what an example! Here’s someone who was burning the candle on both ends in order to serve the Lord.

Now, we live in a day where everything that’s coming down about ministry, almost all the books that I get about ministry, are warning against doing that. “Don’t burn yourself out,” you know. Leading on empty and all these things about—and the reason is because we’ve seen so many pastors and ministry leaders that flame out, they crash and burn, and lives end in disaster and so on. Obviously we don’t want that. But don’t we need a little bit of a push as Christians to burn for the Lord? Because that’s what Paul’s saying. He’s saying, “Do not be slothful in zeal, but burn in the Spirit.” That’s literally what he says. Burn in the Spirit.

This word “be fervent” carries the idea of boiling, like boiling water, or burning with fire. The definite article is there. It’s burn in the Spirit. I think he means here that it is the Holy Spirit, that as we are filled with the Holy Spirit the overflow of our lives, then, is service to one another and to the Lord.

Listen, brothers and sisters, don’t be slothful in your love, be fervent in your love! Don’t be lazy in your service; burn in the Spirit’s power and serve the Lord Jesus Christ as you serve one another in the church.

As I mentioned last week, there are lots of opportunities in our church for you to plug in. There’s no lack of place to plug in and get connected. We need you to do that, but you won’t do it unless you do it rightly motivated by love for the saints, by the power of the Spirit, and in service to God.

Gary Inrig, in one of his books, says this: “Love is not a sentimental feeling, rather it is sacrificial action. It means interrupting my schedule, expending my money, risking my reputation, ruining my property, even for a stranger, so that I can do what is best for him. Love is the compassion that feels, the care that involves, the commitment that endures. Love originates in the giver of love, not in the object of love. Love initiates, taking the first step in reaching out to those in need. Love pays the ultimate price, going to extraordinary lengths to help the hurting.” That’s the kind of love that Christ had for us, it’s the kind of love we should have for one another. Don’t be slothful in your love; be fervent in your love.

4. Persevering Love 

Fourthly, persevering love. Look at verse 12. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Hope, patience, constancy in prayer, joy. They go together. A lot of these words have already popped up in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Romans 5:2-4 says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance [or patience], and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

Then in Romans 8 he tells us what that hope is. It’s hope in the glory of God. It’s the hope of resurrection bodies, it’s the hope of new creation. It’s the hope of what God will do through Jesus Christ when he comes again and our bodies are redeemed. We hope for this, and it produces, then, perseverance, patience in tribulation.

Now, he may just be speaking generally that we should be patient in any tribulation in our lives, and that’s certainly true. But if love is still the dominating thought here, then he may mean that we are to be patient in particular in the difficulties that come with loving people.

Love is hard. It is hard to love people. It’s hard to continue with people. Maybe you’ve experienced this, that you get in a relationship, and there comes a point where in your flesh you may just kind of want to pull back. You don’t want to keep on. But love says no, you keep on pursuing this person.

Again, one of the great examples is another example from these dead theologians I love to quote. This is John Newton and William Cowper. John Newton was that slave trader who became a pastor. He wrote, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me.” One of his church members was this chronically depressed poet named William Cowper. William Cowper also wrote some of our hymns. “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” is from William Cowper.

Here’s a guy who probably needed to be on medication. This is in the 18th century. He probably needed to be on medication; he was chronically depressed, he thought he was not elect, he thought he couldn’t be saved. He attempted suicide multiple times. For 27 years, John Newton would not quit loving him. For 27 years; six years as his pastor and then many years after that, as he continued to write him and encourage him and just stick with him to the very end. Why? Out of love.

That’s what love does. Love perseveres. Love never gives up. We are called to have that kind of love for one another. The only way we can do it is if we do it with hope, hope in what God is going to do, and we do it with our eyes on the goal, and we do it prayerfully, constancy in prayer as we’re leaning on the Lord. So listen, don’t quit on the hard people in your life. Don’t give up in the hard circumstances; instead, keep hoping, keep praying, and keep loving.

5. Practical Love

Then number five (we’re almost done): practical love. Genuine love is holy love, it’s brotherly love, it’s fervent, burning love, it’s persevering love, and it’s practical. Look at verse 13. Paul says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

First of all, there’s generosity. “Contribute to the needs of the saints.” The word there means to partner with the needs of the saints. It’s the verbal form of our word for koinonia, for fellowship. It literally means to partake with. When you’re partaking with somebody’s needs, it means that you are giving materially in order to meet those needs. This shows us one of the practical, hard edges of love, that love means making material sacrifices in order to help those in need.

Do you remember the words of the apostle John in 1 John 3? He says, “By this we know love, that Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” In other words, literally, put your money where your mouth is. If you love, then you must give.

Then, hospitality. “Seek to show hospitality.” In the ancient world, travel was very slow. There were no hotels; you couldn’t just go to the Holiday Inn. Any inns that did exist were, according to one commentator, “impossibly filthy and notoriously immoral.” They weren’t safe places. So especially Christian missionaries, as they are traveling abroad, would depend on the hospitality of other Christians to open their homes and let them stay. So hospitality was a real practical need.

Now, we do have Holiday Inns today, so the need isn’t the same, but there is still an application for us in that we need to be opening our homes to one another. Again, one of the ways we can do this is in small groups; it’s in opening our homes and inviting people over, whether it’s formally or informally, but in order to build relationships, and making our homes spaces for ministry. Many of you do that and I’m so grateful for it. So it’s practical love that affects the way we spend and use our material resources.

Now, here’s the final question. We’ve described this love, and I don’t know about you, but this feels like a tall order. Holy, brotherly, fervent, persevering, practical love? That’s demanding. That’s a lot. That requires a lot. The question is, how do you get that? Where does that kind of love come from? What’s the source of this love?

I think the answer is easy to see if you just trace Paul’s use of the word love back through Romans. Let me just show you a few of the things he says. In Romans 1:7 he’s introducing himself to the church and addressing the church, and he calls that church in Rome “those who are loved by God” he called to be saints. In chapter 5:8 he says that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Where do we see the love of God? We see it in the cross.

In Romans 5:5 he says that God has “poured out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The Spirit living in us is the source of love. That’s why the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and so on. We get love when we get the Spirit, and if the Spirit is working in our hearts and lives powerfully, the overflow of that is love.

Then in Romans 8:35-39 he tells us that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, we could say that genuine love is therefore gospel love. It is love which is sourced by and empowered by and motivated by the gospel, which tells us that God himself has loved us. When we were undeserving, when we were difficult to love, when it was costly to him, he loved us with holy love, persevering love, going all the way, sending his Son to the cross in order to rescue us from our sins.

You might think of it like this. God’s love is the bright burning sun of love, the fountain of light and heat. Our love is like the light of the moon. It’s there only inasmuch as it reflects the burning love of God in Jesus Christ. But that’s our calling. Our calling is to reflect God’s love to others, to embody that love to others, to show that love to others. We do it when our hearts are kept warm and alive in the light of the gospel.

Brothers and sisters, love one another. For the love of God, for the love of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, let’s love one another. Let’s pray.

Gracious God, thank you that you love us. When we were undeserving—in fact, when we were deserving not of love but of wrath—you showed mercy and grace, and, as your word tells us, you loved us with an everlasting love, so our first response to you this morning is to say thank you for that love.

I pray, Lord, that as we reflect on the depth and the magnitude of your love, that the reflex of our hearts would be to love one another. We heard the call, we see these commands, we see the demand that it makes on us. But Father, my hope and my prayer this morning is that we would leave this place with a burden of guilt because of how poorly we show love. My prayer is that as we look to the cross of Jesus Christ we would see that our burden of guilt has been removed, and that you have loved us, and that we would be so deeply transformed by that love that we could not help but share that love with others. That’s the work of your Holy Spirit. I pray that you would do it. I pray that your Spirit would work in our hearts this morning what is pleasing in your sight; that you would change us, transform us in every way that we need, and do so as we gaze on your glory displayed in the cross.

As we come to the table, may we come with Christ as our focus, remembering his crucifixion on our behalf, and may you draw near to us as we draw near to you. We pray it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.