WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

LOVE MUST BE SINCERE

SERMON PRESENTED ON 02-06-10

 

       Last week I mentioned the Golden Rule as the manifest expression of the Law of love.  The Golden Rule teaches we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  This rule or principle of behavior is the foundation of what it means to be a Christian.  It is the foundational principle by which our creator desires for us to live.  If the whole world lived by this principle, we wouldn’t have war or crime.  Self-centered behavior would grind to a halt and humans would be engaged in other centered behavior.  Humans would be engaged in how they could best facilitate the wellbeing of their neighbor proportionate to facilitating their own wellbeing. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves which means to express the same level of concern for others as we express for ourselves.

       As we all know, this approach to human relations is sadly lacking and has been largely lacking throughout human history.  For many the Golden Rule has become somewhat inverted and reads, “Do unto others before they do it unto you.”  The question is sometimes asked why God would instruct us humans to behave in a Golden Rule manner and yet create us with a nature that often behaves contrary to such rule.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes some statements that shed some light on this question.

       Romans 11:32: For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

       Romans 8:20: For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope.

       These scriptures indicate God purposefully created us humans the way he did so we would learn it is only through His sovereign mercy we live and have our being.  Being alive now and being alive forever all depends on the mercy and grace of God.  God holds our eternal destiny in his hands and it is only because of God’s mercy that our life can continue beyond physical death.  Yes, God did create us with a nature that does not automatically obey God but this doesn’t mean it can’t.  Paul said the sinful mind/nature is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.

       Romans 8:7: The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

       Paul writes that the sinful mind/nature is hostile to God.  It is a mind/nature that cannot submit to God. This is certainly true.  A sinful mind/nature cannot submit to God. All humans have to one extent or another allowed their behavior to be determined by the sinful mind/nature. We are born with a nature composed of a number of human passions that are not sinful in and of themselves. They can, however, be expressed in a sinful manner and when done so our human nature becomes a sinful nature and displeasing to God.

       Any act of disobedience to God is the result of allowing the passions of our nature to be expressed in a sinful manner.  Adam and Eve allowed their human passions to be expressed in a sinful manner and man has been doing so ever since.  You notice, however, that I said Adam and Eve allowed the sinful mind to control and determine their behavior.  While God has certainly created us with the ability to sin, it is not His intention that we do sin.

        God has given us humans the ability to exercise power over the sinful expression of out human nature. As already stated, the passions that comprise our human nature are not sinful in and of themselves. It is when we allow our passions to be expressed contrary to righteousness that our nature can be said to be a sinful nature.  However, we don’t have to allow our human passions to be expressed in a sinful manner. We do have the ability to express human passions in a righteous manner.  Paul said, those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.  The implication is that we don’t have to be controlled by the sinful nature which is to say we don't have to allow our human passions to be expressed sinfully

       God has made righteous nature available to his human creation and God wants us to pursue and allow righteous nature to determine our behavior.  While it appears the natures we are born with gravitates to sin, God makes another nature available to us which gravitates to righteousness and this is the nature God wants us to choose. This nature is grounded not in human spirit but in the spirit of God. 

       We know from the scriptures that God intends for us to strive to overcome the sinful expression of our nature and behave in harmony with what the Son of God taught.  We can’t call Jesus Lord and not do what he tells us to do. To say we love Jesus and not strive to be obedient to His teachings is an oxymoron.  While it is true that God gave us a nature that gravitates to sin.  God also gave us ability to recognize cause and effect and make choices. We humans have the ability to choose moral and ethical behavior.  We all have ability to see the consequences of unrighteous behavior and learn from such knowledge.  For those who have come to express faith in Christ, that ability is aided by an actual indwelling of God’s Spirit.      

       Paul clearly understood it is God’s will that we strive to live righteously and he repeatedly instructed first century Christians as to the dynamics involved in righteous living.  While Paul clearly understood and taught that righteous behavior does not atone for our sin, he also clearly understood and taught that we are to respond to the grace of God by striving to live in harmony with the law of love.  Paul at times provided entire lists of what is involved in living in harmony with righteousness.  One of those lists is found in Romans, chapter twelve.

       Romans 12:9-10: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

       This is a huge chunk of instruction. It is easy to read through this material and quickly forget it.  This is really the kind of instruction we should meditated upon and have in our thoughts as we begin our day.  This is instruction that should transform our lives by prescribing the way we conduct ourselves in association with our neighbor. This instruction is all about interpersonal relations.  It is instruction about how to interact with our fellow man.  This is a virtual prescription for Christian living.  This is very meaningful instruction and today I want to expand on just the very first admonition in this list.

Love must be sincere:

        The scriptures clearly define what love is.  To love is to live by the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule expresses love and in so doing fulfills the law.

       Romans 13:10: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself."  Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

       Love is defined as doing no harm to ones neighbor.  Doing no harm to ones neighbor is defined as behaving toward ones neighbor within the context of the moral law as quoted in part by Paul. Paul appears here to be virtually quoting what Jesus said when a young man came to him and asked what he could do to inherit eternal life.

       Matthew 19: 16-19: Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."  "Which ones?" the man inquired.   Jesus replied, "`Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and `love your neighbor as yourself.' "

       Now if we read no farther in this passage it would appear Jesus is teaching salvation by works.  After all didn’t this man ask what he must do to get eternal life and didn’t Jesus answer that if he wants to enter into life he must keep the commandments?  Let’s read on:

       Matthew 19:20-26: "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"  Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.   Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

       The disciples were carefully listening to this exchange between the rich man and Jesus.  They heard that even though this man had kept the commandments as required, he still needed to do more.  He was asked to give his wealth to the poor and join the disciples in following Jesus.  He wasn’t willing to do this.  The disciples were astonished. Here was a righteous man who had kept all the commandments.  In Mark’s version of this event it is recorded that this man kneeled before Christ and that Christ upon hearing him loved him.  This man apparently had great affection for Jesus and Jesus reciprocated this affection.  Yet Jesus said it is hard for a rich man like this to enter the Kingdom. 

       Jesus knew that man cannot enter life by keeping the commandments. When Jesus told the man to keep the commandments to enter eternal life, He wasn’t saying that such obedience would earn him salvation.  Jesus was essentially saying that to participate in eternal life you need to practice Kingdom living.  Eternal life is all about living in a manner congruent with the tenets of the Kingdom. We will never do this perfectly. Jesus plainly told the disciples that man cannot facilitate his salvation. Only because of God’s mercy can eternal life be granted.  While keeping the commandments won’t earn you salvation, it is the way you love and give honor to God and man and it is what God’s kingdom is all about.  Let’s now return to Romans 12:9, "Love must be sincere."  Let’s look at a few different translations of this passage:

       KJV: Let love be without dissimulation.  RSV: Let love be genuine. NKJV: Let love be without hypocrisy.

       NAS: Let love be without hypocrisy.  NET: Love must be without hypocrisy.

       The NKJV, NAS and NET translations appear closest to the Greek. The Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich Greek Lexicon shows the English “without hypocrisy” is the translation of a single Greek word which literally means “without hypocrisy.”   Paul says we are to love without hypocrisy.  Why would Paul say this?  Can we love with hypocrisy?  Is Paul saying there is a hypocritical love which in reality isn’t love at all?  The scriptures reveal there can be a hypocritical kind of love.   

       Let’s look at an example of hypocritical love from the scriptures themselves. If you would have approached a first century Pharisee and asked him if he loved his parents, he no doubt would have answered that of course he loves his parents. The fifth commandment teaches us to honor our father and mother.  So of course I love my parents.         

       Matthew 15:1-9:  Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, `Honor your father and mother' and `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to `honor his father ' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: "`These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' "

        The Pharisees were very strict about keeping the law.  In addition, they and their predecessors had added many additional regulations to the law as delivered by Moses.  Some of these added regulations virtually nullified the intent of the commandments given at Sinai, commandments they forcefully defended in their teaching.  The fifth commandment taught you are to honor your parents.  Honoring your parents would certainly include looking out after them and taking care of them when necessary.  The Pharisees knew what it meant to honor their parents but they were more concerned about honoring themselves. 

       If they gave money to the temple it made them look good in the eyes of the people and so they would actually take resources they should have been using to help their parents and instead give these resources as a gift to the temple rather than help their parents.  They would justify this by saying it is a gift to God.  What they were really doing was avoiding their obligation to their parents while trying to pad their image as great benefactors of the temple.  Their failure to provide for their parents gave lie to their defense of the fifth commandment. In essence they didn’t really love their parents but only loved themselves.  They taught obedience to the law buy behaved contrary to the law. 

       When you look at the ministry of Jesus, one thing that really stands out is that He had no use for hypocrites. Jesus exposed hypocrisy every chance he got and it infuriated the Pharisees because it exposed their true character.  They spent much of their time trying to make themselves look good in front of the people and now this itinerant preacher comes along and was inflicting heavy damage on the image they had spent so much time cultivating. 

       But Jesus had good reason to attack hypocrisy. Hypocrisy strikes at the very core of what it means to be a Christian.  To be a Christian is to be genuine.  It means to be the same on the inside as you appear to be on the outside. Hypocrisy results when one tries to make the outside look better than the inside. 

       Matthew 23: 25-28:  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.   Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

       Paul exhorted the Roman Church to love without hypocrisy.  To love without hypocrisy is to love from the heart.  To love from the heart is to have a totally sincere desire to serve others for their good and not for any good it may bring us.  While serving others does often bring us good, that should not be our motivation for serving others.  The scriptures show it is possible to serve others and even sacrifice for others and still not have love.

       1 Corinthians 13:1-3: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

       Paul made it evident that you can do great things but still not have love.  Paul suggested you could give all you have to the poor and even sacrifice your body to the flames and still not have love. Look at suicide bombers who sacrifice their bodies to the flame for what they believe is a just cause and in the process cause great harm to their fellow man.  Obviously such individuals don’t understand the first thing about love which is to do no harm to your neighbor. 

       In Romans 13 we saw love defined as doing no harm to your neighbor and therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  In other words, the law was given to facilitate behavior that does not harm your neighbor.  Your neighbor is everyone, even your enemies.  Jesus instructed us to love our enemies.  Jesus told the story about the Good Samaritan and thus showed your neighbor is anyone in need.  Genuine love is grounded in doing no harm to your neighbor.  Jesus made it clear that love is also grounded in genuine heart felt concern for your neighbor and not in ostentatious and pretentious expressions as was common behavior by the Pharisees.  The Pharisees gave to the poor but they literally had a trumpet blow to draw attention to the fact they were giving to the poor.  Any real concern they had for the poor was overshadowed by their vanity and self aggrandizement.

       Matthew 6:1-4: Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

       Jesus made it clear that being rewarded for doing good works is not a bad thing.  What is bad is doing good works for the purpose of being rewarded.  This is where we humans often fail.  We do good works so that others will think well of us.  We do good works in order to receive accolades from others.  While there is nothing wrong in receiving praise, honor and reward for good works, such praise, honor and reward must not be allowed to feed our vanity so that we do good works to receive praise honor and glory.    

       It is the practice in some churches to list the names and amounts of donations given by their top donating members on a plaque in the church lobby or in some other ostentatious manner.  While the intention of this practice may be to honor those donating over and beyond the norm, this can also lead to competitive donating and then giving becomes vanity driven rather than love driven. 

       There sometimes is a fine line between the expression of true love and feigned love based on hypocrisy.  The hypocrite acts out of concern for himself.   Behavior is based on how will I appear and how can I create a good impression of me.  Hypocrisy is often driven by feelings of inferiority and a lack of self confidence.  It is good for us all to carefully examine our behavior from time to time to determine what drives us to behave the way we do.  Do we behave out of genuine concern for others or is our behavior driven more by our own vanity to look good in the eyes of others.  When we help someone or give to a charity do we make sure others know about it or do we simply do our good deed and forget about it. Remember what Jesus taught: "do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

        It is best to allow God to reward us than to seek reward of men.  True love is best manifested when no one else is looking.  Back in the 1950’s Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly made a movie entitled High Society.  The title song from that movie, which was recorded and sung by Bing and Grace, became the classic hit “True Love.”   Some of the lyrics went like this: "While I give to you  and you give to me, true love true love.  So on and on it will always be, true love true love."

       The song was all about the giving of love and the receiving of love.  In a sense it was all about what true love is. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Doing your neighbor no harm and treating your neighbor with genuine concern for his welfare. This is true love.  This is sincere love. This is love without hypocrisy.

SERMON TWO OF THIS SERIES