LOVE MUST BE SINCERE
A little boy was punished by his father. Later he knelt by his bed to say his prayers and ended with the usual blessings for all the family but one. Then he turned to his father and said, "I suppose you noticed you weren't in my prayer."
A Mother tells the following story about her 3 year old daughter. "The scenario is that I've had a long-hard-rotten day and it's bedtime for her. I get myself through the story, song, drink of water and back rub - the usual bedtime routine. I say, "You know Abigail, I could sure use a big hug." And so she graces me with this wondrous SUPER HUG (as we call them). I'm telling her that was wonderful; the exact best hug that I needed, and I ask if she has any more. Very seriously she says, "I have more Mom, I get them from my heart." I say, "What?" She says, "I have hugs in my heart." I ask, "Well, could I have another one? I could sure use another if you have enough." She says, "Sure you can, I can always grow more in my heart."
These stories illustrate the sincerity of children. In their innocence, they have a way of surprising us grown-ups with a wisdom that goes far beyond their years.
In his letter to the ROMANS Paul describes what sincere love looks like not only within the faith community, but in the world at large.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In the preceding verses Paul urges the Christians in Rome to present their bodies as a living sacrifice - as a spiritual act of worship - to God. He admonishes them, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds."
In these verses we get a clear sense of Paul's concern for the image of the Church towards the world. He is seriously concerned with the witness of the Church. Paul's greatest burden since his conversion was the salvation of Israel. If the Jews were going to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the Son of God, his followers would have to give testimony in their life and death that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Paul uses the image of a body - a living and dynamic organism - to describe the Church of Jesus Christ. There can only be harmony when there is sincere love, caring and compassion among the members. Sincere and unconditional love among the members were to be the determining factors for the successful witness of the Church.
This all seems so simple, and yet the Church throughout the ages has struggled with being a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Yes, the Church has had it's moments of glory, where Christians have maintained their witness and testimony regardless of the harsh consequences. However, to often the Church has also experienced it's moments of shame.
I believe that Paul was on to something when he condemned the pattern of this world and urged a renewal of the heart and mind.
What is the pattern of this world? When I look at our culture and also my own life I keep coming back to an issue that I've mentioned a few times in the last while. Its our indifference toward each other and toward our God.
Our culture is quite good at confusing and negotiating the issue that for Christians should be non-negotiable. What used to be good or evil is now not-so-bad or not-so-good depending on how the issue affects you. Christian standards are sometimes very hard to distinguish from worldly standards.
Paul gives us quite a list of things to measure our witness for Christ. Eagerness, respect, hard work, reverence, joy, patience, disciplined prayer, generosity, gracious hospitality, openness, empathy, fairness and equality, humility, peacemaking, forgiving, courage.
"Hate what is evil!" How many of us really hate what is evil? Well, we don't like it very much - I guess. But, "hate" is a very strong word. Brothers and sisters, do we not know that evil is keeping us and our fellow Church members in the bondage of sin? Paul has every right to not only urge us - but command us to detest that which is detestable to God: Immorality, injustice, addictions, indifference. To hate what is evil means to struggle with all our might against him who wants to keep us in sin and darkness.
Hate what is evil and cling to that which is good. When you've found the treasure hang on to it with all your might. This is a bit confusing. Doesn't this go against our Christian belief? Not really if you look at it this way: "Love is not love until you give it away." The only way to really keep that which is good is to give it away freely and sincerely.
When we cling to that which is good we open opportunities for each other to use our God-given talents to the glory of God's work..
Paul speaks about our relationships toward each other as brothers and sisters in the Church. As a Church - a body consisting of many parts with different functions - we must be there to offer support to one another.
I wonder sometimes. Ho well do I know my body? How well do you know your body? How well do you and I take care of each other? Do we know each other's emotional and spiritual pains as well as the physical? Do we cry with the brother and sister in distress? Do we laugh and celebrate with each other in our mountain top experiences? How do we score as the body of Christ here in North Kildonan? And what exercise routine do we need to follow to get ourselves back in shape?
I think it would include some of the things that Paul speaks about here. Sincere love, an attitude of belonging to Jesus Christ and to each other in the body of Christ. Mutual submission and accountability. Trust in the righteous judgment of God when someone has done us wrong. And a sincere desire to be a part of each other's lives.
Jesus said, "By this the world will know that you are my disciples - if you have love toward each other." May the signs of our love for God be visible to the world by the way in which we love one another.