The following sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church of Benbrook, TX on Sunday morning, May 22, 2011. Sunday morning sermons from FBC Benbrook can be found at iTunes under “FBC Benbrook Sermons”
The Christian life is a life of transformation. Just like a caterpillar is metamorphasized into something completely different, one who is reborn by the mercy and grace of God is no longer conformed to the pattern of this world but is transformed into a new creation where old things have passed away and new things have come (see 2 Corinthians 15.7). Part of that transformation is the exercise of spiritual gifts (see Romans 12.3-8), growing and maturing in the Spirit filled reality where the Spirit of God flows through us to minister to another in different and unique ways. As Paul describes the transforming life in Romans 12, the next characteristic of the Christian life is the life of love.
Switching from a discussion of spiritual gifts might seem like a rabbit chase, it is exactly what Paul did in 1 Corinthians. After describing gifts and the body of Christ, Paul pointed the Corinthians to the more excellent way of love. The “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 is located in the middle of the discussion of spiritual gifts. And so it is in Romans. After urging us to use our spiritual gifts, Paul then wrote about love.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (ESV)
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (NASB)
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (NIV)
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; (NRSV)
Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. (HCSB)
Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. (KJV)
All of these translations of Romans 12.9 both capture the Greek text and miss the Greek text in different ways, and to understand the nature of Christian love requires us to look a little deeper.
Love must be without hypocrisy
The word translated “genuine” (ESV) is literally “without hypocrisy,” which is the reading captured by the NASB and HCSB. This word is one of the most colorful in the Greek language. A “hypocrite” was the word used to describe actors who played a part in a play on stage, in a day and time when a single actor would play different characters, each indicated by holding up a mask to differentiate between the two. Naturally, the word was associated with one who was play acting in life, presenting a mask that was different from the real person. Christian love must be “without hypocrisy,” without masks, genuine and sincere.
The word chosen by the NIV is “sincere,” which is another word with a rich history. The word derives from the Latin word meaning “without wax.” In a day when merchants would tried to hide cracks in pottery by filling in wax, honest merchants would advertise their products as “without wax” or “sincere.” Christian love should be without wax, the real deal, genuine and authentic.
Oddly enough, in the New Testament, Jesus uses the word “hypocrite” more than any apostolic writer. Looking at a few of these instances will help us to understand what “love without hypocrisy” looks like. First, hypocrites are those who are more concerned about what others think that what God thinks. Consider,
1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6.1-6 ESV)
Hypocrites like to be seen by other people as righteous, prayerful, and generous, but are more concerned about their appearance as such as opposed to actually being righteous, prayerful, and generous. If they were, they would pray and give in secret.
Second, hypocrites hold others to a standard they are neither able nor willing to hold to themselves. Consider,
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7.1-5 ESV)
Hypocrites ignore the sin in their own lives, but see no problem in self-righteously pointing out the failures of others.
Third, hypocrites have very loose connections between their mouths and their hearts. In other words, what they say have very little correlation to the condition of their hearts. Consider,
7You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8“.‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; (Matthew 15.7-8 ESV)
Hypocrites, constantly concerned about their reputation, speak words with no meaning, trying to impress God with their well worded prayers.
Fourth, hypocrites are concerned about appearing righteous more than they are about really being righteous. Consider,
25“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23.25-28 ESV)
By now, the picture of a hypocrite according to Jesus is beginning to emerge clearly. A hypocrite is one who is more concerned about what others think about them than they are what God thinks about them. This is why they pray long prayers in public, this is why they give alms to the poor on the street corners, this is why they point out the faults of others, and this is why the keep the outside of the cup clean. These are all an attempt to appear righteous to others, but void of the passion to actually be righteous in the eyes of God. While we can play act before other people, God sees the heart. He hears not our words, but listens to our heart. He sees past the outside of the cup and knows what is inside. He sees the log, ignoring the speck.
I would point you to one other New Testament story that illustrates hypocrisy. One of the challenges of the early church was learning what to do with Gentiles who became believers and what to do with the Old Testament cleanliness codes that had been fulfilled in Christ. Many Jewish leaders resisted the apostle’s teachings that we were freed from the Law, insisting that Gentiles be circumcised and the cleanliness code and dietary code of Moses be followed to the letter. They wielded such power and influence, that they even got to Peter on one occasion, forcing him to stop eating with uncircumcised Gentiles. Paul tells of confronting Peter in his letter to the Galatians,
11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2.11-14 ESV)
Peter was acting as a hypocrite, meaning that he was more concerned about what the “circumcision party” thought about him than what God thought about him. This fear lead him to abandon the truth of the gospel. So we see that hypocrisy is being more concerned about what others think than what God thinks.
Christian love must be “without hypocrisy.” To be a person of love, we must be devoted to what God thinks of us above all else. The definition of love is “strong affection, devotion, and attachment.” For the Christian, our strongest affection and devotion and attachment must be for God and God alone.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. (Matthew 22.37-38 ESV)
Love must be genuine, devoted to Christ above all else.
Reading the English translations of Romans 12, you would think that Paul is making three distinct statements: love must be genuine, hate evil, cling to good. But this is one place where all of these English translations mask a significant part of the Greek text. The verbs “abhor” and “hold fast” are both present tense participles. Participles are verbal phrases that act as adjectives. In other words, these two phrases are not independent thoughts but are describing what genuine love looks like. Genuine love abhors evil. Genuine love clings to good.
The word translated “hate” (NIV, NRSV) is really much stronger than that. This Greek work is more intense than even hate, which is why “abhor” (ESV, NASB, KJV) or even “detest” (HCSB) is a much better translation. Genuine Christian love has a deep, guttural, emotional reaction to evil. The transformed life is so extensive that it changes our affections and attitudes toward evil. Not only are we convicted that evil is bad, but we are changed in such a way that we are disaffected by evil.
Allow me to make a rather crude comparison. How would you react if I were to invite you to join me for a weekend of “fun” where we would kidnap a stranger, murder that person in cold blood, dismember that person’s body, and then eat the flesh? What would be your emotional reaction to murder and cannibalism? I trust it would be one of abhorrence. Imagine if we could transfer that same level of abhorrence to the sin of gossip, or pride, or greed, or jealously, or anger, or lust, or selfishness? That is what it means for love to be genuine, a love that finds evil so repugnant that it provokes an emotional, guttural reaction of disgust.
And Christians should make no mistake that this kind of abhorrence does not always sit well with a general population that is content to gratify the cravings of their sin nature (see Ephesians 2.3). Consider the teachings of Peter,
3The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; (1 Peter 4.3-4 ESV)
Christians, who live in love, abhor evil and are increasingly losing the desire to join in the flood of debauchery, and the result is that the unredeemed malign us. And here is where hypocrisy and abhorring evil come together. Love without hypocrisy is devoted to God above all others and is more concerned about what God thinks than what others think. Sometimes, to follow Jesus in the path of love is to walk alone. Jesus said,
26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14.26-27 ESV)
To love God is to abhor evil, even if that abhorring of evil means that we walk alone. But love without hypocrisy is more concerned about what God thinks that what others think.
Cleave to God
The second description of genuine love is “holding fast to what is good.” Like abhorring, this is a present tense participle describing “genuine love.” The Greek word means “to glue together, to join one’s self to, to cleave.” Holding fast (ESV, NRSV), clinging to (NASB, HCSB, NIV), and cleaving to (KJV) are all good translations of this word. Genuine Christian love is affixed to what is good, holding fast to it continuously. Christian love practices what Paul taught in Philippians 4,
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4.8 ESV)
The transformed life is more than just turning away from evil. Those who turn from evil but do not fill themselves with good leave themselves vulnerable to the return of evil (see Matthew 12.43-45). Genuine love not only abhors evil but also cherishes good. With every ounce of energy, the transformed Christian clings to evil with his or her heart.
The transformed Christian life is a life of love, but that love is much different than the kind of love that our culture is peddling. Cultural love is little more than good feelings and warm wishes, often void of sacrifice and a passion for holiness. In contrast, the transformed Christian’s love is without hypocrisy, devoted to Christ above all others. This devotion and affection for Christ is so strong, that His opinion alone matters. There is no use in trying to pretend to impress others because God can see the heart, and His scrutiny is all that matters. Transformed Christian love abhors evil, so repulsed that we willingly walk alone, maligned by a world that doesn’t understand our transformation. Transformed Christian love clings to what is good, holding fast to it with dear life.