Romans 12:9: Genuine love


  • The proof of love
  • The essence of love
  • The source of love


‘What the world needs now is love, sweet love….’ ‘All you need is love….’ The world knows that the human heart is full of hate and crying out for love, yet it cannot fix itself. Every independent attempt to build a human society has resulted in a loveless self-destructive catastrophe. The Communisitic egalitarian agenda; the Hindu caste system; our secular humanistic self-defining humanity, no matter what it is, every attempt will end in human unhappiness and us destroying not loving one another. Think of the ideal human community that the 21st century West is pursuing, it is the imaginary realm of John Lennon. It is a world where there is no religion, no class distinctions, where we all get to self-define according to our own inner desires. So far we have legalised baby killing in abortion, reawakening the eugenics program and population control regimes of Hitler. We are endangering our elderly by legalising euthanasia. We have destroyed marriage by legalising homosexual marriage exposing every potential child to an environment that is not governed by a holy covenant life-long love. We have legalised harmful practices like gambling, pornography, prostitution, alcohol consumption and will soon be legalising marijuana. The trajectory for the path we are on is a hopeless one, it can only end in tragedy and suffering, and is presently churning out broken people, and yet it is presently being presented as the world’s great answer to all its problems. We are too drugged to feel the pain. We live under a constant stream of Netflix numbing and distracting the mind with entertainment. We are caught in the business and attention grabbing distraction of a technology filled life. We may just be on anti-depressants, full stop, trying to numb the pain that comes on in anxiety attacks and sleeplessness.

There is only one organisation that is able to demonstrate the true loving community God made humanity to be and that is the church. Set in contrast to this age the counter cultural people of God is to stand distinct, unique, holy and loving. It is to this holy love that Paul calls the Roman church in Romans 12:9, ‘Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.’

Paul is talking in a typically Pauline way in this section in Romans. We see a typical constellation of ideas hung together. Paul talks about being a body, about our spiritual gifts and about being loving, we find the same collection of ideas in 1 Cor. 12-14. As we move on into a new section, 12:9-21, we find a list of about 30 commands. Many have thought that the opening words, ‘Let love be genuine’ are a type of heading which the rest explain and explore. Love taking the lead and being at the head is typical of Paul as it heads his list of the fruits of the Spirit and takes precedence over all the gifts. John Stott points out that up until this point in Romans every reference to agape love has been a reference to God’s love for us, but now Paul uses this word to being to describe the love we are to have for others. We could say that the rest of 12-15 are an outworking of what the Christian life of love looks like, whether it is in relation to friend or foe, the government or the church.

You will notice that Paul says, let love be genuine. The word is literally ‘unhypocritical’. This word in Greek is borrowed from the world of the stage and refers to an actor who would wear masks to indicate character changes, where the same actor would play more than one part. Paul is calling for pure love, more than mere politeness or the usual shallowness of connection we would find among sinners. Jesus Himself was betrayed by a show of love from Judas when he kissed Him to betray Him. And many of us have suffered from friendly fire from other Christians. So today as we heed Paul’s call to genuine love we want to look at what sort of love he is calling us to, and why it leads his list of exhortations and acts as a summary of the Christian life. We want to look at the effect this love can have.

There are various ways we could define what love is, and since it was not long ago that we allowed Paul to define love as we looked at 1 Cor. 13, today we want to turn to a different portion of scripture, 1 John 3:11-24; 4:7-12.

There is an old legend about the apostle John. When John was old and unable to walk, he would be brought into the congregation on a pallet to give a word of encouragement, but every time he was brought forward he would lean upon his elbow and plead with the Church just this one thing, ‘Love one another’. He would say nothing else but this, ‘Love one another’. Whether this tradition is true or not we do not know, but the John of that story and the John of this portion before us sound very similar. Here is a Church that has been torn into by false teachers, and from John’s pastoral tone we can hear that they have suffered as a result of the split. They are confused and lack confidence in their faith. Perhaps even some of their old leaders, who they once respected were taken up in the error and left. John writes to help them know that they are in the truth and that they are children of God, and his letter, following his three main themes has three main tests to determine who is and isn’t a Christian. Every true Christian is taught by the Spirit and knows the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done for us; every true Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and has a new impulse and desire for holiness; and the theme we will be dealing with, every Christian loves. Three times John circles around the issue of love we will be looking at the second and third instances of his touching on this topic. There are three main ideas that we will be focusing on from these verses. Firstly, we want to listen to John as he talks to us about love being a proof of who is and isn’t a Christian. Secondly, we will look at John’s answer to the question what is love, and seek to define it’s essence. And thirdly, we want to look at the source of love, God, and how he enables love in our hearts.