Greatest Thing in the World

Tuesday: Two Characteristics

Romans 12:9 In this week’s studies, we see that love is the first virtue mentioned among the characteristics that are to be evident in God’s people.
Two Characteristics

As we talk about the significance of love, we must not get overly sentimental, since love is not some mushy emotion that embraces all, forgives all, forgets all and requires nothing. The danger of an essay like Henry Drummond’s, which we looked at yesterday, is that it encourages just those sentiments. The Bible never does. In fact, you will notice at once that in our text Paul does not even define love. He passes immediately to how love functions. 

Romans 12:9 states two specific things about love. First, true love is genuine. “Love must be sincere,” says Paul. Second, love must be discriminating. “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good,” is how the apostle puts it. In the Greek text “hate” and “cling” are participles, meaning “hating” and “clinging.” So it is clear that they are linked to the former statement and describe how love is to operate, rather than being independent statements or commands. 

Love is genuine. The New International Version translates the first half of verse 9 as “Love must be sincere.” “Sincere” is an English word based on the Latin words sine cera, meaning “without wax,” and it refers to the ancient practice of using wax to hide cracks in inferior pottery so the vessel could be sold for a higher price than it could be otherwise. Quality ware was stamped sine cera (“without wax”) to show that it had not been doctored. In regard to people this says that a sincere person is one who is not hiding his true nature by hypocritical words or actions. 

In the Greek text the word translated “sincere” is anupokritos, the latter part of which has given us the word “hypocritical” which I have used to describe speech that is insincere. Anupokritos means “without a mask,” and it refers to the way in which, in the Greek theater, actors would carry tragic, comic or melodramatic masks to signal the role they were playing. When Paul tells us that love is to be an (not) hypocritical, he is saying that those who love are not to play a role but rather are to be genuine. In other words, we are to get off the stage and drop our masks. 

But that is not so easy, is it? John Calvin remarks in his treatment of Romans 12:9 that “it is difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are in counterfeiting a love which they do not really possess. They deceive not only others, but also themselves, while they persuade themselves that they have a true love for those whom they not only treat with neglect, but also in fact reject.”1 

It may help us to realize that the love that is commended here is the love of God which is shown to fallen creatures through the death of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and which is developed in Christians by the Holy Spirit. 

Are we new creatures in Christ? Then we must love without hypocrisy, since this is the very nature of the love that has been placed within us by the Father. We must be sine cera

Love is discriminating. For some people it may come as a shock to discover the word “hate” immediately after the words “love must be sincere.” First, love! Then hate! The two seem incompatible to most of us. But they are not incompatible, and their juxtaposition in this verse teaches an important truth, namely, that love must be discriminating. Real love does not “love everything,” as we might say. On the contrary, it hates what is evil and clings to what is good. 

“God is love.” That is one of the most sublime statements in the Bible. It is found in 1 John 4:8. But God is not only love. He is also hate in the sense that He hates what is evil with a proper, righteous hatred. Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us seven things that God hates: “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” 

Isaiah 1:12-15 tells us that God hates religion that is merely formal:

When you come to meet with me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. 

In Amos 5:21 God says, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.” The reason, of course, is that these merely formal observances are hypocritical, and love is not hypocritical. 

Let me put it this way. If we love as God loves and we must if we are Christians—then there will be things for us to hate, just as there will also be things we must love. We will hate the violence done to people by whatever name—nationalism, ethnic cleansing, racial or religious pride, war, keeping the peace, even “necessity.” But we will love the humble and those who work for peace, yes, and even those who are guilty of the violence, because we will want to turn them from their ways. We will hate lying, especially by those who are in important positions, such as CEOs and other heads of corporations, political figures, presidents, yes, and ministers too. We will hate what their lies do to others. Yet we will love the truth and will at the same time also love those who are lying, for we will see them as people who need the Savior. 

That is what love does. Love hates evil— an intentionally strong word. But love also clings to what is good. The Greek word rendered “cling” in some of its forms mean “to glue.” So the idea is that true love will bond us to the good. We will stick to it like epoxy. 

1John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, trans. Ross MacKenzie (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973), 271.

Study Questions
  1. What does the Latin term sine cera mean? How was it used in antiquity?
  2. What makes someone a sincere person?
  3. How are love and hate related?

Reflection: When we drop our masks, the phoniness in our love is exposed, and only sincere love remains. Are your words or actions hypocritical? When your mask is dropped, is your love for others genuine?

Application: If we love as God loves, there will be things for us to hate. What things are happening in the world today that God hates? How does this hatred for what God hates fit together with God’s love?

Key Point: That is what love does. Love hates evil— an intentionally strong word. But love also clings to what is good.

For Further Study: Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Love of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

For Further Study: One of the results of having our minds renewed is a love for other Christians. Order your copy of James Boice’s book, Renewing Your Mind in a Mindless World, and receive 20% off the regular price.

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