Having just encouraged us to fulfill Gods call on our lives (Ro 12:1-8) Paul immediately turns to address the quality of our relationships because if we cant work together harmoniously everything he has just taught us falls apart. Yes, each of us must discover our calling, and yes, we need to pursue the full dimension of Gods plan, but if we dont learn how to get along with each other, none of it matters. Love really is the highest quality (1Co 13:1-3, 13). In the remaining chapters of this letter we discover there were numerous areas of controversy among the believers in Rome. Differing opinions on matters had hardened and were separating friends, quenching love and enflaming pride. It had become urgent that they rebuild their love for one another because love is the foundation upon which all ministry rests. So, most of these last chapters are Pauls pastoral counsel to them about how to love. But what may surprise us is what he puts at the head of his list. The first thing he says is: Dont pretend to love!
What does Paul say?
Paul uses a very common Greek word which we still use today: hypocrit. It was the term the Greeks used for an actor in the theater. Jesus Himself used the word a lot to describe people who pretend to love God but really dont (Mt 6:2, 5, 16; 6:16; 7:5; 15:7; 22:18; 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 28, 29; 24:51; Mk 7:6; 12:15; Lk 12:1; 12:56; 13:15). In this sense a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be someone else. They pretend emotions they dont feel, they say words they dont believe, they behave in ways that dont represent their heart. Its the absence of integrity.
And we need to also note which Greek word Paul uses for love. There are several options to choose from, and he uses a couple of these in the next few statements. But here he uses that unique word (agape) that Christians coined to describe the selfless love Jesus modeled for us. Its not the word for friendship or romance or even the deep commitment families may have for one another. Its the kind of love that puts others first. Its the new commandment,
love one another as I have loved you (Jn 13:34). This, pure form of love, were told, must be genuine.
Deciding to love
This kind of love is not based on fickle emotion. It begins with a decision to love, and then steadfastly refuses to allow anything to take that love away. We hear God command, we choose to obey, and then we draw on His power to do the very thing He has asked of us. As His disciple, if He tells me to love, then I will love and will do whatever is necessary to protect that reality in my heart. I cant just will this love into existence, but I can obey the steps Im told to take and be confident He will put love where it doesnt exist, and refresh it when it declines.
Real love is something that has to be diligently maintained. Human nature is such that our love always tends to cool off. Sooner or later offense enters every relationship; its like weeds in a garden. This means you and I have to work hard to preserve love; its not automatic.
There are many things Paul might have said to open this section of his letter, but he chose to say, Let love (agape) be without hypocrisy! In other words, Dont pretend, dont fake it, let your true feelings show. He follows this command with another which clarifies his meaning. He adds, If something is evil, openly despise it, if somethings good, stand beside it! In other words, dont pretend to be indifferent about things that are truly evil, abhor them. And dont hide your feelings about things that are truly good, cling to them. Wow! Hes inviting us to be completely honest. At first glance that sounds like it would have the opposite effect. Instead of strengthening, one would think it would blow apart whatever relationship was left.
Many of us have been taught our entire lives to hide our true feelings. For some it has become virtually impossible to be honest about our feelings. Were convinced this type of honesty is at least bad taste, and often downright dangerous. Candor gives people the opportunity to hurt us. By showing our true feelings weve given them a bit of knowledge they can use against us. Now we can easily be ridiculed or blackmailed, and the fact that we told the truth makes it all the worse.
Why are honesty and true love linked together? Why do I have to tell you how I really feel? Why cant I fake it? The answer is simple: we have to be honest if were going to trust one another. When our relationship is honest Im not left wondering what you really think of me, or may be saying about me when Im not present. I am able to trust your words.
But truth by itself can inflict the cruelest wound of all. Ridicule or criticism is far more devastating if there is an element of truth in it. So Paul certainly isnt saying, just tell everybody what you really think about them. Thankfully, elsewhere he tells us how to tell each other the truth. He says, speaking the truth in love we are to grow up into Him who is the Head, even Christ (Eph 4:15). There must be honesty between us for love to exist, but love must guide that honesty if it is to heal rather than tear. Love teaches us to speak without accusing, without generalizing (you always
), without imputing motives (I know why you did that, said that
), without selfishly dumping (Im telling you this only to relieve myself of the anger, shame
). Love teaches us to speak truth with the sole purpose of healing, not punishing. Were honest because we are determined to love that person. Our intent is to remove every obstacle and let the heart be free.
Honest conversation is a deeply Christian activity. Its a process, a skill thats essential to reconciliation and therefore to staying in love for a long time. Here are some key guidelines:
1) The reason Ill speak the truth is not to hurt you or expose your sin, but so that I can be restored to relationship with you. My goal is to love you from a pure heart.
2) I will readily acknowledge my own sinful part in this matter. I never assume I am sinless in any exchange.
3) I enter this uncomfortable conversation because the Lord wants us to love each other. This is worshipful obedience.
4) I discern demonic confusion where it exists but I dont just blame the devil.
5) My goal is not to prove you were in the wrong. This isnt a trial, its an act of healing.
6) By honestly exposing my heart I am making myself vulnerable, but I know that honesty is the only path to restoring trust.
7) I recognize our reconciliation to be an act of spiritual warfare. The devil desperately wants to divide us to lift the anointing, isolate people, bring upon us Gods righteous judgement, neutralize the effectiveness of individuals, families and congregations, and cloud our witness to unbelievers. By restoring our relationship we defeat his attack and redirect it to work together for good (Ro 8:28). We will actually come out of this stronger in our trust for one another. Well discover we can resolve our differences so we dont have to walk on eggshells and pretend anymore.
Surprisingly I often encounter people who, though Christian, seem completely unable to admit when theyre wrong. In any attempt to reconcile all they seem willing to do is rehearse the offenses done to them. They are terribly uncomfortable in these kinds of dialogues and function like they are in mortal combat rather than an act of healing. They seem desperate to avoid any admission that they sinned in any way. Anything they said was misunderstood, anything they did is denied, and as soon as possible they return to blaming others. I dont pretend to understand exactly why this occurs, but it happens often enough and even among long-time Christians that something needs to be said. When I deal with people like this the image that comes to mind is a balloon. One little pinprick and it pops. Their self-esteem seems so fragile that they have to preserve in their minds the image that they are perfect or else they collapse into total self-loathing. Apparently they are not secure enough to admit to themselves their own failures. I mention this only because its there and those who try to reconcile will on occasion encounter it and the process becomes quite confusing. You leave having had a one-way conversation, feeling frustrated and embarrassed. In these cases all I know to do is to love the person anyway and pray that God will reveal to them their own sin and that Jesus blood lifts any condemnation.
What dies when we pretend to love is trust, and when trust is gone we cant work together. We dont say what we really feel so we harbor growing resentment until we come to hate each other, fighting over even insignificant matters. So Paul says, Dont pretend to love! because honesty, when spoken in love, heals rather than divides, even when it exposes areas of painful disagreement.
If you and I are going to obey Pauls command that we not pretend to love, then we are going to have to learn how to reconcile our differences, to expose our hearts to a frightening new degree. Over and over again were going to have to choose to love each other like Jesus has loved us. If we do, then His church will move forward in power as called people work together in harmony.
1) Name a time when you spoke the truth in love in order to be reconciled. Did it help? 2) Is reconciliation hard for you? Do you do it quickly, or drag your feet? Did anything in todays lesson make it easier?