Summary: In our world where trying to get ahead of one another seems to be the rule, God asks us to consider a new reality: to love genuinely and reciprocally, to clutch that which is good and to compete to show the most integrity.
Have you ever thought about the legacy you want to leave behind when you die? I’m not talking about a physical legacy such as the things you own. I’m talking about how you want people to remember you. The type of legacy you leave behind will depend on the kind of life you lead on earth. Do you want to leave a legacy that is based on the world, its possessions and its sinful nature, or do you want to leave a legacy that is based on a life of service to God and that is pleasing to God? God has put together a checklist for a legacy that is pleasing to him. The most important item on that checklist is Christian love. In Romans 12:12-16 Paul teaches us how to show love in practical ways.
The most important qualities of genuine love are sincerity and discernment. If there is no sincerity, love becomes manipulation, competition and pretense. There is no room for this because love and truth go hand in hand. Love clings to what is good.
Love is characterized by devoted affection. It is to be characterized by the warm affection that is shared by family members. In our case, it is the warm affection we have for all of God’s people. Sometimes this can be difficult, but we must make the effort because our family bonds can’t be broken.
Love is also characterized by honour. This includes letting someone else have his or her own way in matters that are nonessential. We must listen carefully when other people speak, even if and when they disagree with us. We must treat other peoples’ feelings with respect and dignity.
We must also have enthusiasm and passion. It is a passion for doing well by others. It is a boiling passion to love and serve God. This passion can’t be contained. This does not mean that we have to show the same enthusiasm that is shown in charismatic churches such as the Pentecostal church or the Salvation Army.
Love is also patient, especially as explained in 1 Corinthians 13 (also known as “the love chapter”). This can be hard to do in times of trial and difficulties. It means fulfilling obligations and receiving blessings when we are discouraged. We can press on when we devote ourselves to prayer.
Generosity is also a part of love. Love means sharing what we have with the less fortunate. Love means sharing in the suffering of our fellow human beings even when our own circumstances are different. The resources we have been given by God can be the means of blessing or cursing, the instruments of good and evil. The determining factor is whether we regard our resources as personal possessions to be used as we desire or as gracious gifts from God to be used for his glory and man’s benediction.
Closely tied with generosity is hospitality. The original meaning of the word “hospitality” is “loving strangers”. It means showing love to those who are different from us in race, nationality, creed or belief. Love takes the initiative and actively looks for opportunities. A good example is the hospitality many people here in the Maritimes showed during the immediate aftermath of 9/11. When thousands of airplanes had to land at the nearest airport when American airspace was shut down after the World Trade Centre in New York was attacked, Maritimers opened their homes and hearts to stranded passengers by providing food, clothing, shelter and day trips. The same hospitality was shown after the crash of Swissair Flight 111 when people provided food for searchers and comfort to visiting relatives of the passengers.
Also tied in with hospitality and generosity is graciousness. It is the most difficult aspect of love to carry out. Graciousness means returning good for evil. Grace in response to evil is a unique characteristic of a godly person, and grace can only come from God.
True love also means showing compassion, sympathy and empathy. It celebrates joy when fellow believers celebrate joy and grieves when fellow believers grieve or die. Compassion says, “I will do anything I can to stop your hurt.” Jesus was repeatedly moved by compassion. He was willing to do whatever he could to stop others from hurting, including going to the cross. He was willing to die to stop our hurt by giving us a way to receive God’s grace and eternal life.
True love is also characterized by an emphasis on satisfying another person’s need for approval. We are to facilitate another person’s victory. We are to rejoice in hope in the assurance that by doing so, our lives will count both now and for eternity.
Love must always be shown with humility. Paul warns the Gentiles in Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 not to be full of pride, and here in Romans 12:9-21 he repeats the same warning to all of us. Paul urges us to think like other Christians, but not to blindly go along with the group. We are to be for the same things even if our viewpoints and approaches are different. In other words, we are to try to find common ground without sacrificing God’s truth. We are to seek out and serve the outcasts of society. Most of the time love must be tender, compassionate and understanding but there are times when love must be tough, firm and unbending, especially when we are speaking the truth of God’s word.