Perhaps you have heard about the guy who fell in love with an opera singer. He hardly knew her, since his only view of the singer was through binoculars - from the third balcony. He was convinced he could live “happily ever after” married to a voice like that. He scarcely noticed that she was considerably older than he was. Nor did he care that she walked with a limp. Her mezzo-soprano voice would take them through whatever might come. After a whirlwind romance and a hurry-up ceremony, they were off for their honeymoon. She began to prepare for their first night together. As he watched, his chin dropped to his chest. She plucked out her glass eye and plopped it into a container on the night-stand. She pulled off her wig, ripped off her false eyelashes, yanked out her dentures, unstrapped her artificial leg, and smiled at him as she slipped off her glasses that hid her hearing aid. Stunned and horrified, he gasped, “For goodness sake, woman, sing, sing, SING!” (From Charles Swindoll, “Strike the Original Match”)
It was easy for the man to think and say that her voice would take them through whatever might come. But he didn’t realize what he was getting into. I suppose that this is why Paul tells the Roman Christians in 12:9-21, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Words come easy, but actions are not always so easy to follow through. This thought leads off a series of important virtues that Christians are to live in relationship with others. It is these characteristics that we will explore today. Paul tells the Roman Christians that they have a responsibility in their service to the Lord and to one another. There are several principles that they are to maintain in their lives. These also apply to us in helping us to experience good, growing relationships.
Many interpret God’s love to be some “wishy, washy” matter...but Agape love is not about happy, happy, happy (although I love “happy, happy, happy”). It is about doing something for people. It is about being active in our service for someone else. It is “the circulatory system for the spiritual body.” And it needs to be sincere…that is, “without hypocrisy” – there is nothing fake about it. We should strive for honesty and trust in all of our relationships, because these are foundational principles to building relationships.
Paul asks that we show loyalty in our devotion to each other, being concerned that we treat one another with honor. And this is certainly as it should be in our relationship with God. We should be as loyal to Him as He was to us through His Son. This is a virtue that…in a great way…has gone missing in our culture. People will be loyal as long things are good, or as long as it is going their way…but as soon as there are difficulties, many will bolt. They do not realize that it is “weathering the storms” with our friends and church families that draw us even closer, and grow us spiritually.
Diligence is important…having an attitude that is focused upon serving to the best of our abilities….looking for opportunities to do good. I am afraid that this is also often found wanting. Many may serve on occasion, but only when it is convenient…and many are not going to be inconvenienced, or diligent to serve.
Hospitality is shared by those who love one another. This used to always be having people over for dinner…and this is still important. But, many times, it is going out to meals with friends, or even sending them out on a date with a gift card – whatever works.
Paul asks that we share sympathy with one another…that we feel with one another when there are joys and sorrows. These things build our relationships and make us stronger, as well.
Humility is the key to keeping relationships straight…if we are in the wrong, we swallow our pride and seek to make things right. If we have been wronged, then we live with a forgiving heart.
Jesus speaks about how important it is to make peace with one another to the best of our ability (Mark 9:50, etc.)…and Paul says that as far as it depends upon us, this should be the case.
He goes on to tell the Roman believers that their attitudes and actions are regularly under scrutiny by those who are non-believers. We need to be careful that our conduct upholds the standards of our Lord. Even when we do the right things and say the right things, everything is not always going to go right. As Paul indicates, we always need to do what is right, regardless, and often we can win over our enemies or those who oppose us. Christians live at a higher level, returning good for evil. Good for evil requires faith. As we love, serve as our Lord did, we learn to grow in grace, and become better servants for Him!
“Never cast aside your friends if by any possibility you can retain them. We are the weakest of spendthrifts if we let a friend drop off through inattention, or let one push away another, or if we hold aloof from one for petty jealousy of heedless slight or roughness. If there is coolness or unkindness between us, let us come face to face and have it out…quickly, before love grows cold. Would you throw away a diamond because it pricked you? One good friend is not to be weighed against the jewels of all the earth.” – Anonymous
I close with something I wrote a few years ago – freedom to love. True love cannot be the result of decree, force or manipulation. Anything that I do to deprive someone of the right to choose is a violation of his or her personhood. When I sense that my own right to choose is being threatened, then I know that I am not being loved...and the doors to ministry are not open. Paul tells the Corinthians that "love does not seek its own" (13:5b). Many times, the best solution is to yield until I feel free to make the right choice. Many in our society, and even some believers, see submission as a sign of weakness. I think that all we have to do is look to the life of our Lord and Savior to understand that submission is indeed a sign of grace and strength.