13th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 17 – A)
September 3, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle from Romans, which was read a few minutes ago.
If someone asked you to define love, how would you answer? Would you say it’s an emotion? Is it fleeting or long lasting? Is it a source of joy or heartache? Is it what you feel for a family member or pizza? The response to Hurricane Harvey has certainly been loving. People have risked and sacrificed their lives to save others and donations are pouring in. The response has been a great example of love for fellow men and women. If this is all love, does Christian love look any different? In some ways, it doesn’t because it’s exhibited in the love we have for our spouse and the love we see in action in Texas. Saint Paul would agree that these examples could be Christian love, while at the same time, he would say that Christian love is unlike any other love we know because it starts with Jesus.
To understand what Christian love looks like, we start by looking at the embodiment of it in Jesus. If we’re going to exhibit Christian love, we must start with Jesus because He’s the only one who loves with perfect genuine love. In the first half of the book of Romans, Jesus is the focus of love. He writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Jesus showed perfect, genuine love in His life. He showed it in His death. As Jesus says about Himself and His followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
The love that Jesus has is unlike love as we tend to know it. He was never hypocritical, proclaiming His love for some and not for others. He genuinely loved the woman caught in adultery, the lepers, and those who weren’t Jewish. He didn’t heal them or teach them and secretly despise them, He can’t do it because Jesus shows genuine love and He is genuine love.
He is so loving that He even loves sinners. Jesus never met anyone who wasn’t a sinner but He still took care of them, and He still loves you. He loves you when you have insincere love towards others. He loves you even though by nature, there’s no love in you. His love is seen in how He forgives all your sins. His love led Him to the cross for you and now you never have to doubt His love. The Lord is “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”
The love Jesus has for you isn’t based on quid pro quo or “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. We have nothing to offer Him! We can’t love Him enough to earn His love. By nature of our sin, we have nothing in us to love or to offer love. But because He first loved you and died for you, now you are changed. Now you too demonstrate genuine love that is not based on what the other person can offer you, but which is based on Jesus.
I’ve referred to Jesus love as genuine love because it’s not twofaced, it’s a real love for you. Because Jesus is genuine love, genuineness is part of Christian love. The entire Epistle we read today describes Christian love for us, and Paul begins by writing about the Christian love we have for other Christians. I don’t want to read all of the Epistle again, there are highlights you need to hear. Paul writes, “Let love be genuine…Love one another with brotherly affection…Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord…Be constant in prayer…Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Genuine Christian love is love for other Christians like we have for a family members. While there are terrible examples of parents who don’t love their children, most of us do. We’d do anything for them and we love those who aren’t related in the same way. Christian love doesn’t tear others down, it builds up. Christian love doesn’t criticize, it helps. Christian love doesn’t gossip or curse, it speaks holy words.
We love other Christians like they’re part of our family because we are part of one family, the family of Christ, the Church. Our love isn’t a lazy one, it’s active. Paul says this love is “fervent in spirit” but what he really says is that our love boils over. Like a pot can’t hold the water the boils over the sides, so too we can’t keep our love from pouring out. Christian love is genuine when we pray for others because prayer works. James puts it this way, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Paul ends by saying that Christian love contributes to the needs of the saints. Do they need encouraging, we encourage. If they need our help, we help. If they are poor, we share the abundance of our blessings. This is Christian love, simple as that.
As we think about the genuine love of Jesus, we’re reminded that genuine Christian love goes beyond our walls and beyond the family of believer. Jesus didn’t just love or heal His disciples, He healed and loved everyone. He even loved those men who drove spikes through His hands and feet and those who hated and rejected Him. Can we show that same love? It isn’t easy, is it? Some non-Christians give us no reason to love them. The Christians in Rome experienced this and we do too. When we’re cursed or mocked or when we see Jesus mocked we get angry, don’t we? Is it a righteous anger? Maybe. Is it an anger motivated by a lack of love? Probably.
But Paul doesn’t say that’s okay. He doesn’t tell us to hate our enemies back or to refuse to love those who don’t love us. Instead he follows Christ’s example when he says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” This is the opposite of human love because our human nature is to not love our enemies.
Now loving them doesn’t always mean befriending them. Paul writes, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Christians are unable to peaceably with Muslims in a Muslim dominated territory. We will probably not be able to peaceably with those who hate us for our perceived faults. But regardless we still love them and help them. We still pray for their souls. If they curse us, we bless them. If they rejoice, we rejoice. If they mourn, we mourn, with the intention to show genuine Christian love.
Paul says something interesting when he writes that loving our enemies “will pile burning coals on his head.” Paul isn’t saying that our love condemns them or will punish them in some way. Rather, by quoting King Solomon, he’s restating that the goal of our genuine Christian love is to bring our enemies to repentance so they will learn of Jesus’ genuine love for them. Christ’s love as He hung on the cross brought a thief and a soldier to faith. The love of the first martyrs brought their persecutors to faith, and we pray for the same outcome. Paul says, “overcome evil with good” and by showing genuine love to those outside the Church, we may very well save their bodies and their souls. They can come to know the love that Jesus has for us and for them, and His genuine love changes all those who are part of the Church.
Love, especially in younger people, can be fleeting. How many high school or college kids are convinced they’re going to marry their current boyfriend or girlfriend? Genuine Christian love is different because it isn’t something we can just turn off and on. It doesn’t come from within us, it comes from Christ, so it’s constantly boiling over in our lives. Nor does our genuine Christian love come out for those who have something in them that we want to love. We have a genuine love for those within the family of Christ and those outside the Church. While it can be hard to show this love, and while we don’t always do it very well, we still try. It really comes down to one thing. We love because He first loved us and Jesus is what genuine love will always look like.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen