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Love is the foundation of Christianity.
Such love refers, first of all, to God’s love for us. According to Romans 5.8, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” But that public demonstration bears private fruit. According to Romans 5.5, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” So intense is God’s love for us that, according to Romans 8.39, there is nothing “in all creation, [that] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Second, love refers to our love for one another. In Romans 12.9-16, Paul lists twelve character qualities that ought to guide Christians in their relationships with one another. In his commentary on Romans, John Stott lists these character qualities as sincerity, discernment, affection, honor, enthusiasm, patience, generosity, hospitality, good will, sympathy, harmony, and humility. Today, I want to look at only the first two: sincerity and discernment, for Paul talks about them in a way that might be confusing to some.
Romans 12.9 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” For most of us, love and hate are mutually exclusive. If you love, you do not hate. If you hate, you do not love. But Paul teaches that love and hatred are both character qualities of a Christian. How is this possible? Let me give you an example from marriage.
Marriage is the purest demonstration of love a man and a woman can give one another. But there are many ways to pollute that love. For example, a husband could spend his best efforts at the office rather than at home. Or he could use online pornography. Or he could begin an extramarital affair. By the same token, a wife could give into bitterness about her husband’s freedom to work outside the home. Or she could resent his lack of involvement in chores and childrearing. Or she could indulge in gossip with friends about their respective husband’s failings. I admit that these examples are a bit traditional and stereotypical, but you get the point. Something pure becomes adulterated.
You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “True love waits.” That’s correct. If you love someone, you’ll wait to engage in sexual activity with them until you’re married. But here’s an expression you’ve probably never heard: “True love hates.” It never hates another person, but it always hates the attitudes and activities that destroy a relationship. Show me a wife who doesn’t hate her husband’s adultery, and I’ll show you a wife who doesn’t love her husband.
If love is sincere, it hates evil and embraces good. As expressions of love, then, whether in marriage or any other relationship, sincerity and discernment work together. If I love you, I will hate the things that push us apart and embrace the things that pull us together. After all, isn’t that how God expressed his sincere love for us on the Cross?