If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us~ John 4:12
I have an odd spiritual quirk.
Every couple years I switch out my Bible translation for a new one. My absurd fondness for novelty aside, the slight differences in the texts force me to pay attention to what I’m reading. It keeps me thinking, and I have found that thinking is always superior to the alternative. Through the years I have read through the NIV, NKJV, NASB and The Message.
With the notable exception of The Message (TOO MANY WORDS) whatever version I am currently reading typically morphs into my new favorite. My current favorite is the English Standard Version. However the ESV it is certainly different than the last version I read (NASB) and the differences have led to some thought-provoking discoveries.
This last week I was a little out of sorts and in desperate need of a spiritual kick in the backside. So I headed to Romans chapter twelve, my go-to passage whenever I find myself in need of little spiritual straight-talk. I have probably read that particular chapter at least a hundred times over the course of the last three decades, but for some reason verse nine caught my attention and got me thinking. I have been thinking about Romans 12:9 ever since.
It simply reads…
Let love be genuine.
Because the text tells us our love should be genuine, then logic dictates there is a form of love Christian people sometimes express that is not real or genuine. It is somehow fake, phony or counterfeit, and like every decent counterfeit, it looks genuine, at least on the surface. It’s also safe to assume that this verse serves as a warning to Christians to be vigilant about how we love others.
The Bible does not give a clear-cut definition of love.
1st Corinthians shows us what genuine love ought to look like in our day-to-day interactions with other people. However, it doesn’t spell out a definition for us. Everyone agrees Jesus’ life; death and resurrection were the ultimate expression of love in action, but again no clear-cut definition.
I wanted to find out what other people think about the subject of love. So I did what people do these days when they want to know what people think about a subject.
I put the question on my Facebook page.
I got sixty-five responses and the answers were all pretty good but fairly predictable. The responses tended to be divided into two distinct groups. The first group defined love in terms feelings. They talked about family, friends, security, general thoughtfulness and people they care about or people that care about them.
Others hit on concepts that probably come a bit closer to God’s definition of love and tended to focus more on actions. They defined love in terms of how we behave and think about other people. Many used words like commitment, thoughtfulness, selflessness, and compassion. Some spoke of courage, personal sacrifice, providing for the physical and emotional needs of others and grace.
All good stuff, but not exactly what I was looking for.
The answers I was looking for didn’t come from Facebook (shocker) but they did come. It kind of hit me out of nowhere that genuine Christian love is more than just warmhearted sentimentality, or even a firm commitment to sticking with another human being through thick and thin.
Love goes beyond providing for daily needs or showing grace to a struggling soul. Love is about more than simply being kind, although kindness, care for others, commitment and grace are at the very core of love. Nonetheless, love is much deeper and more complex than all of that. Authentic Christian love is about more than making people feel good about themselves or their choices right now.
Genuine Christian love is chiefly concerned with the eternal destiny of other people.
All Christians should be kind, generous, courageous, compassionate and gracious people. Christians should do everything possible to help meet the physical and emotional needs of others. Christians should always consider the feelings of others before they speak or act. However any expression of Christian love that does not attempt to change the eternal destiny of the other person by telling the truth about heaven, hell and the sin problem of mankind is not really love at all.
It’s a counterfeit.