If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us~ John 4:12
Every few years I switch out my Bible translation for a new one.
My absurd fondness for novelty aside, the slight differences in the texts forces me to pay attention to what I’m reading. It keeps me thinking, and I have found thinking is always better than the alternative.
Over the years I have made my way 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 was challenging and I found myself in desperate need of a spiritual kick in the pants. So I headed to Romans chapter twelve, it’s kind of my go-to passage anytime I need little spiritual straight-talk or a firm reminder of what the whole Christian thing is all about (Romans 12:1-21). Over the years I have probably read that particular chapter at least a hundred times, but, for some reason verse nine caught me up short and got me thinking and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it 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.
All this made me want 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 posed a question on social media.
I got sixty-five responses and the responses were divided into two distinct groups. The first group defined love almost entirely in terms of feelings. They talked about how they felt about family and friends. They described the security they felt with certain people, general thoughtfulness and those they care about or people that care about them.
Others focused more on actions. This group tended to define love in terms of what we do rather than how we feel 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 social media (shocker) but they did come. It kind of hit me out of nowhere that genuine Christian love is unique because it is about more than just warmhearted sentimentality, or even a firm commitment to sticking with another human being through thick and thin.
Authentic Christian love is distinct and categorically different from any other kind of love. Christian 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 authentic love. There is no love without those things. Nonetheless, Christian 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 the choices they’ve made in life.
Genuine Christian love is chiefly concerned with the eternal destiny of other people (John 3:16, Mark 8:35, Romans 1:16-17, Romans 13:10).
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 (1st Corinthians 13:1-13, James 2:14-17). Christians should always consider the feelings of others before they speak or act (James 1:19-20).
Those are all givens.
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 fake, a fraud, a phony, a counterfeit.
This fact ought to cause us all to evaluate how we choose to love others. Is our love primarily focused simply on kindness? Not hurting people’s feelings? Providing physical needs? All of these things are good things.
They fall tragically short of fulfilling the law of Christian love (James 2:8).