Love Must Be Sincere

In the book of Romans, Paul takes the first eleven chapters to explain God’s plan for us, and how we are to love God. In chapter twelve he shifts from a vertical perspective to a horizontal one. Verse nine reads:Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Romans 12:9 (NIV ) 

The word sincere is translated form a Greek word meaning “without hypocrisy”. A hypocrite in classical Greek describing someone who wore a mask in a play. The people of Paul’s time would have understood he was saying that we are not to wear a mask when we love others – pretending to love but inwardly thinking something else. What is seen on our face should be genuine or sincere.

I had an experience in an airport once that reminds me of this principle. While on the plane, I noticed how the stewardess had smiled and served the customers. As we left the plane she smiled and said good-bye to the passengers. Later as I was waiting for my next flight, I noticed one of the passengers approached her with a question. She still was wearing her uniform, but she was off duty. This individual was expecting the same care that they would receive while on the plane. Instead of a smiling face, they received a rude and offensive response. In fairness to the stewardess, I had no idea what was going on in her world. But it left me wondering if the way she cared for people on the plane was genuine, or she was simply wearing a mask in order to collect a paycheck.

The origin of the word sincere also helps us to understand the principle here that Paul is making. The word “sincere” comes from the Latin words sine cera, which interestingly means “without wax”. 

 This term comes from a practice where people would hide the cracks in the pottery that was slightly damaged. Wax was used to fill the cracks in order to pass the pottery off as being worth more than it actually was.  In time the wax would melt or wear away, rendering the pot useless. Therefore those pots not finished with wax were inscribed ‘Sine Cera’ to verify that they were whole, and from this evolved the word ‘sincere’. It would be similar to those products today that are stamped, “organic” or “100% pure”.

  Paul is telling us to love in a way that is pure and genuine. 

Paul is making this point because we learn from an early age how to pretend we care for someone, when we actually don’t. For example:

  • We speak well of someone when they are present, but when we leave we criticize them.
  • We tell someone to give us a call “anytime”, but when we see his or her number come up on the phone display, we ignore it. 
  • We say: “no child should go hungry”, yet we don’t donate to the food bank or another such cause.
  • We tell our children not to behave a certain way, yet when they are not looking we carry out that behaviour.
  • We smile at someone while they are talking, but we really aren’t listening.

Three keys to loving sincerely:

1. Listen to others. 

Listening takes time and effort. Some practical listening tips are:

  • Slow down and set the time aside needed to sincerely listen.
  • Pay attention and show you are listening by nodding or small verbal comments.
  • Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message.
  • Recognize that what is not said also speaks.
  • Look at the speaker directly.
  • Put aside distracting thoughts and things (like your phone).
  • Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal while they are speaking.
  • “Listen” to the speaker’s body language.
  • Provide feedback or ask questions to clarify certain points.
  • Allow the person speaking to finish.

2. Abhor what is evil. 

Loving others sincerely is to step up and help them when they are hurting. But if we don’t hate the evil that cause the hurt, whether it be injustice, bullying, abuse, lying, etc., there is little motivation to love them.

If someone claims to love you and then disappears when things go wrong in your life, they are like the cracked pot that was filled with wax. When the “heat” was on, their care melted like the wax in the cracked pot.

When we become numb to evil, and it no longer troubles us, we are in trouble. The Syrian refugee crisis had been going on for some time, but it took the picture of a little boy washed up on the shore to wake up the world. The hatred for this evil causes us to respond with love.

Everyday through various mediums we are so exposed to murders, adultery, lying, stealing, injustice and so forth, that we are no longer shocked.  

 We become numbed by the depravity around us and end up somewhat immune to it.  When evil numbs our heart it also diminishes our ability to love with sincerity. It is for this reason that Paul tells us to hate what is evil.

3. Cling to what is good. 

To cling means to hold on tightly. It takes a concentrated effort to hold on to what is good. The reason you have to keep your grip on is because others will challenge you to let go and settle for less. In the rest of this chapter Paul provides us with a list of things to hold tightly to:

  • Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
  • Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.
  • Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
  • Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. If you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.
  • Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.
  • Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up.
  • Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
  • Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.
  • Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
  • Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

If we make the effort today to love sincerely, we really can help make the city be a better place!