In every American college football game at least two different songs can be heard. The first song, the National Anthem, is played before the game starts. The second song is the home team’s fight song, and will likely be played multiple times throughout the contest. Why do we play these songs? These songs are designed to encourage and unify the people behind one common purpose. The words and the melodies of these songs remind the people of who they are, what side they are on, what they stand for, and what they stand against. These songs serve as rallying calls.
The children of God have a “song” which they sing. They have a rallying call. They have a common purpose, a common value, a common trait which runs through all that they say and do. Our song is love; true and genuine love. Jesus, when summing up the greatest commandment, put it this way: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’” (Matt. 22.36-40). Paul puts it simply, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (Rom. 12.9).
Christian love is more than simply a claimed love; it is a love that is lived. Christian love is more than just a talked about love; it is a deep emotional love. Christian love is more than just a theological teaching; it is the very core of who we are. Christian love is not just a natural emotional occurrence that is felt as relationships are developed with our neighbors; it is a love that we strive to achieve even when we are mistreated, hated and persecuted. Love is a thread that runs through everything we say and do. True, genuine love is our song. It calls us to one purpose. It unites us. It encourages us. It reminds us of who we are, what we stand for, and what we stand against. Love is the song of God’s people.
In Romans 12, Paul expounds upon the way this genuine love is seen in our lives. In verses 7-9, Paul instructs Christians to use our varying gifts accordingly. When we use the gift of serving, we must put that service in to action. If our gift is exhortation, we must exhort. When we give, we must give liberally. When we exercise leadership, we must lead with diligence. When we do acts of mercy, we must do them with cheerfulness. So also, when we love, we must continually demonstrate the genuineness of our love, just as Paul describes in verses 9-12:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Love must ALWAYS be genuine, sincere, and most importantly, put into action.
Christians must never be heard saying, “I abhor evil, but…”, “I love my brethren, but…”, “I know we have a better hope, but…”, “Yes, we must patiently persevere tribulation, but…” “Yes, we must care for the poor, but…”, “Yes, our homes should be used for hospitality, but…”, “Yes, we must love our enemies, but…”. There are no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about it! The Holy Spirit commanded that our love must be without hypocrisy! Love must never be reduced to something we talk about, but refrain from putting into action. It doesn’t cut it to simply say “Of course I love my brethren” or “Of course I love my enemies”. Christian love must be put into action in our words, in our thoughts, in our emotions and in our actions.
Love for our Brethren
When it comes to our brethren, our love must characterize us so completely that we are never tempted to “fake it.” Not only must we have “agape” love for one another (v. 9), we must also have “brotherly love” for one another (v. 10). That is, our love must be not only a commitment to love, but we must also cultivate and develop those feelings of brotherly affection. It is a love that must affect our very preferences: “give preference to one another in honor.” We must fervently throw ourselves into our service towards one another as we serve the Lord (v. 11). The hope we have together surpasses even the most severe and depressing of earthly trials, hardships, disappointments and frustrations (v. 12). Therefore when those trials come our way, we can persevere, all l because of the “song” we keep singing. And when we see our brethren going through those hard times, the devotion of our love must show through in our constant prayer, generous giving, and warm hospitality.
We sing this song together. We rejoice together. We weep together. We suffer together. We persevere together. We have this same mind towards one another (vs. 14-15). Paul continues, “Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly” (v. 15). When we are more concerned about ourselves, we cannot show the kind of love Paul describes. Notice how Jesus puts it in Luke 23.25-26:
And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest and the leader like the servant.
If our minds seek after highly respected places in this life, we will never be great in God’s eyes. The song of God’s people is not greatness or power or respectability. The song that calls us together is “love.”
Love for our Enemies
Showing love towards our brethren is not the only kind of love Paul speaks of in Romans 12. In verses 14-21, Paul challenges us to take our love to a completely different level as he challenges us to love our enemies.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (v. 14). The same thing was taught by Christ himself when he commanded us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5.44-45). Yes, a Christian can (and must) continue to “abhor what is evil”, but we must deal with the evil man with love, so as to lead him to what is right. Responding to evil with good is not optional. It is something the disciples of Christ must do. If when we are reviled, we revile in return, and if when we suffer, we threaten the lives of our enemies, we are not following in the steps of Christ (1 Pet. 2. 21-23).
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (v. 17). The Holy Spirit didn’t say “Most of the time, it is wrong to pay back evil for evil”, nor he did say “Never pay back evil to evil, unless you are dealing with someone who is really evil, like a terrorist or something”. He said “never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (vs. 17-18). That’s genuine love. That kind of concern for our enemies is the kind of love that identifies the followers of Christ.
What is the Christian responsibility for peace? If it is in our ability, it is our responsibility. We must use anything and everything in our power to strive for peace, even with wicked men. We must be willing to sacrifice everything, even our own lives. The only thing we cannot and must not sacrifice for the sake of peace is our faithfulness to the Lord and our firm stance for His truth.
This is not to suggest that Paul desired that we simply stand by and allow wicked men to have their way. (Any interpretation that would aid wickedness would certainly be an odd understanding of Scripture). Christian love should not eliminate the desire for justice. If anything, Christian love should enhance our compassion for the victims of evil. Righteous judgment is one of the great attributes of the God we serve!
Paul, in discussing our genuine love, embraces the idea of the wrath and vengeance against evil. Yet he is very clear that the execution of justice is not the responsibility of Christians themselves. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” The Holy Spirit admonishes us be patient in tribulation. As we witness evil, and our desire for revenge arises, be patient! Vengeance WILL be executed! “I will repay” is the promise of our Lord. As is explained in Romans 13, God in His overruling authority uses governments as his minister for doing this very thing. But the words of Romans 12:19 couldn’t be clearer; it is our responsibility to leave vengeance in the hands of God. It is our responsibility to love our enemies.
We must never forget that we are in a war; not a physical war against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. The question is this: will we overcome evil, or will we be overcome by evil? The answer to this question depends on our faith in the strategy given to us in Romans 12. 20-21.
But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.
If we love our enemies, if we do kindness to them, if we feed them when they are hungry, if we give them drink when they are thirsty, we have the promise their evil will be overcome. But if we forget our song, if we forget our purpose, if we forget our rallying call, if we forget that true, genuine love, the Holy Spirit warns us that we will be overcome by evil.
Love is our song. It is our purpose. It is our rallying call. It is what identifies us as followers of Christ. We must never stop singing that song.