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HOW STRONG AND HOW PURE IS OUR LOVE?

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

29 AUGUST 1993

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Genesis 1:31
Matthew 22:37-40
Romans 12:9-21
1 Timothy 1:5

Do you remember some time ago when I opened the service by saying, "Good morning fellow hypocrites!"?

I can certainly remember the expressions upon many of your faces. Some of you laughed, others looked shocked, and still others couldn't believe they heard me say what I said.

As we discussed then, and several times since, if we call ourselves Christians, and do things counter to the will of God, we are, in fact, hypocrites; therefore, since we all sin from time to time, even unintentionally, we are likewise hypocrites from time to time.

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus reminds us that if we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and might, and our neighbor as ourselves, we have fulfilled the whole Law and the Prophets.

37. And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

38. “This is the great and foremost commandment.

39. “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

40. “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Thus, if we have sinned, we have failed in love; and with this thought in mind, let's go back and look at our preparation verse for this morning (1 Timothy 1:5):

5. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

So, if the reason we are here in church today is to improve in our love, until it is absolutely pure and sincere, then and only then are we on the road to becoming sinless.

We also need to remember that this kind of pure love must include our love for the whole of God's creations (humans, other animals, and the environment in which we all live), for God lovingly created it and called it "very good" (Genesis 1:31).

And upon this road to being perfected in God's love no real hypocrites travel, at least not for very long; for the farther along the road we travel, the more like Jesus Christ we become.

In Romans 12:9-21, Paul tells us about this pure and sincere and strong love. Let's take a look at what he has to say:

9. Let love be without hypocrisy.

Any aspect of our lives that we exhibit that is other than loving, is not love, and thus, is hypocritical.

That is if we say, or even believe, that we are Christians.

Abhor what is evil;

If something is evil, it cannot have any love in it.

If we go along with evil acts, or don't even say anything against them, we are in essence saying that they can coexist with love, which they can't, and we prove ourselves to be hypocrites.

If we truly abhor what is evil and do what we can to counter it, and protect ourselves and others (humans and non-humans) from it, we show our love.

But at the same time, we must do something else to prove our love. We must:

cling to what is good.

Here is where the true body of Christ shows itself for who they are.

10. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love;

Here, also, is where the strength of our love is tested.

Can we love each other; truly love each other, every each other, no matter who they are?

Can we see through each other’s character flaws to the person God desires us to be?

It we can, we have passed this portion of our love test.

give preference to one another in honor;

Or, we might say: We should outdo one another in showing honor.

That means we must truly respect each other, and never, ever gossip; and never be prideful ourselves, but elevate the other person by letting them and others know who they are in Christ Jesus.

11. not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

In other words, there is no such thing as a lazy Christian; for a lazy person depends on others to do for them – and that is not love; nor is it serving the Lord, nor is it being a Christian. .

12. rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.

Worry and fear are the opposite of love.

When we have hope, we can see beyond our worries and fears.

We can see beyond our tribulations, and we will rejoice that we have a loving God who hears our prayers and answers them.

As loving Christians, we also should be

13. contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Skinflints and hermits lack love.

Christians reach out a helping hand and do what they can to make others comfortable, and the world a better place in which to live in peace.

Hopefully, we can truly say that we are doing our best in these areas, and improving in them every day.

But then, as we see in verse 14, comes an even harder test:

14. Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.

If someone is persecuting us, the worldly reaction is to curse them, or when we're talking about nations, to go to war with them.

As Christians, we're not to do that.

But we're also not to bless their evilness.

We're to pray for their change of heart.

We're to recognize the source of their evilness, and pray against it – but not that they end up in hell with Satan.

A test such as this can tell us a whole lot about how strong and pure our love really is.

15. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

If we truly love someone, we will feel as they feel; and to not have such feelings shows the shortcomings of our love, and this applies to our love for both humans and other animals.

16. Be of the same mind toward one another;

This goes along with the previous verse, but it is more general. It means that the way we live with each other, in love, should be in the will of God.

No matter how much of an individual we may be in our abilities or talents, if what we do is in the will of God, we will just naturally be of like mind toward one another.

This like-mindedness is the expression of our love.

do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.

To think that we are more important than someone else, before God, is not thinking in love.

We may be able to do something better than someone else, but that doesn't make us any better than them.

If we truly love, we will want to associate with everyone, no matter what their status in life may be.

Do not be wise in your own estimation.

To do so is prideful.

But in love, we will want to share our knowledge with others and learn from them; for in other areas, they may be wiser than we are.

17. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.

Even the act of thinking something evil is against God's will, and shows a lack of love.

But to do something evil against someone else, because they did something evil to us, makes us no better than them; and if we claim to be Christians, it makes us hypocrites.

Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

We know that not everyone respects what is right, and many even scoff at it; but that shouldn't matter to us, if we are filled with unconditional love.

We are still to do what is right, so that they will see the difference and hopefully come to repentance.

18. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

"…so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."

It doesn't matter what the rest of the world does about peace or countering peace, “…so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Or be at peace with everyone.

It they reject your offer of peace, that's their problem, not yours.

If your love is strong and pure, you will be at peace with others – all others, all the time.

And remember,

19. 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.

Many times I have seen the hand of God reach out to protect His own and to bring His wrath upon those who came against them.

God really knows what He's doing; we don't have to do this job for God, for all we're going to do is mess it up.

For your personal part, be at peace, and don't get upset with what the evil people do; for in the end, they will really be doing it to themselves.

And then the Lord gives us some very good advice:

20. "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 upon his head."

Hopefully, these “burning coals” will be the “burning” of conviction within their souls for what they have done, which leads to true repentance and the Lord's forgiveness.

But if they reject your offer of peace and their heart remains hard, then they will feel the burning of God's wrath.

We must leave room for God in these matters, if we truly love Him.

For our part, just remain strong in love.

21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

By this the world will know we are Christians, and not hypocrites.

Amen.

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