“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
~Romans 12:9-10 (NRSV).
Like so many things, our plans and goals sound so simple and achievable on paper or in thought. The above fits that frame. It sounds good. Yet, even as we consider the words as we read them, we’re more likely to convict ourselves for our failures to uphold them than we are to acknowledge our successes in keeping to them.
The Apostle Paul wraps up many concepts in this very practical section of Romans. This section is actually very James-like, in that it features many punchy wisdom-sayings, almost indivisible in their overall theme.
To get us closer to the aim of being ‘truly Christian,’ via affection, devotion and therefore practice, we need to understand what underpins all good desire: love.
What is Real Love?
This is a question that has vexed us for several millennia. Most philosophies and religions have their take on it. Real love can only, however, contain itself in relationship. Even as we relate with ourselves there is love known toward ourselves, or a lack thereof.
The aspect of relationship — and therefore love — is sorely missing in many non-Christian ways of living when they’re not inherently relational.
Now, if we have a relationship with a Being, one over and above all, as is God, and whether we’re estranged to this Being or not — and if we’re still at some sort of relational continuum with this Being — then there must be a way for reconciliation with this Being if love underpins everything.
Enter grace. Grace separates Christianity from all other religions. Graceless versions of Christianity are therefore — as a natural extension — not true Christianity; they crucify again and again (using Hebrews 6:6 theology) the Lord Jesus, for he came to bridge this human-Divine gap via grace. They do not exemplify the most basic premise of love — grace.
Coming back on track, then, love is formed of relationship and grace is a mandatory component of loving relationships, i.e. for them to work with sustainability, with reconciliation always possible.
Real love is practiced true affection and devotion.
When Affection and Devotion Become Practice
Love is on another plane at a higher realm than ‘the law’ — or duty to do things we need to do, but often don’t want to do. There are many examples of law-in-practice, spiritually speaking, but in the God-realm we must truly get beyond ‘duty’ if we’re to love.
The affectively devoted intent of Romans 12:9-10 styled love is the head-over-heeled ‘outdoing’ love based in inherent goodness — this not of ourselves, but of God.
When we’re doing our love like this, consistently so, we’re practicing it — with affection and devotion. Call it love-in-practice. ‘Duty’ would otherwise be a despicable blight on the said motives — others’ attributions for why we’re doing our acts of love. But we’ll know the truth and so will God, as will trusted and trusting others. There’s no duty about it without the devotion to want to do it. We’ve gone beyond sacrifice. Now it’s because of love, pure and simple.
The hate of evil, then, becomes part of our practice as we endorse only the good — expunging it even from ourselves in repentance.
Loving with mutual affection and devotion, therefore, is loving with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.