Paul, writing to church at Rome, having just exhorted them to use their gifts for the church, begins to give quick points about what Christian sacrifice looks like. He writes:
Let love be genuine….Love one another with brotherly affection….- Romans 12:9-10
Two of the initial exhortations listed explicitly involve love. In ancient lists, the most prominent person or thing was often listed first. (Among the disciples, Peter is almost always listed first.) Here, love is at the top of this rapid-fire list, and arguably, it’s because it is the most important. Everything also on this list flows from love.
And love is to be genuine. In the Greek world, actors would cover their faces with masks to portray which character they were playing. Love was not to be a mask for these Roman Christians. They were not to pretend to love, but actually love.
The same is true for us. Earlier, we mentioned what often happens in the world. Sadly, sometimes, that kind of “love” also happens in the church. But a love that is not genuine is not love at all. How do we love with a genuine love? The next love-exhortation might help us understand.
Paul exhorts them to love one another with brotherly affection. What’s interesting here is that where Paul used agape in the first exhortation, here he uses philadelphia, which is more of a natural love between family members. And there you have it. Our love for one another should mirror that of love toward family members.
With some exceptions, typically there is an unbreakable bond between family members. It’s a natural instinct. We even see it in the animal kingdom. Tigers aren’t considering Scripture when they watch out for their cubs. There is a certain natural love between family members.
Christians are, in an even deeper way, family members. They have been bought with a price, graciously adopted into God’s family and should thus have a philadelphia for one another. If you don’t have that inclination toward your brothers and sisters in Christ, than you haven’t understood that they are your family. Jesus illustrated this poignantly when his family was looking for Him, and He responded, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Those who followed God were more family to Him than His blood relatives. He also said that His coming would bring division among family members, those who would believe, and those who wouldn’t.
Christians are your true family. And because they are your true family, you should have a true love for them. Do you ever find yourself being fake to other Christians? This is the root issue. By God’s grace, if you have believed, you have been saved from your sin and freed to love in this way. Love in this way.