I visited two churches today: a Presbyterian Church (USA), and a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. Both interacted with roughly the same texts: the Old Testament reading was different, but the New Testament and Gospel readings were the same. I learned when I preached at a PCUSA church a while back that pastors have a selection of verses from which they can choose.
One of the texts with which the churches interacted was Romans 12:9-21:
9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;
13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.
14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.
15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things,
but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place
unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith
20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give
him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (KJV)
The first preacher was presenting Romans 12:9-21 as a Christian
response to current evils, particularly racism. The second preacher
touched on more points. He talked about expanding our range of love
through hospitality, praying for our enemies so we can get God’s
perspective on them (i.e., Christ died for them), how a lot of our love
is selfish in that we love people who love us back, and the importance
of gaining the continuing motivation to love through the Holy Spirit.
The children’s part of the service was about how we should not add to
the darkness through retaliation, and how we can make our enemies into
our friends through love.
Both preachers interacted with the first part of v 9: “Let love be
without dissimulation.” The first preacher said that the passage does
not say “make love genuine,” but “let love be genuine.” He did not
explain what he meant. Perhaps he meant that Christians have the Holy
Spirit inside of them, which leads them towards genuine love, and all
they have to do is let that out. Looking at my BibleWorks, there
appears to be a difference of opinion on how to translate Ἡ. BNT and
BGT see it as an article, going with love. BYZ treats it as a
subjunctive, which would be consistent with “let love be genuine.” I
did a search on that subjunctive form, though, and, when it is used for
eimi, there is an iota under the eta, which is not the case in Romans
The other preacher said that the verse means that our love should not
be hypocritical: we should sincerely love rather than pretending to do
Here are some thoughts:
A. I have heard some Christians say that agape love does not mean
that we have to like a person or feel good about him or her. Rather, it
means that we need to be concerned about his or her well-being. In our
text, there appears to be some ambivalence about where emotions fit
in. On the one hand, there seems to be an indication that believers are
supposed to feel good about their fellow believers, for v 10a states:
“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love…” Emotions
are not enough, for actions are also a significant part of the equation:
distribute to the necessity of the saints, be hospitable, rejoice with
those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, etc. But positive emotions
are still a part of the equation. On the other hand, our text does
present a picture of believers struggling to love certain people,
showing outward acts of love towards others even as they leave vengeance
to God. Why would they desire God’s vengeance for such people, if they
felt good about them? And yet, are they truly allowed to desire
vengeance for such people? V 14 exhorts them to bless, not curse, their
A possible way to harmonize this apparent tension is to say that
believers, if possible, should pursue peace with others—-shalom, a
relationship in which both parties feel good about one another. If that
fails—-if the person who hurt is not repentant when confronted—-then
the person who was hurt should leave vengeance to God. That was
essentially the message that I got out of a book that I recently read: Forgiveness and Justice, by Bryan Maier.
B. Can sincerity be commanded? Is it truly wrong to pretend to
love: to do the outward acts of love, without really feeling it? What
is so wrong with that? If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. Yet, I
have to admit: it is phony to be all lovey-dovey with someone while not
feeling it. Part of the solution may be the recognition that I should
treat people with respect: I should regard them as people with needs,
strengths, weaknesses, and fears, like me, even if I do not like them.
Maybe that will encourage me to treat them with respect and dignity
(assuming that I see them, which I hope I don’t).
C. In the children’s part of the service, the leader was saying
that, if a kid pushes them, they should not push the kid back. That
only adds to the darkness. Does it? I would probably run from conflict
so as to avoid assault charges, but I can understand those who choose
to fight back. Essentially, they are saying: “I am a person of dignity,
and you are not going to push me around, without consequences.” There
is a place for ending feuds and letting bygones be bygones, but should
there be no consequences for hurting and bullying others? Would not
bullies respect those who fight back?
D. I am currently reading a book by Puritan pastor William Gurnall,
which I will be reviewing tomorrow. I do not want to steal my thunder
for tomorrow’s review, but one point that Gurnall makes is that conflict
between Christians results in Christians not supporting each other.
Satan likes that, according to Gurnall, because believers are more
vulnerable when they are alone. I am a bit jaded, though. After
dealing with Christians who dislike me, and whom I dislike, I am
skeptical of ever arriving at some Shangra-la in which I support
Christians, and they support me (not materially, but spiritually and
emotionally—-and I am not making a blanket statement about all
Christians I know). Still, I think that Gurnall makes good points.
And, while I do stink at love in many respects, I cannot say that I am a
total failure at it. I try to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep
with those who weep—-in the sense that I show concern, not in the sense
that I feel what they are experiencing as deeply as them.
E. I saw a fine example of Christian love at the first service that I
attended. There is one person who is a regular attender, and I think
that he is partially blind. He does not have e-mail, but one of the
congregants shares her e-mail address with him. That warms my heart.
That is a good example of believers providing support for one another.
F. As I said, the first preacher was relating Romans 12:9-21 to the
question of how Christians should respond to racists. He humbly and
meekly said that he wishes that he could take the Nazi protesters to
Auschwitz, or the KKK people to the slave camps in the South, and then
they would see the negative consequences of their ideology. I am
skeptical that this would work. At the same time, I read so many social
media posts that try to take a bold stand for justice, and they are
usually snarky. There is not a whole lot of love and tenderness in
them. Granted, they are saying what they are saying out of love for the
oppressed, and that is admirable and even necessary. I also doubt that
God desires for us to eliminate every negative comment from our
language. Still, can there be some place for speaking the truth with
The Devil’s Empathy
3 hours ago