5 Characteristics of Real Love

People often talk about the “will of God.” Is it God’s will for me to move somewhere, marry someone, or start a business? These questions are legitimate, and God certainly has something to say about them.

We should also remember, though, that what God wants us to do is clear. His greatest priorities are very clear. He wants us to be loving people. He wants us to love God and our neighbor. If we learn to do that, then we are doing what God wants the most. Becoming lovers of God and others will keep us busy and give us great fulfillment.

But what does it mean to love others? There’s a lot of fake love. There are a lot of misconceptions about it. It’s hard to show real love for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is that we haven’t been taught how to love. We need to think more clearly about what love actually is.

The Apostle Paul gave an explanation of what love is all about in Romans 12. His more famous chapter on love is 1 Corinthians 13. 1 Corinthians 13 is more inspiring, but Romans 12 might have more solid instruction on what it means to really love. Let me show you five characteristics of real love from this chapter.

1. Real love is sincere: it starts in the heart. In Romans 12:9, we begin a long list of commands or rules. The first is, “Love must be sincere.” It must not be hypocritical. What does this mean? We can act like we love (“Bless our hearts”) and not really have that love in our heart. It is an act. We show kindness in our interactions but do not have it in our hearts. We have all known people who acted like they wanted to be with us but who ended up not having any real interest in us. It was a mask. We have also done this to others. It hurts when we discover it and when others discover it in us. This is insincere love.

What this means positively is that love begins in the heart. It is not enough to show it on our faces. We have to have it in our hearts. How do we really think and feel about people? That’s where love starts. Love is a genuine affection of the heart that desires union and communion with others.

2. Real love is attentive: it takes an interest in anybody it meets. Philostorgos is a Greek word. Paul uses it in Romans 12:10, and it is the only place we find it in the Bible. It is love like parents have for their children. It’s hard to translate into English in one word. Love takes an interest in other people’s well-being. Parents generally seek the well-being of their children in a way that simply gives. We need to learn to take that love and extend it out to others. Continue reading “5 Characteristics of Real Love”

Can We Love Others, Even When It’s Hard? (Study of Romans, Part 7: Romans 12:1-13:14)

Key Thought: We grow in joy, peace, and hope by learning to love others, even when it is hard.

Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 7th part of this study, we consider, can we love others, even when it is hard? This is the 7th of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, and part 6 here.

Humans are made for community. We are made for each other, and we are made to love. Love is also our highest duty. All of God’s commands are summarized in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

However, to love people is challenging. People do not always act in lovable ways. They may hate us. They may do us wrong. They may do evil. They may hurt us.

The wrongs that people do to us are one of the chief things that rob us of our peace, hope, and joy. Everybody knows that resentment can embitter our life. It can poison our souls. It can harm our relationships.

So, what are we to do? How can we be loving and forgiving people that will let go of bitterness and love people in a way that will enable us to experience peace, hope, and joy? Continue reading “Can We Love Others, Even When It’s Hard? (Study of Romans, Part 7: Romans 12:1-13:14)”

Is There Hope for My Future? (Study of Romans, Part 5: Romans 8:17-39)

Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 5th part of this study, we consider, is there hope for my future? This is the 5th of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here.

Key Thought: You grow in joy, peace, and hope by developing a confident expectation that the the future will turn out well for you.

Hope and Hope
What do you think the future will be like for you and for the world? If you really knew that the future was going to be great for you, wouldn’t you have greater joy, peace, and hope?

When we talk about the virtue of hope, we are talking about the future. Hope is a confident expectation that things will turn out well. Do you tend to view things that way?

We can view hope in two different ways. On the one hand, it is an emotion that enables us to feel that there will be good things in the future. On the other hand, it is a virtue or excellent character trait that we develop that enables us to see that the future is filled with good things.

What Paul does in this passage is to teach us to re-think the future to develop the virtue of hope so that we will feel more hope about the future. Continue reading “Is There Hope for My Future? (Study of Romans, Part 5: Romans 8:17-39)”

Hope Beyond the Headlines

In times of extremely dangerous threats, it can be hard to see hope.

The time of Isaiah the prophet was one such time (8th century B.C.). For a long time, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had enjoyed relative prosperity without major threat of invasion. Now, the Assyrian Empire was brutally subjugating the territories around them and menacing the nations of Israel and Judah.

As this threat arose, Isaiah called on the people to consider the state of their lives. Were they living the right way? What were they living for? Had they forgotten the needy around them? Were they living for luxury and sensual pleasure rather than finding their enjoyment in God? This was a time for introspection (see Isaiah 1).

But it was also a time in which the people needed hope. Scary times don’t seem like times to hope. They seem like times for fear and fear. It’s very easy in those times to see only the threats and not see the things that are above them and beyond them.

So, Isaiah preached hope. He preached about a time when a descendant of their kings (from the house of David, see Isaiah 11:1, 10) would rise and create a glorious, prosperous, and peaceful kingdom. Isaiah describes this kingdom using different pictures, like those of the animal world. In this kingdom, for example, the lion will lie down with the lamb. This is the emblem under which he represents the amazing peace of the kingdom of the future King.

Not only that, the nations would actually submit to this King, and this would usher in peace and justice throughout the world. “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10). It would be a glorious worldwide kingdom of peace and justice.

The Apostle Paul was a Jewish Rabbi who was nourished on those promises and looked forward to their fulfillment. He was looking for God to intervene and set up that kingdom. In Jesus, Paul saw a threat to this future kingdom. He was so upset by people following Jesus that he sought to imprison anyone who followed Jesus.

Then, all of a sudden, Paul shows up in Damascus, Syria arguing with everybody that Jesus was in fact the very King Isaiah was predicting! What in the world happened?

According to Paul, Jesus was alive, though crucified, and he met the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus. As he explains it, Jesus spoke to him in a vision so convincing that it changed his life forever. In addition, he was convinced that Jesus was not only the King for the Jews but for the entire world. He saw it as His mission to tell everybody about this risen King.

Years later, Paul wrote a letter to the followers of Jesus in the great city of Rome. As he reflected on Jews and Gentiles coming together to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, he realized that all that Isaiah had prophesied was coming to fulfillment. He writes, “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope'” (Rom. 15:12).

And we are still seeing it fulfilled in our day. In the past 100 years, we have seen more people from more nations become followers of Jesus and submit to His reign than ever before. In places where the name of Jesus was unknown, prayers and praises to Him ring out all over the world. There is much more to come, but Jesus is reigning now.

So, we have more reason to hope than Isaiah did. Isaiah could only see the kingdom far off. We have seen it fulfilled in Jesus who said that the kingdom of heaven was here because He was here. We have seen it fulfilled in people submitting to His reign all over the world.

It’s easy to lose sight of that hope in the midst of a dangerous threat. We need to remind ourselves and one another of the reality that Jesus is now reigning and His kingdom is expanding over all the earth. That is the hope beyond the headlines.

It’s not always easy to see and feel this hope. To see and feel it more clearly and fully, we need God’s help. That’s why the Apostle Paul told the followers of Jesus in Ephesus that he continually prayed that God would enlighten their eyes to see the greatness of Jesus’ power and reign (see Eph. 1:18–23).

The more they could see it, the more they would become what Richard Lovelace calls “a new center for the reordering of life on earth as it is in heaven” (Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 47). Jesus wants His reign to manifest itself in how we live as people of His kingdom in every sphere of life: family, business, school, state, the arts, and everywhere else.

But we don’t have to do it alone. God has given us the church to help us. One of the major purposes of the church is to equip people to make an impact on the world, living out Jesus’ reign in all of life (see my explanation of the four major purposes of the church here). How do we help each other do that?

  1. We pray for each other to see the reign of Jesus more clearly like Paul did for the church in Ephesus.
  2. We seek to make the church look more like the kingdom of God. We accept one another and “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 15:7, 14:19).
  3. We help each other think through what it means for us to live out our lives, marriages, parenting, work, and play in light of Jesus’ reign.
  4. We pray for God’s leading and working in each aspect of our daily lives, not just the so-called “spiritual” parts.

If we do this, we can really become a people who live in light of the hope that comes from the reign of Jesus, even in the darkest hours. This is the day of Jesus’ reign. God will help us and answer our prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).