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The Rev. Jonathan Pryke: “Loving Sincerely” (Romans 12:9-16)

June 27, 2009

From the Rev. Jonathan Pryke of Jesmond Parish Church in the United Kingdom, we have an edifying sermon on Loving Sincerely, based on Romans 12:9-16.  This is certainly a challenge we all face – to love sincerely; Rev. Pryke quotes John Calvin early on in this message as saying:  It is difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are in counterfeiting a love which they do not really possess. They deceive not only others, but also themselves, while they persuade themselves that they have a true love for those whom they not only treat with neglect, but also in fact reject. To be honest I cannot disagree in any respect with what the great Reformer wrote.  But as this sermon goes on to say, there can be real love: that love which is a response to God’s love for us, and which goes on to work in our hearts and lives as we are molded into an image more and more conformed to the image of the Son.

This is the first of Rev. Pryke’s four major points:

First, REAL LOVE IS HOLY LOVE THAT HATES EVIL

What Paul says next strips away any notion of mere sentimentality from the way that he is urging us to love. Take a look at the rest of v9:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

If there’s no hatred in us, then our love will be soft, fluffy and useless. But we’d better make very sure that our hatred is aimed in the right direction. What we are to hate with a passion is everything that is evil.

What’s the opposite of love? Hatred is the opposite of love. We sometimes think that the opposite of love is anger. It’s true that some anger is sinful, selfish and unloving. But there’s also holy, righteous anger that’s actually fuelled by love. Even righteous anger has to be handled in a righteous way, or it’ll cease to be righteous and tip over into sin. But love and righteous anger often belong together. What you can’t do is both hate and love the same person or thing at the same time. It’s hatred that’s the opposite of anger.

To love someone is to want to do them good, and to see them thrive. A little later in his letter Paul says this (this is 13.10):

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

To hate someone or something is to want to cause harm – to do damage to them or it, and ultimately to destroy them or it. That will to destroy is at the heart of hatred, rather than any negative emotion, although it’s hard to hate without emotion being bundled up with it. Emotionally, hatred ranges on the spectrum from irritation to red-hot rage. Behaviour that is hatred driven ranges on the spectrum from, say, barbed thoughts or words, through to destructive violence or killing.

There is a right place for hatred in our hearts and lives. But we must not hate people. Not even our worst enemies. We must never hate people. If we’re to be loving people, and a church marked by real love, what we need to hate is evil. Evil in all its forms.

A while back I heard Bill Hybels, the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, speaking on what he calls ‘Holy Discontent’. He subsequently brought out a book on the theme. What he wants us to think about is this:

What is the one aspect of this broken world that, when you see it, touch it, or get near it, you just can’t stand? What reality is so troubling that it thrusts you off the couch and into action? This is what Bill Hybels refers to as a holy discontent: a personal “firestorm of frustration” that, although sparked by that which is terribly wrong, can catalyze fierce determination to set things right.

Hybels urges us:

Figure out what you can’t stand. Channel your holy discontent energy into helping to fix what’s broken in this life.

In other words this is what you might call hatred that’s channelled in a loving direction. And that’s what we need. v9:

Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.

Real love is holy love that hates evil.

In the rest of this sermon, Rev. Pryke goes on to address three other major points:

  • real love is burning love for God;
  • real love is love for other members of Christ’s body, and
  • real love is love that acts appropriately.

If you seek the Biblical antidote to the problem described by that quote from Calvin, this sermon is a very good beginning.

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