Words Are Weird…

The next sermon from me will be the first in our series for February on Love. For week 1 I am looking at love, fellowship and community- in other words, how we love each other. This is based on Romans 12:9-18:

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV)

This paraenesis section is fraught with grammar which doesn’t come over to English well (a long sequence of participles, which create what would in English be a brutal run-on sentence is translated using simple imperatives for example). But one interesting play on words that doesn’t come over at all in English occurs in verses 13 & 14 (definitely missed, as the ESV even adds a paragraph break in the middle). In verse 13 Paul writes, “seek to show hospitality.” The NIV simply says “practice hospitality” but the Greek διώκοντες (a nomitive present active participle) typically means seek out or pursue. Pursue hospitality. Chase it down. Seek it out. Search everywhere you can for chances to demonstrate hospitality. Then in verse 14, Paul commends us to “bless those who persecute” (διώκοντας- the accusative present active participle). The same word used in a positive sense is immediately flipped and used in a pejorative sense. We are to seek goodness while “they” seek us for destruction. In other words we are to be flip-side- a counter to those who are opposed to us, those who prefer hatred and discrimination. Our focus has to be going in the other direction. When we are seeking out people to love we naturally flee from hatred.

We often start our evangelism with sin- you are a sinner who is destined for hell, and you need what we have; you’re broken I can fix you. Should we tip toe around sin? No, but what’s our starting point “you’re bad” or “can I do something good for you?” or “how can I love you?” But Paul says pursue hospitality (hospitality in Greek is literally “love for strangers”). Consider Abraham, who saw strangers approach and ran to them and bowed down and begged that he be allowed to provide food, drink and water to wash their feet (Genesis 18:1-8). He gave them his best, prepared a special meal for them, not just throwing scraps or what he’s got hanging around. Putting the kettle on when a friend drops by is good, but it’s just the most basic hospitality; a first step in a life devoted to loving my neighbour. We are meant to look for ways to show love, to make it our mission to welcome strangers with joy.

That’s the point of the Good Samaritan. Love your neighbour is not meant to draw boundaries around who we have to be nice to. The Samaritan was more neighbourly, because he showed love to a stranger; not to his neighbour. Love your neighbour is a blanket call to go and find people to become “victims” of your love, just as the Roman authorities and Jews like Saul of Tarsus went out looking for victims of the hatred and discrimination.

And then we come full circle of course, and that very Saul of Tarsus meets Jesus on the road, and in a beautiful choice of words, Jesus asks, Saul, Saul why do you persecute [διώκεις- present active indicative form] me?” When Saul becomes the Apostle, he flips his direction. He pursues love. The man who pursued the loving with hatred, now pursues the hating with love. Wow.

Love must be indiscriminate and unhypocritical (12:9, “let love be genuine” litterally says “love unhypocritical”) in other words, it can’t be a facade, a role we play. The word hypocrite is of course a theatrical word for play actor- for something faked, a mask wearing pretender. Love can’t be a mask, but a real practice we pursue, and embrace.

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