“Let love be genuine.” This phrase from Romans 12.9 is familiar and deceptively simple. It sounds good and feels good! But what does it mean?
It means we can’t pretend to love people. Ανυποκριτος means “not pretending” or “acting” something. In other words, don’t pretend to love people with the goal of getting something out of it. Don’t pretend to love people when we don’t.
We don’t usually show our real selves to other people. Aside from our close friends and family, we show other people who we want them to see. There’s nothing wrong with this; all cultures adopt levels of social scripting and behaviors based on how close we are with another person. The church is a family, and it’s hard to remember that sometimes. We’d rather keep people at arm’s length (I’m guilty of this) than get into the messiness of close relationships.
Once we get past the formal, arm’s length level of closeness, things get complicated and messy. But they’re also rewarding and uplifting! Whatever we see in our Christian family, God expects us to love like we mean it. There’s no room for fake in this family! Since our lifestyle can be challenging, we need to know that we can rely on each other.
God showed us genuine love by proving it. He proves it every day by keeping us “good to go” if we’re walking in light (I Jn 1). Showing real love has personal benefits, sure, but it mainly benefits others. We may never know how much showing genuine love impacts another person, but it could be the pivotal point of their relationship with God! How cool is it that, just by being genuine, we potentially change people’s eternity?!
Henry Adams wrote, “One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many, and three are hardly possible.” While I do not share his pessimism or cynicism, I do believe that true, close friends are certainly not prevalent. There are too many factors at play. Friendships take time, trust, and transparency. Some things can be barriers to developing close companionship from contrasting values to clashing viewpoints.
The Bible gives insight into factors essential to building true, lasting friendships. Since God made man, He knows what makes us tick and operate at our optimism levels. Here are four quick principles:
A Friend Loves At All Times (Proverbs 17:17).
Solomon does not suggest blind loyalty or blanket endorsement. Scripture does not encourage fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), but it also points out that we all struggle with sin problems (Rom. 3:23). We also are prone to weak moments and we go through trials and reverses of fortune. It is a blessing to know we have people we can count on to be there even when we’re not at our best or enjoying our mountaintop moments (Heb. 12:12-13; Rom. 12:15).
For The Despairing Man, There Should Be Kindness From His Friend (Job 6:14).
For every one we exchange superficial greetings with, even as we are carrying our hidden cares, we need true friends to turn to for help when we face deep needs in our hours of trial. Rare is the friend who knows, sympathizes, and is ready to help with a kind word or deed. You can imagine how Job’s friends added to his despair by failing to offer that when he needed it most. So many things bring despair–job loss, family crisis, financial reverse, health issues, and other life changes. It is then that astute acts of kindness make a lasting impact and forge true friendships.
If They Fall, One Will Lift Up His Fellow (Ecc. 4:10).
Solomon does not specify whether the falling is physical, emotional, or spiritual. No matter what makes us fall, it is the trustworthy response of a friend that he focuses on. How tragic not to have someone in our lives with a ready hand when we are sinking! What if we are falling away from God (Jas. 5:19-20)? What if we are losing faith or overwhelmed (Mat. 14:30)? “The Lord sustains all who fall” (Ps. 145:14), and what a blessing when He does so through a faithful friend!
Faithful Are The Wounds Of A Friend (Prov. 27:6).
We need people in our lives who are more than “yes” men and women. True friends care enough to correct if we are going off course. We need those who don’t just rubber stamp our speech, validate our every action, or automatically take our side. None of that helps us refine our character or makes us fit for the Master’s use. It’s not easy to tell someone we like and care about that they’ve fallen short in some way, but having a friend that deep and genuine is a true blessing in life.
These passages challenge me to ask, “What kind of friend am I to others?” Am I deeper than a fellow sport’s fan, a person with common interests, or even a co-member of the church? Can I be counted on to be there in the valleys as well as the mountaintop days? Can I be trusted with kindness on despairing days? Am I a lifter? Do I have the courage even to say the difficult things in difficult moments? I want to be that kind of friend to my friends!
In Mark 11:12-14, we read a short and slightly strange account of Christ and his disciples, “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.” Why did he curse the tree?
It seems to me that it would make more sense if he cursed the tree because it was in season and failed to bear fruit, but it wasn’t in season. So why curse the tree? It wasn’t supposed to have fruit. Many people say that what Jesus did was a little extreme. It appears that the only reason Jesus cursed the tree was because He was hungry and was upset that it had no fruit. At first glance His actions seem harsh and unwarranted, but Christ is illustrating a very important lesson.
This tree illustrated hypocrisy. Jesus cursed the fig tree because it had the appearance of being fruitful, but it was a lie. It lacked fruit. It was this lie that caused Jesus to curse the tree. It clearly states that this tree was not in season, but it still had leaves. So from far off it seemed to have the appearance of fruit, but it offered nothing but leaves. Jesus doesn’t want us to have the appearance of holiness; He wants us to bear fruit.
It’s not about looking like a Christian, but living like one.
Emily told me a story from when she was younger and literally had a run in with a peach tree. She was driving a golf cart at a friend’s house and ran over a young peach tree. The golf cart stripped off the bark and flattened the small tree. The owners had to spray fake bark onto the tree just to keep it alive and healthy, and to this day it’s an ugly tree. But, despite being deformed and mangled, this tree, according to Emily and all her friends, makes the best peaches out of all the peach trees on the property.
What’s the point? It’s not about how you look. It’s about what you produce. Jesus doesn’t care about our appearance and if we look like a Christian. The ONLY thing that matters is if we are bearing fruit.
This tree was an illustration of the hypocrisy that was found in the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27-28. Like the whitewashed tombs which Jesus references in these verses, the fig tree looked beautiful on the outside. It looked like it was ripe with fruit! But upon closer examination, it was a lie.
It had nothing. It made itself out to be something it wasn’t. Christ had no tolerance for hypocrisy. If we claim to be Christians and that we have a relationship with God, and yet fail to dwell on His word and spend time in prayer, we are living a life of hypocrisy. Jesus uses this tree to show us how he feels about those who claim to be one thing, when in reality it is all a lie.
After Jesus curses the fig tree, they immediately enter the temple and what do they see but a living example of the fig tree? In verse 15 Jesus sees people using the temple as a place to rip off others. They had turned the temple into a den of thieves. The fig tree had the appearance of having fruit to offer, but it gave none. The temple, Jerusalem, and the Pharisees had the appearance of having holiness and offering salvation, but had none.
We must use this account as motivation to practice what we preach and be who say we are to those around us.
Who here likes wasabi? Who here even knows what wasabi is? It’s a spicy, green plant used in or with many Japanese foods like sushi, and chances are, you’ve never had the real thing. Only thirteen percent of wasabi is the real thing. Most is just horseradish colored green. And the reason that most is fake is that there just isn’t enough to go around. Wasabi is one of the hardest foods to cultivate. One plant takes fifteen months to grow. If there is too little sunlight, the plant won’t grow. Too much, and the plant withers and dies. Aso, the pure spring water that flows through the plants has to be 13-18 degrees Celsius.
In many ways, this is like denominations. Many churches claim to be the right church and make it look quite convincing. Others try to be right, often times trading out the truth for opinion. Matthew 24:24 says, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive”
We should also consider Psalms 18:30, which says “as for God, His way is perfect, the Lord’s word is flawless, He shields all who take refuge in Him.”
We have to be careful to make sure we as the church are teaching the truth, God’s perfect way, and are Wasabi in its pure form, and not Wasabi that is just green horseradish.
A few years back I started goose hunting and I found out something very interesting about myself. I like it a lot! They are exciting to hunt, easy to harvest the meat, and they are delicious when I smoke them into jerky. Many of you probably don’t understand the challenge and excitement involved since most of the time you could just grab one off the street and throw it into your car. But out in the open, where it’s legal to shoot them, it can be a real challenge.
In order to get flying geese to come in for a landing close enough to shoot them, there are two basic tactics. One is decoys. Geese want to join up with other geese, and if they see some on the ground it tells them that it is probably a good area to feed and that it’s safe. In order to fool them, your decoys need to look real, and mine look real. Anytime I leave my spot and return, I spend an embarrassing amount of time sneaking up on my own decoys. The second thing you need is to sound like a goose. Your call needs to be authentic. It needs to get their attention to draw them into the kill zone.
Many of you have already connected the dots in my story. It’s so simple really. It’s a do-it-yourself lesson. We need to be on guard as Christians so as not to be fooled or deceived by teaching that is not authentic, not the real deal. Teaching that may look and sound good, but will cost us our souls, can fool us.
But that’s not the lesson. I challenge myself and all of us to consider an even more sobering question. Have I become the decoy? Has looking and sounding like a Christian become enough for me? My calls are spot on. I can speak their language. My decoys look fantastic. They dutifully show up for every hunting trip. But they are not real, and they don’t move.
A real goose moves.
A real goose flies.
A real goose feeds.
A real goose is active all the time.
A real goose is busy being a real goose, all the time.
Read Matthew 25:34-36.
So are you, am I the real deal? It depends on what we do between “hunting trips.”
[Originally from Scott’s “90 Seconds of Power” devotional at Bear Valley]
Have you seen The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore video where he is ebulliently exulting over the thunder snow he witnesses and knows to be captured by his cameraman? The YouTube video montage where he is on camera for six lightning strikes says it all. At one point, he implies that he’d rather experience this weather event than win the $500 million lottery. The enthusiasm is transparent and honest. You can’t help to feel excited about what he’s excited about because he so enthusiastically expresses it.
Being a Christian is not necessarily a non-stop fist-pumping, mountain-top experience. The late Wendell Winkler used to say that there are not very many mountain-top or valley days but that most were “in between.” He called it “the glory of the ordinary.” What we do on the ordinary days is what typically makes the bigger impact. However, the genuine enthusiasm of Christians is certainly contagious! Some of the best church leaders I have known have known how to inject others with zeal. Other words are “passion,” “desire,” and “excitement.” If this is artificial and contrived, it is eventually detected. True enthrallment for pursuing the will of God, though rare, leaves its mark far and wide.
What should fire our enthusiasm?
A wayward Christian being restored
A well-delivered, challenging, and biblically accurate lesson
A demonstration of decisive, godly leadership
A challenge to growth or involvement
Godly conviction from our youth
Hearing of a good work within our brotherhood
Singing in worship
A sound idea for church growth
The dedication shown by a spiritual brother or sister
Challenge yourself. Ask, “What gets me excited?” If the Georgia Bulldogs were to ever win the National Championship again, look out world! I’d give those around me a “Jim Cantore” moment. My honest prayer is, “Lord, help my greatest passion and enthusiasm be reserved for the things that will endure after the heavens and the elements burn and melt” (2 Pet. 3:11). Let’s get excited about serving Jesus and doing His will!
Melissa Smith contacted KGTV in San Diego, California, to make an interesting report. She had watched a pregnant woman and her little boy beg for money at a local shopping center. Many people gave the woman money. Melissa happened to watch the woman, who held a sign reading “Please Help,” get into a car with a man driving a Mercedes Benz. A follow up story, a few months later, found what appears to have been the same couple driving a brand new Mini-Van that still had dealer plates. The address for the Benz owner was an upscale apartment that rented for $2500 per month (10news.com). There are many people in legitimate need of financial help, and there are many more legitimate ways to contribute to their assistance than handing money out of a car window.
Yet, there’s an application I want to draw from this extreme case. As incongruous as it is for a Benz owner in a fancy apartment to stand on a corner and beg, there is something more out of place. In Colossians, Paul describes Christians as those qualified to share in an inheritance (1:12), attaining to all the wealth attached to that (2:2), partaker of all treasures (2:3), and owners of an unparalleled prize (2:18). Do we ever live like spiritual paupers? We do when we allow worry, doubt, immorality, fear, guilt, or any similar thing to cause us to live like and act like the impoverished world who has no access to these wonderful spiritual blessings. We have a place in glory reserved with Christ (3:4). We have no need to beg for the scraps the world can offer. Let us live like the rich children of God that we are!