To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to be a follower committed to demonstrating love to yourself and others. It has been said that a follower of Christ is one who is filled with divine love that it overflows onto others. This may be one way to think of it, but I want to suggest a few additional ideas.
When we accept Christ as our Savior and devote ourselves to following him as his disciple, Jesus turns our world upside down. We learn from him to exchange everything we thought was important and fulfilling for lasting treasures that satisfy our longings both now and into eternity. When I think of the wisdom the world offers, it is far from the new way Jesus teaches us to think. We must “renew our mind,” change our mind, so we have the mind of Christ.
When I chose to follow Jesus, I trade my problems for solutions. I give up on my fears and exchange them for lasting hope, and I switch my anger for love. But what does “agape” love look like? Pastor Paul tells us in Romans 12:9–16 exactly what Christian behavior looks like, particularly in the application of agape love.
First, let the love of Christ teach you to love without hypocrisy (9a). It must be sincere. You can’t fake love. Talented actors can mimic loving looks or words, but it is not true love. It takes work, and it is a lesson we can learn only from the Master Teacher of love. Eugene Patterson paraphrased the verse as “love from the center of your being.” If Christ Jesus is the center of your life, your love will come directly from Christ, through you, to others.
Second, let the love of Christ teach you to be discerning in your love (9b). Of course, do not love what is evil, unholy, and unjust. Cling to truth, holiness, wisdom, and righteousness. If you are in a situation where you cannot determine what is right—pray. Ask God for a discerning spirit. Pray that God will give you the wisdom to choose rightly. You may find yourself in situations where you may have two right choices! Praise God! Now select which is the greatest good and brings the Lord the most glory.
Third, let the love of Christ teach you to demonstrate affectionate kindness to one another (10). Remember that everyone who has trusted in Christ Jesus as Savior is your brother or sister. Therefore, we are all enfolded together; Christ in me, Christ in you, we all in Christ together. So do not let there be any division among the faithful and demonstrate humility to others by honoring them without preference. Care for one another just as you would care for any of your body parts, hair, hands, feet, or brain.
Fourth, let the love of Christ teach you not to be slothful in your service to the Lord (11). I believe sloth is a real challenge for Christians today. We think of it as a lagging or slow response, but it’s closely akin to apathy. Too often, we just don’t care enough to act. We don’t care enough to pray, read our scriptures, attend worship, or contribute to the relief of distressed brothers and sisters. Christ’s love motivates us with fervent zeal to serve the Lord.
Fifth, let the love of Christ teach you to wait patiently but expectantly (12). Behind the words of verse 12 is the essence of Christ’s return. While I write this article during Advent, I think of how tumultuous 2020 has been. I plan to burn all my 2020 calendars in my firepit! Yet, I rejoice in hope (Christ), patiently waiting for these trials to pass in prayerful waiting, knowing the Lord is with me.
Sixth, let the love of Christ teach you to give generously (13). Christ’s gift of life was not a meager offering. It was the fullest expression of his love for the whole world. Upon his resurrection, he did not send an ordinary spirit, ghost, or angel. He sent the dynamic power of his presence to abide with all believers and to call all people to salvation through Christ. God did not withhold His best from us; likewise, let us not be slothful in our generosity to the needs of others. Make missions and ministries a priority for your budget.
Seventh, let the love of Christ teach you to show kindness in the face of adversity (14). If you are a faithful follower of Christ, you will meet challenges from others. You may be labeled, ridiculed, or feel disenfranchised. Know this is nothing like what the heroes of the past experience. Recall that a sarcastic remark is nothing like what missionaries experience while on the field. Try to see how this verse challenges you to control your mind and mouth to respond with kindness.
Eighth, let the love of Christ teach you how to empathize with others (15). In the ’70s the word sympathy fell out of favor in language for a good reason. To feel sympathy for someone is to look down on someone’s state. In other words, to feel bad the guy is in the ditch half-dead. Empathy was the replacement. Empathy compels one to get down into the ditch and bring the one to safety and healing. Sit with those who are in mourning, and celebrate with those who are rejoicing. Remember when you felt saddened or joyous, and allow your experience to help you empathize with others.
Ninth, let the love of Christ teach you how to live in harmony with others (16). As mentioned in verse 10, focus on the essential matters of our shared love for Christ. Never let any contentions come between you and others within the congregation. Instead, use the faithfulness of mature Christians to be your encouragement to work for the Lord and learn from his ways.
There are many other elements in this passage that space will not permit, but I offer you a few tangible items to help you become more loving in your Christian walk.
(1) Reach each of the verses of the passage and pray over each one, asking God to show you how to grow in those areas.
(2) Pick one or two that seem to touch a nerve inside you. Write that verse and put it somewhere to help you recall its truth.
(3) Pick one and make it your commitment for the week.