Second Sunday after Epiphany: A Recipe For Love

Second Sunday after Epiphany: A Recipe For Love

Romans 12:9-16 seems at first glance to be, in the words of one writer, “an unconnected series of staccato commands, a “rag bag” of miscellaneous exhortations,” but a closer examination reveals that these verses flesh out what love looks like in the Christian life. The theme of the passage is not hard to find: Love must govern all our relationships. This passage of scripture has been called Paul’s “recipe for love” and notes that it seems to have twelve “ingredients.”

1. Love Must be Sincere.

Let love be without dissimulation.” (v. 9a).

The word dissimulation means “genuine”. It literally means “without hypocrisy.” It originally referred to an actor who played a certain role on stage. It came to mean anyone who acts contrary to his own true feelings. It particularly applies to those who put forth the appearance of virtue that they do not actually possess.

2. Love Must be Discerning.

Hating that which is evil, cleaving to that which is good. ” (v. 9b).

Love hates evil! Think about that for a second. Often we think of love as an ooey-gooey emotion that causes us to lose our sense of right and wrong, but that’s far from true Christian love. We cannot love evil and love God at the same time any more than we can love money and love God at the same time. Here’s another way to put it. Don’t ever get over being shocked by evil. That’s hard to do in a world where almost anything goes. Here’s a good test. When was the last time you blushed? In the olden days, we blushed when something risque appeared on television. Now we hardly notice it or we laugh at it.

Sometimes we say, “Love is blind.” God says, “No, love needs clear vision.” Our love needs discernment or else we will end up loving things we ought not to love—and entering into relationships that are not good for us.

While love is supreme, it is never enough.

There are really two parts to making wise choices: First, you must know what is right. This is crucial because we live in a world where many people evidently have lost all sense of right and wrong. Everything appears to them as shades of gray. Second, you must have the courage to choose what you know to be right.

Never get over being shocked by evil. Glue yourself to what is good.

3. Love Must Display Tender Affection.

Loving one another with the charity of brotherhood” (v. 10a).

Paul uses two words that speak of the love of family members for each other. One of them is a word you already know–philadelphia. It comes from two Greek words that have been joined together:philos, which means tender affection, fondness, devotion,” and adelphos, usually translated “brother,” but it literally means “one born of the same womb.” So the word philadelphia literally means “tender affection owed to those born from the same womb.” It’s easy to understand why the early Christians adopted this word to describe Christian love.

Let me illustrate.

St. Louis de Montfort was a French Roman Catholic priest and confessor who was known in his time as a preacher, and also for his particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the practice of praying the Rosary.

In the words of St Montfort’s, taken from his Masterpiece: “True Devotion to Mary”, he says, qoute:

Moreover, Jesus, being more than ever Mary’s fruit, as heaven and earth repeat thousands of times a day:

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”, it is therefore certain that, for every man in particular who possesses him, Jesus is as well, truly the fruit and work of Mary, as truly he is for all mankind in general; therefore, if any of the faithful has Jesus formed in his heart, he can boldly say: “A Great “Thank you” to Mary: what I possess [Jesus] is her effect and fruit, and without her I would not have him.”; we can attribute more truly to her what Saint Paul said of himself, “I am in labor again with all the children of God until Jesus Christ, my Son, is formed in them to the fullness of his age.” Saint Augustine, surpassing himself as well as all that I have said so far, says that in order to be conformed to the image of the Son of God all the predestinate, while in the world, are hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin where they are kept, nourished, cared for and developed by this good Mother, until the day she brings them forth to glory after death, which the Church calls the birthday of the just. This is indeed a mystery of grace unknown to the reprobate and little known even to the predestinate!” (True Devotion to Mary)


I have one brother—his name is Jimmy. I am the oldest of us. We’re both very different. Jimmy lives in Virginia, I live in Kansas. We have different personalities, different habits and hobbies, different likes and dislikes. Yet one thing binds us together. We come from the same womb. That fact means that there is a special place in my heart for my brother so that even if I haven’t seen him for a long time, it’s as if I last saw him yesterday. There is a bond between us that time and distance cannot break.

The same truth applies in the spiritual realm. I belong to Jesus, and as St. Louis De Montfort says, “for every man in particular who possesses Jesus, is just as Jesus is. We are, like him, truly the fruit and work of Mary... While in the world, we are hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. And since that is true, everyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to me. And I owe all of them tender affection and brotherly love. Let us be clear about this. We are to love all true believers everywhere all the time.

4. Love Must Honor Others.

with honour preferring one another.” (v. 10b).

In the Christian context, it means that we take action to make sure that others receive preferential treatment before we do. This obviously goes so much against our human nature that it is not possible without the infusion of God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts. President Ronald Reagan had this saying on his desk in the Oval Office: “There is no limit to how far you can go if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Paul would say “Amen!”

5. Love Must be Enthusiastic.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (v. 11).

Paul is challenging us to put as much effort into our Christianity as we do into our work. The world will not be moved by half-hearted disciples who “sort of” serve the Lord. The story is told of a Communist who said to a Christian acquaintance, “If I believed what you believe, I would crawl over a field of broken glass to make sure everyone heard the news.” Living as we do in an age of terrorism and international instability, there is no time to waste.

6. Love Must be Patient.

Rejoicing in hope. Patient in tribulation. Instant in prayer. ” (v. 12).

Behind these three phrases lies the hope of our Lord’s return. While we wait for Jesus to return from heaven, we must be patient in hard times, constantly praying, and rejoicing in the hope of better days to come.

7. Love Must be Generous.

Communicating to the necessities of the saints.” (v. 13a).

The word translated “communicating” is the verb form of the word koinonia, to share with others. On one level it means sharing in the hurts and heartaches of others. On another level, it means opening our pocketbook and giving so that the poor believers will have their needs met. Both are a true measure of your Christian faith.

8. Love Must Pursue Hospitality.

Seeking to show hospitality” (v. 13b).

The Greek word for hospitality is a compound made up of two other Greek words –philos, which means “kind affection” or “love” and xenos, which means “stranger” or “foreigner.” Literally, in the Greek it means “one who loves strangers.” Hospitality means “showing kindness to strangers.” This command shows up in various places in the New Testament because hospitality was a central mark of the early church. In the first century they didn’t have Holiday Inns, Red Roof Inns, Executive Suites or Hilton Hotels. When Paul came to Corinth, he couldn’t check into the Airport Marriott because it hadn’t been built yet.

Archaeologist tell us that the few inns they did have were ill-kept and dangerous. Many were little more than brothels and havens for gangs and robbers. As Christians traveled from place to place across the Empire, they didn’t have the option of staying in a motel. The only way the Christian message could spread would be for Christians to open their homes to others. The only way an priest from Antioch could make it in Ephesus would be for a family in Ephesus to open their home to him. The only way a teacher from Caesarea could visit Cyprus would be for someone from Cyprus to open his home and say, “My Brother, you are welcome to stay with me.”

9. Love Must be Kind.

Bless them that persecute you: bless, and curse not.” (v. 14).

There are two parts to this that we must consider:

1. What happens to us.
2. How we respond.

We will be persecuted. We will be hated, mistreated, misunderstood, lied about, gossiped about, and there will be those who go beyond this to hurt us deeply, leaving scars that last for a lifetime.

Sometimes the attacks come from those closest to us, sometimes from within our own family, often from our circle of very close friends, and sometimes from people we thought were our best friends. There is no escaping this reality, and to deny it is like denying the sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. Sooner or later people we loved and trusted will let us down, and some of them will turn on us. We can’t predict how or when it will happen or who it will be, but it will happen, and what will we do then?

How do you bless someone when you would rather curse them? Here’s a simple way to do that. When faced with someone who has mistreated you, ask God to do for them what you want God to do for you. Seek the blessing for them that you want God to do for you. Think of it this way: The greater the hurt, the greater the potential blessing that will come when we bless those who curse us. Remember that your enemy is a gift from God to you. Though you don’t know it and often can’t see it, the person who has hurt you so deeply is a gift from God to you. To say that is not to excuse evil or to condone mistreatment. It is to say exactly what Joseph meant when he said to his brothers,You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Our enemies humble us, they keep us on our knees, they reveal our weakness, and they expose our total need for God. Just as David needed King Saul to pursue him, to persecute him and repeatedly attempt to kill him, we need the enemies God sends to us. If we didn’t need them, he wouldn’t send them. Therefore, we thank God who knows best, and we love our enemies the best way we can. Often God raises up an enemy to see if we really want to be like Jesus. He will keep our enemies alive and well as long as we need them.

10. Love Must Show Sympathy.

Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. ” (v. 15).

Love gets involved. It doesn’t stand on the sidelines while others go through a hard time.

11. Love Must Live in Harmony.

Being of one mind one towards another. ” (16a).

Think the same things toward each in harmony with one another. This does not imply total agreement. After all, if two people totally agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary! The word harmony implies a beautiful symphony, a collection of instruments playing on the same page at the same time. They don’t sound alike and they don’t play the same notes. So it is in the body of Christ. We don’t all look alike or act alike or sound alike. We certainly don’t always think alike. But the Church is enriched by a variety of people.

12. Love Must Show Humility.

Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited” (v. 16b).

We can say it more directly. Don’t be a snob! The word translated “conceited” means “wise in your own thinking.” Don’t get the big head. Don’t think you are too good to hang out with people who are not in your social class. One translation says, “Make real friends with the poor.”

One thing you can say about Jesus, he was no snob. He associated with tax collectors, prostitutes and drunkards. And he reserved his harshest words for the Pharisees who robbed widows’ homes and claimed to be serving God.

Someone told a preacher, “Sir, I am a self-made man.” To which the preacher replied, “You have relieved the Almighty of a great responsibility.”

As we come to the end of the message, I can only comment that love doesn’t look the same way in every situation, and sometimes we must practice “tough love” that may be misunderstood by others. But “increasing the dosage” is still God’s prescription for dealing with unlovely people.

You may wonder how to apply a message like this because it covers so much territory. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Memorize Romans 12:9-16 this week.

2) Pray over it a verse at a time, asking God to work these qualities into your life.

3) Pick one or two areas where you need to grow, and write down about where you need to begin.

4) If that’s too difficult, just pick one of the twelve and make it your goal to put it into practice this week.

5) As you think and as you pray, ask the Lord to bring specific people to your mind.