In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul’s instruction for community life begins with “Let love be without hypocrisy… (Romans 12:9a).” All that follows is built on this foundation, from the twelve additional short commands (through v. 13) to the end of the epistle.

The breadth and depth of this command presents more of a challenge than one might experience in a cursory reading. Indeed, these may be the five most challenging words in the Bible.

With all due respect to Bible reading plans, the Scriptures contain matters of truth that simply do not fit earthbound self-imposed schedules. “Let love be without hypocrisy…” is one of those truths that should blow up our reading plans. We will spiritually injure ourselves (with collateral damage to those we love) if we diligently press on to the next verse (or, in this case, phrase).

We need to sit here for a while. Our Father in heaven is bringing many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10). We participate with Him when we invest the necessary time to search out the truths He has hidden for His children.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
Proverbs 25:2

Let’s begin with a couple of definitions. First, as we have considered previously, God’s love (agapē) is more than “unconditional” (as so many teachers have popularized). In fact, it is not unconditional at all. God’s love is something more; it is better described as sacrificial. God so loved the world that He sacrificed His son, that those who believe (a condition) might be saved (John 3:16). We manifest God’s love when we sacrifice for others.

“Without hypocrisy” comes from the Greek, anypokritos. Blue Letter Bible’s Outline of Biblical Usage defines anypokritos as “unfeigned, undisguised, sincere.” Synonyms (from Oxford Dictionaries) include genuine, true, honest, authentic, unforced, wholehearted, deep, transparent, palpable, and audacious. Consider each of these and you will understand why I am stuck on “let love be without hypocrisy.” If we cannot get this right, how can we move on to the rest?

Searching further, we find John encouraging and describing our sincere love.

But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. 1John 3:17-19

Sincere love is not marked by word or tongue, but by deed and truth. It is active and true to the Gospel. Indeed, John was likely thinking of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats, remembering the conditions and the associated reward and consequence (Matthew 25:31-46).

James’ epistle supports John and connects this matter of sincere love to the effectualness of our faith.

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:15-17

Clearly, sincere love of the brethren is marked by sacrificially meeting their needs. This is the church life we see in Acts 2:45 and 4:34-37, as well as the “True Fast” admonition of Isaiah 58:7. Furthermore, failure to pursue this depth of love is more than lost opportunity; it exposes us to incredible risk.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 1John 3:14

With so much hanging in the balance, how dare we move on to the next verse? Should we not judge ourselves, lest we be judged? Here are a few questions to get started. I strongly suggest you search them out in community.

  1. Who are our brethren? Those with whom we fellowship, or a broader group? (Make a list.)
  2. Are we close enough to them to know their needs? Do we keep them at arm’s length to avoid knowing?
  3. Is our desire for fellowship an indicator of the desire that God has put in our heart to love the brethren in deed and truth? Are we willing to trust Him with it?

God bless you with grace and courage for the hard questions.

Humbly yours and forever His,