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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Love without Limits

The Rev’d. Stephen E. Stults
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
January 14, 2018
“Love without dissimulation”

We just heard a beautiful, but archaic phrase today in the Epistle from St. Paul.  We heard, “Let love be without dissimulation.” While this beautiful language, what does it mean? While this priest genuinely loves the KJV version of the Bible, and it is this translation that comes to memory for me, other translations have real value to us as well.  For example, some modern translations put it this way: “let love be without hypocrisy”;[i] “let love be genuine”;[ii]and “let love be sincere.”[iii]

This “kernel” of truth here isthat love must be real. It must have substance.  Is it enough to say to another person, “I just love you…?”

This statement certainly makes us feel good, but how do we know it is true?

For most of us, appearance is reality.  Yet, there is always a test between appearance and reality. It could be that test revolves around one little word: action. Something must happen to solidify the quality of love.

With that thought in minds, consider the actions St. Paul associates with love.  Note the verb attached to each one.
  • Abhor evil
  • Cling to that which is good
  • Be devoted to one another
  • Prefer one another
  • Avoid slothfulness
  • Rejoice in hope
  • Be patient in trouble
  • Pray instantly
  • Distribute to the needs of the saints (the Church)
  • Give hospitality
  • Bless those who persecute you
  • Do not pay back evil with evil
  • Practice humility
  • Live peaceably with all men.
This is quite a list: abhor, cling, bless, prefer, rejoice, and give, among others.  All these things require something: effort and action. In short, love is doing something for someone else. Sometimes, that may be not doing or saying something that may be hurtful.

Referring to St. James’ Epistle, he tells us, “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”[iv] While St. James’ statement applies to a broader context that what St. Paul is saying, it is very applicable. It is very important that we show love to others in our lives by what we do and say.  Deeds speak louder than words, as the old saying goes. As our Lord taught us,” Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”[v]

As an aside, let it not be thought that words are not important; they are. We all know of people whose parents never told them they loved them. There are people who have never heard the words, “I love you.”  How unfortunate. As in all things, we must seek to strike a balance.  The wise ancient Greeks called it the middle way.  This is a quality of Anglicanism, too.  We strive to walk the middle way, the “via media” in many things.

Let me ask you a question…where does love begin?  Does it originate in the head, as an intellectual decision, or in the heart, as an emotional response?  Do we weigh the benefits of something, and then decide to love it, or them; or, is it merely an emotional “rush” that comes over us?  How does it happen?

We will submit to you that the type of love of which St. Paul is speaking is deeper than either a rational evaluation that leads to affection, or an emotional onslaught in the form of infatuation. The love St. Paul is referencing is much more profound and durable.

Consider this: for us to be able to love in action as well as in words, we need something that is infinitely greater than either our mere intellectual appraisal, or even our fickle emotional attachments.  We need something that lets us love the unlovely, and to show our love to those whom we normally would not.

How is this possible?  How do love those we really don’t like, how do we pray for our enemies, and how do we consistently prove our love through action? It must come from outside ourselves.

Most certainly it does.  First, to love others, we must love ourselves. This love is not the self-indulgent, or selfish manner that we all are prey to, but rather is the clean, bright knowledge that Someone loves us more than we can imagine. The Holy Trinity loves us (you) to such a degree that is totally incomprehensible to us, for it knows no limits. 
Try to accept that in your innermost soul.  If possible let it sink in, deep down, and transform you that you truly love yourself.  When this happens, loving others is possible, even natural.  As the realization grows that you have infinite value to God, you will value yourself. You will value others more also.
Here’s something the engineers in our congregation can relate to: godly self-value and Christ-like self-esteem is like liquid that can only be compressed so far; eventually it explodes its container. The extreme, profound love of God cannot be contained in mere mortal vessels.  It too must explode into the world beyond.

This is what God’s love is like. It wants to live in you, to the extent that you choose to accept it. As you allow God’s love to take root in you, it cannot help but spread its branches through you, to the world.

Then, you can express love in word and deed.  Then, you can do things like abhor evil, prefer others above yourself, pray instantly, give unstintingly, and live peaceably with all men.

You will be able to prove consistent love by speaking it and doing it.

Romans 12:9   “Let love be without dissimulation.”

[i] New American Standard Version
[ii] English Standard Version
[iii] New International Version
[iv] James 2:20
[v] Matt. 7:20

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