Grab your Bible, and let’s go deeper into 2 Corinthians 13.
As I studied and read this week, I was especially moved and challenged by Paul’s final greeting at the end of his second letter to the church in Corinthians:
2 Corinthians 13:11-14 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
The living God elected in His grace to save His people into something very special—into a family! This is a family unlike any other family. In our unity as the family of God, He has given us a very special relationship with one another that He wants us to value dearly, to protect, to invest in, and to cultivate!
There are two dozen instructions in the New Testament that we are to “love one another.” These are in addition to exhortations to encourage one another, be patient with one another, honor one another, pray for one another, admonish one another, forgive one another, confess to one another, and more.
Today, I want to focus on the most encompassing one another: Love one another! Let’s look at a few passages that teach us about this:
Romans 12:9-10 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Here Paul says, “Let love be genuine …”
You can also translate this from the Greek to say, “Let love be without hypocrisy”!
Hypocrisy = pretending to be a certain way that is not true to who you are at the core of your being.
Genuine love doesn’t try to say or be something it's not. It is authentic. It is genuine. It is honest. It says, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” In other words, it is not loving to not abhor what is evil.
It is not LOVE to watch someone you love struggling and then, out of fear, stay distant and say nothing. The danger in this is, you think he or she will figure it out.
You think, “I don’t want to cause conflict,” or you are motivated by a self-love, because you want them to love you, so you don’t upset the apple cart, even if it's about to run them over. NO, we are to LOVE THEM—even when it is HARD! Even when it costs us everything.
This means we are not going to be distant and hypocritical, but we are going to act in genuine love. We will sit down with those in our family that are openly practicing sin and say, “I love you, and I am concerned because what I see you pursuing here, I don’t see in God’s word.”
Realize, none of us are immune from this. Eventually, we all need to be confronted. This is life in the body of Christ. This is LOVE at work in our family.
Look at the next verse:
Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
This is not love one another just with deeds. It is saying have feelings for each other. The idea is that our heart would leap a little when we are around each other. Because we are family!
But the word for "love" or "be devoted" refers to a special kind of love. It's used only here in the whole New Testament. But it is not a rare word outside the New Testament. It refers to "tender affection, particularly family affection." So, the verse is calling for Christians to have "tender affection toward each other in family love."
This is a command for how we are to relate to each other in the body of Christ; we are to feel an affection—a tender affection-- for each other.
In Philippians 1:8, Paul says to the church, “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
The word for "affection" is "intestines" or "inner organs." The idea is, “I long for you and love you, not just with an act of will power, but with deep and tender affections. I miss you. I am homesick for you. I feel for you.”
Another point of emphasis in this passage that Paul gives us is something we are told to do five times in the New Testament; Christians are to "Greet one another with a [holy] kiss of love."
It says this in our text today:
2 Corinthians 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss
This raises the question whether our cultural norm of a handshake carries what Christ means for us to feel for each other.
What’s culturally not normal is for two grown adults to kiss. I love seeing a dad kiss his grown son.
Let me ask you this: In the professional world, do you hug another grown man when you greet? NO. Do you kiss your doctor on the cheek when you go in for your check up? NO. But do you hug and kiss your family? YES!
God is saying that in this family, His family, we should share a deep love and God-honoring affection for each other. But we hug and kiss because we are a blood-bought family of brothers. We do it because we truly love each other and because it is a sign that we are family. It should be a beacon of the love of God moving through us to those we are called to fight with and fight for.
The point Paul is making at his close of Corinthians is a huge one. He is highlighting that it is the will of God for His children not just to do good things for each other and not just to pray for each other or speak decently of each other (those are crucial and demand the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish), but God's will is far more. We are to:
"Love each other with brotherly affection."
"Open your hearts wide to each other."
"Feel for each other a kind of tender affection and longing that would naturally be expressed in a holy kiss of love."
Now, some of you are saying, “What if I don't feel this tender affection?”
Suppose you hear the command of Jesus this morning: “Love the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ with tender affection. Open your heart wide to them. Feel a longing for them and joy in them.” And suppose you can think of several people that you do not feel that way about. They have gossiped about you or snubbed you or let you down. You have beef with them that has not yet been worked out. And you say, "I hear you Lord. And I submit to the rightness of your command, but I do not feel this kind of affection for him/her. My battle is just trying not to hate, or my battle is I have never had a family who loved each other this way—this deep! We hardly even said I love you. But I yield to You, Lord. You have a right to call me to this. I embrace the goodness and the authority of Your call. I want to obey, but I don’t know how to practice this."
If this is you, please know that God can and will give you what you need to overcome this—to forgive and risk and fight for deep and true love for each other. If this is you, I give you these practical steps to help you grow in this area:
1. Pray for the Spirit's power
First, pray earnestly that God, the Holy Spirit, would move in power on your heart and work the miracle that neither you nor I can work on our own. We are talking about supernatural living here. Pray that God would change your heart toward His other children—that He would create new affections in you for one another.
2. Focus on the heavenly identity of your sibling
Second, keep your eyes focused on the heavenly identity, not the earthly frustration. We tend to focus almost exclusively on the ways we have been hurt or disappointed. That will defeat us every time.
Pastor John Piper says this well:
“There is a greater reality to think about and focus on, but you must make an effort. Focus on the reality of God's Fatherhood. When you think about a Christian that is hard to feel affection for, say, ‘God is her Father. God is his Father.’ When you see her, think, ‘God is her Father.’ Then say, ‘And God is my Father. We have the same Father. Jesus is her Savior and my Savior. The same blood, bought her as bought me. The same Holy Spirit indwells her as indwells me. The same love flows from God toward her that flows toward me. She is my sister. He is my brother. We will live forever in the same family. We will live forever together in joy and ecstasy in the presence of our Father on the new earth."
3. Remember Christian love is a growing thing
Third, keep in mind that Christian love is not an all-or-nothing thing, but a growing thing. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul commends the Christians like this: “Your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater.”
Love is a growing thing. So, you may have some of it and be a real Christian and not have enough of it. You may feel some affection toward a fellow believer but also wrestle with other negative emotions. That does not mean you are not a Christian. It means you are at war with the flesh and trying to be led by the Spirit. Keep on, weary soldier, and know that God will refine you as you press into Him.
Paul prays this very way in I Thessalonians 3:12: “...and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.”
Beloved, the evidence of our redemption, of our transformation in Christ, is our LOVE. The love of God will be at work in and through His people.
4. Finally, know that genuine love for one another comes from God
1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
But let me ask you today: Do you really fight for love? Do you really long to live every moment in love? Or is, “I love you,” just something you're good at saying?
See, our love has to not just said, it has to be felt. It has to not just be a good idea or lofty ideal. LOVE has to be real and present—an unavoidable force.
If our club is going to do anything for God’s fame and eternal glory, we must be about love! It simply is not an option.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 13:1-7: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Then he goes on to define true love:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Now, the honest truth is the description of love that I just read—a true, selfless love—is impossible for you and I to live out without God. Why, you might ask?
John says why:
1 John 4:7 ... for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Skip to 8b: “... God is love!”
What we need to understand more than anything is GOD is LOVE!
These verses do not state that God “was love” or God “will be love,” but “God is [present tense of Greek word eimi, =I am] love.” Love is not just from God; this is too narrow. If you just read verse 1 John 4:7c and don’t get to 8b, you miss the fuller truth that GOD IS LOVE.
Love is not just an action of GOD; love is God’s nature. One may know something about human affection or love, but apart from the grace of God, no one can know anything about TRUE love.
Real love—divine love—is like God, who is holy, just, and perfect. If you want true LOVE in your life, you need a living relationship with God. If we truly know God, we will love as He does. It says here, to know God is to know Love!
1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.”
The authentic, other-centered love of God will consistently find its way out of us and onto those God puts in life, if we are first and foremost centered in Christ.
We only have the ability to love selflessly because Jesus first selflessly loved us! We only have the desire to love one another sacrificially because of God’s grace-filled desire to sacrifice His only Son for us!
“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:11-14).