St. Paul says “Let love be genuine”. Other translations say “Don’t just pretend to love others” (NLT), “Let love be without hypocrisy” (NASB), “Let love be without dissimulation” (NKJV). The NIV translates the verse “Let love be sincere”.
Just what does ‘sincere’ mean? We may use a word and not really stop to think about what it really means because we are sure we know. The dictionary says sincere means ‘honest and open, in an unaffected way, based on what is truly and deeply felt.’ In other words our love should be real, honest, and true toward God and one another.
Real Love…the first thing that comes to my mind is the Velveteen Rabbit. We all know the story of the toy rabbit who eventually becomes real. Early on, he talks to the Skin Horse and learns what it takes to become real.
What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?""Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.
We all want to be real and to love (and be loved) sincerely. Sometimes the truth is that those who are supposed to love and care for us, don’t. God never stops loving us, though. However, like the Rabbit, we’d rather we didn’t have to deal with the messy relationships and the hurts of life that seem to get in the way of being loving. In fact, it is the very things we think we’d rather do without that form us and make us more real. Like the Boy, God loves us through and in all our experiences. The world suggests that if we aren’t ‘perfect’ and ‘successful’ we aren’t ‘lovable’. God’s love says the opposite. Especially when we aren’t neat and tidy and ‘perfect’, God knows and loves the Real you and me. The Rabbit learns this as the Boy loves him.
Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter.
As the Skin Horse says, when someone “REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” God REALLY loves us, the good parts and the parts we’d like to pretend aren’t there. The sharp edges and sharp tongues we might have are loved just as much as the prayerful, quiet times. The days we fail to live up to being sincerely loving or even being very lovable at all are the days that God takes us in God’s arms to say, ‘you are precious to me, every moment and every emotion’! In the joys and even more in the losses of our lives God is there.Of course, you remember that the Boy becomes ill and when he recovers the Dr. says that all that he touched must be burned. And we fear for the Rabbit who is sad that the Boy has gone away. Then something special happens…
Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.And then a strange thing happened. For where the tear had fallen a flower grew out of the ground, a mysterious flower, not at all like any that grew in the garden. It had slender green leaves the colour of emeralds, and in the center of the leaves a blossom like a golden cup. It was so beautiful that the little Rabbit forgot to cry, and just lay there watching it. And presently the blossom opened, and out of it there stepped a fairy.
She was quite the loveliest fairy in the whole world. Her dress was of pearl and dew-drops, and there were flowers round her neck and in her hair, and her face was like the most perfect flower of all. And she came close to the little Rabbit and gathered him up in her arms and kissed him on his velveteen nose that was all damp from crying.
"Little Rabbit," she said, "don't you know who I am?"
The Rabbit looked up at her, and it seemed to him that he had seen her face before, but he couldn't think where.
"I am the nursery magic Fairy," she said. "I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don't need them anymore, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real."
"Wasn't I Real before?" asked the little Rabbit.
"You were Real to the Boy," the Fairy said, "because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to everyone."
Love that is Genuine, Sincere, and Real transforms us and transforms those with whom we share that love. When we are able to quit being concerned about our own ‘rights’ and having our own way and being in control, we can be open to allowing the Love of God to flow through us. It’s not a one way street, for the Sincere Love we give is the Genuine Love that comes back and transforms us, too. God’s love makes us more Real than we were before.Like the Rabbit, we won’t find it easy to become Genuine and Sincere in our relationships as Pentecost people. Our rough places will get bumped and scuffed off. The world may not understand us. Our beautiful exterior will no longer matter for the Love of God will shine through. Then we’ll be Real to everyone.
Stop by again to explore further more of these verses from Romans.
Let love be genuine (sincere, honest); hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.