Unless our ‘love’ reflects a genuine care and respect for the other person, it isn’t love. William Barclay suggests that the Greek word porneia, prostitution, is rooted in the verb pernumi- to sell(1). If our love is the love which is bought and sold, which goes to the highest bidder, which treats its object as a thing which can be discarded, or ‘loved’ without truly intimate union… then it’s actually a form of prostitution. Each time we ditch a friend because the going got tough, withheld love because we weren’t getting from it what we intended… we’re essentially showing a spirit of prostitution rather than love. This is why love in the end must always find practical expression in a self-sacrificial way. The Corinthians were to show the sincerity of their love [implying there can be a fake ‘love’] by their generosity to the poor believers in Judea (2 Cor. 8:7,8,24).
- We can think that we are devoting ourselves to the Lord's cause over and above that which is required of us- when actually, we do nothing of the sort. We can give to the Lord's cause, when actually we have only got round the essential intention of God's commandments to be generous-spirited and show a true love (Mt. 15:5,6). The Jews fasted on days which the Law did not require of them; but in God's ultimate analysis, they did this for themselves, to bolster their own spiritual ego, rather than as a fast which he recognized (Zech. 7:15,16). The more active we are in the community, the more we feel we go the extra miles- the more sober is this warning. Peter speaks of the need to use hospitality without grudging (1 Pet. 4:9); he foresaw how brotherly love could be shown physically, but with an underlying grudge that in fact we somehow must show such love. This is not the " love unfeigned" of which the Scriptures speak.
- 1 Cor. 13 is perhaps the clearest statement of this principle. We can die for our faith, give our all day by day, really really believe; but if right deep down there is no love, then all this means nothing. 1 Cor. 13 is a frightening chapter when read like this. " Love" doesn't just mean a warm feeling towards some of our brethren. It is the motive of true and warm and overwhelming and overflowing love for the Father and His Son (which inevitably spills over into love for our brethren).
- John perceptively foresaw that a man might say that he loves God, and yet hate his brother (1 Jn. 4:20). He demonstrates with piercing logic that hating our brother means that we hate our God. But it is so easy to adopt the position of the man whom John sets up. We can even think that our love of God is articulated in a hating of our brother, for the sake of God’s Truth. It is relatively easy to love God, apparently, any way. But it’s hard to love all our brethren. And yet this means that a true unfeigned love of God is not quite so natural and easy as we think. 1 Jn. 5:1-3 make it clear that it is axiomatic within loving God that we love all His children. If we don’t love them, we don’t love Him. So if we think that loving God is easy, think again. Think who He really is, of the inclusive and saving and seeking grace which is so central to His character, and the imperative which there is within it to be like Him.
- The Lord realized that it was easy to have an apparent love and peace with our brethren, when actually we have nothing of the sort. In the context of His men arguing with John's disciples, the Lord told a small parable, in which He made having salt in ourselves equal to having peace with our brethren (Mk. 9:38-40; 49,50). He warned that salt which has lost its saltness looks just the same as good salt; but salt that has lost its saltiness is nothing, it's just a lump of substance. Surely He's saying: 'You may think you have peace and love for your brethren, when actually you don't; and if you don't have it, you're nothing, just a lump'. Not without relevance He mentioned that every sacrifice had to have good salt added to it. His point was that all our devotion and sacrifice is meaningless if it lacks the real salt of true love for our brethren. Which is exactly the teaching of 1 Cor. 13. Love is a matter of deep attitude as shown in the small things of life, not the occasional heroism of (e.g.) giving our body to be burned.
- The false shepherds of Israel “feed not the flock”. They had no real concern for the welfare of others in the community. They were to therefore be punished, “and cause them to cease from feeding the flock” (Ez. 34:2,9). Well did they feed them, or didn’t they? They did on the surface, they had an appearance of concern for the welfare of their brethren, as we can so easily have in greeting each other at gatherings, or talking about the misfortunes of our brethren to others. But in ultimate spiritual reality, they didn’t feed their brethren at all. And so so easily, neither can we.
- There is repeated N.T. warning against the ease of slipping into a mindset which thinks itself to be 'loving' when actually it isn't. " Let love be without dissimulation" (s.w. " unfeigned" ; Rom. 12:9). The fact he knew himself to have " love unfeigned" (2 Cor. 6:6) was one of Paul's credentials as a genuine apostle. James 3:17 speaks of the true spirituality, including gentleness, patience, kindness etc., as being " without hypocrisy" (s.w. " unfeigned" ). A true response to the doctrines of the basic Gospel will result in " love unfeigned" (1 Pet. 1:22). Israel of old failed in this: " With their mouth they shew much love; but their heart goeth after their covetousness" (Ez. 33:31). This is all some emphasis. It helps explain why both in ourselves and in others it is possible to behold a great emphasis on love whilst at the same time harbouring a very unloving attitude. I think all of us with any ecclesial experience will be able to recall conversations where 'love' has been advocated, or 'unloving behaviour' criticized, in language which simply breathes bitterness and contempt!
- The experience of emotion on reflection at the Lord's sufferings can be yet another area where our spirituality isn't genuine. The scene of those 11 grown men mourning and weeping at the loss of their Lord makes me think 'They were a soft hearted lot really, behold how they loved him...'. But then the Lord appears to them and upbraids them for being hard hearted and indifferent to His words (Mk. 16:10,14). His upbraiding of them must have really hurt- for they must have been sure that they were anything but hard hearted towards Him.
- Love in its human form can hardly exist without hatred as well. Thus Ezekiel was to the people as “a very lovely song”, they loved to hear him and be with him; and yet at the very same time they spoke against him (Ez. 33:30-33). No wonder Paul exhorted us to let love be without dissimulation; to have the love of God, love unfeigned, and not merely human love for each other.
(1) William Barclay, Flesh And Spirit (London: SCM, 1962) p. 24.