In verses 9-21 of this chapter Paul mentions attitudes that a Christian will have and actions that a Christian will do. The list looks very challenging, although we must remind ourselves that Paul is describing normal everyday Christianity. He is not presenting a target that is out of reach, even although it will never be done to perfection. So we should look at the items and say, ‘This is what God wants me to do.’ We could regard the various items as part of a prayer list that we could all engage in on a daily basis.
I would suggest that the first item mentioned – genuine love – is intended to cover all the rest. The phrase does not have a verb in the original text, so it is possible to read ‘genuine love’ as a title of the passage, indicating that the subsequent commands are connected to it.
Paul speaks of Christian love frequently, with the best known being the passage in 1 Corinthians 13. But I think that we have a parallel passage here, one that mentions Christian aspirations and activities that reveal the existence of genuine love.
The word that is translated ‘genuine’ is taken from the practice of actors who wore different masks depending on what role they were playing. For example, if they were acting out a comic role, they would wear a mask that indicated that is what they were doing. The obvious thing about such a mask is that it all depended on the audience. It is also the case that the audience knew that the mask was indicating pretence. We know that it is easy for us to wear a mask in front of Christians and imagine that we are conning them. Maybe we should remember that it is easy for an audience to identify an actor!
We will think further about genuine love tomorrow.