Love or Hype?

Several years ago I worked for a funeral director. On one occasion I travelled with him to another city in order to recover a body.  The person, a younger person, had traveled and died while out of town. On the way to the city morgue my boss and I talked together.  I found out later that he was trying to prepare me for what I was about to see. He didn’t do a very good job nor could he have. 

We arrived during the lunch hour and all of the employees were in the office eating take out. Some had burgers and fries and others pizza.  You may wonder how I can still remember.  I assure you that these moments are forever etched in my brain.  When we mentioned why we were there a morgue employee quickly stuffed his mouth with fries and went behind a door and emerged less than a minute later pulling a metal gurney with an unclothed human being lying on it.  The person was a mess and so was I.

I was stunned. It was the first time that I saw death without it first having been made up by the undertaker. Yes, I had been to a number of funerals. And I have heard people say things like, “He looks so good, so natural.” Once someone whispered to me, “She looks so beautiful.  She looks as if she is taking a nap and could wake in a moment.”  What I saw on that gurney was not death after having put on its makeup.  This was the death that still carried a sting. This was ugly. It was anything but natural. It was quite appallingly unnatural.  That’s what made me think of Romans.

Recently I re-read Romans 12:1-13:14. Granted the text has a few topics not the least of which is government. However, this text is primarily about love. Romans 12:9 speaks of genuine love and how brothers ought to love one another with a brotherly affection. Then the text goes on to list what that love looks like. It looks like hospitality, service, living in harmony and much more.

What is more, Romans 13:8-14 spells out even more detail regarding this love. It tells us the kind of love that we ought to offer others. It is agape love. The word was essentially unused until Paul recovered and employed it in his letters.  It is a word that locates the impetus for loving in the person who loves rather than the one loved.  It’s the sort of love with which God first loved us when we were sinners and unworthy of His love.  It’s the kind of love that came to live among us that first Christmas.   

Let me put what I’m saying like this; here we have the church described as a living body, which is the most natural thing in the world. A living body is natural.  When you walk by another living person you don’t stand still with your jaw hanging to the ground stunned.  You just walk by.  A body is supposed to be alive. You are supposed to simply walk by. And a church is supposed to be a living body.  Yes, you can paint things up a bit.  You can add makeup here and there.  But you can’t fake agape love for long. It has to come from a living body and when it does it is the most natural thing in the world.  In fact, it is so unmistakable and so natural that it doesn’t need to be hyped. It just is.   

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

Jeffrey Stivason