Genuine love can be one of the hardest things for us to express in our lives. This is why Paul places it at the head of the list. It is central to all the instructions that follow. The word love does not just refer to the feelings that we, as followers of Jesus, have for one another. Instead, love refers to the genuine acts of sacrificial love that we demonstrate for one another in the realities of everyday life. The instructions that follow the command to let love be genuine should all be understood as how we are to express this kind of love toward one another. These are the ways, in other words, in which love will show itself to be genuine.
What is interesting is that Paul begins with abhorring what is evil. It is important that we are able to identify evil. It fills the morning news before we leave for work. And by the evening news, a new set of evil things has happened in the world. But too often we focus simply on identifying and abhorring what is evil. Paul makes clear that simply identifying evil is not enough. He immediately gives us direction for how we are called to live. He states that we are to hold fast to what is good. This goodness is defined by loving one another with brotherly affection, outdoing one another in showing honor, being fervent in spirit, and serving the Lord with zeal. N.T. Wright makes the case that these actions are “not something other than ‘love,’ but is part of what Paul and other early Christians meant by that large and all-embracing term.” We, as followers of Jesus, are to be concerned with expressing the values of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Our lives are to be defined by genuine love in contrast to all the evil in the world around us.