Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection.
I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but at some point over the past few years my wife and I became fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think it was those extra pandemic nights at home that got us enjoying the 20+ movies that all work together in an unfolding superhero storyline. Now we look forward to the release of each new film or series. Anyway, regardless of what you think about the sometimes less-than-profound storylines in the various Marvel screenplays, it's fairly easy to agree that Tom Hiddleston is a compelling actor. He plays Loki, the god of Mischief (and Thor's brother), and is the kind of villain that steals the show when he's onscreen. He was so fun to watch in his role that his own spinoff series is being released right now, with his name as the title.
The main premise of the show is that Loki is in prison, but he agrees to help his own captors track down other delinquents in order to hopefully free himself. That's oversimplified, of course.
But the thing that makes the show so compelling is this: every character knows that every other character can't be trusted. It's impossible to know what to believe. Which emotions and statements are genuine, and which ones are simply scheming in order for someone to get what they want? Loki is brilliant at deceit. Every act of kindness ends up being a strategy for his own selfish gain. Yet one cannot deny that there seems to be a goodness and humanity (and even sadness?) within him. But maybe that's just him getting people to let down their guard!
Is it real? Is any of it real?
So we keep watching to find out.
Deep down, the viewer wants to discover the humanity in Loki, but we're not positive it's there because it's covered by so many layers of strategic appearances.
Well that pretty much sums up our world, doesn't it?
Interestingly, the exact thing that makes the show so compelling is the reason that we often struggle in relationships. We may not be out to destroy all that is good and rule over all the beings of the universe like Loki, but there is a lot of posturing and a lack of trust that play a major role in how humans relate to each other. Even when our motives are mostly good, our actions are not always done out of sincere love. This can happen in friendships, in work environments, and among family.
Sometimes we act in certain ways because we want to please everyone.
Sometimes it's because we want them to like and accept us.
Sometimes it's because we want to accomplish something and they might be useful.
Sometimes it's because we see others as a nuisance in our lives.
And sometimes we haven't learned to trust the sincerity of others, so we keep our own guard up.
Now, there are certainly times and places where it is appropriate to guard ourselves. Not everyone needs to be within our smallest circle of trusting relationships. Yet we can also use that reality as an excuse for a lack of sincerity with others in our lives.
The discipleship question in front of us is one of genuineness. Are we rooted enough in the love and character of God to truly care about the people in front of us as our first response? Or do we more readily see others through a lens of judgment, selfishness, or annoyance? When we ask someone how they are doing, is it genuine, and are we ready to offer a caring response? Do our words and actions match the heart and spirit within us?
When Jesus rescues us from death and the destructive patterns of death, we are made new for a reason. And that reason is to dwell fully with God and express God's kingdom in our relationships.
That leads to more honest and genuine interactions with others, because the spirit within us is becoming more loving and genuine at the same time.
In other words, when Jesus forms us into his image, then the realest thing in us will be genuine love for others, and nothing else. In that case, it's easy for our love to become sincere, because sincerity is all that's left in us.
We give others a gift when we go first in this way. We open the door for them to become more real with us, when they experience something that is undeniably genuine. But that requires our own formation in Christ every single day.
Jesus, help me be sincere today, and change me from within so that sincerity looks more and more like love.