Connections 12.18.2022: What is Love?

Romans 1:1-12

In this final week of Advent, our wait for Christmas Day is in single digits. The winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, is here. The fourth Sunday of Advent is traditionally the day we light the “Love” candle, adding its flame even as the natural world is at its darkest. The lights of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love remind us that God’s everlasting Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love are on the way, in spite of the long, cold night we are in.

Romans 1:1-12 may seem like an unusual text for the “Love” week of Advent. In this introduction to his letter to the church at Rome, Paul introduces himself, gives a brief resume and a theology/history lesson, and affirms his intimate connection with the church that is receiving this message. In these twelve verses, the only mention of “love” is in verse 7, where the Apostle recognizes that the faithful folks he’s writing to are “God’s beloved.”

I can’t help but wonder if the believers in first-century Rome thought of themselves that way.

I can’t help but wonder if we believers in twenty-first-century America think of ourselves that way.

Paul may not gush about “love” in this chapter of Romans, but he expresses his own love for this church in a way that shows them how beloved they are to God. Love is “remember[ing] you always in my prayers” (v. 9). Love is “longing to see you,” and especially “to share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (v. 11). Love is when we can be “mutually encouraged” by one another (v. 12).

This sounds to me like a Christmas wish for every gathering that will be taking place this week. In these days before Christmas, many of us are anticipating gatherings with friends and family. These gatherings may be joyous or anxious—or even both at once. The deep nostalgia and heavy emotions of this season can mean that even the people who are most beloved to us can invoke difficult feelings. When we gather—whether with our families, friends, coworkers, or church folks—what would it take for us to really feel “beloved”? What would it take to show others how beloved they are to us?

In this season, even on the difficult days and in the anxious encounters, may we remember one another always in prayer. May we share gifts that strengthen one another. May we be mutually encouraged by the time we share. And when we cannot be together—when we deeply long to see one another, in spite of time and distance and even death—may we still know how beloved we truly are, to one another and to God.


  • How do you understand what it means to be “God’s beloved” as the people of the church?
  • Read Romans 1:1-12 carefully. What specific actions, prayers, and hopes does Paul describe in his desires for the church? How do these hopes and desires express God’s love?
  • How does your congregation live out these things? Who do you think experiences God’s love through your congregation’s actions, prayers, and hopes?
  • What gatherings are you anticipating this week? Are you excited and joyful about them, or are there some gatherings that make you feel anxious or apprehensive? How does it feel to love people but still feel anxious or worried about gathering with them?
  • How can Paul’s expressions of love be a model for you as you go into the gatherings that are part of your Christmas celebrations? Are there specific ways you can show love by remembering people in prayer? By giving gifts that will strengthen them spiritually? By offering and asking for encouragement?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at


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