We Must Relearn What It Means to Love One Another
(Romans chapter 13)
In today’s lesson we are going to move on to Romans chapter 13. When we closed out chapter 12 last week, the apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. As I wrote last week, this is very good advice at all times. But as the apostle Paul continued in chapter 13, he makes a statement as if to say, “And speaking of doing good, one more thing”. He then wrote as follows, beginning at verse one:
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, then pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13, verses 1-7)
“….he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” As you can see, there will be no ruthless outlaws in heaven. Paul wrote in favor of obeying authority in this context not just because of who he was, but because he was a Roman citizen, and so it had little to do with his being one of the early apostles. The Roman Empire was Paul’s motherland, which further explains his fierce loyalty. I don’t know what he would say about America’s founding fathers and our Declaration of Independence. But Paul the apostle was in favor of paying taxes regardless of whether he thought they were fair or not. He did this because of his Roman heritage, but also because those taxes were collected with brutal efficiency under penalty of death.
In the modern world we have a completely different situation in that we have freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution that the early Christians did not have, whether they were Roman citizens or not. It has been my observation that since a large percentage of the taxes that Americans pay are going towards the American empire – which has its overwhelmingly huge military all over the globe for mostly dubious reasons – modern Christians should take a stand on moral grounds against war and what amounts to illegal and unconstitutional military dominance and global occupation in all its forms. Being the anti-war activist that I am, I find myself compelled to oppose war and the taxes that support it because that’s what Jesus would do if he were physically here on earth today! Having said my peace, let me move on to verse 8. This passage of Scripture deals with loving one another unconditionally, and that is sound advice in any context for the same reason as I wrote in the first paragraph of page one. It’s what Jesus would do and it is what He has commanded us all to do.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘do not commit adultery’, ‘do not murder’, ‘do not steal’, ‘do not covet’, and whatever other commandment that there may be, are summed up in this one rule; ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13: verses 8-10)
“Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another….”. If we are to owe anything at all to anyone or anything, it is that we are to love one another unconditionally. Should we love African-Americans if we are white? Yes, because racism has no place in the church and should have no place in our lives. Should we love liberals if we are conservative? Yes, because Jesus was a political activist and very liberal by today’s political standards and therefore so should we. Should we love Muslims if we are Christian? Yes, because we are worshiping a God who is above and beyond mere religious interpretation by other men. Should we love an atheist if we believe in God? Not only that, but we should be praying for them as well. Should we love the homeless if we have a roof over our head? Yes, because helping to take care of the poor and disadvantaged should be present in the life of every true Christian.
After all, at the rate that the US economy is going, it won’t be much longer before a whole lot more of us will wind up homeless when our jobs get down-sized or exported overseas, after which our cars will eventually get repossessed and our homes foreclosed on and the former owners wind up evicted. That homeless person that you buy a burger and some fries for today could be you in five or ten years (it once happened to me, and I didn’t think it could either). Should Americans love illegal immigrants? Yes, because in reality they are economic refugees from the third world, and we are and always have been a nation of immigrants, and because it is an American tradition to receive foreigners with open arms. It’s not just the American thing to do, it’s the Christian thing to do too. And just for the record, there is no such thing as an illegal human being. Every person has the right to be here, regardless of their nationality.
“Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor”. The entire Bible can be summed up with these two sentences. We are to love everyone we can as far as it is possible, and in so doing remain at peace with everyone. And we are to continue doing this regardless of race, creed, national origin, gender, age, marital status, sexual orientation (yes, that too) or economic status of others (compared to ourselves) that we come into contact with. We are to follow the example that Jesus Christ set for us when he was crucified for all our sins. God loved us first and so he sent Jesus Christ to be the final Temple sacrifice for all of us. In the same manner, no matter what the cost, we are to love one another no matter who we are, where we have been, or what we have done. Let’s not judge one another in the process, for this does not please God. Paul then continues as he clarifies the point he is making when he wrote these words two thousand years ago.
“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13: 11-14)
“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed”. When we first accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we start on a journey that lasts throughout our lifetime. We draw closer to Jesus as we continue along this journey through life. Christianity, then, is not a destination but rather it is a spiritual trek through the highs and lows of life. To put this quote into a modern context, Paul is literally telling us that it is time for us to wake up and smell the coffee. He is saying that if we are indeed going to be Christians, we need to start acting like it. That means we are to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”. The love of God is light in its purest form, and so we are to become imitators of this. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5: 15). To put on this armor of light, we are to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”.
To clothe ourselves with Jesus means we are to put on the armor of light that is Christ. By clothing ourselves with Christ, we actually shield ourselves from the world with all its temptations and evils such as the pursuit of material gain and waging war against our global neighbors. It is impossible to shield ourselves from all the evils of this world by ourselves. We would be overwhelmed to the point of eventual destruction, dying a God-less death, never to inherit the eternal life that is ours in Christ. But the Bible says that “God is not willing that anyone should perish, but that all receive the gift of everlasting life”. So, by clothing ourselves with Christ we are to wear Jesus on our shirtsleeves and across our chests. We do this not by being religious and engaging in a bunch of religious rituals and circumstances thereof, but by living our Christian faith as a lifestyle, or as a conscious choice about how we will treat other people. We can do this by treating everyone we come into contact with as we would treat ourselves (“love your neighbor as your self”). This is a simple saying that takes a lifetime to learn, and that is how we grow in Jesus.
Let’s all begin to do this, starting today. We can put on “the armor of light” that protects us from evil people, things and situations. We most definitely can wear Jesus on our shirtsleeve as a choice of lifestyle, not merely as a religion that is only practiced on Sunday morning. And we can do this simply by loving our neighbor as well as we love ourselves, knowing that God is watching everything we do and listening to everything we say. One day when our lives are over, we are all going to have to stand before God and give an account of our lives and how we lived them. The time to begin preparing for that day, no matter how far off it may be, is right now. Join me in preparing yourself for eternity. You will feel so much better and more fulfilled when you do. Love your neighbor as yourself and watch your love grow. As you do, the love of God will fill you more and more each day, and that is a life well lived. And that’s the best part of all.