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TEXT: Romans 13:8-14
SUBJECT: Romans #23: Love in the Morning
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our study of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Like most of his writings, Romans can be roughly divided into two parts. Some call them 'doctrinal' and 'practical', but this is as wrong-headed as it can be. All true doctrine is 'practical' and all good practice is 'doctrinal'.
Philippians 2 may be the most 'doctrinal' chapter in the New Testament. Paul delves deeply into the two natures of Christ. What is Jesus? He is Divine, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit and having a full share of the Godhead. What did Jesus become? He became a Man sharing in all the hardships and pain of human life in a fallen world. These are beautiful doctrines, of course, but seem far removed from everyday life. But this is not how Paul sees them. He sees the Incarnation as having a direct impact on all we do. Look how he puts it-
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God.made Himself no reputation, took the form of a servant.and humbled Himself.
I'm somebody! Why shouldn't insist on my rights and have my way and make you knuckle under to me? Because Jesus is the ultimate somebody, and He chose the path of humility and service and putting others first! Is this 'doctrinal' or 'practical'? It's both.
This is Paul's customary way of writing. What was said of Jonathan Edwards' sermons is doubly true of Paul's Letters-
All His doctrine is practice and all His practice is doctrine.
Still there's a clear break in most of Paul's books, and the best way to think of them is: indicative (i.e., what God did) and imperative (i.e., what He wants us to do in response to what He did).
In Romans, what God did for us is save us from our sin and guilt, the wrath of God, and lives without meaning or purpose. The Lord did this for us-He did it Himself! Because He loves us with an eternal and infinite love, though we don't deserve a bit of it.
Thankful for what He's done for us, we return thanks; in part, by saying 'thank you', but mostly, by living gratefully, living as though what God did for you matters.
THE COMMANDSPaul begins with a command-
Owe no one anything except to love one another.
Some have taken the first part too literally, as though he's telling us to stay out of debt, to never use a credit card, take out a mortgage, or buy a car on the installment plan. There is some wisdom in this, and wanting to be free to serve Christ, we ought to be more careful about out debts than we are, but this is not what Paul is getting at here. For more on this, read Proverbs.
Paul is using the word, debt, as a way of emphasizing how important it is to love one another. Paying your debts is not optional. You can't call the finance company and say, 'Let me slide on the car I bought last year, okay?' They won't 'let you slide'; either you'll make the payments or they'll repossess the car. This is how debts work. They're not obligations you can meet or not as you like. You owe the money and you've got to pay up.
Loving one another is the debt we owe to God, and I want to underline the words, 'to God'. Not everyone deserves your love! But God does, and the way you repay His love is by doing what He says-
If you love me, keep my commandments.
And of all the commandments He issues, none is more important than the one we have in front of us-
Love one another.
Who does Paul mean by one another? This sounds a lot like, 'Christians', and if it does, it is fully consistent with the teaching of the New Testament and the history of the Early Church. The commands are well known-
Love the brotherhood.
Let brotherly love continue.
As much as we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially those of the household of faith.
Of all the things that made the Church different from the synagogue or the pagan temple, the one that stood out the most in first years after Pentecost, was love. The pagans despised the Church and thought a Crucified God was a bad joke, but even they had to admit-
Only look, look how they love one another!
The Stoics loved men of their own class and achievement, but the Christians? There were no boundaries to their love. In the Church masters loved slaves and slaves loved masters; Jews loved Gentiles and Gentiles loved Jews; scholars loved illiterates; illiterates loved scholars; old men loved boys and boys loved old men. The middle walls of partition were all knocked down!
This cannot be said too loudly or too often: we have to love the brotherhood, including the brothers we don't agree with on every point and the ones whose personalities clash with our own.
As important as this is, however, it is not what Paul means here. The words, no one in v.8, and neighbor in vv.9-10 make me think he means, 'love everyone without exception'. Love believers and unbelievers; love your own kind of people and other kinds of people; love people who love you and people who don't, and love even the ones who-
Curse you, hate you, spitefully use you, and persecute you.
This is what Paul is telling us to do, and standing behind the command is his Lord and ours, Jesus Christ.
What is love? It is the attitude that produces a self-controlled and generous life. Paul gives five examples:
Love does not commit adultery. Why not? Because there's no such thing as a victimless crime! An adulterous man uses the woman he's with-even if she's in love with him. He hurts his wife; he hurts his kids; he hurts society. In short, he doesn't care what he does to other people as long as he gets what he wants. 'Love' is the opposite of 'getting what you want at the expense of other people'.
Love does not murder. Of course it doesn't, because it refuses to dwell on the wrongs done to you and gives no place to resentment. In other words, love overlooks the sins it can, and if it cannot overlook them, love forgives them-
Just as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you.
Love does not steal because it is happy that others have more than you do. 'Love' is, therefore, the opposite of envy and a sense of entitlement.
Love does not bear false witness. Some take this to mean, 'love doesn't lie' and that's true, of course, but chiefly it means, bearing false witness against your neighbor. Thus, it means more than lying: if includes gossip (even it it's true) and needless criticism, exaggerating faults, ignoring good, and in brief, loving words bring happiness and peace to the world instead of more misery and conflict.
Love does not covet. This tells us that love is more than 'what you do to your neighbor'; 'even what you want to do' is changed by love.
Paul knows the list is not complete, but he's got to stop somewhere, so he covers the rest by saying-
And if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'.
The word, commandment does not refer to every human rule, but, in particular, to the Mosaic Law and the 613 commandments the rabbis found in it. By linking Christian Love to the Law of Moses, Paul is making a significant point, one he's made over and over in the previous chapters.
He means something like this: The life commanded by the Law of Moses cannot be produced by the Law of Moses, no matter how much you admire it or try to keep it. Keeping this Law requires love, and that's the fruit of the Spirit and grows from faith in Christ!
Therefore, as paradoxical as it sounds, you can't keep the Law by keeping the Law; you keep the Law by believing in Christ.
Love does not replace the Law, as though as long as you love, you can forget the rules. What love does is what the Law itself never could do-
Fulfill the Law.
Paul is serious about living the life of love himself and getting us to do the same. To help us get up and at 'em, he tells us what time it is-
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
What time is it? It is daybreak, the night is far spent, the day is at hand. What does he mean by this? By the night, he means this present evil age-an age defined by revelry and drunkenness and licentiousness and lewdness and strife and envy. At the Cross, Jesus Christ bore these sins in His own body. With the Resurrection, He conquered them for Himself, and for us.
In rising from the dead, Jesus entered the New Word, or rather, He brought the New Word to this world. And we're part of it. With our sins forgiven and possessed by the Holy Spirit, we can live a different kind of life, the Life of the Resurrection before we're resurrected.
Will we be sinless or perfect before the Second Coming? Of course not. But we can-
Walk properly, as in the day.
And, as we do every morning, we can dress for the day. Christians have a very strict dress code, but it has nothing to do with suits and ties, long dresses and high necklines. We're to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the grammar means to keep on putting Him on.
Think of a little boy who wants to grow up to be like his dad. The dad is a doctor, let's say, and the boy likes nothing more than to put on the scrubs, maybe, or the white coat, and the stethoscope. The boy is not a doctor, but he's 'playing doctor'. Jesus is what a man is supposed to be; He's the only complete human. We're not, but by God's grace, we can play one; we can imitate the Lord, and that's what we're called to do. Not on Sundays only or when we're engaged in family worship or witnessing and so on, but everywhere every day.
WHERE WE'RE LIVING
Critics of Christianity often accuse us of 'living in the past'. Our beliefs are hopelessly outdated! The New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann wondered how anyone in the age of the light bulb could believe in miracles! And our morals are even farther behind the times: how can we ask a pretty girl to keep herself pure till marriage? Or a red-blooded boy to do the same? In a society fueled by wanting more and more, how can we expect people to be content with what they have and prefer the forgiveness of sin to a plasma screen TV?
They think we're behind the times, but in fact, we're the progressives; they're going backwards, because the Coming Age is full of miracles and knows nothing of immorality or consumerism!
The Kingdom has not come in its fullness. But with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, it has come, and we're called to share in it ourselves and to point others to it.
We've slept long enough. It's time to get up.
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