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Romans (Series 1)

Walking In The Sunlight

Romans  13:8-14

In the short remainder of Romans 13 Paul presents to us the classic preacher’s warning:

·         there is a royal law of love, binding upon each and every one of us.

·         The Royal Lawgiver is coming again -- and soon!

·         Therefore, we must walk as if all things are seen; in the daylight.

The Royal Law

The Bible is full of short phrases -- easy to memorize -- which stand as rules for human behavior. One of the most famous is quoted and commented on in the first section of our Scripture this morning:

(Rom 13:8-10 NIV) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. {9} The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." {10} Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

We may safely take this section one verse at a time.

The Remaining Debt

There is a sense of urgency in this passage. Paul might, in passing, be talking about monetary debts[1], but I think it clear that this includes much more than that. It carries with it the sense that Solomon had:

(Prov 3:27-28 NIV) Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. {28} Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow"-- when you now have it with you.

So many of us have the attitude “If I were a rich man...” (Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof). We would be generous, we would be so kind. Of course, we’ll be all these things -- later, when we become rich. We forget the principle of Scripture which tells us to do good now, with what we have. God gives riches and poverty; the question is what we shall make of them.

Rich or poor, loving our fellow man is within our reach. Why then, do we find it so difficult? Why is it that love, the agape of the New Testament, seems so hard for us to develop? Paul gave us three requirements for such a love:

(1 Tim 1:5 NIV) The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

There you have it: love comes from these three things.

·         a pure heart. Know the difference between innocence (not knowing evil) and purity (knowing and not doing it). It starts on the inside, without reference to others.

·         a good conscience. The guilty must cover their tracks and remember their lies. The innocent, blessed with a good conscience, need not ask “how will he take this? Will he think I have ulterior motives?” -- they need only act.

·         a sincere faith. It is necessary when doing good to realize that reward may not be instantaneous (the perils of delayed gratification!) but rather we need to trust God. It is not a system of mutual back scratching; it is knowing

(Heb 11:6 NIV) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Why then, does Paul refer to this love as a “debt?” I think my father explained it best (and by example, as the best explanations are always done). One day we stopped to help a motorist stranded by a flat tire. The fellow was grateful, and offered to pay Dad for his trouble. Money was tight, and I’m sure it would have been quickly used, but Dad put it simply, “No thanks. The only way you can repay me is to pass it on to the next guy who needs it.” We owe a great debt we can never repay to those who have helped us (and forgiven us) along the way. We cannot repay it, we can only pass the debt along.

Negatives to positives

This is an interesting selection from the Ten Commandments.

·         The Romans of this time were every bit as loose in the sexual morals as we are. Temple prostitution abounded. Most men of position felt that a mistress was a necessity (and changed them frequently -- like the ex-husband of a friend of ours who referred to “Freddie's girlfriends, who never got any older”).

·         Of murder, much might be said. I have heard it said that by the time a child graduates from high school, he has seen something like 5000 murders on television (something like one per night). Is it any wonder that the heart gives forth with murderous intent in our society? Like the Roman society, we commit abortion in the millions (they did it just after birth -- primitive technology). Life is considered somehow cheap (when it belongs to someone else). And if man is just the most clever of the apes, upon what basis do we decide that murder is wrong -- if convenient? (Abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and later the elimination of "undesirables.")

·         Do not steal: most middle class Americans wouldn't think of it. It's not socially acceptable. No, we're safe from that one -- today. Unless, of course, you mean by expense account or tax fraud.

·         Now, covetousness is different. We need to give it a new name: "being respectable." "enterprising" "venture capitalism" Greed is the foundation of our economic system -- how often have we heard about "trickle down" economics. Whatever the truth of the economic theory, it starts with the assumption that the truly greedy are the benefactors of our society.

We have invented the idea of the "victimless crime." In essence, our society says that adultery (for example) is victimless; therefore, it is no violation of "love your neighbor" (indeed, twisting Eros from agape, they would say that this is fulfilling it).

What we see here is a clear connection between "thou shalt not" and "thou shalt love" -- for example, by not committing adultery you positively love your wife. People often think that Christianity is “negative” -- full of “don’t do this.” In fact, as we see here, the negatives are only the specific instances of the positive “Love your neighbor.” We need these negatives because we start asking, “but how am I supposed to love my neighbor?”

C. S. Lewis had an interesting point about this. I am to love my neighbor “as myself.” So then, how do I love myself? One way is by forgiving (which I’m very good at, when the sinner is me). More generally, the law of love is both law and instruction manual. We need only ask, “what would I want in those circumstances?” The method is the instruction, the instruction is the method.

Indeed, it may well be argued that this is what raises love to its highest plane. We’ve all seen men who are in love with themselves, wrapped in their own desires. Once in a while we will see a man devoted to something else, so completely devoted that we say, “He lives for her” or “He loved his country.” You see the point? Only when love points outside of ourselves can it truly grow to become a great love.

“First do no harm”

The quotation is from Galen, the father of medicine. So often we wonder, “Well, what am I supposed to do?” There is a minimalist principle here: if you don’t know what to do, at least do no harm. “Love does no harm to its neighbor.” There is the first, simple test of our actions: do no harm.

More commonly, we think we know exactly what to do. We begin in prayer by giving policy advice to God on the subject, and then (amply fortified in our own wisdom and justice) we go forth to war. First do no harm.

We may take an example from the Jews. The story is told:

A heathen once came to Shammai and said, “I will become a proselyte on the condition that you teach me then entire Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him away with a builder’s measuring stick. When he appeared before Hillel with the same request, Hillel said, “Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn it.”

Love is the fulfillment of the law, says Paul. We need not be concerned with the details (the letter of the law) when we have the Spirit. “Love God,” said Augustine, “and do as you please.”

The Royal Lawgiver

If you’d like a sure way to build attendance, the Second Coming is a good one. Most people just love to hear the details of someone’s theory on the exact date of the return of our Lord. I suspect that one reason for this is that they then feel they are “in on the secret.” Another reason is that knowing the date somehow never translates into getting His work done before it arrives. Not so, says Paul:

(Rom 13:11-12 NIV) 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. {12} 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.

Admonition follows instruction; men need not so much to be taught as reminded. It is time for us to wake up. I do not know on what day our Lord will return. I do know it’s one day closer than yesterday. Paul warns us thusly:

(1 Th 5:1-3 NIV) Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, {2} for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. {3} While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

This, among many other warnings, is clear. The question is, what are you waiting for? Should you not be up and about doing your Lord’s work?

Rabbi Eleazar said: Repent one day before your death. His disciples asked him, “Who knows when he will die?” Rabbi Eleazar answered, “All the more then should a man repent today, for he might die tomorrow. The result of this will be that all his life will be spent in repentance.”[2]

It is not sufficient to be warned; to repent and believe. You cannot throw out Satan and expect nothing to come in.[3] You cannot just throw out the darkness; you must replace it with the light. Satan will counterattack, you must be prepared.

Martin Luther makes an interesting point about this passage. He notes that it is not addressed to non-believers, or backsliders, but serious Christians. He then gives us the answer, quoting Micah:

(Micah 6:8 NIV) He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.[4]

Daylight Behavior

(Rom 13:13-14 NIV) Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. {14} Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

A frequent metaphor in the Scripture is to compare light to goodness and night to evil. I suspect that (in the absence of neon lights) Paul had every good reason to make the comparison.

·         Some sin is performed “at night” simply to hide the act. We don’t want people to know what we did, or who did it. Except for criminals, this is seldom the reason today, for we have lost all sense of shame.

·         Some sins -- particularly the sexual variety -- actually are more attractive in secret. There is a certain “tang” to the forbidden fruit. Is it pride? Defiance? Who can say?

·         More common among Christians is hypocrisy -- it’s “amen” on Sunday morning and “oh boy” on Sunday night.

What fascinates me about this is the list of “midnight sins.” I can understand the sex and drunkenness (the latter, incidentally, was regarded by the ancients with far more severity than the former) for the reasons given above. What surprised me at first reading was that dissension and jealousy are included also. Sometimes the evening meal is a drunken orgy. Sometimes it’s roast preacher.[5]

Paul ends with the command to be clothed with Christ. It is a common metaphor in his writing, and we may see it as a way of expressing displacement as a principle. As a metaphor, however, it has its applications too:

·         We put on Christ -- and so when God looks at us, he sees as we see, looking at the outside. He then sees his children, not his rebels.

·         Clothes often define a man, especially the old and familiar ones. I have a beat up old gray jacket; it’s “me.” If you put it on the bed with the other coats at the social, you’d have no trouble picking out mine. You’d say, “that’s John.” You’d be right. How does Christ “wear” on you? Do your spiritual clothes define your spiritual man, or are they like a tuxedo -- special occasions only?

·         If you wear them long enough, people come to expect them. If you wear Him long enough, the world will not let you take Him off -- they know better.

When Jesus told us to love our neighbors, He was quoting. Here’s the first edition:

(Lev 19:18 NIV) "'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Note the ending. This commandment was not given merely to keep you out of trouble, or make things nice. It is utterly bound up with God. We are taught[6] that whatever we do for others, we do for their Maker. We are taught that it is impossible to love God and not love others.[7] Our Lord summed it up this way:

(Mat 22:37-40 NIV) Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' {38} This is the first and greatest commandment. {39} And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' {40} All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

The rest is commentary; go and learn it.


[1] But see, for instance, Proverbs 37:21, for example.

[2] Midrash Tehillim, quoted.

[3] see, for example, Matthew 12:43-45

[4] and much more eloquently phrased in the King James.

[5] Sunday School teachers tend to be scalded or parboiled as opposed to roasting. RHIP.

[6] Matthew 25:31ff

[7] 1 John 4:20

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