Last night we continued our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans by looking at Paul’s exhortation in the last half of chapter 13. Here are the notes:
What kind of life does the “renewed mind” produce? (12:1-2)
13:8-10 …a person who sees love as a debt that’s never repaid.
v. 8 “owe” = always consider this a debt that isn’t yet paid… (but quickly pay all others (v.7))
v.10 “does no harm” why?
Love will make sure you don’t:
…harm people sexually & maritally (adultery)
…harm people physically (murder)
…harm people economically (steal)
…harm people verbally, and reputationally (false witness)
…desire to harm people (covet)
So…the law points us to a world where no one harmed anyone else in any way, or to say it another way, where everyone loves.
Therefore, if you want to really keep God’s commands, be a person full of and moved by love.
13:11-14 …a person who loves continually because they love expectantly.
v.11 “do this” = “love this way” (v.8)… knowing the time
1. See that the current way things are is like the darkness of night just at the break of dawn
2. Desire to have nothing to do with things that are from and of the fading night
v.11 They’re signs of spiritual sleep (11)
v.12 Their time is almost over (12)
v.13 They’re not “fitting” for children of the light (Ephesians 5:8-17) (13)
v.13 They’re definite activities (13)
3. Clothe yourself with the things of the light: (armor (12), Christ (14))
The implications of seeing the connection between 13:11-14 and 13:8-10: Since this is the manner in which we must put into action the command in verse 8, it means that it would be unloving not to think and live this way. It would be unloving to let the climate of ideas all around us that doesn’t include God lull us to spiritual sleep, to fail to be aware of the times we live in, to be unconcerned about stripping off the ways of living that are associated with spiritual night, and to live in those things instead. And by logical extension—since verse 10 tells us that love doesn’t harm our neighbor, this means that to live this way, specifically to live in the things listed in verse 13, is to cause harm to those around us.
The problem of our cultural moment: If it is true that God just wants us to love each other, doesn’t that mean we can dispense with the commands of God? (For instance, see: Matthew 22:35-40. Is Jesus saying we can ignore the rest of the bible?) This is a key question we face today. Many people are saying that we’re misrepresenting the bible…and Jesus…if we insist that the commands God clearly gives in the Bible are things he expects us to thoughtfully, lovingly keep.
The first thing we can see is how clear Paul is on this in Romans 13. When he writes “love fulfills the law” he doesn’t mean: “As long as you love them, it doesn’t matter if you commit adultery with or against them, murder them, steal from them and covet their life…as long as you love them.” And he also doesn’t mean, “As long as you love people, it doesn’t matter if you live in excessive partying and all kinds of sex and lust and jealousy and fighting.”
Does the rest of the Bible agree with Paul? Yes. Let’s take a quick look at how…
In the Bible loving God is defined as:
Loving God and keeping his commands (Deuteronomy 6:1-9; John 14:15, 15:10)
(to “love God” is a command: Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1; Matthew 22:37)
(to “love others” is a command: Lev 19:18, Mt 22:39, Jn 15:17)
And see 1 John 2:3-5, 3:17, 5:2-3. Seriously, look at how clear that 1 John 5 passage is! “Here’s how we truly know if we love other…when we love God and keep His commandments.”
So let’s take all these verses and try to state what they show us in an orderly manner. First, to truly love God is to want to know what he says, and what pleases him, and to do those things in order to be close to him. In other words, loving God is keeping his commands out of your affection for him. And, to love God is also to love others by keeping his commands towards them (1 John 5:2!). Therefore, we only truly love others when we keep God’s commands towards them (with true affection and faithfulness). Therefore, love is defined by God’s commands. At least, its actions are described by them. True love won’t break any of God’s commands towards another person.
So we can’t pit love against God’s law, or against Jesus’ commands, or against the Bible in general, because we simply can’t love others by breaking God’s commands towards them. And we can’t know or understand what it means to love others without knowing and doing God’s commands.