Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Love Is the Fulfilling of God's Law

Part 6 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:8-10




Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (v. 8). 


The Dept of Love

It’s a good feeling when you finally pay off a debt—when your credit card balance is finally zero or the mortgage payments finally come to an end. But there’s one debt that will never be paid in full: the debt of love.

We’ll never get to the point where we can say, “I’ve been kind for long enough. I think it’s time that I stop being kind.” The apostle Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (v. 8). What he’s saying is there’ll never a time when we’ll be excused from loving others.


Is It a Sin to Borrow Money?

“Owe no one anything” (v. 8). Is this a command to never borrow money? Let’s say we’re at McDonald’s and I realize I’ve forgotten my wallet. Is it wrong for me to ask you to lend me five dollars? No, Paul “is not prohibiting us from borrowing money but demanding we pay back what we owe [e.g., taxes (v. 7)]” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 436).

Sometimes debt reveals that there’s a problem in our hearts. People often get into debt because they worship the gods of materialism and pleasure. In Colossians 3:5, Paul says that “covetousness…is idolatry.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). Don’t live for present pleasures (and get into debt) like the world does. Be different.

Our hope doesn’t come from things or pleasures. Paul could say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). How? His hope was in Christ.


Love Your Neighbour as Yourself

Why do we always need to love others? “For [i.e., because] the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (v. 8). “The law” refers to the commands of God found in the Old Testament.

Jesus was once asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” What was his answer? He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he added, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40).

So we could say that when we love, we are doing what God’s law requires. “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 9).

Paul is dealing with our horizontal relationships (with one another), not our vertical relationship (with God). He’s saying that all of the commands that have to do with our relationships with others will be obeyed if we love our neighbour as ourselves. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10). (Who is our neighbour?)


How Do We Love?

What does it mean to love others? It means to love others as God has loved us.

Listen to Ephesians 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Later in Ephesians, Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25).

In Philippians 2:6, Paul describes Jesus as “being in very nature God” (NIV). He goes on to say that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (v. 7) and that ended with him dying “on a cross” (v. 8). New Testament scholar D. A. Carson believes the verse 6 could be reworded to say that “because he was in very nature God,” Jesus died for us. Sacrifice isn’t just what God did; it’s who he is!

To love is to make a sacrifice for the good of others. Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Heaven's Citizens and Human Government

Part 5 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:1-7




Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (v. 1). 


Submit to the Governing Authorities

When Christians come to this passage in Romans, more time is usually spent talking about what it doesn’t mean. But let’s start by talking about what it does mean.

The apostle Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (v. 1). Who are “the governing authorities”? The government—the people who make our laws.

Paul says, “Be subject [i.e., submit] to the governing authorities.” We might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trudeau would be our Prime Minister!” Or Americans might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trump would be our President!” That’s true, of course. But let’s talk about who was in power when Paul wrote these words.

Paul probably wrote his letter to the Romans in A.D. 57. Do you know who the Emperor of Rome was in A.D. 57. It was Nero. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live under the rule of Trudeau or Trump than Nero!


Why?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Someone might say, “If I’m a citizen of heaven, then I don’t need to submit to ‘governing authorities.’” But Paul says, “You’re wrong. ‘Every person’ must submit to their governing authorities.

Why? Why should we “be subject to the governing authorities”? Paul gives two reasons. First, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because God has appointed them. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (v. 1b).

Daniel 4:17 says, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” This was a lesson that King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way.

The Roman governor Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10). How did Jesus reply? “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (v. 11).

Paul adds, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (v. 2). If you refuse to pay your taxes, you’re resisting God!

Second, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because they maintain order in society. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (vv. 3-4a).

Do we submit to the governing authorities just to avoid punishment? No, we “must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (v. 5). We do it because it’s the right thing to do.


Always Obey?

Do we always have to obey the governing authorities? Paul says, “Be subject to the governing authorities.” To “be subject” (i.e., submit) is “to recognize one’s subordinate place in a hierarchy, to acknowledge as a general rule that certain people or institutions have ‘authority’ over us” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 797)  But this doesn’t mean that we should always obey people who are in authority over us.

Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s [i.e. taxes, etc.], and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). To God belongs our unqualified obedience. “If the state commands what God forbids, or if the state forbids what God commands, then civil disobedience is a Christian duty" (Timothy J. Keller, Romans 8-16 for You, p. 123). Peter said to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).


Be Transformed

Let’s go back to 12:1-2. Paul says, “Present your bodies [i.e., yourselves] as a living sacrifice.” What’s our motivation? “The mercies of God.”

How does God want us to live? “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Be transformed by the gospel. Be different!

How should a Christian interact with a person with different political views? “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

[Read 1 Peter 2:13-17.] God “is more concerned with our humility and self-denial and trust in Christ, than he is about our civil liberties" (John Piper, "Subjection to God and Subjection to the State").