Romans 13:8-14 | Love is
What is love?
We’re in Romans 13 today and I’m going to attempt to answer that question from the scripture, but before we dive into that, I wanted to start where I think a lot of us start when we have questions.
We google it.
That’s what I did. I googled the question, “what is love.” and I didn’t click on any of the websites, because any more who has time to actually read articles? Right, it’s far easier to read the headlines and taglines than to actually scroll through an article!
So here are a few of the headlines and taglines that come up when you google the question “what is love.”
The first entry on google says, “Love involves emotions and behaviors characterized by passion, intimacy, and commitment.” This isn’t actually horrible as far as the internet is concerned…
Another entry said that “Love is an emotion that keeps people bonded and committed to one another.”
The 3rd entry sites a so called expert as saying that love is, “a magical embodied sensation sparked from an alchemical reaction of witnessing another person's heart and soul and accepting, appreciating and celebrating them just as they are: in all their perfect imperfection." Barf! Sounds like an expert who thinks they’re an expert… a little too wordy for my tastes!
The next article sited on google says that “Love is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection.”
And then at number five we get to dictionary.com’s entry: “love is an intense, deep affection for another person.”
Now, I’m not going to harp on google or the internet here. I’m actually a really big fan and appreciate the easy access we have to the world’s information.
I can’t imagine trying to work on my own cars with out Youtube! If there’s a problem you’re having with your vehicle, I guarantee you that someone has made a video about how to fix it.
So I’m not dogging the internet, but it does present us with a problem. With so much information and so many competing ideas at times, how do we know who to listen to and read? With all the information out there that’s so easily accessible to us all, how are we supposed to decipher what’s true and what may be well-meaning, but is in fact utter garbage masquerading as truth?
In this day and age, we need a bedrock of truth that we can turn to more that at any other time in history don’t we? Especially when we’re talking about something as monumental as love.
In Google’s top 5 search results about what love is, we were given several different answers. Love is an emotion. Love is a behavior. Love is commitment. Love is a feeling that bonds people. We were told that love was a magical sensation sparked by chemicals in our brain.
And all that just from the first 5 headlines. So my question for you is where do we turn for truth? When you have questions of real meaning and importance, where do you turn to have those answered.
The internet is fine and has a wealth of information, but how do you know what you’re reading is true?
I’m not here to tell you this morning that we should all throw out our smart phones. No they can be very useful tools, but when it comes to matters of truth and significance I will tell that we all would be better to start not with google but rather to start with God and his word!
God and His word will give you the tools you need to evaluate what you read and what all the so called experts of our day tell us about what is true and how to live!
And so with that, let’s turn to Romans 13:8-14 and see how God answers the question: what is love? We’ll read it and then walk through it together.
Romans 13:8–14 (NIV)
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already 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. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing 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 flesh.
Ok firstly, Paul transitions us into a discussion on love with a word on debt.
In chapter 12 he spoke about our debt to the body of Christ which is the Church. That we owe it to God’s family to humbly serve by using our gifts and give of our time, talent and treasure for the equipping and care of the God’s people!
Then Paul told us that we should love sincerely by hating what is evil and clinging to what is good.
Then in 13 as Wes pointed out last week, we are in debt to our governing authorities… whether we like them or not or think they are really stupid… we are called to obey and honor the authorities unless they ask us to do something that is sinful. Right! Stupid may be stupid, but if ain’t sinful, we’re called to be respectful and to submit and obey the authorities God has established. And for those who may think I’m being partisan here, you’re welcome to go back to our series on 1 Peter when Trump was in office and I said the exact same thing!
Romans 13 teaches us that we have a debt to submit to the authorities God establishes. Submit even if it’s stupid but not if it’s sinful!
Along those lines, just to be clear, Paul makes sure that we mop up what he’s spilling! Pay your taxes he says. Pay all your bills promptly!
So in terms of debt. Paul has said that we have a debt to the Church. We have a debt to society and to government. And to that end, Paul says, here in vs. 8 to sum it all up, he says, “let no debt remain outstanding. Pay your debts!
But realize that there is one debt you will never be able to repay and that is the debt of love you owe to one another.
Now don’t be confused here. Paul isn’t saying, well the debt of love is so great that you’ll never be able to repay it so don’t bother trying. No he’s actually saying the opposite. He’s saying the debt is so large that you need to never stop trying to repay it!
You and I, especially as Christians never get to say, well I tried to love them, but it didn’t work so I’m done!
And why is that? Is it because the other person deserves it. No, it has nothing to do with them. The debt of love is not rooted or owed to them or to you, it’s owed to God!
This is the first thing Romans 13 tells us about love. What is love, well firstly Paul says that Love is a debt owed to God we pay to others.
Love, true, sincere love that hates evil and clings to good. Real love is sourced in and from God!
God is the author of love! He is the one who epitomizes what love is and gives it definition! Contrary to what culture says, love is not just a feeling or emotion or sentimental notion! No love is a deep and abiding affection and commitment that motivates one to do what ever it takes including self-sacrifice to bring about the ultimate good in and for others.
You all know the verse. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life. That’s John 3:16 and then 1 John 4:10 says, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Paul says that because of God and what He was willing to give of Himself for the love of you and I, we owe Him. There was no length that He did not go to to give for us and because of that gift we are forever in His debt.
This fact that love is a debt we owe to God is a freeing thing. It means we don’t get to ask whether they deserve it. Chances are they don’t. We didn’t deserve God’s love and yet He gave up His Son so we could know His love!
Folks, I’m not saying this is easy. There are some really really hard people to love in this world. There are lots of people who from a worldly stand point, don’t deserve your love, but it’s not about what they deserve! Love is about the debt we owe to God!
And again just to be clear, God’s not asking us to pay it. He knows we can’t but the reality is that if you’ve received the gift of God’s love and incurred this debt. The vastness of that debt and the extravagance of that gift will change you. It will create a sense of gratitude in your heart where instead of asking the question, well how much must I love or well what if they don’t deserve my love, the question God’s love leaves floating constantly through your heart and mind is, well God if you would love even me like this, how then could I ever withhold love from another?
The fact that God’s love makes us indebted doesn’t mean we spend the rest of our lives trying to earn it! No that’s silly and not what the gospel says! The debt we feel is not one of trying to earn God’s love but it’s one of gratitude where we become a conduit of God’s love to others!
This is foundational, again because it means the source of our loves for others doesn’t not rest with them! Whether they deserve it or not… that doesn’t factor into the equation because God first loved us, so we ought to also love one another!
Love is a debt.
Along with that
Along with this, Paul's says that Love is also the fulfillment of the the law. Twice he says this in v. 8b and v. 10b.
Love is the fulfillment of the God’s law.
And sandwiched between these 2 statements in vv. 8 and 10 Paul repeats some of the words from Jesus found in Matthew 22:36-40… In Matthew, Jesus is asked
Matthew 22:36–40 (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 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.”
Paul is weaving Jesus’ understanding of the law into what it means to love. He sums it up and says that Love does no harm!
More specifically Paul says love is the fulfillment of the law and in fulfilling the law, love does no harm.
This means Church that love is something more than just emotion. It has to be more than a feeling! To do or not do harm involves action. So does following or not following laws. Right?
So love is obedience to God’s law that does no harm! It’s obedience to God’s law for the good of one’s neighbors!
And if you want to know, who your neighbor is, go read Jesus story about the Good Samaritan. The point of that story is that your neighbor is whoever God has brought into your sphere that you have an opportunity to do harm or good to!
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, why is he going on and on about this point. Why are we still talking about love fulfilling the law and doing no harm?
Why? Because our culture has lost it’s mind in regards to what it means to love especially when it comes to God’s law!
Now it’s true that God’s law is never going to make you right before Him. You’re not gong to follow it perfectly and because of that, even if you try, apart from Jesus you and I will face an eternity in hell for the penalty we deserve of not being able to perfectly fulfill the law!
But, you would be wrong and our culture is wrong to say, well then God’s law is stupid! Or God’s laws don’t matter any more!
Sure they don’t matter in the sense of salvation! Obeying God can’t save you! Believing in Jesus is the only thing that can do that, but that doesn’t mean God’s laws are bad or unhelpful or need to be thrown out!
It’s true, obeying God’s laws can’t save you. But just because we don’t depend upon our ability to obey God’s laws to save us doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still strive to live obediently!
God’s laws are how we love Church!
Paul lists a few of the commandments here for us to illustrate. Adultery. Yeah not loving. Murder. Really unloving thing to do. Theft. not loving. Coveting, that’s an over desire for things! A discontentment that’s always looking for more or something else. That kind of lust and desire makes us to very unloving! It leads to comparison games and jealous and a lot of bad stuff all of which do not increase our ability or desire to love others well!
You see we live in a culture right now where the whole world is telling us to disobey God! Do what you want! Follow your heart! Don’t listen the Bible! It’s outdated! It’s backward! It’s bigoted!
But folks the bible paints for us a completely different picture! It says that the obedient thing to God is the loving thing! If you want to do no harm, don’t follow culture or society or the latest internet trend follow God! The loving thing is the obedient thing!
Here’s what we all need to take note of! Paul is warning us not to get the idea in our heads that we know more than God! We should be careful, especially when talking about how to love, we should be careful not to think that we are wiser than God in determining what will hurt or help someone!
As Keller puts it:
“ Usually, when we talk about the “loving thing,” we mean the “comfortable thing”; that which will give the person the least disturbance or distress. After all, the point of love is to do no harm (v 10)! But only God knows what we and our neighbors need ultimately. He built our souls and hearts and he knows what we need. The law, therefore, is God’s way of saying: You want to do your neighbor no harm? Well, here’s how! Follow these guidelines, not your instincts or wisdom.”-Keller, Timothy. Romans 8-16 for You.
This is why Church as long as I am a part of leadership here and Wes is part of leadership here, as long as the men who serve on your elder board here are involved, we will never shy away from speaking the truth outlined for us in Scripture! We will endeavor to do it gently and with kindness but we will not compromise on what God has said. We will champion Biblical marriage and biblical masculinity and femininity and biblical parenting and whatever else culture says is offense and bigoted. Not because we hate our world or our culture, but because we love it and want to see the people of this world thrive and we understand for that to happen then God’s way is the best way because He is creator!
Love is a debt. Love is also the fulfilment of the law which seeks to do no harm to ones neighbors.
Love also keeps an eternal perspective!
That’s what v. 11 is all about!
It’s easy in this life to make the mistake of thinking that this life is all that there is. This is why folks get so upset about politics and issues of government! We’ve got politicians on both sides doing things that fly in the face of common sense and that make us angry because it has the potential to lower our quality of life! But friends, let me encourage you not to fear!
For the Christian this is as close to hell as you and I will ever be! And even with inflation and all the other craziness… we’ve still got it pretty good. And also, Jesus is coming back! There’s hope! There’s hope for this life and theirs certainly hope for us in the next! So while we wait. Love others well. Be content with what you have. Respect and obey the authorities even if you you think they are stupid and as long as it ain’t sinful!
Living this way is not only loving, but it’s protecting! That’s what Paul says. Don’t live in the darkness no put on the armor of light!
Again, here we see the truth. God’s word and His laws aren’t meant to rob our joy or happiness! No they are meant to protect us and help us thrive! We love others by obeying God and we protect ourselves by obeying God as well!
Protects us from what? From ourselves and our sinful desires.
Let me ask you this, what lasting good has ever come from carousing and drunkenness? From wild partying? How much love and affection was ever spurred on by wild binge drinking? What good for society as a whole? Who here would like a frat house to go up next to their house?
What about sexual immorality and debauchery? These are very all encompassing terms, what lasting good has come to society from free, causal and reckless sex decoupled from marriage between one man and one woman for life? Are women and men in our culture happier today because of all the free sex everyone is having separated from marriage? The use of antidepressants and drugs would lead us to believe no.
What about dissension and jealous? This Greek word for dissension, if you go back to the greek is actually social media. It’s true.
I’m kidding but seriously I looked up this word and here’s the definition for dissension: expressing differences of opinion, with a large measure of antagonism or hostility. Isn’t that basically how everyone uses social media! Here’s my opinion and here’s why you’re an idiot for not agreeing with me!
Listen, I understand there are times to disagree, but brothers and sisters matters of opinion do not rise to this level! And if we’re going to disagree with others, lets make sure we do so in love with respect and grace and that it’s on an issue of eternal importance!
For example, how loud the sound system is… is a matter for discussion not a matter for dissension. Whether or not our government has socialized health care or privatized health care…again is a matter for discussion, not a matter for dissension.
Whether or not sin is sin or Jesus rose from the dead, These are settled facts that don’t need discussing and are cause for division, but even then, we don’t do so with hostility, we do it in love. Why?
Because love is a debt we owe to God. and Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love does no harm. Love keeps and eternal perspective. Love protects and lastly, love seeks to serve Jesus and others over self!
Romans 13:14 (NIV)
14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Who are you wearing Church?
When I used to leave my house when I was a teenager, my mom always used to say, “Levi, remember who you are.”
This is similar. Who are you wearing?
If you’re in Jesus, if you’ve become a Christian, you are clothed with Christ, that’s a fact, but the question is do you remember that fact and live in light of it’s reality?
Again from Tim Keller,
“If a man is in a tuxedo and a woman is in a long gown and heels, it has an effect on their behavior. You look in the mirror and you see yourself dressed for an occasion of dignity and formality, so you behave accordingly. If you forget and move about as if you are in jogging clothes, you will look silly (and you will probably damage your clothes!) Work the illustration out for Christian living. We are supposed to remember “who we are wearing,” what he did for us, what he wanted for us, and what it cost him. This is much like Romans 6, in which we are told: You are dead to sin and then told: Now act dead to sin! In other words, Paul says: In everything you do, in all your attitudes to the state in which you live and the society of which you are a part, remember where you are heading, and remember who you are! Keller, Timothy. 2015. Romans 8–16 for You. Edited by Carl Laferton. God’s Word for You. The Good Book Company.