Jesus once said that the whole law can be summed up in two commands: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. But how do we know when we're really loving our neighbors? In this message Stephen gives us the answer from Romans chapter 13.
Maxing Out Your Love Limit
I have entitled our final series of studies in Romans chapter 13, “Livin’ Like You’re Leavin’” . . . sounds like a Gospel Quartet number doesn’t it?
Maybe it’s because of my trip this past new year’s to Charlotte, where I took my family to hear Bill Gaither and all his friends at what he calls the annual Jubilate. From 7:00 pm to just past midnight, the coliseum was filled with toe-tappin’, knee slappin’ music. Gospel singers can hold onto notes longer than anyone and not suffer brain damage from a lack of oxygen. They’re amazing. We had a blast.
Maybe that’s why my next sermon series is called, “Livin’ Like You’re Leavin.’
But that’s exactly what the Apostle Paul has in mind.
In Romans 13 verse 11, Paul writes, And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour to awaken from sleep (a reference to delay or carelessness); for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13. let us behave properly as in the daylight . . .” Paul writes.
He speaks in futuristic terminology – eschatological terminology. Terminology of the expectation of Christ’s return;
-the rapture . . . the resurrection . . . the reunion . . .
the royal throne . . . the resplendent kingdom.
In light of heaven . . . here’s how to act on earth!
I agree with others that Paul is exhorting the believer to put into practice what we’ve been challenged to do in chapter 12 and up to this point.
Don’t delay . . . don’t be careless.
Glorify God . . . it won’t be long before you’re gone.
Christian’s ought to be livin’ like they’re leavin’.
The time is coming for us!
Yesterday I was in the grocery store picking up a few items – milk and bananas for my wife, doughnuts for me, I didn’t – but I thought about it.
I had decided to pick up a few magazines off the rack and a newspaper or two and contrast the way of the world, with the challenge of Paul to the believer in this latter part of chapter 13.
You know where all the magazines are kept by the checkout lane – I scanned them and then picked up a few of them – I looked around first to see if anybody from Colonial was watching. I don’t want to confuse the flock. I picked out Teen Vogue, Star magazine, Looking Good – I was especially drawn to that magazine because of the headline that read: Overeating is not your Fault.
I like that! Yea! After Christmas and New Year’s I want somebody to blame!
I picked up a newspaper too.
After reading for an hour, I felt so sad and so sorry for the world, all over again.
- headline after headline on who was fornicating with whom
- the civil union of a homosexual couple in England that made headlines;
- the annulment of a Hollywood marriage that lasted less than 3 months;
- article after article on how to be in fashion;
- an article on the glory days of a transvestite;
- stories of family fights over money and property;
- all sorts of sinful behavior trumpeted as sophisticated and in style.
I couldn’t help but think, the time is almost up for them too!
One of the marks of the last days, according to the Apostle Peter is the mocking and disbelief of unbelievers regarding coming judgment.
“Where is the promise of His coming?” Mockers will ask who follow after their own lusts – 2 Peter 3:3. “For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” In other words, God’s judgment can’t reach us – it’s just another myth to frighten us, the world says. Peter goes on to say, but it escapes their notice that God destroyed the world with a flood of water, but the present heavens and earth are being reserved for destruction by fire (3:7)
Then Peter adds, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” (3:10)
What about the Christian? Peter writes, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” (2 Peter 3:13, 14)
In other words, we’re leaving . . . the time is almost here . . . so we should be living with the perspective that we will soon be leaving.
One of Jonathan Edwards resolutions was to never do anything that he wouldn’t want to be doing if it were the last hour of his life.
This perspective does two things:
- It reminds the believer
- And it releases the believer
- It reminds the believer of the stupidity of sin.
Look at the world as it runs after its lusts – read a magazine for yourself . . . are they happy? Have they found what they’re missing? Do they die contented?
Listen to a man who had everything the world is racing after. He was a multi-billionaire in today’s economy; a brilliant mind; more wives and mistresses than you could count; an empire that was respected around the world and a throne that was legendary.
Solomon came to the end of his life and said, “I’ve never been satisfied by anything . . . what absolute emptiness!”
And at the end of his memoirs, as he approached his final days, he writes how he failed to glorify God – and then he warns, God is going to bring every one of our deeds to judgment. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
He forgot, while he was living, that he was ultimately leaving.
The perspective that you should be livin’ like you’re leavin’ reminds us of the foolishness of sin.
- But it also releases us to surrender our lives to God with joy.
No matter what difficulty you’re facing . . . it’s temporary.
Your fiery ordeal cannot be compared to the glory which God has reserved for those who belong to Him.
And one day with the Lord will make the sorrows of a 1,000 years on earth evaporate into the celestial air of a new heaven and a new earth!
So, just how do we live our faith out, in light of the fact that we’re on our way up?
Romans 12 and 13 have been answering that question.
- We’ve been challenged to personal and total surrender in Romans 12:1-2;
- We been challenged with how to act in church, in Romans 12:3-8.
- We’ve been challenged with how to live with each other as believers, in verses 9-21.
- Then in chapter 13, we’re challenged with how to live in society and in response to governmental and civil authority;
And now, in this final section, we’re going to be challenged with:
-how to live in our neighborhood;
-how to behave before unbelievers;
-how to act in our community in a way that honors Jesus Christ.
In Romans chapter 13, Paul has just finished talking about the subject of paying taxes and toll – now, in verse 8 he continues to address the believer’s financial obligation with an oft misunderstood phrase – notice, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.”
This phrase, “owe nothing to anyone” is often used by well-meaning Christians to forbid ever using a credit card, or borrowing money, or having debt of any kind.
Many years ago, before I actually entered the ministry full time, I remember speaking at a church one Sunday and afterward I was in the living room of the chairman of the elder board, waiting for dinner to be served. His wife – who was known for speaking her mind – came into the living room and, without any introduction just blurted out, “I believe it’s a sin for anyone to use a credit card.”
I responded, “I sure hope not . . . last week I used my J. C. Penney card.”
That ended the conversation.
While a good steward good argue the wisdom, or lack thereof of paying interest on a credit card – which I would agree with, the use of someone else’s money, even borrowing money is never forbidden in scripture.
In Exodus 22, Moses instructed the people, “If you lend money to a fellow Jew, and they are poor, don’t charge him interest.” (Exodus 22:25).
Not, you can’t lend money, but, “if you do, help your fellowman out. Don’t make money off the disadvantaged position of the poor.”
Again, in Leviticus, instead of forbidding the lending of money, Moses instructed, “Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him . . . do not charge him exorbitant interest [on what he has borrowed]. (Leviticus 25:35)
In the Book of Deuteronomy, we’re given this incredible jubilee principle where every 7 years, the people of Israel were to wipe off their books any debt they had against one another.
If someone borrowed money from you or a tool from you sometime during a 6 year period, on the 7th year, you were to forget they ever borrowed it.
If you were living in the Old Testament economy, how would you feel on the 6th year, 11th month, if your neighbor came next door and said, “Hey, can I borrow your new John Deer riding lawnmower?”
“I don’t think so . . . uh, come back in 30 days.”
You think the Israelite had problems with lending money or materials? Listen to Deuteronomy 15:7. “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land . . . you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need . . . beware, lest there is an evil thought in your heart, saying, “The seventh year is near!”
I would have that thought, wouldn’t you? Who would ever loan anybody anything on the 6th year? If you never thought you’d get it back. That’s not loaning, that’s giving.
My point is the Old Testament did not forbid lending and borrowing, it gave principles to manage the way you did it – especially to the poor, who were in need of help from time to time.
In the early years of our ministry here, we didn’t own a reliable vehicle. There wasn’t anyway we could make the trip to Georgia to visit our family without taking a risk of being stranded. We took the risk anyway . . . I’ll never forget one couple in the church saying to us, “Listen, we want you to borrow our vehicle when you make out-of-town trips.” They had a beautiful new van. “Are you serious? What if something happens to it? We couldn’t afford to get it fixed?” I’ll never forget his response – he said, “Listen, we wouldn’t loan it to you if we weren’t willing to never get it back.”
Wow . . . bring on the 7th year!
What about the New Testament?
Jesus Christ said, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)
We all know the great passage on stewardship where the Lord said, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.” What’s interesting is that earlier in this same passage in Luke, the Lord had said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return and your reward will be great.” (Luke 6:35-38)
Don’t just lend to your fellow Jewish brethren . . . let a Gentile borrow your riding lawnmower. Let an unbeliever borrow your car.
And the Lord implies, if you never get it back, don’t let that destroy your relationship with the unbeliever but know that I will reward your giving spirit one day.
Neither the law nor the Lord forbade borrowing and lending.
Did you ever think about the fact that God has lent his world to us? Stewardship means that God owns everything and we are merely managing what we’ve in a sense borrowed from Him – it’s His property . . . it’s His money . . . in fact, this is His body – we belong to Him, too.
So, if we’re not supposed to lend anything to anybody, God would become the chief offender.
So, Romans 13:8 cannot be condemning the loaning or borrowing of finances or possessions.
However, let’s balance this freedom with responsibility.
The ability to borrow doesn’t mean we are to justify the misuse of finances by borrowing what we can’t repay.
The average Christian today is literally trapped by debt.
The average household credit card debt in our country today, according to the latest statistics is between 9 and $10,000 dollars.
The average car payments in this county total $800 per household.
No wonder the goal of most people today is to make what they are spending.
From what I’ve read, nearly 30% of Americans, surveyed recently, said that they either didn’t have the ability or they didn’t have the desire to get out of debt before their death. They’ve maxed out their credit cards and they have no plan or intention of every paying them off.
Ron Blue is a Christian financial planning leader – his biblically based material is used here at Colonial in our Crown Ministries small groups that meet to learn how to budget and how to steward financial resources.
In one of his books, he talked about how the Sears company introduced its Discover Card. They used Atlanta as a test market, and the Atlanta papers reported that Sears officials actually expected credit card usage to go up by 35-billion dollars as a result of introducing the new card. In other words, they expected people not so much to switch cards, but to increase their debt by using the card as an additional credit line. And they anticipated the increased borrowing to be somewhere around 35 billion dollars.
No wonder Ron Blue wrote, “If willpower alone cannot stop your [impulsive] borrowing, try plastic surgery! Cut up your cards, cancel your credit lines and close your overdraft accounts.”
Ron Blue, Master Your Money (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), p. 119
According to the Apostle Paul, the Christian is to be characterized as someone who works toward payment of his debts.
The present tense of the verb, in Romans 13:8 could be translated, “be owing no man.”
R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Augsburg, 1936), p. 797
The NIV has an excellent translation of this phrase (which is really hard for me to admit) – it reads, “Let no debt remain outstanding.”
That’s Paul’s idea here . . . if you happen to have debts, don’t have debts that you willingly refuse to pay on or pay back.
To put it even more simply – the Christian should be know as someone who pays his bills on time.
He is financially diligent.
He honors his financial commitments. His handshake matters!
This is how you live in the company of unbelievers.
Ron Blue also revealed an interesting insight on the way banks view people who pay credit card bills off, thus avoiding the high interest. The banker told him that in the banking industry a person who pays his bills right away is known as a “deadbeat,” because the company is unable to make much money from him. Imagine that . . . a decade ago a “deadbeat” was someone who failed to pay his bills. Now he is someone who pays his bills promptly.”
Adapted from James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume 4 (Baker Books, 1995), p. 1684
By the way, the struggle to master your money is not a new one. The temptation to be owned by things . . . to misuse debt . . . to fail at finances is not a new challenge.
Let me read to you a quote from an early church leader named Cyprian who wrote these words just 200 years after the Jesus Christ ascended back to heaven. Cyprian wrote with frustration, these words describing the Christians of his generation;
“Their possessions hold them in chains . . . chains which shackle their courage and choke their faith and hamper their judgment and throttle their souls. They think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they rather who are owned; enslaved as they are to their own things; they are not the master of their money, but its slaves.
There isn’t any doubt that one of the greatest tests of spirituality is stewardship.
- Do you own things or do things own you?
- Do you possess money or does money possess you?
One of the ways you can answer that correctly is whether or not you’re able to pay your bills
The Apostle Paul says, in effect, in Romans 13:8, make sure you have a reputation for being a deadbeat! Pay what you owe when you owe it, until you’ve paid it off.
Then he goes on in verse 8 to tell us that there is something we should never stop paying on. Notice, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”
This is a debt you can never repay. This is an obligation you will never pay off.
You will never arrive at a point in life where you can say, “I’ve loved people all I’ll ever need to love them, so I can stop now.”
“I’ve been kind to enough people, I can stop now . . . I’ve fulfilled my kindness quota.”
That was Peter’s idea when he asked the Lord in Matthew 18:21, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone – seven times?”
And Peter’s patting himself on the back because he suggested such a ridiculously high number of times to forgive the same person for doing the same thing against him.
The Rabbi’s of Peter’s day were teaching taught that an offended person needed to forgive a brother three times and then they were free and clear to hold a grudge and never forgive them again.
Adapted from The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Victor Books, 1983), p. 62
So Peter’s being really generous. He more than doubles the number of times he’s willing to love someone enough to forgive them!
And then Lord responded, “No, I say forgive him seventy times seven” . . . 490 times. In other words, stop counting. There are no limits to love.
No wonder the disciples immediately responded, “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5)
Aren’t you glad you can’t pay off your debt of love?
Where would be if God reached His limit with us? How many times have you sinned against me with that same sin? Don’t come confessing to me . . . sorry, you’ve exceeded 3 times – you’re way past 7?
If I contrast Paul’s opening phrases, with contemporary language, we could understand Paul to be saying something like this: As a believer, don’t develop a reputation for maxing out your debt limit and then refuse to pay on it; instead, max out your love limit and don’t ever stop paying on it.
In other words, we will always owe people love.
Listen to the commentary of Origen, who wrote in the 2nd century about this verse of scripture; “So Paul desires that our debt of love should remain and never cease to be owed, we should both pay this debt and always owe it.”
R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Crossway Books, 1991), p. 250
Paul goes on to say in verse 8 that loving others fulfills the law – it obeys the law – it is the keeper of the law.
How can that be?
Paul illustrates with 4 of the 10 commandments. Notice verse 9. “You shall not commit adultery.”
What does keeping the 7th commandment have to do with love? Everything. If you really love a woman or a man, you will not desire anything for them but what is holy and right. You would never want them to violate the covenant they’ve made with their husband or wife by committing adultery with you.
Joseph loved his master, Potiphar. He had great respect for his household, and also his rights as a husband. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he responded to her, “Look, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.”
This was nothing less than an expression of love and respect and gratitude toward Potiphar.
It was also love and respect toward God himself, for Joseph went on to say, “How then can I do this great evil, and sin against God?”
Adultery is not an act of love, it is an act of self-love. You become more important than your partners wife or husband. You become more important than God.
William Barclay put it this way, “When two people allow their physical passions to sweep them away, the reason is, not that they love each other too much, but that they love each other too little.”
William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 176
The truth is, adultery is an act which has grown out of selfish, sinful desire; it never grows out of true love.
So, true love fulfills the law prohibiting adultery.
Next, Paul refers to the 6th commandment – “You shall not murder.”
That’s easy to understand as the opposite of love.
Love doesn’t seek to destroy someone’s life – true love protects life.
Further, Paul writes, “You shall not steal.” Again, this 8th commandment is fulfilled by loving your neighbor.
If you love your neighbor, you’re not going to slip into his garage and steal his John Deer tractor. You’re gonna ask him if you can borrow it, remember? And then you’re gonna hope he never wants it back.
Do you remember the incident of the tax collector named Zacchaeus, that wee little man, who climbed up in the sycamore tree, (say it with me) for the Lord he wanted to see; and as the Lord He passed that way, he looked up in the tree; and He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today; for I’m going to your house today.”
Are we getting deep or what? Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that!
Jesus went to him home . . . later, he emerged from the house and announced to the crowd, “This day salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:9). And people probably thought – “Yea, right . . . we know Zacchaeus! And what was greedy, thieving little Zacchaeus’s personal testimony to the crowd? “I’m going to give half my wealth to the poor and to everyone I’ve taken exorbitant taxes from, I will repay you four-fold.” (Luke 19:8)
Which meant Zacchaeus became relatively humble in his financial circumstances and a lot of people immediately became wealthy.
The love of God had indeed been poured into Zacchaeus’ heart – how do we know? He stopped stealing and paid his debt to those he’d stolen from.
He didn’t become a Christian because he stopped stealing; he stopped stealing because he had become a follower of the Messiah.
Do you love the Lord? Stop stealing time away from Him.
Do you love your spouse and children? Stop stealing companionship away from them.
Do you love your church? Stop stealing your gifts from her?
Do you love your boss? Stop stealing company supplies.
Paul goes on and mentions commandment number 10. You shall not covet.
This strikes at the heart of our materialistic, consumer-oriented culture, which teaches us to covet everything. The biggest problem with covetousness is not the trouble it gets us into, but rather that it makes us insensitive to the needs of others. Instead of helping us to see what their needs are, covetousness makes us jealous of others so that we want what they have.
Boice, p. 1693
Covetousness turns us into takers . . . love turns us into givers.
Love fulfills the law.
Max out your love limit and never stop paying on it.
Live like that in front of your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends and your enemies. Your love for them provides the perfect foundation for the gospel – which is the love of God through Jesus Christ.
For God so loved the world, right? That he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
We owe the world that message. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, including your neighbor. This kind of life – that maxes out its love limit, and never stops making payments, that kind of life fulfills the law.
Our attention was riveted this past week with the news of 12 miners who died in the West Virginia mine disaster. Trapped underground amid toxic gases, their final hours were not spent in physical torture, fortunately, as they eventually succumbed to the lack of clean air supply. In a telephone interview, Tom Toler, the older brother of min foreman Martin Toler, read what he said was a note from his brother, written just before he passed away. The note was scribbled on the back of an insurance application form in his brother’s pocket. It was hard to read, which indicated it had been written in the final stages of his life. This is what the note said, “Tell all I’ll see them on the other side . . . it wasn’t bad. I just went to sleep. I love you.”
USA TODAY. Friday, January 6, 2006; 3A
Can you imagine what this message means to his family . . . his friends? His final words, “I love you.”
Frankly, I never end a telephone conversation with my wife or children without those words, “I love you.” Who knows, it might be our last conversation.
What about the world . . . will they hear from us, as it were, a message of love. Paul says, we owe the world a debt we should never stop paying on . . . a debt of love.
We are actually in the process of leavin’ this world . . . we just don’t know when.
So let’s live, so that our love for people, and our gospel of the love of God through Jesus Christ becomes the message we will leave behind.