SUNDAY NIGHT CROSSTRAINING NOTES
Love and the Fulfilling of the Law
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Sunday, May 24, 2009 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1275
Pastor Don Horban

Romans 13:8-10 - “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. [9] 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.’ [10] Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

These verses have an obvious connection with last week’s teaching on the Christian and government. Verse seven repeats the subject of “owing” debts four times. In terms of life under divinely instituted human government we must come to terms faithfully with owing taxes, revenue, respect and honor (7). Governments don’t pay for themselves. Earthly systems require finance (“taxes” and “revenue”) and they require willing submission (“respect” and “honor”) if they’re to work at all. And God, says Paul, wants them to work.

The fundamental concept here is the Christian and his or her duty to earthly authorities and governments. I may or may not like the form of government under which I live. I may be a conservative under a very liberal government. I may be a monarchist living under a democratic government, or vice-versa. So there may or may not be agreement with my particular form of government. But I must pay my taxes and I must do all I can to honor those in leadership over me. Taxes will probably be the law and no one who follows Christ can be disrespectful to his or her government.

And it’s right at this point that we see today’s text offering not only continuity with 13:1-7, but contrast. Today Paul presses much deeper. As he moves beyond my duty to government in particular to relationships in general, he stretches the borders to how we are to treat “each other”(8). And he probably doesn’t mean to limit these instructions to how we treat other Christians. He’s talking about how we relate to our neighbor, as Jesus defined neighbors in the parable of the good Samaritan. So these instructions are to exclude “no one”(8a).

1) THE REALM OF LOVE IS ALWAYS DEEPER AND MORE DEMANDING THAN THE REALM OF DUTY
Romans 13:8 - “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

We know from Paul’s earlier words in Romans that no one actually fulfills the law perfectly in this life - Romans 3:20 - “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” We can’t qualify in God’s sight by law-keeping. We can’t be justified on the legal pathway because we never keep the whole law. So what does Paul mean when he says the “one who loves another has fulfilled the law”? He means love is what sets the direction of my life before God. Love is what God looks for. The one who loves is setting his of her life in the direction that keeping the law always intended. Or, to put it in the negative, love is what keeps us from breaking the law. If you act out of love you will, from the inside out, tear up the roots of lawlessness.

This is so important because it shatters the myth, the myth believed by many sincere Christians, that because we are redeemed by Christ we can forget about the law. We can ignore the law because we’ve been saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Nothing could be more opposite to the truth. Love never ignores the law of God. There is a right and a wrong way to live before God. And we must live - all of us must live - the right way before God. There are requirements to holiness. God’s will never changes for His children. And anyone who thinks the walk of love is less rigorous than the walk of the law doesn’t understand either the nature of love or the teaching of Jesus. True, love takes the burden of the law as a means of being justified and sets our hearts free from that condemnation. So there is a sense in which God’s commands cease, as John says, to be a burden. But they don’t cease to exist. Rather, the righteousness under the yoke of Christ is as much deeper as it is more joyful. We’ll come back to this in a few minutes.

2) THESE VERSES OUTLINE ONE OF THE KEY TESTS OF THE LIFE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE HUMAN HEART - Romans 13:8 - “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

So there are debts we are not to carry through life and there is a debt we all must carry. The debt we all have and must all feel is the debt of love to others. This debt of love is to somehow drive the rest of our actions. We are to be as compelled by it as we are by a mortgage or a credit card obligation. In other words, this debt of love mustn’t be treated as something optional or something that can be paid off whenever we get around to it. That’s why Paul links expressing love with paying taxes.

This isn’t the first time Paul talked about the propelling power of this debt in his own life. His first mention of it in this letter is in Romans 1:14 - “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” Many translations will actually use the word “debtor” - “I am a debtor both to Greeks and barbarians....” It’s the same word Paul uses in Romans chapter 13 when be speaks of the debt we owe to each other - the debt of love.

Paul had received marvelous grace. He was a rebel and blasphemer of Christ. He deserved nothing but God’s wrath and judgment. But that’s not what Paul got from God. He received mercy and forgiveness and marvelous love. And here’s the point. That grace didn’t just give Paul his forgiveness. It gave Paul his mission. Paul knew that just as he so desperately needed God’s grace in the gospel, everyone else needed it to. And that put Paul in debt. He owed everyone the same transforming, freeing, renewing grace of God that he had received. He knew the truth and the source of that grace. Others didn’t. And there was Paul’s debt.

3) TO KEEP THE COMMANDS OF THE LAW WITHOUT CHRIST’S LOVE IS USEFUL IN MAINTAINING ORDER IN SOCIETY, BUT USELESS IN TERMS OF PLEASING GOD - Romans 13:8-9 - “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another 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 any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Perhaps these verses cut to the heart of much confusion in the body of Christ. How important is keeping the law? It’s very important, as much as it lies within us to keep it. The law forbids murder and theft and adultery and bribery. The law places safeguards around our rights and loves as human being - both Christian and non-Christian. So there is great value in keeping the law.

But the law can’t make us right with God. Paul has already said so - Romans 3:20 - “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Nobody will be saved through the law. And even if we could keep the law - or at least most of it - we still wouldn’t be made right with God because the keeping of the law only reaches the outside of our actions. It may clean up the outside of the cup, but never the inside.

I think this is often missed when we consider righteousness of life. Consider 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 - “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Just ponder those last three words - “I gain nothing....” What can Paul mean? Does he mean no one would be helped by my philanthropy? Could people not be fed and clothed, or educated? Could I not write helpful books if I had all knowledge and understood all mysteries? Would it be nothing at all to share with the world the cause and cure for cancer? What can Paul mean when he shocks us and says, “I gain nothing!”

He means he himself would gain nothing. His deeds would not pile up any merit before God. Others might gain, to be sure, but Paul himself would be unchanged and unhelped in his relationship with God. You see, God looks at deeds from their source rather than in their bare actions. And without love I would give away my goods and be looking for a tax benefit. I would perhaps use my universal knowledge to cure cancer, but could also turn to using it to rule the world. If I truly had the power to do all these things but existed with a fallen heart, I, above all other people, should be feared.

On the other hand, if I have the love of Christ in a transformed heart I can be trusted to do all the good I can possibly do, and none of the evil. So it’s not that Christians don’t think about keeping the law. We know this to be so because Paul is writing to Christians and he is quoting the law - Romans 13:9 - “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.’”

These are important laws for the Christian. But they must be kept from the inside out. If I love you I won’t rob you. But, unlike the keeping of the bare law, I also won’t harbor envy or anger against you either. If the law says I mustn’t rob you I won’t. But, in the power of love, I’ll also look out for your needs and treat you as lavishly as I would treat myself. This is the kind of thinking Jesus was trying to inject into the law-bound minds of the religious Pharisees.

4) THE DEBT OF LOVE IS THE ONLY DEBT THAT GROWS AS YOU PAY IT BACK - Romans 13:10 - “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Once you pay your taxes they’re paid. Once you pay off your mortgage, you don’t have to pay it anymore. Pay off a credit card and you can just cut it in two if you so like. That’s the nature of all other debts.

But who ever pays off the debt of love? In fact, as many discover in the marriage relationship, the more you do loving things for your spouse, the more you love your spouse, and the more you are drawn into doing more loving things to reveal your growing love. Love always expands as it is expressed. And suddenly the mystery starts to dissolve. We start to see why the greatest command isn’t to obey God, which perhaps a robot could be programed to do. The greatest command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.