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Romans 13:8-14: Our Relationship to the Law and the Coming Day Print E-mail
Sunday, 19 December 2010

The season of Advent is a celebration of the coming of Christ.  We have spent the last few Sunday nights focusing on Christ’s birth and those who witnessed it.  How amazing to have been there when Jesus was born, when God took on flesh, when the Redeemer came to the earth?  Yet, Advent is not just a celebration of the first coming of Christ.  It is also a time to celebrate the promise of His second coming.  The Word tells us that Jesus will return to the earth.  He will come again for His people.  Even now we long for that Day.  We anticipate it.  We celebrate it.  But that is not all that we should do.  The Bible tells us that we should live in light of the coming Day.  Our certain expectation for the return of Christ should change the way we live.

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Paul makes this connection in our passage this morning.  In continuing to teach us how to live our lives as sacrifices to God, Paul gives us two further commands in Romans 13:8-14.  As we saw last week, he tells us in verse 7 to pay to all what is owed to them.  He connects the first command in our passage this morning with the statement: Owe no one anything.  He has already told us to be sacrifices by using our gifts to serve one another (12:3-8), by loving others genuinely, including our enemies (12:9-21), and by submitting to governing authorities (13:1-7).  He continues this list with the two commands in our passage this morning.  In addition to the commands, Paul gives us reasons for them as well.  I should also not at this point that the commands are distinct from each other, without being completely unrelated.  Thus, what are they?  What commands and what reasons for them does Paul give us?

First, love your neighbor because that fulfills the Law (v. 8-10).

The first command is found at the beginning of verse 8.  Look at that with me.  We are to pay all of our debts according to Paul (v. 7).  Yet, there is one debt that we will never fully pay.  There is one debt that we will always owe on.  What is that debt?  It is the debt to love each other.  We are to continually (and genuinely, see 12:9-21) be loving one another.  One of my commentator’s state it this way: “We will never be in a position to claim that we have ‘loved enough.’” 1  He later quotes from Origen: “Let your only debt that is unpaid be that of love—a debt which you should always be attempting to discharge in full, but will never succeed in discharging.” 2  Our debt to love each other will never be paid in full.  Yet, we are to be making daily payments toward it.  We are to regularly be finding ways to express our love to each other, whether that be through prayer or encouraging words or some type of service or something else.  Paul commands us to continually love each other. 

In giving his reason for why we should love each other, which we will look at in a moment, Paul quotes from Leviticus 19:18 which states: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Likewise, when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus quoted this one as second only to that of loving God (see Matthew 22:37-40).  So how do we do this?  The command assumes that we love ourselves, that we are after our own good.  Yet, when we realize that our best good is found in loving God with everything that we are, then we can begin to love others as ourselves.  We begin to want them to understand that their greatest good is found in loving God.  The Lord begins to deliver us from selfishness and gives us a heart to serve others by ultimately pointing them to Christ.  Just as we long to treasure Christ and know Him more, so do we long for this for our neighbor.  We genuinely long for their good and are willing to serve to that end, even when it means sacrificing our stuff and our time and our other resources.  If we love God with all that we are and treasure Him above all things, then we will be free to use all that we have to point others in His direction.  We will begin to love others as we love ourselves. 3

So then, what reason does Paul give us for loving others?  He tells us that we should love others because that fulfills the Law.  Look at verses 8b-10.  Paul lists the latter part of the Ten Commandments and then states that they are all summed up with the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.  All of these commandments deal with how we relate to others.  They tell us not to commit adultery with (and against) others, not to murder others, not to steal from others, not to covet what others’ have.  What is the one way that we can avoid disobeying these commands?  Simple, by loving each other as more than ourselves we can fulfill these commands.  Thus, Paul makes the connection: love is the fulfilling of the law.

Of course, we might object: ‘Why is fulfilling the Law so important?’  Well remember, Paul is explaining his understanding of the gospel to the Roman believers.  Due to his teaching of justification by faith and not by works, he has apparently been accused of dismissing the Law and opening the door for licentious living.  Yet, that is not the case.  Yes, we cannot be saved by works of the Law, but through the Spirit we can keep/fulfill the Law, and we do this in part by simply loving each other.  Thus, we should love each other because that fulfills the Law.

Second, put on Christ because the Day is near (v. 11-14).

The second command in this passage is actually found after the reason given for it.  After we look at the command, we will come back and look at Paul’s reason.  He gives the command in verses 12b-14.  Look at those with me.  Paul gives us three sets of commands that all involve a positive and a negative part.  They can be summed up with the positive part in the last set where Paul tells us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  What does this look like?  How do we put on the Lord Jesus Christ?  The other sets of commands can help us.  First, Paul tells us to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  We are not to be consumed with the works of this age.  We are not to be given to our sins.  Instead of filling our time with such deeds, Paul tells us to put on the armor of light.  Paul describes such armor in Ephesians 6:10-20.  It includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness given by the gospel of peace (for shoes), the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  We are to equip ourselves for battle by putting on such armor.  Second, Paul tells us walk properly in the daytime, not in…  Again, we are to avoid drunkenness and sexual sins and strife with others.  We are to walk properly and not commit these sins.  Finally, Paul tells us to make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.  Don’t make it easy for yourself to struggle with these sins.  Don’t walk into temptation.  If you cannot have the internet in your house without looking at things that you shouldn’t, then don’t have it.  If you cannot have a TV in your house without watching things you shouldn’t (or wasting too much time with it), then get rid of it.  Better to go without than to make a provision for the flesh.  We need to put on Christ.  We need to put on the truth of the gospel.  We need to make war against all impurities in our lives.  Don’t play around with sin, put it to death by putting on Christ!  Practically this means intentionally reading our Bibles, meditating and memorizing the text.  It means spending time in prayer for ourselves and for one another.  It means identifying areas where we struggle and finding accountability.  It means exposing our lives to others through Church involvement.  In these ways (and others) we can intentionally and daily be putting on Christ.

What reason does Paul give for this command?  Look at verses 11-12a.  The reason why we should put on Christ and make no provision for the flesh is because the Day is near.  Paul makes three ‘time’ references in these verses: the hour, the night, and the day.  He tells us that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  We cannot afford to be lazy.  We cannot afford to be sleeping.  No, we need to be awake and aware.  We need to be diligent.  Moo notes: “In a society governed by the sun rather than by convenience of artificial lighting, people rose at dawn.  Only slackards would keep to their beds after the first glow of daylight…Paul wants no slackards among his readers.” 4  He then tells us that our salvation is nearer now.  In this context, Paul is speaking of our future salvation.  The return of Christ, our glorification, our completed salvation, is growing near.  As Paul says: The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  This present age (the night) is passing away and in one sense has already passed away for the believer.  And the day, even though it is not yet here, is at hand.  Again, Paul is talking about our future salvation.  He is talking about the return of Christ, the second Advent.  We live in an in-between time, for the Kingdom is ‘already’ here and ‘not yet’ here completely.  But the day is coming.  And for this reason, we should put on Christ and put to death our sins.  In one sense, the coming Day stands as a reason for all of the commands that Paul has given us.  We are to obey the government until it passes away.  We are to love and serve others as we await the coming of the Bridegroom.  We are to be sacrifices who are ready for the return of their Savior. 

So then, are you living in light of the second Advent?  Are you expectantly longing for the coming of Christ?  How should you do that?  By being a living sacrifice to God.  By turning from your sins and putting all of your trust in what Christ did the first time He came, namely living a perfect life, dying on the cross for your sins, and being raised from the dead.  Be ready for His second Advent by believing in the work of the first.  Be actively seeking His return by pouring out your lives to Him as a sacrifice.  Be intentional in your love of others.  Particularly in this season, look for ways to love your neighbors and point to them to Christ.  Take some cookies, show some interest, talk about the birth of Jesus.  Likewise, look for ways to love the people here at Trinity.  Encourage somebody by telling them what they mean to you.  Pray with somebody and for somebody.  Find a need that you can meet and meet it.  Just be intentional.  Such sacrificial, continual love does not happen naturally.  We must work at it.  We must make daily payments to the debt of love that we owe to one another.  Be actively seeking the return of Christ by becoming more like Him.  Just as you put on clothes everyday, put on Christ.  Spend time on your spiritual disciplines.  Identify sin and labor to put it to death.  He is coming again to gather to Himself all those who are eager for His return.  May we be numbered among them.  Amen.

1 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1996), p. 810.
2 Ibid., p. 812.
3 For more on this understanding of Jesus’ words, see John Piper’s sermon found here:
4 Moo, p. 820.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 05 January 2011 )

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