Love--Our Blessed Debt!
Lord God, our dear heavenly Father, You have called us by grace into a living relationship with You. Your love is evident in the many blessings You bestow upon our lives. Help us, O Lord, to love others as You have loved us. When we fail, please forgive us and strengthen us so that we might love again in accordance with Your will. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
It is our responsibility in love to warn the wicked of the danger in which they place themselves when they choose to do evil. God will certainly judge both the wicked and their wickedness.
Jesus calls upon us to attempt in love to gain a brother caught in sin. This means confronting sinful behavior and removing impenitent sinners from the Christian congregation with the hope that they will repent.
Text: Romans 13:8-10
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are summed up in this, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
In Christ Jesus, our blessed Savior whom we love in view of His love for us, dear fellow redeemed:
How do you repay your parents for a happy childhood? How do you repay a spouse for a good marriage? How do you repay that special teacher for the time and inspiration necessary to develop your particular gifts, which in turn have led to a successful career? How do you repay a fireman, who rescues you from certain death in a burning building or the medical emergency team without whose help you would never make it from the scene of an accident to the hospital?
My dear friends, these are all debts that any of us could owe. They are debts we truly want to pay, yet they are not debts we can pay with dollars and cents. Is there enough money in the world to pay one’s parents for a happy childhood? Of course not! Would a card with a check, even were that card from Hallmark and the check rather sizable, really repay a teacher for his or her interest, inspiration, and the success that results? Hardly! No, these are not the kinds of debts with a dollar amount, which one-day will be paid in full. Rather, they are debts of love, which move us to respond with love.
While such debts will vary from individual to individual depending on our personal experiences, there is one such debt we all owe. It is not owed to our fathers or mothers, our teachers, or a stranger who helps us. Rather, it is a debt owed our good and gracious God—a blessed debt owed for His care and commitment to us in sending Jesus to be our Savior. It is a debt, which transcends time, for it brings us blessings here and now and will continue to do so throughout eternity. Let us, therefore, consider LOVE, OUR BLESSED DEBT! Let us recognize that we owe this debt of love to God, and yet in accordance with God’s will we pay this debt of love to our neighbor!
St. Paul begins our text with the words, “Owe no one anything except to love one another.” He does not tell us here anything about the debt of love we owe. That was done earlier in the epistle. St. Paul informs us in the early chapters of Romans of the problem we all face—sin, which separates us from God and places us under His divine judgment. He does so in a way, which demonstrates that this problem is no small problem. By nature we were God’s enemies, living in a state of rebellion against Him. Consequently, contrary to popular belief, we cannot solve this problem on our own. Many in our world believe that you can make up for bad by doing good, but St. Paul points out clearly that “by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in His (God’s) sight” (Rom. 3:20). Why is that the case? It is the case, because God’s law does not demand just more good than bad in our lives. God does not grade on the curve. Rather, He demands complete perfection and anything less than that falls under His judgment. God’s law, therefore, is not intended, St. Paul says, to lead us to salvation, but rather its primary purpose is the show us our sin and our need for help.
That having been accomplished, St. Paul then goes on to reveal God’s plan of salvation for us. This plan proceeded from God’s grace over against us. St. Paul tells us that while it is true that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” it is also true that we have been “justified freely by His (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). How did Jesus redeem us? St. Paul tells us, “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). While death, both temporal and eternal, is what we deserve, Jesus took our place. He died, so that we might have life—not just new spiritual life here in this world, but eternal life in heaven. Consequently, because of Jesus has done for us, St. Paul is able to say that “we have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). We can rest assured that “all things will work together for (our) good” as we love our God in return (Rom. 8:28) and that nothing is able to “separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
It is in view of this wonderful work of redemption, which brings us into the presence of our God and bestows upon us the promise of His blessing, that St. Paul then pleads with us to present our bodies as “living sacrifices” to God. He suggests that doing so is a “reasonable” act of service on our part in view of Christ’s sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2). This then is the reason why we owe a debt to God—a blessed debt in view of God’s great love for us—a debt of love we owe to God!
How can we ever repay this debt of love? Our souls are infinitely more precious than any amount of gold or silver. We cannot, therefore, simply write a check and assume everything will be taken care of in that way, nor would we want to do that. St. John very clearly expresses our inner response to Jesus’ work of redemption and the salvation it brings us, when he wrote, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). Having had our eyes opened to God’s grace, we cannot but respond in love! But how do we show our love for God? Do we simply give large offerings to the church, or sing as loudly as we can on a Sunday morning, or volunteer regularly at church projects? We may do all of those things, but even more important and impressive is the love we show God by loving our neighbor. St. John tells us, “He who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:21).
This is what St. Paul is talking about when he says in our text, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Do you want to please your God and thank Him for His blessings? Then continue to “love” those individuals around you. St. Paul is not talking here about the sentimental and emotional love of Valentine’s Day, which expresses a deep fondness for someone. Jesus uses this same word when He tells us, “Love your enemies” (Mt. 5:44). He is not saying that I must have a sentimental fondness for Saddam Hussein. But I am to seek both to understand and help whenever possible. This “love” of which St. Paul speaks is an act of our wills. It is a decision to take into account the needs of others with a commitment to strive to meet those needs on an ongoing basis. When I look beyond myself to the needs of others, I am then beginning to fulfill God’s law.
How is that love to be expressed in a practical way? St. Paul points to God’s moral laws, “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed upon in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” St. Paul cites the second table of the law, but in summary suggests the standard, which forms the basis for the "Golden Rule." We are to love others as ourselves. We are to do for others, as we would have them do for us. Would I want someone to seduce my wife? Of course not! Therefore, I should seduce my neighbor’s wife, but rather encourage both my neighbor and his wife to love and honor each other. Would I want someone to hurt or harm me in any way? Then I should defend my neighbor and do good to him. Would I want anyone to spread rumors about me? Then I should spread no rumors about my neighbor. In all of our words and actions, we will want to make sure that we “do no harm to our neighbor,” for that is the essence of love, and love thereby fulfills the law of God.
However, what about those individuals who harm us, who say terrible things to and about us, who either do not believe in God, or who simply act as if they do not? Are we to love them too? The plain and simply answer is, "Yes!" We are to love them—seek to understand them and their needs, and strive to meet those needs. What is to be our motive? The motive lies in God’s love for us! Remember, “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). There is nothing that anyone could do to us that compares to what we have done to God. Consequently, St. Paul calls upon us to love as God has loved—to love in spite of the unworthiness of those we are called upon to love.
For instance, I may not at all times deserve the love and compassion of my wife, but she is to continue to love me, even as I am called upon to continue to love her even should she at times be unloving to me. After all how strong is a love that is never tested? It is easy to love those who are lovable, but we will not understand and appreciate grace, until we love that which is unlovable. "But Pastor," someone might say, "I do not know if I love my spouse any longer." My response is, "First of all, what do you mean; secondly, what do you expect; and, thirdly, what difference does that make?" Do you mean that you do not have the same feelings you once had for your wife or husband? We cannot expect to maintain the intense emotional longing for someone else, which we often call first-love, for a lifetime. Quite frankly, it would not be healthy. We would burn out and fail to fulfill all sorts of necessary things in life. But we can continue to love one another, even should the emotional highs begin to wane, for remember the love of which St. Paul speaks is a decision of the will. We can continue to be kind; we can continue to speak words, which will build up; we can continue to be faithful—all of which fulfills God’s law of love, all of which reflects our love and appreciation for God.
My dear friends, an experienced pastor once observed, "If people would spend an equal amount of energy being nice to each other, as they spend being nasty, what a difference it would make in our Christian homes and relationships." Life is so short. We have only so many opportunities to interact with others. Let us bear in mind God’s love for us in Christ and that blessed debt of love we owe Him. Then let us pay that debt on a daily basis as we love our neighbors. What a difference it will make in our lives and the lives of others. What a blessing God can and will bestow upon such efforts! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting