We saw at from the first part of chapter 13 that Paul wants the Romans to understand that their role on earth isn’t to reclaim political authority by leading revolutions against political tyranny. The goal is that despite what kind of government we are under, we can pray for all men, especially those in authority, so that we live quiet and peaceful lives, in all godliness. This doesn’t mean, however, that should you find yourself in a government that gives you the ability to alter its course (i.e. democratic elections) that you shouldn’t partake. Rather, it is a simple state of mind where we are vigilant to remain focused on what is truly before us – the souls of men. Instead of expelling effort to bring folks political freedom, our attention should be to bring folks spiritual freedom, in Christ.
As we continue in chapter 13, Paul is going to once again turn inward. We briefly looked at how the believers should operate within their civil societies, but now Paul will begin discussing what is true about us as a collection of believers.
Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 13:9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 13:10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
When it comes to the issue of lending money and becoming indebted to one another, Paul is very quick to point out that our indebtedness should only exist in one thing–to love one another. We should not live, as believers, whereby we owe each other. In light of the political setting the Romans found themselves in, it was prudent that there be nothing between them. Unity dissolves when one is enslaved to another by debt. Proverbs 22:7 very clearly points out that the borrower is servant to the lender. Debt between friends and family can become an instant source of complete destruction to the relationship. Paul says that the only thing we should be indebted to one another with is that we love one another. Love isn’t a begrudging choice after being guilted into action. Love simply puts others ahead of self – Love wants to ensure that others are provided for, even at the expense of self. Paul said it this way to the Corinthians,
2Corinthians 12:15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
If there is anything that we would feel indebted to each day, it is to esteem others better than ourselves and in so doing, we fulfill the law of God. Paul goes on to quote some things out of the law of Moses and demonstrates that each of these legal items has it roots in loving thy neighbor.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery – loving your neighbor respects your neighbors relationship boundaries
- Thou shalt not kill – loving your neighbor respects their life
- Thou shalt not steal – loving your neighbor respects their property
- Thou shalt not bear false witness – loving your neighbor respects their integrity and reputation
- Thou shalt not covet – loving your neighbor respects your neighbor’s individuality
Paul demonstrates that the underlying thread of all of these is a love for one’s neighbor. Be indebted to one’s neighbor for nothing, but to love them. Love works no ill to his neighbor. If love works no ill, then that is pretty exclusive language and therefore, the direct inverse is true – love ONLY works good to his neighbor. This is the fulfilling of the law of God.
How often is “law fulfilling” in the minds of believers rendered to trying to keep the letter of the law but rarely the spirit of the law? The letter of the law says, “Thou shalt not kill”, but the spirit of the law says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” When it is said in scripture that Christ fulfilled the law, it is true that he fulfilled all of the law’s requirements (even the sacrificial aspects), but He didn’t do so by simply holding up the list each day and checking them off – every point of the law was satisfied by Christ because there was never a time when Christ didn’t love His neighbor.
Romans 13:11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. 13:13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
Why is loving your (believing) neighbor so important?–because of what is approaching. Paul says it is far past time to wake up to this reality. He tells the Romans that their salvation is nearer than when they first believed. Is Paul saying that they weren’t saved the moment they believed? If we just want to pick out one verses, then you might walk away with that idea. However, again, recall the persecution that the Romans were under thanks to Nero. There would be a time that they would be delivered from the power of darkness that ruled over their physical existence. Every day, that deliverance (salvation) gets closer and closer. Let that be the backdrop to loving your neighbor. Don’t be slothful and sleepy, missing the opportunity to love one another, but awake out of that static state, recognizing the day of deliverance is nearer now and love one another from that understanding.
Paul says to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. We might conclude that the works of darkness are a type of apparel. The works of darkness are such because they take the light of love, which is directed to your neighbor, and it pulls that light inward so that your focus is on self. Paul says that the night is far spent – why bother focusing on that which is dark? Paul says to put on the armor of light. Interesting that the works of darkness are just clothing – a facade, yet, the opposite is armor. Light is armor against darkness because darkness literally cannot defeat light. When light shines, the darkness flees. In John chapter 1, John records that the light shined in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. Not only do we have the opportunity to adorn ourselves with light (for the world’s benefit), but we likewise help to keep our brothers and sisters in Christ out of darkness. Paul says to let us, while adorning this armor, walk honestly in the day and not seeking to fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
When we read “lusts of the flesh”, we shouldn’t automatically conclude that Paul is talking about some litany of sins committed in the flesh, but rather could likewise be talking about the general desire of the flesh to satisfy itself. Sometimes that is with physical events – sometimes that is with simply bolstering one’s pride. The things Paul mentions here that we should not be about are these fleshly lusts. Rioting, Drunkenness, Chambering (perhaps a sexual connotation that is amoral), Wantonness, Strife and Envying are all results flesh-satisfaction, in some form or fashion. When we tend to the night – to the things of darkness – we invariably leave ourselves subject to the night itself and we therefore see other believers through the lenses of night. Not only is our interactions with them not edifying, but our very perspective of them is wrong. Paul says to put on Jesus Christ, who is the armor of light. In other words, have not ourselves adorned with self-centered thinking, but as Christ emptied Himself for us, so too we empty ourselves for one another.
This will be very important as in the next chapter, Paul is going to discuss that even though we do not all come from the same backgrounds or understandings, the love we have one to another should allow us to recognize that none of us live unto ourselves, but all live unto God. Therefore, we should focus on what will edify one another knowing that the true accountability for every believer, regardless of understanding or background, is before God and God alone.
Our story continues…