The Day Is At Hand. No, not Mother’s Day. Sure Mother’s Day may provoke some level of anxiety on the part of men who are expected to have some gift or other plan in place to honor the mother of their children and on the part of pastors who are expected to have some glowing message about mothers or love that tickles the ears. The more we fear other people and their judgments the more anxiety Mother’s Day makes. But no, the day that is at hand is not Mother’s Day. The day that is at hand is the day of the Lord. It is the day of God’s judgment. Paul reminds us in Romans that it is the one who is righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus who will live. That is the main point of the whole letter. Thus you are not expected to do or say something that honors God in order to live. You are righteous-by-faith. God loves you with a love that will never let you go. God loves you in Jesus Christ. What you do or don’t do doesn’t change your relationship with God for you with a saving faith are righteous-by-that-faith. If you do good works as acts of love for God because you think that by so doing you will be on better terms with Him, then you are really doing those good works for yourself. If you know that God loves you in Christ Jesus so you do good works as acts of love for others then you are indeed loving your neighbor. The great church Reformer Martin Luther said, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.” Therefore, instead of fearing other people you are to love other people. But love is impossible to do in yourself. Mothers with young children today are likely to have memorized all of the lines to the Disney movie Frozen. The opening song ends saying: “Beware the frozen heart.” The movie makes it clear that only an act of true love can melt a frozen heart. Indeed, when both sisters Elsa and Anna were about to die and Hans goes to strike Elsa with a sword and Anna throws herself in front of her sister to take the blow instead, she froze, then both of their hearts were thawed. The only thing that can thaw a frozen heart is someone else loving you by giving themselves sacrificially for you. Jesus gave Himself sacrificially for you, melting your heart so that you can love others. The Beatles said that All You Need Is Love, but in truth you need faith in Jesus and then you have love for others. So Paul says:
- Love one another and so fulfill the law for the day is at hand.
- Paul tells those who are righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus in verse 8 to “love each other for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Verse 10 repeats the point: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” No need to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus showed the Pharisees that their neighbor is not just their fellow Jews. Christians were to love one another regardless of whether they were Jew or Greek, or, Roman or barbarian. Indeed, in the previous chapter Paul has made it clear that you are not only to love one another but also to love your enemy and those who persecute with a genuine love. Thus you invite your enemies and those who persecute you or others to join you for a church fellowship dinner not in order to make them into a convert or even into a friend but simply as an act of love for a neighbor. That is one application a Christian in Rome would have taken away from Paul’s previous passage about genuine love. As an apostle and follower of Jesus, Paul understands the answer to who is my neighbor the same way that Jesus does. Indeed, Jesus said that the whole law can be summarized as love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself. Paul follows Jesus here too saying that the commandments concerning adultery, murder, stealing and coveting and the rest are summed up by “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Thus Paul says that for those loved by God to love another fulfills the law.
- Paul tells those who by faith in Jesus have stepped into the light to put off sin and put on Jesus. Early in the letter Paul had set a trap so that those listening to the letter would be thinking of others and cheering him on thinking “aren’t they awful” using examples of idolatry and homosexual behavior and then listing a bunch of other things. Then he sprung the trap and said, “therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges” (Rom 2:1). Here in Romans 13 he does something similar again. He mentions activities that sophisticated Romans and good Jews would associate with the barbarians – orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality – not that these were uncommon under the cover of night in Rome – they were common among the pagans – but things that Christians in Rome would all agree were not to be done and then Paul includes in the list: quarreling and jealousy. So these last two are Paul’s main application for the Christians in Rome. This is why Paul stresses that they are to love one another for quarreling and jealousy have become common among them rather than loving one another. Instead they are to stop the quarreling and jealousy so that they can join together to do mission to those they thought of as barbarians in Spain. Like changing clothes you are to put off sin, even quarreling and jealousy, and put on Jesus.
- Paul calls you to fulfill the law because the day is at hand. There are end-time overtones to much of verses 11-14. The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. Indeed, he says that salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Here again Paul followed the example of Jesus in calling for people to love one another for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Some 2,000 years later salvation is nearer to us now than when Paul wrote these words. Nevertheless, Christians stand in both ages at the same time until Jesus comes – we are both in the old age and in the new creation – both in this world and in the kingdom of heaven. So when Paul tells us to love one another and not break the commandments he is speaking to us as those who have already begun living in the new creation. Thus when you love one another you have satisfied the law completely. This can only be said from the perspective of the end-time new creation. (All of this is to say, love one another and so fulfill the law for the day is at hand. Then again telling you to love others isn’t something you can do in yourself.)
- You can’t genuinely love others in yourself but
God can love others through you.
- Everyone agrees that the one thing there is just too little of is love, but just telling you to love others will not create more love. Paul says to love each other in the larger context of a letter that says that the righteous-by-faith will live. Indeed, we may say, the righteous-by-faith will both live and love. Luther would say that if the church wants members to do good works then you do not ask for good works but you preach the word to make faith producing love. In other words, Paul only speaks of loving one another after preaching the gospel so that the Christians in Rome would grow in faith that produces love. The bad news is that you are ungodly and deserving of death but the gospel is that God has shown His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. The good news is that God loves us with a love that will never let us go and the more we grow in faith in Him the more our faith will produce love for one another and for others. You would not be able to genuinely and sacrificially love others at all except that God first loved you in Christ Jesus. Your heart was frozen and His genuine and sacrificial love thawed it so that you are able to love others. Thus if you still think there is too little love for others then the answer is found in the gospel of the one who thawed your heart to love in the first place. The answer to too little love is found by getting back to the gospel that the one who is righteous-by-faith will live.
- In Romans 8, Paul had said, “By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” I’ve pointed out before that the phrase, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” is passive. You are not the actor. It is tempting to read the verse as if you do the righteous requirement of the law, but Paul means that God has done it in Christ Jesus. He fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law in you. After all, Paul’s thesis in Romans is: “the one who is righteous-by-faith will live” (Rom 1:17). Now if we apply this line of thought here in Romans 13 – “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the law for you with His loving sacrifice on the cross. Jesus is the one who loves another and thus has fulfilled the law. Yet Paul still appears to be saying that when you love another you are fulfilling the law. Therefore, remember that God is fulfilling that in you. You are not the primary actor. The Spirit of God thawed your heart and took up residence in your heart so that God can love others through you. You fulfill the law because God does it in you. Christians love – it is what you do – not to earn God’s love for you but because He loves you with a love that will never let you go – not that you can do this in yourself, but you love because God loves through you. It is a sign that the day is at hand. May He be glorified. Amen.