Romans 13,8-15 - Love, for the Day is Near
LOVE, FOR THE DAY IS NEAR
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
LOVE IS A WEAVER OF TATTERS A devout Amish woman once said, "I seem to create so much of my life the way I fashion my rugs - from leftover remnants and pieces of whole days." How seldom we have days that are in "one piece", unmarred by intrusions and interruptions. We find ourselves having to take a sliver of time here to read a story to our child, a scrap of a moment there to make a call . . . another ragged piece of an hour to mow the lawn or hem a dress . . . a discarded handful of minutes to write a note. Yet when we take them all, and dye them in the bright colors of our love, sew them together with the strong cord of devotion, and plait them faithfully through the weeks, what delightful beautiful things have been fashioned! Never be defeated by a day which seems to be nothing but bits and tatters. Use each precious moment for needs as they come rather than waiting for "whole pieces of cloth", and whole uninterrupted days. They may never come.
Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold doing good..., when it is in your power to act. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow" -- when you now have it with you.
Matthew 7:12 in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. 13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
In today's message Paul speaks with a sense of urgency. The Passage that Vanessa read earlier speaks about a debt that all Christians have towards others - Christian as well as non-Christian. Paul reminds the Church that being a Christian is not an excuse for refusing our obligations to our fellow men. Rather, our faith in Christ gives us a reason to fulfill our obligations to God and other people.
Paul goes on to say that there is a debt that we must pay every day of our lives. At the same time we must never consider this debt to be "paid in full". He refers to the debt to love each other. Paul claims that a person who honestly seeks to discharge this debt of love will automatically keep all the commandments. If we love sincerely we will not commit adultery, or murder, or theft, and so on. True love respects the other person. True love also restrains the self from careless and immoral living.
I don't know about you, but I sometimes sense a hesitation about paying our debt to love each other in our congregation. We agree that we do love one another - generally. If someone is in trouble we will generally rally around that particular family and pray for them. But somehow I have the feeling that we like to remain at a "safe distance" from one another. Perhaps we have a sub-conscious fear of getting hurt if we commit ourselves fully to love one another.
It's almost like this girl who wrote on the back of a picture to her boyfriend: "My dearest love, I promise you my eternal love. As long as I live I will always love you. Nothing will separate us from each other. PS - I want this picture back when we split up."
Or like this older lady who went on the airplane for the first time in her life. When she arrived at her destination someone asked, how the flight had been. And she said: "It was OK, but I never put my whole weight down even once."
Sincere love is not afraid of getting specific about relationships with others. It moves beyond the comfort zone to pay the never-ending obligation to love and to give from the heart.
I know, we can easily get bogged down in feelings of guilt about our past failures to love sincerely. But that's not the intention of God's message of salvation to us. The word of God is a message of liberation. God wants to set us free from that which holds us captive and that which restricts the free flow of our sincere love for others. God wants us to accept the responsibility to commit our lives to the benefit of our fellowmen and to the glory of God's name.
Paying our obligation to love each other involves not only looking after each other in times of need, it also includes holding each other accountable for our actions. We often hear each other say, "Who am I to tell you how to live your life?" Or the counterpart of this, "Who are you to tell me what to do." When we use this line of thinking, we abdicate our responsibility for each other. Then we slip into our comfort zone and avoid our mutual obligation to love one another.
If we follow Christ's example, we too will love our neighbors - whoever they may be. We will feel responsible to for each other and point out the problem areas in each others' lives. We will walk the extra mile alongside our fellow Christian brother and sister, and build each other up in love.
Paul had a great way of using the imagery of a human body to describe the interconnectedness of church members with one another. Some years ago my brother, who at that time was working in a Leprosy Hospital in Paraguay, explained to me what happens to the body of a leprosy patient. The first signs of the disease are usually white spots that begin to appear on the skin. If the patient doesn't pay attention to these signs, he soon begins to loose the sense of feeling in his feet and hands. The untreated patient doesn't sense any pain when he steps on sharp objects, and the wounds begin to fester and in the worst case lead to amputations.
The Church isn't all that different if we stop to think about it. When one member says to the other, "Don't bother me, just watch your own life" we will develop little white spots that go unnoticed. If the Church refuses to pay attention to the little signs of trouble there will eventually be a very costly amputation to the detriment of the entire body. It seems almost rude to say it that way, but I think it gives us something to think about.
The Word of God challenge us to forsake our own interests and to live our lives out of gratitude to God. They challenge us to let go of our inhibitions - our fears - of what we might have to loose or give up. The Word of God invites us to travel on the road less traveled. To go the extra mile. To re-evaluate our lives in the light of God's priorities.
Paul speaks with a real sense of urgency. He was profoundly concerned for the salvation of Israel, and he was haunted by a sense that time was running out. He was not only running against the time that was left on his life, but he also expected the Second Coming of Christ to take place in his lifetime.
I believe that as Christians we must reclaim that sense of urgency. There are many people who have never made a conscious decision to be followers of Jesus Christ. As His disciples we have a responsibility for the people in our circle of influence. For us too, time is running out if we keep waiting for the right moment to do our witnessing.
This is the moment in history that God has entrusted to you and me to make an impact in the world. This is the season to stand up be counted among those who have been set free from the shackles of sin and darkness. This is the opportunity that will never come back again. Now is the time to give our love to others, that they may see that we are Christ's disciples. Let us wake up from our slumber of indifference. Let us take responsibility for our words and deeds, and also for each other. As disciples of Christ we carry this never-ending debt to love each other.
There may be some in our midst today who have doubts about the Church and the Christian faith. You may have good reasons to doubt the sincerity of Christians, when we profess Jesus Christ with our mouth, and yet our actions reveal a very different story. Where the Church has failed to express God's love in the past we ask for forgiveness. And we extend to you an invitation to give your life to Christ.
Today we stand at the beginning of a new Christian Education year. As a Church we have committed ourselves to this task of passing on our faith to the next generation. At the beginning of this year we thank God for challenging us to give our love freely to our younger people. At the same time God may still be waiting for you to fulfill your obligation to give your love to others.
As we look around in our Church and our community, there are many voices calling out to you and me today that a year from now will be silent. There are people we can love for Christ. There are situations we can change for Christ. There are things we can do in the spirit of Christ-like love, things that can never be done unless they are done when the opportunity knocks. Let us use each precious moment to love in response to God's saving grace.
Christ calls us to love with a passion. He urges us to consider the time of our lives. To think about the things that have an eternal value. Christ invites us to follow Him as we share our love freely with everyone we meet. Let us buy out the time - for we know that Jesus Christ will come again. The time is now to love!