Beginning in chapter 12, Paul has been writing a series of practical exhortations to the church. He started off in ch.12 vs 1 saying that as Christians we have a responsibility to present our bodies to the church as a living sacrifice, which is our reasonable service of worship. Now as we have learned, the church is not a building, nor a denomination, but a people. The church is the eklesia, the called out ones, the assembly of believers who make up Christ’s body in local community. So we are to physically present ourselves to be a part of that assembly, and give ourselves to that congregation, and render service to the church as our worship to God.
Then Paul spent the next few verses of ch.12 describing the church’s responsibility to each other through the use of our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to individual members of the body for the building up of others in the body. Not for your own edification, but the purpose of gifts is the edification of the church.
And then Paul adds that the motivation for utilizing our gifts is our love for one another. Jesus said “they will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another.” Christians love one another in the church in very practical ways; in hospitality, in service, in giving, in sharing, in perseverance. Again, the emphasis is not on you feeling loved, not on reciprocation for our love, but on you showing sacrificial love to others in the church.
Then at the end of chapter 12, we learned about the church’s responsibility to the world. Never take revenge, but if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.
Chapter 13, which we began last week, is concerned with the church’s responsibility to government. And particularly in these days of government oversight and overstepping of their authority, that is a very pertinent section of scripture. We could summarize the teaching of that passage by quoting the statement by Jesus, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and render unto God the things that are God’s. “
Today we come to the final part of chapter 13, in which Paul tells us what should be the church’s responsibility towards everybody. In a sense, it’s a summary of all the principles that have been said on the subject of church responsibility starting in chapter 12.
Now I have used this term “responsibility” purposely as I have summarized these two chapters because that is really what Paul is getting at. A responsibility is an obligation. And the church is obligated to respond as Paul has indicated. We are obligated because of what Christ has done for us. Our response to our salvation should be one of gratitude for what Christ did for us, when we were the offenders, when we were enemies of God, When we were unmerciful He was merciful to us. When we were unloving, He was loving towards us. When we were unforgiving, He forgave us. When we were unrighteous, His righteousness was counted to us.
So then, having been saved by grace, we have been changed in our hearts, we have received the Spirit of Christ to dwell in us. And as a result of that transformation, we want to serve the Lord. We love the Lord. We want to please the Lord. And Jesus said that the way He wants us to serve Him is by serving one another. Jesus speaking in a parable about Himself said in Matt. 25:37-40 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You [something] to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, [even] the least [of them,] you did it to Me.’”
Now that obligation to serve others as a means of serving Christ is the basis for Paul’s statement in vs 8, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law.” Now Paul isn’t saying here that as a Christian you should never borrow. Dave Ramsey may think that is always a bad thing, and he may have some valid points on that subject. But Jesus indicated in Matt.5:42, and Luke 6:35 that borrowing or lending is permissible if done the right way.
What the apostle is saying though is that we have an obligation to love one another, not to take from one another. Jesus said, It is better to give than to receive. The world’s attitude is take all that you can get from life. Take from anyone that can benefit you. But if that’s how you operate, then you owe all those people that you stepped on and took advantage of, that you used for your own purposes, in order to get where you wanted to get in life.
But the Christian is not to be like that. Rather than being takers, we are to be givers. The only thing we should owe anyone is love. We are obligated to love. We must love because He first loved us. Notice that it is a love to anyone. Not love just to people I like. Nor even love to people in the church. But love to anyone who crosses my path. Now this is difficult. I will grant you that. It’s not natural. And it can only be done when we are in agreement with chapter 12 vs 2, “And be not conformed to this world, (don’t think like the world thinks, don’t think this is just the way the world is) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Renewing there is present tense. It’s continual. It’s being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ first of all in our mind, so that we have the mind of Christ. That comes from meditating on His word. As we study the word of God His thoughts become our thoughts, so that our mind is renewed. We have a different way of thinking. We have a new heart, so that we have new desires.
And so as God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die on the cross for them, so that sinners might be saved, the unrighteous may be made righteous, the dead might be given life, so we learn to love everyone as Christ loves everyone. Now I have made this point previously, but let me reaffirm it for a moment; Just because God loved the world does not mean that God condones the sin of the world. No, God loved the world so that even though they were sinners, Christ died for their sin so that they might be saved. Love does not mean condoning nor disregarding sin. But the penalty for sin had to be paid, and God paid our penalty on the cross. We love the sinner but hate the sin. Because sin destroys. And so because we love the sinner we show them the way that their sin can be forgiven.
So our obligation is to love anyone whom we come into contact with. Showing Christian love is how the world might be saved, and if they are saved, love is how we build them up in their faith. Love spoken of here is a sacrificial love. We present our bodies as a living sacrifice to love the church, to love God and to love one another. We sacrifice what’s important to us for what is important for them. Love doesn’t mean we have to approve of them, or even like them, or like their behavior, but we are to do for them that which is most beneficial for them. We show love to them by sharing the good news of the gospel so that they can know salvation for their soul, and we share with them whatever earthly needs that they may have.
Paul says in vs 8 “he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Jesus said in Matt. 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” As Christians, we are not under the penalty of the law. Jesus paid that penalty on the cross. But we are obligated to keep His commandments. We are not saved by keeping the law, we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. But once justified by faith, out of gratitude we should be motivated to do what God wants us to do, to live as He wants us to live. We should live as Christ lived. And Christ kept the law perfectly. The law is God’s standard of righteousness.
So how do we fulfill the law by loving one another as Paul said? The short answer is in vs 10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of [the] law.” Love does no harm to a neighbor.
Now let’s pause for a moment and consider this word neighbor for a moment. I’m sure you are all familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. What you may have forgotten was that Jesus told that parable in response to a lawyer’s question; “Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer asked that question because he had first asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. And Jesus turned him to the law, the man’s specialty. Jesus said what does the law say?
Luke 10:27-28 tells us the lawyer answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.” So to justify himself the man said, “who is my neighbor?” He wanted to limit the concept of a neighbor as much as possible.
So Jesus gave this parable to illustrate who is his neighbor. He said, ”A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on [them;] and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ [hands?]” And the lawyer said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
So your neighbor is anyone who you might come in contact with. And we should consider how that Samaritan showed love towards his neighbor. He interrupted his trip to take care of this man. He used his own resources to supply what the man needed, even to paying for future costs to the innkeeper. He said he would come back that way and check on him and supply whatever more was needed. He showed compassion for a stranger. He showed mercy towards his neighbor. That is what love looks like.
Now I skipped over a verse, vs 9, in which Paul says what love is not. And to illustrate what love is not, he quotes from the 10 commandments. He says in vs9, “For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
What that illustrates is that if you love your neighbor, you will not break the law, you will not commit adultery with his wife. If you love your neighbor, you cannot murder him. If you love your neighbor, you cannot steal from him. And if you love your neighbor, you will not covet his possessions. But rather you will rejoice with him as we saw back in 12:17.
But as Jesus said, all the law pertaining to man’s relationship with man is summed up in the saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” At the very least what he means by the phrase “as yourself” is the natural tendency towards self preservation. That tendency means that everything I do is filtered by how it may hurt me, or how it may benefit me. And both Paul and Jesus are indicating that same metric should be used for how we love our neighbor. How we may benefit him, how we may avoid hurting him. So that vs 10 concludes then that love does no harm to the neighbor. He benefits his neighbor and he does no harm to his neighbor. That is love. And love is the fulfillment of the law. Love is not based on how much you like someone, or how attracted you may be to them, or how you think they might reciprocate towards you. But love is acting purely for their benefit.
Let me assure you that this is not our natural behavior. This is learned behavior. This is consciously patterning ourselves after Jesus Christ and deliberately being transformed by the renewing of the mind. I would suggest that this kind of love is like the maturation process of raising a child. A child is naturally selfish and self centered. “Mine!” is probably one of the first words a child learns. So learning to share is a result of maturity, but it’s a learned behavior, it’s not natural. And I would suggest that Christian love is a discipline that has to be learned as well. Christian love is not an automatic response, an overwhelming emotion, but love is a commitment.
Then in vs 11, Paul says that there is needs to be an urgency to our love. He says time is of the essence. There is a natural tendency on the part of human nature to procrastinate, to put off for another day. And the degree of commitment to love that Paul is talking about is the sort of thing it is very easy to put off until tomorrow.
I had a friend that I knew from surfing. We weren’t that close, but we knew each other for many years. We surfed together from time to time. And occasionally he would call me just to talk about surfing. The other day he called and during the conversation he revealed that his cancer had returned with a vengeance and he was getting very high doses of radiation and chemotherapy to treat the cancer. I tried to speak with him about his relationship to the Lord, but I must confess that what I said was kind of generic. I didn’t feel comfortable really taking the opportunity to drive home the message of the gospel. He was kind of weeping at one point, and I just hesitated to push the question of his spiritual condition too far. So as we finished the conversation I said that I would be praying that God would help him recover and that I hoped we would be surfing together again soon.
Later on, I was really convicted that I did not say all that I could have said at that time. And so a few days later I was driving by one of his stores in Salisbury and I stopped in to ask one of the clerks for his address. I thought perhaps I could send him a card and write some things to him about his salvation. But the clerk apologized and said I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but my friend had passed away just a couple of days after our call. My opportunity to love him the way Christ loved him was gone.
And I think that’s what Paul is getting at here in these closing verses of this chapter. He says, in vs 11, “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” Do this… do what? Love your neighbor as yourself. Do that. Love your neighbor, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from your sleep.
I’m afraid that a lot of Christians in the church can be related to a person who is sleeping on the job. We may be present in body, but we are asleep spiritually. We have an obligation to God, we owe our neighbors, we owe the congregation of the church our love but we too occupied with our own needs. But if we loved our neighbors we would tell them the good news. We would tell them that whoever believes in Christ will have eternal life, they will never die. But we are tired. We’ve turned off the lights and zoned out. We are too busy taking care of our deal to think about others. I’ve often said, the sign of an immature Christian is that they come to church for themselves, when they feel like it, when it’s not inconvenient for them. The sign of maturity is you come for others, to serve others, to encourage others, to love others. Paul says the time is critical. It’s urgent. Wake up.
What does Paul mean though when he says we need to wake up because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed? Notice he says our salvation. Not others salvation, but ours. We were justified by grace through faith. The penalty for sin has been dealt with. Thats the first phase of our salvation. The second phase of our salvation is sanctification. Sanctification is when we are freed from the power of sin. Sin no longer controls us. We are transformed, renewed, walking in the power of the Spirit. It’s the phase when we are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Now that’s a process. And Paul says in that process we are further along than we were.
And the final phase of our salvation is glorification. Glorification is the phase when sin’s presence is done away with. Glorification comes at the consummation of the age, when Christ returns, and we will be like Him, and sin will be done away with. So as we progress in our salvation, looking for the day when we shall be with Christ, that day is nearer than when we first believed. Time for us is short, and growing shorter every day. We don’t know how much time we have left to do what God commanded us to do, but it’s less than we had yesterday.
Paul says the time is like the sunrise after a long night. vs12, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Morning is coming. Jesus Christ the light of the world is going to return soon. Paul says that the world is in darkness. And the world has been living in darkness since the Light of the world was taken up into heaven. The world does the deeds of darkness. That speaks of the sin of the world, the ignorance of the world. But we that are saved are to be lights in the darkness. Notice Paul says put on the armor of light. This is spiritual warfare, and the way to defeat the kingdom of darkness which holds men and women captive is by putting on the armor of light which God has given us. That light is the truth of the gospel. It is the knowledge of salvation. That is the armor of light. Put it on. Wear it.
Paul said in Phil. 2:15 that we were to act “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” We are to bear the light, shine the light of the gospel to a world in darkness. That is love. That is loving your neighbor.
Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Now Paul describes the deeds of darkness; “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.”
Do we even need to expound on those examples of the deeds of darkness? I don’t think we need to explain them. But what needs to be said is that far too often the saint still hasn’t put off the sin. Notice the admonition to put off the deeds of darkness is given to us. He says “let us behave properly, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.” All those deeds of darkness are things that the Christian still has to deal with in his own life, has to guard against. We live in a society today that makes such things seem normal, seem legitimate, and certainly seem desirable.
But as Peter says concerning those things in 1Peter 4:1-5 “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient [for you] to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In [all] this, they are surprised that you do not run with [them] into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign [you;] but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” That judgment will happen on the day which Paul said was at hand. Morning is coming. Jesus is coming back. Put off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
And finally, we see that the armor of light is Jesus Christ Himself. vs14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Clothe yourselves with Jesus Christ. Put on the attitude of Christ. Be dressed in the righteousness of Christ. Put on the gospel of Christ. Put on the love of Christ. Put on the word of Christ. And do not put on any part of that old nature which fulfills the lusts of the flesh. Don’t put on the attitude of the world. Don’t put on the clothes of the world. Don’t put on the deeds of darkness. As you put on Jesus, the things of this world will fade into the darkness of the past. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse yourself of all ungodliness and unrighteousness and let your light shine before men, that they might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.