For the past 18 months, you have heard me say two things repeatedly. First, we need to be a people that move beyond good intentions to being people who are intentional. As I have reminded us countless times, billions (or perhaps trillions) of good intentions have been buried six feet underground and the difference that could have been made will never happen.
Second, we need to focus on “Who’s Your One?” Now, I have modified that to “Who’s Your One + One?”, by the second part of that will have to wait for now. Today, we will finally begin to do something with the “first” one.
Why today? Well, the passage that we have today is one that should challenge us and inspire us. The reality is that a lot of us, and a lot of Christians in general, do some things that we believe are pleasing to God. Some of these ideas are found throughout both the Old and New Testaments. But, when we think we are pleasing God, we often miss what He really wants us to do. We think we have met a certain condition, or even standard, and feel good about what we have done or are doing.
However, in Amos 5.18-24 (and we can find other passages such as Hosea 6 (OT) or Matthew 23, where Jesus says the former should be done, without neglecting the latter), we have evidence that we can do good things (such as make offerings to God, and sing praises and worship to Him), and not be pleasing Him in any way.
Because our hearts are not in it! And our hearts are not in it because our minds are not rightly focused.
This week we are reviewing Romans 13.8-14 which can be neatly divided into two segments. The segments are related, and are further related to Paul’s words before and after these verses as well. But let me share from these two sections beginning with Romans 13.8-10.
Fulfilling the Law of Love
Do you have any debts? Most people have some type of debt at some point? Maybe the debt relates to the purchase of a house or a car. Perhaps it is a student loan or medical bill. Perhaps it is simply borrowing a few dollars from someone to get a drink or a meal. I have shared before that I made decisions in my early 20s that buried Susan and me in debt. We are still paying for those mistakes, but Lord willing, we will be out of all of our debts in just a few more years.
In Romans 13.8-10, Paul talks about paying what is owed. In the previous verses, he has mentioned paying those in government what is owed – taxes, revenue, respect, and honor. In verse 8, he moves beyond those in government to humanity at large.
Some people view the first part of the statement “Owe no one anything” as a command to not be in any debts. As I can attest, debt can be gripping, and if it can be avoided, it is best to do so. But most commentators today do not believe that Paul is arguing against having any debt (at least not in this verse), but is plainly stating that we are to pay everything we owe.
But then he mentions the one thing we cannot fully pay – our love for others. I want you to think of someone in your life (someone living) that you love the most. Now, I want you to consider what it means to love them. That is, how can you best love them? How are you doing? My guess is that you have good intentions to love them, and even to love them better, but you are not loving them as well as you would like, which likely means you are not loving them as well as they would like you to love them.
Now, think about Paul’s command. He is stating that what we truly owe is to love that person in the way that matches our desire to fully love them and their desire to be loved. We owe them that! Why? Because that is the kind of love that Jesus showed us. And if we do not love that way then we cannot fulfill the Law. Fulfilling the Law requires us to love that person like Jesus.
But that is not all that is required of us. Let’s say that you match that goal. For me, let me say that I find it within myself to love my wife with everything that I am and that she experiences that love fully every minute of every day. Have I succeeded? No. Because to truly fulfill the Law is to do that for each other (Paul’s words in verse 8). So, who is each other? Is that only Christians? Is that only the people in our church? Does it include everyone?
Well, first let me state that the answer to that question is important, but we must start where we are. How can I fully love everyone in this church if I cannot fully love my wife? And how can I fully love all Christians if I cannot fully love everyone in this church? And how can I love all people if I cannot love all Christians?
Nonetheless, we are told to love others – not just by Paul, but by Jesus. We are commanded to love God and to love others. We are taught that loving our neighbor means not just loving those in our family or those who agree with us, but those who are our enemies (as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10).
We are to love. Indeed, we owe love to others. It is a debt that cannot be fully paid. Ever. We will always be in the debt of love toward others because we are always in debt to our Lord who first loved us. And although, we cannot love anyone perfectly, we can learn to love all people effectively. And we will start with one. But before we talk about that one, let’s look at the rest of the passage.
Living Our Lives – Awake!
A word that has become symbolic for people gaining understanding, or specifically becoming alert to injustices in society is “woke.” Furthermore, it can mean that someone realizes that what is seen (and told) is not necessarily right – such as the government doesn’t want us to know the truth. The word can be used simply as a question – “Are you woke?” or a statement, “I am woke.”
The way the usage of the word has changed has happened within the last 15 years, but the underlying meaning of being alert remains. Furthermore, the idea of being alert to truth dates back to, at least, Paul’s day as we see in Romans 13.11.
Paul exhorts his readers to wake up because salvation is nearer than ever. Now, let’s remember that Paul is writing this to the saints in Rome (1.7), and the word saints means “holy ones.” So, Paul is not using the word saints arbitrarily. He is writing to people who have already chosen to follow Christ. That is, they are Christians, as we would call them. So, they are saved. And yet, Paul says that salvation is near, so wake up – or be woke!
What could he mean?
First, let me remind you that salvation is both a one time event and a process. Salvation has three aspects – justification, sanctification, and glorification. When we choose Jesus (cf. Romans 10.9-10), we are justified. As we learn to become like Him (cf. Romans 8.29), we are sanctified. When Christ returns and we are with Him eternally, we are glorified (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.52-53). So, Paul is talking about the salvation to come (glorification) for those who are already saved (justified). And in the meantime, we need to be focused on living as He did (becoming sanctified).
We do this by loving others (vv. 8-10). And we do this by making real what we already know (v. 11). We know what we should do (i.e. we have good intentions), but we have not aligned our hearts and minds with Jesus to actually do it. And that is why Paul wrote that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (12.2). We need to wake up – be woke! – to the reality that being a Christian is not about singing songs and giving offerings (per Amos 5). Sure, those things are a part of what we are to do, but we are to live our life ready to be light whenever and wherever darkness prevails.
Notice too that Paul says we are to put on the armor of light. This is why we cannot slumber. We are at war. Now, some might say that we are at war with a virus or with a certain part of the government, or whatever. That isn’t the real war. The real war is with the “cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6.12). We need to realize that we are in a battle. Jesus has already won the war, but the battle continues. Therefore, we need to be alert, which means we need to be awake. And once awake, we need to be engaged.
Let me take you to Revelation 3. In Revelation 3, Jesus gave a message to John to share with the church at Sardis. Sardis was a church that everyone around thought was a pretty good church. The reputation was that the church was active and vibrant. But it was not. The outside looked great, but they were asleep. It is like when Jesus told the Pharisees that they were like white-washed tombs – clean on the outside, but dead on the inside.
Now, I am not suggesting Fairfax Baptist Church is dead on the inside. But I am suggesting that our reputation probably doesn’t match what Jesus expects of us. And Jesus said to the church at Sardis. “Wake up! Strengthen what remains before it dies. The works of your church are not complete” (paraphrased, Revelation 3.2).
I am suggesting that the work of Fairfax Baptist Church is not complete and it is time for us to heed the word of Jesus to the church at Sardis, and the words of Paul to the church at Rome. That is, it is time for us to “Wake up!” It is time for us to be alert. It is time for us to be diligent. It is time for us to avoid immorality and to persuade others to do so. It is time for us to share Jesus and to do so in love.
It is time for us to love. It is time for us to serve. It is time for us to become, and to be, what Jesus wants us to be. And that begins with me.
So, what are we to do?
What’s Next?: Ask your “One” how our church might be able to serve them.
Since January of 2020, I have been talking about “Who’s Your One?” I have been asking you to ask God who that person is, and then to pray for that person in anticipation of the day that we would begin to move that relationship into a spiritually productive one. That will mean inviting them to church, maybe to a meal, etc. But for now, I want to make it specific by challenging you to ask them how our church can serve them. We can’t make any promises, but we can do our best. And we have Labor for the Son Day coming in less than two months. My prayer is that on that day, all of the people who are our “One” will see Fairfax Baptist Church in action – in love – serving them and the community.
That’s it for now. You may have to ask more than once. But remember, we are asking out of love. And this conversation will not be the last one you have with the person about church and about Jesus. But it is a first step. It is a step towards being awake and showing we care. It is a step toward showing God loves them through our service to them.
So, “Who’s Your One?” Talk to them this week, and see what we, as Fairfax Baptist Church, might be able to do to serve.