Summary: Paul, like Jesus, tells us to love everyone, even those who irritate us. We should practice love in action because 1) God tells us to do so, and 2) Jesus is coming soon.
A Good Kind of Debt
Tomorrow is Patriot’s Day, the 16th anniversary of the deadliest single attack on U.S. soil, even eclipsing Pearl Harbor in casualties. Thousands of courageous people risked their lives to save others. Firefighters rushed against the crowds to enter the doomed towers. Police officers helped survivors while buildings crashed down around them. Citizens donated blood and worked shelters. Volunteers led prayer vigils and helped with searches.
Sixteen years later, thousands of volunteers again are at work right here in Texas, this time with a natural disaster. With one devastating hurricane behind us and another hitting the west coast of Florida today, Americans have been cooking food, passing out water bottles, staffing shelters, and assisting in clean-up. Our realtor took his barbeque trailer to Rockport this weekend to give away some meals and supplies to the workers and citizens there.
When disasters strike—whether through the work of terrorists or the destructive forces of nature—people rise up and help. Americans in particular lead the way in charitable giving of time, energy, and money. And behind it all is love.
Today’s scripture defines love as the “good kind of debt.” Earlier in Romans chapter 8, Paul had described the government as God’s tool for good. He had encouraged us to obey our government authorities and pay our taxes. Then, he shifted to a debt we can never fully pay, and that is the debt of love. You may have paid off your mortgage (hopefully you have by now; I have about 29 years to go!). You may even have bought your last car with cash. (That’s my favorite way!) Hopefully, you pay off your credit cards every month, although a lot of Americans don’t. But Paul says, one debt you will never finish paying is the debt of love.
Jesus talked a lot about love. When asked what was the greatest commandment, he replied without hesitation, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And then he said the second is like it, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). He even told a story to define the word “neighbor” (Luke 10:25-37). Back in Jesus’ time, people thought of a neighbor as someone like them, someone they liked and got along with. But the actual Greek word meant anyone in physical proximity. Thus, in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus described two church leaders who were NOT good neighbors; when they were in close proximity with someone in need, they passed by quickly. The hero of the story was someone very different in ethnicity, someone any self-respecting Jew would look down their nose at. Yet, when the Good Samaritan saw a Jewish fellow in need, he immediately interrupted his schedule to help out. He even paid out of his own pocket to provide the man shelter for recuperation. This was love in action. Jesus’ story suggests that your neighbor is anyone with whom you cross paths. Who are we supposed to love? Love your neighbor as yourself. Love ... anyone! Love ... everyone!
Paul wrote that we should love everyone for two basic reasons. First, because ...
1) God says to (vv. 8-10).
That’s the basic meaning behind the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And Paul echoes it here, too. Want to keep the commandments? Love everyone! Want to keep from murder or adultery? Love everyone. If we go with Jesus’ broader definitions of murder and adultery, we could say, “Want to stop harboring hatred and lust in your mind?” Love everyone. Honor and do what is best for others. Love your neighbor as yourself.
It’s not that Paul or Jesus is telling us to love ourselves. They don’t have to. We are pretty good at doing that naturally. We cry out for meds or a doctor when we’re hurting. We try not to skip too many meals. We want to rest whenever we can. We want people to encourage us. We want God to love us and care for us and provide for us. We love ourselves naturally. Now we just need to extend that same level of attention to those around us, even those very different from us. When we do that, Paul says we are keeping God’s perfect law. If we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, everything else will fall into place.
Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Agape love, God’s kind of love, is love in action, love that does good to everyone we meet.
When I think of loving people with God’s love, I could list any number of you. You are particularly good at this. But so I won’t tempt anyone to pride, let me mention one who has gone ahead of us to heaven: John Hilliard. John was well known in the Village as someone who tried to meet the needs of anyone he met. Even on his vacations, he chose to educate himself on places like Ethiopia where people have lots of basic human needs. John had a huge heart for others, not a trait you always see in lawyers! You could see the love of God flow through him.