Summary: Characteristics of a believer freed to love as God intended
8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (NRSVA)
Included in the many things I love about the apostle Paul’s letters, is the fact that he never takes you through the majestic sweeps of great spiritual truth without a good healthy dose of practical advice. In this text Paul says “wake-up, Christian; wake-up and smell the coffee!” You get the idea this isn’t going to be an academic snooze of a sermon! The practical advice of Paul is pointed and sharp…but its point is like a hypodermic full of God’s medicine.
Even though this text touches on debt…what we “owe” isn’t Paul’s main thrust; rather it is love. But most of us could stand to think a little harder about using credit wisely. Especially if we are like the man who was speaking to his coworker: "I’m proud to say that I have worked for 30 years, saved, scrimped, budgeted, invested - just so I could give my kids what I never had; a father up to his eyeballs in debt.". That guy was probably worth his weight in plastic.
The primary teaching of this text is as follows: A person who learns to be free of the crippling influences of this world’s system will "flesh-out" what God called him to be, free and useful in the Kingdom. And the way to be free of this world’s system is to see the world through the lens of godliness; we must see with God’s eyes.
And so, to the main issue of the text...we are indebted to God for the life we have before us. That life is to be filled with the kind of living that honors God and blesses our neighbor.
THE DEBT OF LOVE (owe no man...)
You can’t read very far in the Bible without coming face to face with the fact that Jesus died for us because He loved us. Even when Adam sinned in the garden, God’s love brought Him looking for His straying friend.
When the world was upside down in sin God sent the prophets to warn about the judgment sin brings. When finally the world was irretrievably lost, He sent Jesus to die in our place; all that was because He loved us (John 3:16).
I have experienced the joy, the incredible euphoria, at having someone else pay a debt for me...one that I couldn’t pay. It gives you the kind of boost that’s hard to describe unless you’ve been there.
It was that way on the cross. We could never pay the price our sin has incurred. When we realize that Jesus has paid that price, it is then we can decide to accept his payment and receive salvation. And so, it is a debt of love to Jesus that we owe.
THE DUTY OF LOVE (love your neighbor…)
For the believer love is not some theory; rather it puts on the overalls and goes to work. It is the place where our attitudes become actions. And that is different from the way the world looks at it. This world’s customs and behaviors teach us to get, to keep, and protect everything you’ve gotten. The IRS describes "giving" as a charitable choice. But as believers, we are commanded to have “giving” characterize our way of life; it’s just not optional!
Now, while giving is commanded, our only response to the command which God approves is willingness, or joyful giving. Giving cannot be extracted; that’s tax. True giving comes when the duty of love is realized by spiritually mature believers. Sacrificial giving is standard equipment in the disciple of Jesus. It’s a matter of the heart.
In the same verse there is "Thou shalt not commit adultery." The duty to love is eminently clear. It is not an act of love when two people are swept away in passion. In fact it is an act of hatred to cause another human being to commit fornication (the sexual intimacy between man and woman is reserved for marriage alone.). The duty of love remembers that God has said only the marriage bed is undefiled. Real love moves in respect to the other, and exercises restraint over his/her hormones.