What’s the church to “look like” in the last days? Bodies holy and acceptable as a living sacrifice to the Lord. Minds free from the world’s ways and renewed by the Spirit to learn to walk in the Lord’s way. In today’s text (Romans 13:8-14), loving with an urgency.
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The 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.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (13:8-10).
You’d think Paul is condemning our overwhelming credit card debt! Actually he’s telling the Roman church and us that we’re obligated to “love one another”. Commentators are fond of explaining that we’re indebted to the Lord for his grace, but that we should “pay” it by loving one another. First of all, the idea of repaying the Lord for his grace contradicts the concept of grace. Grace isn’t grace if we “pay back” for it. Second, Paul explicitly explains that we’re obligated to love one another “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”.
It’s important for us justified-by-grace-through-faith Christians to understand God’s law still stands. It’s still wrong to commit adultery, murder, steal or covet. God hasn’t changed his laws; he’s changed us.
“God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:3,4).
Paul claims by loving others we fulfill those commandments. Love doesn’t transgress a marriage; it upholds it. Love doesn’t take a life; it gives life. Love doesn’t steal what belongs to another; it respects it. And love doesn’t lust over what it doesn’t possess; it rejoices in the good the other has.
Why, though, are we obligated to love others? Precisely because God’s love still stands. Though we are not made right with God by trying to keep the Ten Commandments, God hasn’t abrogated them. Here Paul explains how we can keep them, however imperfectly.
But, like justification, this too is grace. Only by the Spirit given us through Christ can we self-centered sinners seek someone else’s highest good.
“Besides 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; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (13:11-14).
Clearly, in the mid-50’s A.D., about 25 years after Christ’s ascension, Paul expected Jesus could return any time, even soon. (This is what he means by “salvation”—the consummation of Christ’s saving work at his coming.)
Jesus took Peter, James and John with him deep into Gethsemane that night, telling them to watch with him while he went deeper in to agonize in prayer over the looming cross. When he returned, he found them asleep (Matthew 26:36-40). So Paul reminds the church that it’s time to be alert and watchful. “For salvation is nearer now than when we became believers.”
This is “night”, and it’s “far gone, the day is near”. Night symbolizes the reign of sin and rule of the evil one. But it’s almost over.
Why must we be awake? Might we literally sleep through the Second Coming? No. But we might become ensnared by “works of darkness” and not be ready. Christ may come and find us caught up in “revelry . . . drunkenness . . . debauchery . . . licentiousness . . . quarreling . . . jealousy”. In other words, we might fall prey to the moral darkness.
In his last letter, Paul will write of Demas, who deserted him, “because he loved this present age” (2 Timothy 4:10). This danger haunts us all. That we would desire this world—its physical pleasures, everything we see in it, all that we posses–more than Jesus.
I grew up in church hearing, “Jesus may come tonight!” Let’s say since I was ten. 64 years. Six decades. No Jesus. I’m not criticizing my pastors. They preached Bible. Jesus (“salvation”) is coming. But no one knows when.
The problem with hearing the message often is that it becomes “crying wolf”. Pretty soon we hear it without effect. Who goes to sleep at night thinking, “Jesus may come tonight”?
Paul is concerned, however, not so much with the time of Jesus’ coming, as with the “dark” condition of the times preceding it. They are “dark”—and growing darker. According to Pew Research Center, despite Scripture’s male-female marriage institution, “white evangelical Protestants . . . support [of] same-sex marriage has grown from 27% in 2016 to 35% today”. Might this increase be because Americans’ support in general has increased to 62%, while 57% opposed it in 2001?
When I was a teenager, sex before marriage was a sin. Today some professing Christian couples openly “live together” before marriage. Might this moral “darkness,” pictured in movies as a natural thing, be creeping into the church?
Paul urges, “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” “ . . . put on the Lord Jesus Christ” always reminds me of “dress-up”. Dress up like the Lord Jesus Christ. But this is no childhood game. Earlier Paul told the church to “put on the armor of light”. So, dress up like the Lord Jesus Christ for war! By faith, act like Jesus. Say “no” to the darkness and “yes” to the light. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold. Be radically righteous like Jesus, especially as the darkness deepens.
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The last days began with Jesus’ first coming. So all of us have lived our whole lives in the last days. But they get “last-er”. Jesus implies that the “last-er” the days, the more self-gratifying sin and the less love. “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold . . . ” (Matthew 24:12).
So we—the church—must fight against the growing darkness. Not just by holding to true doctrine. But by loving one another (even enemies) as Jesus did.
“’Father, forgive them–‘”
“The three words impale [the Roman soldiers) as the three spikes they used to impale him. They all look up, transfixed, as Jesus finishes his prayer.
“’—for they do not know what they are doing.’
“Not only does Jesus ask his Father to forgive them, he offers a kind word in their behalf, explaining their behavior.
“The calloused ears of those soldiers have heard all kinds of words on that hill. All kinds. And in every language. But they have never heard words like these. Never like these. Not once.
“Until now” (Ken Gire, Intense Moments with the Savior).
That’s the last days lover. May that be us.