September 4, 2011
Romans 13:8-14

An old adage says, “If your output exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.”

Stress is the leading cause of health problems; and stress about making, managing, using and abusing money abounds. Money problems are frequently cited as the major factor in the epidemic of divorce. Consumerism has left many broken homes and shattered dreams in its wake.

According to the Federal Reserve, Americans currently owe more than $2.1 trillion. There are a variety of products and services available to help one get out of debt. Debt consolidation loans, second mortgages, not-for-profit consumer credit services and even bankruptcy are some of the more popular solutions.

The apostle Paul is not normally considered a money management guru, but he offered sage advice: “Let no debt remain outstanding” (Rom. 13:8, NIV). If we could learn to live within our means, life would be much simpler.

However, the focus of Paul’s instruction is not as much on paying bills as on the one debt that is never satisfied. We all owe the debt of love.
That fact that we are loved is the heartbeat of the gospel. God does not love us because we are good enough, deserve or can earn His love. His love is not a response to something loveable in the human heart. His love is a divine inducement for us to love and serve Him. God is not a lonely Almighty in need of human attention in order to be fulfilled.

Indeed, there can only be one explanation for His great love for us: God is love. God’s nature is revealed in love. Within the Godhead, the Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; the Son loves the Spirit; the Spirit loves the Son; and the Spirit loves the Father; and the Father loves the Spirit. There is a complete and harmonious love relationship within the Trinity.

God declares and demonstrates His love for us “while we were yet sinners”—before there was any human guarantee that we would acknowledge or respond to His love—”Christ died for us.” The extent of that love is that the One who knew no sin became sin in our place!

Loving others is the only appropriate response to God’s love. The challenge is illustrated in the ditty, “to dwell above with those we love, that will be such glory, but to live below with those we know, now that’s another story.” Yet it is in the nitty gritty of living with those we know that love is to be fully expressed. Love neither is a philosophical abstraction nor can it be lived in isolation from others.

Jesus saw the fulfillment of righteous living as summarized by love for God and love for neighbor. Paul, drawing on that insight, says the law is fulfilled in neighbor love. Indeed, our claim to love God is most clearly validated by neighbor love.

God’s love for us is the standard for neighborly love. Jesus gave His disciples a new command: Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). The newness in that command is the standard of measure, the unconditional and total love of God for sinners expressed through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. (Although the disciples may originally have understood it in more concrete terms of washing one another’s feet.)

Thankfully, Jesus did not say, “As you love one another so I will love you.” We would all be sunk. His love for us (dying while we were yet sinners) is the standard. When we hold a grudge, remember a past hurt, lay blame or seek revenge, we are not loving in the way we have been loved. When we obfuscate, fail to lovingly confront or hide the truth from one another, we are not loving as Christ loved us.

Love is a verb. Love is something we do. Love is not primarily a warm and fuzzy feeling or some other emotion. Love is not simply good intentions. Contrary to Hollywood lore and romance novels, love does not simply come upon us without rhyme or reason (or depart just as quickly).

Love is, according to 1 Corinthians 13, the mark and measure of authentic spirituality. Love is expressed in concrete terms such as patience, kindness, gentleness, humility and self-control.

Tertullian, the early church father and apologist, observed, “See how the Christians love one another.” If our love for one another in the body of Christ and the broader neighborly love that Christ demands are indeed the mark of our discipleship, does the world see in us any reason to believe?

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