Romans: For the Love

How many of you remember the very first paycheck you ever received? Now, I’m not sure what you did to earn it—maybe it was from a restaurant where you waited on tables or from your summer lawn care business or maybe you were like me and it came from your local newspaper because you delivered the daily news to all of your neighbors. But, I want you to think about that first job and the anticipation of receiving that first check. You worked hard for it, right? And, obviously, you were excited for what was coming at the end of the week. Because as you totaled the hours and did some quick math, you knew you were going to have some fat stacks of cash by Friday. You began to dream of all the things you could now afford to buy because you had earned that money.

Except when you opened that envelope and looked at that check you saw a total you imagined would have a few more numbers in front of the decimal point. And, you realized you’ve made a critical error in your calculations. Where in the world did all of your hard earned money go?! Now, because you’re older and wiser, you already know where I’m going with this, don’t you? You forgot to account for the taxes.

I don’t know about you, but I love paying taxes! Of course, I’m kidding because I honestly don’t think anyone has ever said that. We enjoy the things taxes pay for, but we don’t especially enjoy the fact our pockets are now a little emptier.

Did you know the first US income tax began during the Civil War in 1862 to help raise money? And, by 1913, the 16th Amendment was ratified and established the first permanent US income tax. At that time, the federal tax code was just 400 pages; by comparison, in 2010, the federal tax code had grown to 70,000 pages. Interestingly, four states rejected the amendment. Two states were apparently too busy and never even discussed it. And, now, everyone who earns a paycheck pays a federal income tax. Additionally, 43 of the 50 states charge state income taxes. Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming are exempt. Oh, and apparently if you are over 100 years old in the state of New Mexico, you’re exempt as well.

And, if you’re wondering this morning, “Why in the world are we talking about taxes? This is going to be a rough sermon!” Trust me. I get it. You see, a few weeks ago Pastor Jason asked me to preach today on Romans 13. So, I flipped my Bible to the passage, and the first thing I saw was a heading which read Submission to the Authorities, followed by these verses,

[1] Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Oh, cool. This is going to be fun. He gave me a passage on government, taxes, and politics, and then he and his whole family just packed up, wished me luck, and left the state! Of course, I’m kidding; that’s not actually how it went down, but Romans 13 does begin in a rather interesting way. And, if I have already lost your attention with this subject, stick with me because I believe God has something powerful for us today through His Word.

You see, through the first eleven chapters of Romans, Paul has been focusing on God’s redemptive work for us through Jesus Christ. The focus of the letter has been on what God has done, but there’s a shift that occurs in Romans 12. See, Paul begins to turn his attention to God’s redemptive work in us. He turns his attention to what we are now called to do. And, he begins to demonstrate this profound point— that the power of God at work within you is not just for the forgiveness of sin; it’s also the empowerment to be made more like Him. Theologians would say it this way: the power of God is not only for justification but also for sanctification.

The power of God at work within you is not just for the forgiveness of sin; it’s also the empowerment to be made more like Him.

Friends, there are a lot of people who are interested in what the power of God can do for them but lose interest in what the power of God desires to do in them. But, Paul wants us to know that both are essential components to the gospel message. So, he doesn’t stop with what God has done for us. He finds it necessary to unpack what God desires to do in us and through us; and, he begins to reveal the marks of the true Christian. So, we read in Romans 12:9-10,

[9] Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. [10] Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Paul shows us the Christian needs to be marked by genuine love—a selfless love. In fact, this love needs to be so selfless that Paul continues on to say we need to love those who persecute us and strive to overcome evil—not with more evil—but by doing good. So, we’re to love even the worst of our enemies. Then, we jump ahead to Romans 13:8, where we read,

[8] Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Now here, Paul continues—not by talking more about loving our enemies but—by encouraging us to love those near to us and to love our neighbors. He tells us that we fulfill the law of God when we love one another—that the law and love are not opposed, but they work in harmony with each another. As Pastor Timothy Keller would say, “The obedient thing is the loving thing; the loving thing is the obedient thing!” The two go hand-in-hand. Again, Paul has been spending the first eleven chapters demonstrating that we have been loved greatly by God; now, he highlights that we have been called to love one another with a great love.

The obedient thing is the loving thing; the loving thing is the obedient thing.

Timothy Keller

But, what is curious to me is that sandwiched between these two passages concerning love is a discussion on our relationship with government and politics. Not only does Paul mention that we need to be subject to our governing authorities, but listen to this instruction from Romans 13:7,

[7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

I mean, come on. What is Paul going on about here? I have never thought about paying my taxes in love. So, this passage seems strangely out of place contextually. And, I realize again that some of you have already turned on your political filters this morning, but hear the implications of this passage today. The placement is intentional. You see, in Christ, this is to be our political platform. Not Republican. Not Democrat. Not Socialist. But, love. The Christian may not always agree on politics or parties, but we ought to all agree on our attitude toward others.

In Christ, this is to be our political platform: love.

So, the placement of this passage is intentional, and a quick observation of our political climate would tell you that it is still very much relevant today. In fact, did you know that a study showed after the 2016 election 100% of Americans thought 50% of American lost their minds. Some of you will get that in a minute, but the reality is that love is not our native language. Yet, the Bible has no shortage of passages that admonish us to love one another. Here’s just a quick sampling of how the Bible instructs us to love others.

[John 13:34] “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

[1 John 4:7] Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

[1 Peter 2:17] Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

[1 Peter 4:8] Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

[Colossians 3:14] And above all else put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

[1 Corinthians 16:14] Let all that you do be done in love.

And, friends, that’s just scratching the surface of what the Bible says about love. Now Christians typically don’t mind talking about love, right? We think we have the corner on the love market. But, what I have come to observe is that when we usually talk about doing the loving thing what we actually mean is the comfortable thing. See, we’re perfectly fine loving one another within the confines of our comfort zone, but when it comes to stepping beyond ourselves and allowing God to love through us supernaturally—well, that’s where we tend to draw the line. So, there’s often this gap between what we ought to do and what we actually do.

But, just a couple weeks ago, Pastor Jason reminded us that we need to know what the Bible says. We need to seek to understand what it means, but we can’t simply stop there. He also reminded us that we need to know how to apply it to our lives. You see, what we believe needs to determine how we behave.

I recently began going to a chiropractor. And, on my initial visit, he took an x-ray and showed me that my neck was bending in places that it shouldn’t and was straight where it should be bending. He said that my head was actually shifted an inch forward, adding fifteen pounds of pressure to my neck. Now, my wife has told me that I can be a pain in her neck; I guess I’m also a pain in my own neck. But, after a few adjustments, he told me he could already sense a difference, but we would be taking more x-rays later this year. Then he said, “We want to make sure you’re actually making progress; otherwise, why are you here?”

Friends, why are you here? There are a hundred other things you could be doing in this moment, so why are you here? It cannot be just because going to church is the right thing to do. Sunday mornings ought not be the culmination of your spirituality; rather, they should serve as a catalyst, encouraging and inspiring your faith to be lived out practically throughout the week. Our learning must translate into our living. If we’re coming here and singing some songs, sipping some coffee, and hearing a message without it producing life change in us, why are we here? When you come to meet with God and to hear from His Word, you should come with the anticipation and expectation that He desires to do something inside of you. He desires to change and to mold and to shape you, so that the parts of your life that are incongruent with His gospel truth might begin to bend and take shape. Is what you’re learning shaping the way that you are living?

Our learning must translate into our living.

And, Paul makes it clear that the way of living for the Christian ought to be the way of love. But, really, he’s just echoing the words of Jesus Himself, who already taught us in John 13:35,

[35] “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In other words, love isn’t some special category of behavior that rests alongside all other kinds of behavior. No, in Christ, we ought to let all our behavior be love. You see, love is not just an action toward a person. It’s not just about the things that we do; it’s a mindset, an attitude, a disposition that produces behaviors that are good for others. It’s interesting to me that if we were to look at the famous love chapter from 1 Corinthians 13 that Paul doesn’t begin the passage by saying, “Love does…” He begins by saying, “Love is…” He doesn’t use actions to define love; it’s almost entirely a list of inner dispositions that will define our actions. We can do seemingly loving actions with unloving, self-seeking motivations. The why behind the what we do is tremendously important.

So, Paul says we ought to pay what is owed to those around us. So, yes, if it’s taxes, pay your taxes. If it’s wages, pay the wages. If it’s respect or honor, give respect and honor. Whatever is owed, do not let the debt remain outstanding. But, we have to do it all in love because there is a debt that we all owe in Christ that cannot be satisfied—a debt that ought to be the motivation behind paying taxes, revenue, honor and respect—a debt that we must continue to make payments on but can never be fully settled. Again, here is what Paul says in Romans 13:8,

[8] Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Now, you might be thinking, “That’s not fair. I didn’t sign up for that or agree to be indebted to love others.” Frankly, I don’t know about you, but if someone told me that I owed them something, I would want to know how in the world I incurred this debt. If you have ever been contacted by a collections agency, you want the debt owed to be proven. So, how did we ever come to owe this debt of love? Well, we need to jump back to the beginning of this letter where we read in Romans 1:14 that Paul even viewed himself as a debtor. He says,

[14] I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians…

Then, in the very next verse, we see how he pays this obligation. And notice with me his attitude in what he does. Romans 1:15 says,

[15] So I am eager to preach the gospel to you…

So, Paul is under obligation or, literally, he’s a debtor. He pays this debt by preaching the gospel, and he does so eagerly. And, we read at the beginning of the letter that Paul has incurred this debt as a recipient of grace. Romans 1:5 says,

[5] … through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.

So, friends, how did we come to owe such a debt? Why must we be motivated by love in all that we do? We owe a great debt of love—not because the world has done anything for us but because Jesus has done everything for us. But, make no mistake: Christ can’t be repaid. We don’t owe him a debt; that’s what makes it grace. Instead, as we have been greatly loved by Him, we’re now called to love one another with a great love.

We owe a great debt of love—not because the world has done anything for us but because Jesus has done everything for us.

This debt of love is unlike other debts in that it is not a burden to those in Christ. It’s a joy. It’s freedom to love like this. That’s why Paul can say that he eagerly shares the gospel. Friends, while love is a debt, it ought not feel like one. But, if we’re honest with ourselves this morning, it does sometimes, doesn’t it? Even as I was preparing this morning’s message, I was confronted with the ugly reality that I don’t fulfill this debt of love well. I fall short. There are times where I respond in unloving ways. There are times where my loving actions are tainted by my unloving motivations. There are obstacles I have placed between me and loving others. So, with our remaining time today, I want to take a look at three hurdles of the heart. There are certainly other things that stand between us and loving others, but I find they largely fit into these three statements. We fail to love others because we think we don’t owe them anything or because we don’t want to or because we don’t know how to.

While love is a debt, it ought not feel like one.

I don’t owe them anything.

First, we don’t love others because we think we don’t owe them anything. We convince ourselves that they don’t deserve anything from us. Other times, we’re convinced that we do owe them something, but it’s certainly not love. A piece of my mind, maybe—but definitely not love. We tell ourselves that when people don’t act like us or look like us or have different morals than we do that we need to withhold our love from them. We wouldn’t want them to think we approve of their behavior by loving them, now would we?

And, out of all the heart hurdles this morning, this one is by far the most counter-cultural. I can’t tell you the number of quotes, books, and blogs that I have found advising individuals to cut people out of their lives if they don’t truly deserve them. Our culture screams, “If you don’t like the way I am, I don’t need you in my life. I don’t owe anybody anything.” The word deserve actually comes from two Latin root words, which essentially mean “to serve completely.” The classical Latin sense of the words meant that someone was entitled because of their good service. We’re so good at thinking of reasons we are entitled to the love of others while simultaneously feeling entitled to withhold it.

But, friends, we’re called to be counter-cultural. In a world that couldn’t care less, we need to choose to care more. This mentality that “I don’t owe them anything” is a failure to understand that we were first undeserving ourselves. Jesus doesn’t owe us anything and, yet, as recipients of His grace we are now considered coheirs? Like, that is an unfathomable truth. It was when we were at our very worst—while we were still sinners, while we were still rebellious and building kingdoms for ourselves—that Christ picked up the cross and laid down His life for us. You have done nothing and can do nothing to deserve His love and yet it is freely available to you. He now calls us to confront this world with the same kind of undeserved love.

In a world that couldn’t care less, we need to choose to care more.

Doctor and author Austin O’Malley once observed, “Those who deserve love the least need it the most.” When I was in college, I had a professor share what he called The Jonathan Principle. One day, he was going driving with his son. They were pulling up to the intersection when my professor inadvertently cut off another driver. Now, I’ve never done that myself, but from what I understand, it tends to make people pretty angry when you do. So, the other driver began cussing and letting my professor know exactly what he thought of him before continuing to drive away. Now, my professor was a bit shocked and a bit ticked off. He had a piece of his own mind that he wanted to share with that man. And, as he was thinking through all that he wished he could say back, his little son Jonathan responded by saying, “Dad, I wonder what hurt that man so badly to make him respond so unkindly.”

Those who deserve love the least need it the most.

Austin O’Malley

That, my friends, is The Jonathan Principle. We need to look past the hurt and see the need. Sometimes we need to hold back the things we want to say or want to do, and ask the Lord what He needs us to say or do in that moment. You can’t always stop others from hating you, but you can choose to not hate them back. Your response will always be your responsibility. So, we must no longer use the excuse, “I don’t owe them anything,” as a reason to be unloving to those around us. Jesus didn’t. When He actually didn’t owe us anything at all, He chose to give us everything.

I don’t want to.

But, there’s a second heart hurdle we encounter. We might not always phrase it as such, but what it really boils down to is that often times we just don’t want to do it. Love is work, and it can be tough work at that. If we tell ourselves that loving other people is easy, then we’re only kidding ourselves. Because true love is willing to lay down its life for another. It’s costly. It’s difficult. It’s exhausting. And, as a result, we can just grow to become apathetic. If we don’t stop loving certain people altogether, then we begin to offer up lazy love at best.

But, the kind of love we are called to show in Christ is not a lazy love. Christianity must be actively benevolent. And, can I just cut to the chase on this one? Where thinking, “I don’t owe them anything,” hints to our entitlement, saying, “I don’t want to,” screams pride and selfishness. And, this goes back to something we already mentioned this morning. A lot of times, we seek out the comfortable thing instead of the obedient thing. But, leadership guru Michael Hyatt once wrote, “Comfort is overrated. It doesn’t lead to happiness…It often leads to self-absorption…”

Comfort is overrated. It doesn’t lead to happiness… It often leads to self-absorption…

Michael Hyatt

Church, maybe we need to be honest with ourselves and admit that sometimes we’ve been more about our own little kingdoms than about God’s kingdom. And just because we have come church that morning doesn’t automatically mean we’re concerned about the things of God. Maybe we have been chasing after our own comfort rather than seeking His calling. Let me get real with you for a moment: when church becomes about our comfort, our desires, our preferences, we have a serious problem. Friends, we must lay aside our personal preferences and learn to pick up His eternal purposes. God is concerned about your eternity, and the church ought to be as well.

We must lay aside our personal preferences and learn to pick up His eternal purposes.

When we come together as a church, it’s bigger than you. When you surrendered your life to Christ, you surrendered your will to Christ. We can walk into the church thinking, “The coffee is too weak. The coffee is too strong. The sanctuary is too cold. It’s way too hot. The music is too loud. I wish they played more of my favorite song. The pastor sure is underdressed today. I wish we could go back to the good ol’ days.” And, I use these examples because every single one of these are things that I have heard here at New Life, and there’s many more I could list.

But, here’s the problem: we can go through a Sunday morning and completely miss what this is all about. We can get so caught up in seeking out the things we like that we fail to actually love anyone at all. I’m not as concerned about the “good ol’ days” as I am about what God desires to do here and now, right in this moment. And, if I am always looking to satisfy my personal preferences, then I very well might be missing out on God’s eternal purposes for this moment. We come to church today to love God and to love others—not to love ourselves more.

So, friends, our mission is bigger than our preferences. It’s bigger than the things we want to do and the things we don’t want to do. So, we must no longer use the excuse, “I don’t want to,” as a reason to be unloving to those around us. Jesus didn’t. In fact, in the Garden before His arrest, He acknowledged the difficult road ahead. Yet, He laid aside His personal preferences and embraced the Father’s eternal purposes, wishing that none would perish. Jesus was not concerned about self-perseveration, but gibe Himself for us. He willingly suffered the humiliation, torture, and death of the cross.

I don’t know how to.

That brings us to our third and final heart hurdle for this morning. Sometimes we we feel like we don’t owe the world anything. Other times, we might honestly admit that we just don’t want to. But, there’s a third hurdle that says, ”I don’t know how to.”

See, where the first hurdle hints to our entitlement and the second hurdle to our pride and selfishness, this third hurdle reveals our ignorance. It’s so easy to sit through a sermon, especially one like this, thinking, “Mmmhmm, people need to be more loving,” and completely miss what’s being said. No, you need to be more loving. I need to be more loving.

See, we tell ourselves all the time that we already do a good enough job at love. I love people! But, friends, loving those who are easy to love is not what Christ is calling us to. You don’t fulfill the law by loving those who are easy and hating your enemies or being indifferent toward others. Someone once said, “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” We pat ourselves on the back when we somewhat love some people, but what Christ is calling us to is a radical love for all people.

We’ve grown to be ignorant of how poorly we love one another. I mentioned earlier that I recently began going to the chiropractor. When you go as a new patient, they have you fill out a sheet describing the issues you are experiencing. So, I wrote down neck stiffness, but then it asks you to rate your pain on a scale of one to ten. Frankly, I’ve never understood the pain scale. Because I would have to imagine that something like a gunshot wound would be a ten, right? So, neck stiffness is like a zero, then, on the scale. Anyway, I left that answer blank because it doesn’t really cause me considerable pain.

Well, after my x-ray and the neck that bends where it shouldn’t and doesn’t where it should, my doctor said, “It’s amazing the pain people learn to live with.” It’s amazing the pain people learn to live with. It’s amazing how when things are very abnormal and dislocated and out of place, it becomes normal over time. It becomes acceptable. It becomes common. And, if we live there long enough, we might forget just how it feels to be in proper alignment.

Friends, we often don’t know how to love because honestly we’ve done just a poor job of it for such a long time. We say rude things, and it doesn’t phase us. We gossip, and it feels expected. We disconnect and don’t reach out to each other, and it feels just like any other day. We carry our anger and bitterness and hurts with us and accept it as our way of life from here on out. Friends, that’s not normal. That is not normative Christian behavior under the grace of the gospel. But, it’s amazing the pain that people learn to live with.

We must no longer use the excuse, “I don’t how to,” as a reason to be unloving to those around us. Jesus didn’t. We have the perfect model in Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us so that He could show us how to love one another. His love was not indifferent. It challenged all that was considered to be normal. It radically confronted a culture incongruent with the grace of God. Jesus understands because He has walked in our shoes, but yet He showed us a better way to live.

So, as we move to our conclusion, you’re going to have a chance to respond to His love. I don’t know about you but I look at these hurdles and there might be times that I do just fine jumping over them, but inevitably I find that I get tripped up. I fall back. I begin to make excuses again. I don’t owe them anything, God. Look, I don’t want to do this; it feels like it isn’t making a difference, and it’s just too hard. I don’t know how to do what I’m what called to do; am I not loving enough already? The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 13:13,

[13a] Let us walk properly as in the daytime…

We need to continue to move forward, continue to walk in His calling, continue to leap the hurdles of the heart, but how are we to do this? Well, Paul gives us the answer in the next verse,

[14] Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

And, I love what Paul is saying here. He’s not just saying that we need to be more like Jesus, that we need more of Jesus’ attributes in our life. He’s instructing us to lay hold of Jesus Christ Himself. He doesn’t instruct us to clothe ourselves with love or joy or more peace. We need to clothe ourselves with Christ Himself. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus. Lay hold of Him. Clothe ourselves in Him. Paul is describing this beautifully intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that ultimately produces a change in the way we live. Clothe yourselves with Him in such a way that only Christ may be see in you.

Think about it for a moment. What I wear profoundly impacts the way I behave. If I am wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt, I’m preparing myself for physical activity. I’m ready to work out. These clothes are acceptable to sweat in—perhaps even to get dirty. But, if I go and put on a tuxedo, you would not expect to find me at the Athletic Club. No, I would look in the mirror and see myself dressed for a formal occasion, and so I would behave accordingly.

Friends, remember Who you are wearing. It’s not Gucci or Prada or whatever the current fashion trend is. No, you wear Jesus Christ, and it ought to profoundly impact the way you live. Paul is admonishing us to stop gratifying the flesh. Stop feeding your sin nature which screams, “I don’t owe them anything,” “I don’t want to,” and “I don’t know how to.” Instead, lay hold of Jesus and clothe yourselves with Him, so that you might live like Him.

Remember Who you are wearing.

Friends, this morning, to radically love those around us, it begins by embracing and receiving the radical love of God for us. There are some of you here today who have never really confessed Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. You’ve been trying to do this life in your own strength. You’ve been hopping the hurdles all on your own. But, you have been tripped up and beat up and you’re wondering if there is any hope for you today. Jesus has come so that the love of God might do a great work within you this morning. And, in a moment, you’re going to have the opportunity to respond by coming to these altars and laying down your entitlement, selfishness and pride, and ignorance and embracing the cross of Jesus Christ. You’re not too far gone. You’re not too tripped up for grace. You’re here this morning because God is chiefly concerned about your eternity, and He profoundly loves you.

And, friends, there are some of you here today who have embraced that call, but if you’re honest with yourself, your love still falls flat. I know mine does. You’ve been making excuses. If you’re honest with yourself today, you have been more concerned with your comfort than His calling. I want you to know there’s grace for you today. Remember, His love isn’t just about the forgiveness of sin; it’s the power to be more like Him. And, the way you become more like Him is not apart from Him. It’s by laying hold of Him and wrapping yourself in Him. This morning, you’re going to have the opportunity to come to these altars and to seek more of Jesus. He’s what you need. He’s the answer to your prayers. He’s the solution to your hurdles.

So, as Pastor Hannah leads us in worship, we’re going to open these altars up. And, I want to encourage you to take Paul literally today when he says, “Let’s walk properly.” Some of you might even feel the resistance of one of the hurdles already and are saying, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to go to the altar!” But this morning may we take a step of obedience and walk to a place of surrender and humbly admit, “Jesus, I need more of You.” These altars are open today; would you come?

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