Do Not Cause Your Brother to Stumble! (Exposition of Romans 14:13-23)

Martin Luther wrote in his foundational work The Freedom of a Christian that, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” This quote is a great summation of the relationship between the first and second halves of Romans 14. In verses 1-12, Paul declares that “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none.” But in verses 13-23, Paul asserts the equally, yet paradoxically true statement that “A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” The first half of Romans 14 is concerned with Christian liberty, the second half of Romans 14 is concerned with Christian charity.

Paul’s point is that we must not misuse the freedom that we have in Christ by failing to love our brothers and sisters. In this passage Paul asserts that there are some clear prohibitions that must be obeyed, but first there are some equally clear principles that must be observed.

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (14) I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (15) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. (16) Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; (17) for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (18) For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. (19) Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. (20) Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. (21) It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. (22) Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. (23) But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. Romans 14:13-23

First, There are Some Clear Principles That Must Be Observed.

Principle #1: A Distinction Between the Weaker Brother and the Pharisee

This is very important for us to know in order that we might know to whom Paul is directing us to submit our liberty in order to not be a stumbling block. Paul is dealing in this passage with our attitude toward a weaker brother, not toward a Pharisee. He is not telling us to be bound by the legalistic scruples of the Pharisee about practices which are in themselves morally neutral. Instead, he is calling upon the “strong” to sacrifice our liberty in order to prevent a “weak” believer from harming his soul through the violation of his conscience. How do you tell the difference between a weaker brother and a Pharisee? Here is a good test:

  • The weaker brother is one who thinks that since he is saved he cannot possibly do what you are doing.
  • The Pharisee is the one who thinks that because of what you are doing you cannot possibly be saved.

Don’t forget that Paul is dealing here with things which are indifferent, not clear and open sin. In cases involving clear and open sin we have the responsibility to lovingly rebuke, but in the case of things indifferent we have the responsibility to not be an occassion for our brother to stumble.

The spoof Christian news site LarkNews recently had a story of a “weaker brother” who was asked to leave a men’s accountability group. This story, though fictional, illustrates the difference between the Pharisee and the weaker brother.

Tired of accommodating their legalistic friend, members of a men’s group have asked Harold Beihn to loosen up or move on.

“His standard of personal holiness fits us a little too tight,” says one member.

But Beihn says he just “wanted my guys to be holy as the Lord is holy. I think God put me in their lives to remind them of the rules.”

By all accounts, Beihn’s lifestyle was out of synch with the others’. He vetoed most activities the other guys wanted to do because they “didn’t accord with righteous living.” This ruled out movies, sporting events, even bowling because the atmosphere at the lanes is “too loose,” says Beihn.

Beihn also took accountability so seriously that he often called the other men at 7:30 a.m. and asked, “Did you kiss your wife yet?” If the answer was no, he’d report them to the men’s ministry pastor.

This man was not a weaker brother, but a Pharisee!

Principle #2: The Truth of our Liberty in Christ, vv. 14 & 20

Paul says in both verse 14 and 20 of Romans 14 that “there is nothing unclean of itself” and “All things indeed are pure.” This is a sure and certain knowledge expressed in Paul’s own words, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself” (v. 14). This is no doubt a sure knowledge based on Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7 and Matthew 15. In Mark’s account (7:14-19), Jesus says,

When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, Me, everyone, and understand: (15) There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. (16) If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (17) When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. (18) So He said to them, you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, (19) because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” Mark 7:14-19

Here Jesus makes the point that food that enters one’s mouth enters the digestive system and exits the body through the excretory system. Nothing that has such an existence can defile a man. Much more serious are the matters of the heart, for out of the heart comess all kinds of evil.

Likewise, Peter heard from the resurrected and ascended Christ abou this issue while on the rooftop of Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa. There he had a vision of a sheet descending from heaven with all kinds of animals thereon. This vision happened three times and each time Peter heard the voice of the Lord say to him, “Rise, kill and eat!” But each time Peter responded negatively and he was rebuked by the Lord who said, “Do not call common or unclean what I have declared to be clean” (Acts 10:9-16). The point was that Peter was to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, but the truth used to make this point is that the distinction between clean and unclean animals has been done away. A believing Jews conscience need no longer be bound in this area.

Principle #3: The Role of Conscience, vv. 14 & 20

First, we see that man’s conscience was given by God for our good. The conscience functions for the soul much like pain functions for our physical bodies. Just as we would experience great physical harm if we ignore the signals of pain, we can also experience great spiritual harm if we fail to heed the signals of our conscience.

Second, man’s conscience must be properly informed. Our conscience is like a clock, it has to be set with the correct information. If the right information has not been imput, then the conscience will not function properly.

This leads to a third observation about man’s conscience, it can be misinformed. Just as one’s nervous system may fail to function properly, many people have defective consciences. For example, if you are told that a certain activity is okay your entire life, your conscience will not bother you even if the thing is morally wrong. On the other hand, if you are told a certain activity is wrong your entire life, your conscience will bother you, even if the thing is morally good or neutral.

Finally, man’s conscience must not be violated. Regardless of whether a conscience is properly or improperly informed, it is still best to never violate one’s conscience. As Martin Luther famously said, “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe!” Everytime that a person violates his or her conscience it becomes easier to do so the next time. If one violates one’s own conscience in even a morally neutral matter, it is still a violation of conscience and will result in a weakening of your conscience in other areas which require moral judgment. Let me use a personal example to illustrate:

I go to movies sometimes because I realize that the size of the screen does not determine the degree of sinfulness of a particular movie. If something is okay to watch six months later after the movie is out on TV or on DVD, then it is okay to watch in a theater six months earlier on a giant screen (By the way, not all movies are okay to watch at home or in the theater! In fact, most are not because of clear issues of immorality.). My conscience did not bother me when I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe recently.

However, I have known people who have gone to movies (which in itself is morally neutral) while believing it to be wrong (in violation of their conscience). This has only weakened their resistance to sin in other areas of their life. It is a dangerous thing for a person to violate their conscience!

We should never try to get someone to violate their conscience, even on a morally neutral matter. Instead, we should patiently teach them of their liberty in Christ and allow their conscience to be properly informed in order that they might live as the strong and not as the weak.

Second, There are Some Clear Prohibitions That Must Be Obeyed.

Having established our freedom in Christ, Paul now urges us to not misuse that liberty. This is what Paul exhorted the Christians at Galatia to in Galatians 5:13,

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Not only does Paul exhort to this end, but his own example complements his teaching. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 these words,

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; (20) and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law,[3] that I might win those who are under the law; (21) to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God,[4] but under law toward Christ[5]), that I might win those who are without law; (22) to the weak I became as[6] weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (23) Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

Paul had resolved not to do anything that would be a hindrance to the gospel in his evangelism efforts. In a similar way, Paul here urges “the strong” to sacrifice their liberty for the sake of “the weak” in the church at Rome. In this passage there are four basic prohibitions which Paul gives.

First, Do Not Put A Stumbling Block Before Your Brother (vv. 13 & 21). Even though we have been given great freedom in Christ, we should never abuse that freedom by allowing our actions to be a stumbling block to a weaker brother.

Second, Do Not Destroy Your Brother (vv. 15 & 20). Paul here draws a contrast between being one who destroys and one who edifies. As believers who have strong faith, we are to be on God’s construction crew (edification – “build up”) instead of the demolition crew (destruction – “destroy”). The importance of having this proper attitude is highlighted by the terms used to describe the weaker brother in these verses. He is called both “the one for whom Christ died” and “the work of God.” How could we destroy such a one with our lack of consideration?

Third, Do Not Allow Your Freedom to Be Viewed as Evil (vv. 16-20). If we misuse our freedom to the end that some who are weak are destroyed then that which is “good” (our freedom) will be viewed as evil. We have turned a positive into a negative. This should not be!

Finally, Do Not Flaunt Your Liberty (vv. 21-23). Paul here basically says, “If you have freedom, good for you! Have it before God, but don’t flaunt it in front of weaker believers who might be led to violate their conscience because of your example.”

We must take people where they are, but we don’t leave them there. We want to provide loving instruction so that believers become “strong.” But in the meantime, we must be sensitive to their sensitivities out of love for them!

Our goal should be to see all of our fellow believers strong in the faith in order that they might not violate their conscience in matters that are indifferent and might experience the fullness of their liberty in Christ. But in the meantime, we have a responsibility to not do anything which could cause one of our weaker brothers to stumble.

Do Not Judge Your Brother! (Exposition of Romans 14:1-12)

Comedian Steve Martin said, “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.” That’s not exactly what Paul has in mind in this morning’s text. But he does urge us not to judge our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have the tendency to look down on those who differ from us. This was evidently true during the first century in Rome as well. There were essentially two different groups in the church at Rome at this time. One group was made up largely of Jewish believers who were still influenced by the customs from their past in Judaism. These customs included eating only kosher foods and observing certain holy days, especially the Sabbath. The other group was made up mostly of Gentile believers who had never been exposed to the customs of the Jewish religion. The Jewish believers, while not trusting in the law as a basis for their salvation, still believed that the observance of the Sabbath and eating clean food that had been properly prepared was pleasing to God. As a result of this belief a division had arisen among the church at Rome. Jewish believers though the Gentile believers who did not observe their Jewish customs were not as pleasing to God as they were. The Gentile believers, on the other hand, looked down upon the Jewish believers as immature because of their observance of these customs.

Not much has changed in the last 1,950 years! Sure, the list has changed, but there are still needless divisions among the people of God! In the first century the list included what foods were appropriate to eat and whether or not the Sabbath should still be observed. Today the list includes things such as styles of music, television, movies, hairstyles, clothing, and Bible translations.

In this morning’s text, the apostle Paul teaches that there are some areas in which we as believers can agree to disagree. To be sure in the next section (vv. 13-23) Paul lays down some guidelines to assist us in determining the correct action in particular situations. However, he first establishes this general principle that a believer is not to judge another believer in regard to “doubtful things” or things about which Scripture is unclear one way or another. Instead, it is best to observe the following slogan passed down through the history of the church: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” In this morning’s text, Paul lays out three important reasons why a believer should not judge his or her brother or sister.

Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Romans 14:1-12

I. Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Has Accepted Him, vv. 1-4.
Paul begins this section with a command to “Receive one who is weak in the faith”! Not all believers are at the same stage of spiritual maturity and we must accept those who are believers, yet are not as far advanced in the things of God as are others. But Paul’s exhortation to receive our weaker brothers is accompanied by a qualification: “but not to disputes over doubtful things.” This qualification requires us not to be engaged in disputes with our fellow brothers and sisters about things which are not clearly spelled out in Scripture. In particular, in the church at Rome there was a disagreement over what kinds of food were pleasing to God (see v. 2). This was mainly a dispute among the Jewish and Gentile members of the church. The Jewish believers wanted to continue to observe the Jewish customs concerning the kinds of food and types of preparation that were pleasing to God. It was probably out of fear of violating their conscience in this regard that the Jewish believers were refraining from meat eating. Since they could not be sure that the meat sold in the market place had been slaughtered properly, they refused to eat meat at all. This is what Daniel did when taken into captivity in Babylon. He refused to eat the king’s meat since it was not prepared according to God’s law. In the same way, these Jews in Rome had become practical vegetarians, not for the same reasons that people become vegetarians today. I don’t know why people become vegetarians today! My view is that if God didn’t want us to eat cows, then why did he make them out of steak! The text says that “he who is weak eats only vegetables”! No wonder he’s weak if he’s only eating vegetables! No, that’s not what the text is saying. It’s describing the one who is weak in faith, not physically weak. They were weak in faith which means they had not completely experienced the freedom and confidence that comes from being justified before God by faith alone.

On the other hand, in Rome there were also Gentile believers whose conscience was not bound like their Jewish brothers. Their faith was strong enough to enable them to “eat all things”. They couldn’t understand their Jewish brothers’ hangups over food. In this situation, Paul calls on those who eat to not “despise” him who does eat and for the one who does not eat to not “judge” the one who eats (see v. 3). This morning’s text gives three reasons why we are to refrain from such an action. First, we are urged to not judge our brother because he has been accepted by God!

We are to receive our brother because God has already received him (v. 3b). And if God has received him, he belongs to God now. Therefore Paul asks, “Who do you think you are, judging another’s servant?” (v. 4) “To his own master he stands or falls.” In other words, his acceptance or rejection is in God’s hands, not yours! Paul then confirms that God has accepted him by saying, “Indeed, he will stand, for God is able to make him stand.” God has accepted the believer, why then should we reject him?

When there are disagreements about issues that are not clearly spelled out in Scripture, we have a biblical responsibility to accept one another. If we fail to do so, we are disobeying the clear revelation of Scripture in order to hold onto our personal preference. A lot of what passes for Christianity are in reality cultural issues and we need to be able to discern what are clearly Biblical issues and which are merely the norms of East Tennessee culture.
Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Has Accepted Him!

II. Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Is Praised By Him, vv. 5-9.
Here in verse 5 Paul introduces another issue, the issue of the observance of days. This is in all probability again a reference to a disagreement between Jewish and Gentile believers. The Jewish believers still held to the laws regarding the observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. The Gentiles did not have any scruples at all in regard to the seventh day.

As we read in this morning’s Scripture Reading from Colossians 2:6-19 that one of the results of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was that no one could judge another in food or drink or Sabbath since Christ was the reality to which those shadows pointed! The Gentile believers in Rome no doubt understood this and realized that there was no special holy day.

Let me emphasize that this issue was not about which day of the week the church was to gather for corporate worship. This was not an issue in the early church. Believers have consistently met on the first day of the week to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. We can tell this is the case since Paul’s instruction is to basically to observe the day if you want to and don’t observe it if you don’t want to. That would have been chaotic. If I were to announce this morning, some of you can show up this coming Saturday at 10:00 am for Sunday School and 11:00 for Worship and the rest of you show up on Sunday at 10 for Sunday School and 11 for Worship, the result would be chaos. The Jewish believers were not meeting on Saturday for Christian worship, they were merely observing the laws that regulated work and travel on the Sabbath.

Again we see Paul’s exhortation in light of this possible source of division in the church in verses 5 and 6. It is to recognize that those who observe the day, observe it to the Lord and those who do not observe the day, observe it not to the Lord. In other words, God is being glorified in both instances. This is the same criteria which Paul uses to settle a slightly different issue in Corinth which also centered on appropriate food and drink. There Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

As believers we have agreement on basic principles, where we have disagreements is in the application of those principles. Later in this chapter, the apostle Paul offers some guidelines for the application of Biblical principles to the otherwise neutral areas of our Christian lives. At this point, however, Paul is concerned that where we disagree about the application of certain principles in another believer’s life we should reserve judgment if they are able to give God glory in the midst of it.

In verses 7-9, Paul adds the idea that no one lives or dies merely to himself. This is not meant as it is often taken to refer to the interrelatedness of all of mankind. Instead Paul’s emphasis is that we each live to God and die to God. The basis for this truth is the fact that Christ died and rose again to life in order that He might be both Lord of the dead and the living!
Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Is Praised By Him!

III. Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Will Judge Him (and You), vv. 10-12.
In verse 10, the apostle Paul returns to the same question of verse 4. But here the emphasis is upon the judged as a “brother”! The question here is “Why?” The reason is “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ”! Just as 2 Corinthians 5:10 declares,

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Likewise James admonishes us in James 4:11-12,

Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

Jesus said in His “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 7:1-2,

Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

We simply don’t have access to enough information to judge our brothers! We’re like someone who has casually and occassionally watched one of the high profile trials on television. We may have formed an opinion based on our limited amount of information. Maybe our opinion is based upon ten minutes of testimony as opposed to the hours of testimony which the jurors have heard. We’re in no position to make a decision about the guilt or innocence of a person! As Oswald Chambers wrote, “There is always one fact more in every life of which we know nothing, therefore Jesus says, ‘Judge not.’”
“Studies in the Sermon on the Mount” in Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 3

Paul offers as proof of the fact that “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” a quotation from Isaiah 45:23 in verse 11 which says, “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”

The conclusion is that “each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Therefore, don’t worry about your brother or sister, they will give an account to God, not you. Additionally, you also will appear before God, so beware!

In this text, the apostle Paul has laid out three important reasons not to judge our brothers and sisters in “doubtful things”. We should not judge him because God has accepted him, God is praised by him and God will judge him and you!

Are you ready to stand before God!?! When you stand before God, you will stand alone. You won’t have to give account for your brother or he for you. But you will have plenty to account for, including this text that was preached to you today. Have you repented at the Word of God today?

Unbeliever, you too will one day stand before God! Are you ready? Are you ready? As God said to Old Testament Israel by the prophet Amos, “Prepare to meet your God!” (Amos 4:12)

Living in Light of the Lord’s Return (Exposition of Romans 13:11-14)

What time is it? There are many different ways of telling time in our world today. There are the clocks and watches that have the hour, minute and second hands. There are digital clocks. Clocks on computers, cell phones and in handheld personal data devices. You can even purchase a satellite clock that keeps perfect time and can reset itself when there is a power outage. Did you know that your body has an internal clock that helps to regulate your sleep, mood and health? According to Dr. Teodor Postolache (a physician and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore) the human body has many clocks in its structures and cells, but the master clock is in the suprachiasmatic nucleus region of the brain’s hypothalamus. This clock is influenced by exposure to light. Managing exposure to light or certain intensities of light has been shown to help people whose body clocks might get out of whack from jet lag or night-shift work.

Just as our bodies clocks can be corrected by exposure to certain intensities of light, so also our spiritual clocks can be corrected by exposure to the light of God’s Word. This text helps us to reset ourselves to God’s timetable.

This morning’s text functions as an important clock that indicates exactly where we are in redemptive history. We sometimes get out of time and need to be reset. This text is our spiritual alarm clock.

In light of the time, we need to do three things: wake up from our sleep, cast off our sins and put on our Savior.

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. (12) The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (13) Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. (14) But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Romans 13:11-14

I. Wake Up! vv. 11-12a
Paul first exhorts us to wake up! Implied in this command is our tendency to be rocked to sleep by the redundancy of our day to day lives in this world. Our lives are so routined that we soon find ourselves in a rut. We get up at the same time. Eat the same food for breakfast. Go through the same morning rituals. Drive the same car, the same route to the same workplace. Do the same job for 8-10 hours. Get back in the same car drive the same route to the same house with the same family. Eat supper, watch tv, go to bed and start the routine all over again. And we’ve allowed the sameness of our lives to lull us to sleep. We’ve forgotten that Jesus is coming!

This is exactly what Peter predicted would be said by scoffers in the last days. He said in 2 Peter 3:4 that these scoffers would come and say:

Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.

It is from this condition of drowsiness that the apostle Paul calls us in this text.

The reason for this call to awake is clearly stated by Paul in these verses. It is the return of Christ! Jesus is coming! “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep”! Paul states this in two different ways in vv. 11b and 12a. First, Paul says that “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

There are three tenses to our salvation (past, present and future). We have been saved, that’s justification. We are being saved, that’s sanctification. We will be saved, that’s glorification. Here Paul is addressing the future tense of salvation. This is what Peter addressed in 1 Peter 1:3-5,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Likewise, the apostle Paul in Romans 8:23 speaks of this future salvation as that for which we “groan within ourselves”, i.e., “the redemption of the body.” Let me say that this day is closer now than it has ever been! And every second that ticks away takes us closer to the moment of Christ’s return!

In the New Testament, there are no predictions of the time of Christ’s return. There are only references to the certainty of the event and to the uncertainty of the timing. Both of these should be a motivation to being alert and ready!

But Paul states this truth in another way in v. 12a. Here he uses the image of night and day. He says, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” In this imagery “the night” represents the present evil age and “the day” represents the future glorious age. In other words, this present evil age ruled by Satan is almost over and the future glorious age under the reign of Christ is soon to come!

Historians used to speak of the Middle ages of world history as the “Dark Ages”. Here Paul uses that same language to refer to the entirety of the present evil age. We live in the dark ages, the night time, but the day is about to dawn!

On the basis of the twin truths of the day of our salvation being nearer than when we first believed and the image of night fading into day, Paul exhorts us to wake up! Realize that Paul was writing into a society with no artificial lighting therefore their days were governed by the sun. In this setting, people rose at dawn. Only the lazy would remain in bed after the sun was up. This was especially important in the Near East, where most of the work needed to be completed before the heat of the afternoon sun. In other words, this appeal would have been understood by Paul’s Roman audience. They would have understood that Paul meant by this language that they should wake up!

II. Cast Off!, vv. 12b-13
Paul not only says that we should wake up in light of the time, he also says we must cast off our night garments! This night garments are called “the works of darkness” in v. 12b and are described more fully in v. 13.

In verse 13 three pairs of sins are listed. The first pair are sins of drunkenness (revelry and drunkenness). The second pair are sexual sins (lewdness and lust). The third pair are social sins (strife and envy). This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a representative one. As believers who are living in light of the Lord’s return, this sins should be cast off from us! Paul says of a similar list in Ephesians 5:3 “let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints”!

The second coming is a common motivation to personal holiness in the New Testament. Instead of being an excuse to sat back and take it easy, it is a powerful motivation to holy living! In 1 John 3:2-3 the Bible says,

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (3) And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

It’s interesting that Paul points back to what Christ has done for us in his first coming in Romans 12:1-2 as a motivation to practical Christian living, but in this text he points forward to the return of Christ as a motivation to practical Christian living. The message is that both the first and second comings of Christ should serve as a motivation to holiness in our lives as believers!

Paul is using the metaphor of casting off clothing in Romans 13. There is certain clothing that is appropriate for the night time, but that would not be practical for the activities of the day. I’m not wearing this morning what I slept in last night. You don’t wear your night clothes to work or anywhere else, I hope. Construction workers don’t wear their pajamas to work! But the contrast is even greater than this! Paul says that instead of pajamas, we need to put on armor (see v. 12c)! As believers waiting for the return of Christ, we’re in a war against sin and Satan! We can’t afford to be comfortable in regard to sin!

Jesus is coming! Therefore, we need to wake up from the slumber of sin and cast off the garments of the night!

III. Put On!, vv. 12c, 13a and 14
But Paul doesn’t stop there. We’re not only called to wake up and cast off, we’re also called to put on something! We’ve already seen that we are called to “put on the armor of light” (v. 12c). The Christian religion does not call us merely to “cast off”, but also to “put on”. Some think of Christianity as only a list of “don’ts”. I sometimes feel that way about my relationship to my kids. It seems like the only thing I’m saying to them is “No!” But Christianity says more than “No!” It also says “Yes!” to some things! Here Paul calls us to “put on the armor of light” and to “walk properly, as in the day” (v. 13a). What does this expression mean? Well, Paul has already said in verse 12 that “the day is at hand”. In other words, the eternal day of God’s forever kingdom of righteousness is just about to dawn. Therefore, Paul says that we (who are citizens of that future kingdom) should live now as if we were already in the day! We should seek to live just as holy now as we think we will in that day! Paul spells out the means for living this way in verse 14. This is the parallel expression to Paul’s exhortation in v. 12c to “put on the armor of light”. It is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”!

But what does this mean? It means that “we are consciously to embrace Christ in such a way that his character is manifested in all that we do and say” (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 825-826). In other words we are to act like Jesus! The rest of verse 14 spells out what is involved in “acting like Jesus.”

A few years ago, bracelets with the letters WWJD (standing for “What Would Jesus Do?” became popular). Let me say, that question is not the essence of Christianity. The essence of Christianity is WDJD “What Did Jesus Do?” However, the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” can be a helpful one in determining how we are to live by the ethics of the future age in this present evil age. This is what Paul is calling us to in this passage. Paul spells out the specifics of what Jesus would do or not do in this text (see v. 13). But specifically it is spelled out in the second half of verse 14. Paul there urges us to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” One commentator said that this meant “Do not plan for sin; give it no welcome; offer it no opportunity. Kick the sin off your doorstep and you won’t have it in the house” (K.J. Foreman quoted in The Epistle to the Romans by Leon Morris, p. 474).

Don’t play with sin any more than you would play with a poisonous snake! Sin will destroy you! Kill it before it kills you!

So, what time is it? Paul says in this morning’s text that it is time to wake up, cast off and put on!

Now this text was intended for believers to prepare for the return of Christ. However, there are some of you who are not yet believers in Christ and you need to apply this text to yourselves. One of the greatest theologians in the history of the church, St. Augustine, became a believer after an encounter with this very text. Here is Augustine’s own account of his conversion:

I flung myself down beneath a fig tree and gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes…In my misery I kept crying, “How long shall I go on saying ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?” …All at once I heard the singsong voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain “Take it and read, take it and read.” At this I looked up, thinking hard whether there was any kind of game in which children used to chant words like these, but I could not remember ever hearing them before. I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall.

So I hurried back …seized [the book of Paul’s epistles] and opened it, and in silence I read the first passage on which my eyes fell: “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites” (Romans 13:13-14). I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.
From John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, p. 53

What time is it? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2,

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Love Fulfills the Law! (Exposition of Romans 13:8-10)

According to a report from the Federal Reserve released this past Thursday, household debt increased at a faster pace than at any time in the past twenty years in 2005 to a record $52.1 trillion. Similarly, a story from last August’s U.S. News and World Report titled “Drowning in Debt” shows that the average amount of credit card debt per cardholder has increased from $3,900 to $9,9312 in the past ten years! If these statistics are accurate, many Americans can identify with the bumper sticker that I’ve seen which paraphrases the song of Snow White’s seven dwarves: “I owe, I owe, so it’s off to work I go!”

Christians, however, are told by the apostle Paul in this morning’s text to “owe no one anything”! I don’t believe that Paul’s intention in this text is to forbid a Christian ever borrowing money, but rather requires that all such debts should be repaid promptly per the terms of the contract. Christians should have no unpaid bills! Every debt that is owed must be paid in full! There is one exception, however. There is one debt that can never and should never be considered to be paid in full. That debt is our duty to love one another!

In this morning’s message we will seek to answer three questions about the text of Romans 13:8-10. First, Why is this Love our Duty? Second, How is this Love Described? And third, To Whom is this Love to be Demonstrated? Let’s look now at the text of Scripture in Romans 13:8-10.

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (10) Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (NKJV)

I. Why is this Love our Duty? v. 8a
Paul has just completed a description in verse 7 of our duty as citizens to the ruling authorities. Those duties include taxes, customs, honor and fear. Paul now makes a transition to the topic of love to our fellow man. He chooses to speak of our love for one another as a duty or debt that we owe. We are told to “owe no one anything” or which comes to the same thing: Don’t owe anyone anything! A Christian must pay his debts! But there is one exception to this command. In other words there is one area in which a Christian may consider himself free to be in debt. That one area is in our duty to love one another. What Paul means is that there will never be a point in time when that debt can or should be considered paid in full!

I’ve been blessed to be able to pay off a few loans in my lifetime and after the last payment has been made a copy of the loan along with the title deed is received in the mail. On the loan is stamped the words “Paid in Full” in red ink on the page. You know what that means? I don’t have to make any more payments toward that particular loan! But, do you know what Paul is saying here? He is saying that you will never receive such a letter in regard to our indebtedness to love our fellow man. Therefore, each of us have a continuing responsibility to love one another! But, what kind of love are we to show to one another?

II. How is this Love Described? vv. 8b and 9
Love is described by the apostle Paul as the fulfillment of our responsibility to our fellow man as contained in commandments 6-10. In verse nine, Paul lists the last five of the Ten Commandments that are recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. These five commandments are related specifically to man’s duty to his fellow man. Paul evidently understands the Ten Commandments to consist of two major obligations: the first to God and the second to man. This also seems to be the understanding of Jesus concerning the Ten Commandments as we hear his response to a lawyer who was trying to trip Jesus up with what he thought was a difficult question:

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Deut. 6:5) 38 “This is the first and great commandment. 39 “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Lev. 19:18) 40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40 (NKJV)

This love fulfills the law and is an adequate summary of the law. The Pharisees had taken the Ten Commandments and expanded them into a religious system of 613 laws (365 negative commands and 248 positive laws). By contrast Jesus was able to reduce all the law into the two commandments to love God and your neighbor. This, however, is not a license to sin. As Paul reminded the Galatians:

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14 (NKJV)

There is a law in the United States which states that a woman must take care of her child. Suppose a man comes to a new mother’s home who says “Are you taking care of your baby? The Law says you have to.” The new mother, tenderly holding her baby, replies, “I don’t need a law to make me take care of my baby.” Why? Because she loves her baby! She feeds him, holds him, changes him because she loves him.

Paul describes the character of this love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in the following words:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; (5) does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; (6) does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; (7) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (NKJV)

As verse 10 summarizes, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Not only does love not harm a neighbor, it also does good to our neighbor.

III. To Whom is this Love to be Demonstrated?
The object of this love is referred to in three different ways in this text. First, as the “one another” which speaks of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Second, as “another” which implies those different from us. Finally, as our “neighbor” in verses 9 and 10. In a word, we are to show this love to everyone!

In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells a story to answer this question. It is the story of the “Good Samaritan.” Interestingly, Jesus tells this parable immediately after answering the question from the lawyer about the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus’ answer was to quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 about our duty to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It comes in response to the lawyer’s follow-up question to Jesus’ answer: “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus’ response to this question is one of the most familiar stories in the New Testament. It is the story of the “Good Samaritan.” The term “Good Samaritan” is a part of our national vocabulary. There are “Good Samaritan” Clinics, Shelters and Hospitals. If someone says the word Samaritan to you, probably the first associated word that pops into your mind is probably “good”, not so with Jesus’ first century Jewish audience. To the Jew of Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were the hated half-breed group of people who had perverted the Jewish religion by mixing elements of other cultures. But this story told by Jesus, has forever changed the world’s perspective on the Samaritans. In response to this proud and prejudiced Jewish lawyer’s question, Jesus responds with a story demonstrating that one’s neighbor could be anyone who does good to another. We can read this exchange in Luke 10:25-37:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” 27 So he answered and said, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” 29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 “Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 “On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36 “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” 37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

After telling this story in which the Jewish heroes of the day were outdone by a hated Samaritan, Jesus now asks a question of the lawyer in verse 36, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” Remember, the lawyer had originally asked the question: “Who is my neighbor?” In other words, who do I have to love in order to fulfill this great commandment? But Jesus has now turned the tables on him and asks the question which shows that the question of real importance is not “Who do I have to love?”, but “Am I a neighbor to those in need?”

The lawyer saw the point of the story, but apparently he was still too prejudiced against the Samaritans to state that the Samaritan was the neighbor, so he merely answers in verse 37, “He who showed mercy on him.” Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” This is our debt that is never paid in full! Love is not harming our neighbor, but instead doing good to him!

This is the radical love to which Christ calls His disciples! It also the love which God showed to us! He loved us when we were “without strength”, “ungodly”, “sinners” and His “enemies” (see Romans 5:6-10). This is the love to which Paul says we are indebted to show our fellow man!

Submission to Government (Exposition of Romans 13:1-7)

What is a believer’s relationship to government? How should a believer relate to the laws of the land?

At the beginning of chapter 12, Paul called upon believers to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. In the remainder of the chapter, Paul provided several important examples of what a renewed mind would look and act like.

Some could have responded to the apostle Paul’s appeal to not be conformed to this world, by refusing to submit to any earthly authority. Paul immediately corrects this possible misapplication of his teaching at the beginning of chapter 13. As believers we are not to be conformed to the mindset of this world, yet there remains in this world vestiges of God’s rule through the institutions that He has ordained. Two very important institutions that have been ordained by God are marriage and civil government. Marriage was ordained by God before the Fall as a means to populate the earth. Government was ordained by God after the Fall and Flood to restrain sin by the punishment of evil. Therefore government has an important function in the world today, even for believers. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul lays out a case for submission to government.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. (2) Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. (3) For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: (4) For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. (5) Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (6) For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. (7) Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

I. Government is Ordained By God, vv. 1-2.

Paul calls for submission to authority three times in this passage (verses 1, 5 and 7). In the first of these, Paul states the command in a very straightforward manner: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” This is then followed up with the key rationale for this imperative: “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

This is our Father’s World! As Daniel said while in captivity in Babylon as recorded in Daniel 2:20-21,

Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings:

God is Sovereign! This belief is the foundation for what Paul is saying in these verses. If God is completely in control of all things, then obviously whoever is setting on the throne is there because God put them there.

The implication of this declaration is spelled out in verse 2. To resist the authority of government is to resist the authority of God and will result in judgment (both now from the civil authorities and in the future from God).

There are some who say that the only reason Paul writes in such a positive way about government is because he has not yet been unjustly persecuted by government. According to this view, Paul was naively optimistic about the role of government.

However, Paul bases his argument not upon his own experience but upon some fundamental theological beliefs. These beliefs include the idea that God ordained government and a recognition of God’s absolute sovereignty. If these two premises are each true, then Paul’s conclusion is valid. That conclusion is that rebellion against government is rebellion against God.

Paul, of course, would agree with the other apostles who in the book of Acts declared that it is better to obey God than man (Acts 5:29). When the choice is between obeying God or man, choose to obey God. However, most of what government requires us to do does not violate the law of God. Therefore, we have a responsibility in most cases to obey God by obeying man!

II. Government is Ordained by God to Protect the Innocent by Punishing the Guilty, vv. 3-5.

Why did God ordain government? The reason is spelled out by Paul in verses 3-5. Government’s God ordained role is to protect the innocent. This is accomplished by the punishment of the guilty! As verse three states, those who are innocent have nothing to fear from government (this is generally true, though not in every case). The ruler is God’s servant to protect the innocent (see verse 4). In order to fulfill this responsibility, God has granted to Civil Government the power to enforce the law (the sword).

After the Flood, God issued the first ordinance of civil government. It was the institution of capital punishment. In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah and his family,

Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

The civil ruler is God’s servant to execute judgment upon those who violate the law. He is called here an “avenger” or “revenger”. This statement comes only verses from Paul’s command to believers to not avenge themselves (12:17-21). Here, however, Paul is not addressing the individual believers response to wrongs done to him personally, but the government’s responsibility to crimes against the innocent. This raises the question: What about the Christian ruler, policeman or soldier? What is their responsibility? Well, their responsibility as individuals is to not avenge themselves, but their responsibility as government officials requires them to fulfill their God-ordained duties to protect the innocent by punishing the guilty. I think the implication of this passage is that Christians need not be pacifists. We should all be pacifists in regard to personal wrongs done to us. But if we are placed by God in a position of authority, we must use that authority as God intended for it to be used.

In other words, when personally wronged believers have the responsibility to turn the other cheek. But government does not have that same responsibility. In fact, government has the opposite responsibility of punishing wrong-doing.

Recently, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we were given the opportunity to see a little of what society could be were it not for the restraining arm of the law. The rioting and looting in the streets of New Orleans became shocking evidence of what this world would be like without God-ordained government. In other words, we need government in this sin cursed world until the day when “the kingdoms of this world is become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.”

III. Therefore, Government Should Be Supported Financially, Feared Respectfully and Honoured Reverently, vv. 6-7.

Paul’s conclusion is found in verses 6 and 7. His conclusion is that since government is ordained by God to protect the innocent by punishing the guilty, this is the reason we pay taxes. None of us can afford individually to support an army, man a police force or fill our courtrooms with judges. Therefore, we each pay local, state and federal taxes so that government can provide those services.

Not only do we have a responsibility to pay for the support of our government officials, we also have a responsibility to pray for the salvation of our government officials. Paul told Timothy in 1Timothy 2:1-2,

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; (2) For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

In Romans 13:7, Paul lists four duties that we have to government officials: Tribute (direct taxes like income taxes), Custom (indirect taxes like sales taxes), Fear (because of the sword), and Honour.

According to the IRS Oversight Board’s Special Report for the fiscal year of 2005, 19 % (nearly 1/5) of all Americans admit that they approve of cheating on their income tax. That doesn’t include the probably larger percentage who don’t approve, but do it anyway! Paul, however, says that we have a responsibility to pay taxes

This is also the teaching of Jesus Himself in Mark 12:13-17.

And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way. (13) And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. (14) And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? (15) Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. (16) And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s. (17) And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.

An annonymous Christian from the 2nd century AD wrote the following description of Christians as a defe1nse to a tutor of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius named Diognetus. This excerpt from that letter sums up the proper attitude of Christians in this world in relationship to government.

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. From the Epistle to Diognetus, chapter 5

This should be our testimony as Christians in the world, even by those who hate us!

Genuine Love in Action (Exposition of Romans 12:9-21)

I believe that verse 9 provides an adequate summary and appropriate heading for what follows in vv. 10-21. The first sentence translated: “Let love be without dissimulation.” is only two words in the Greek, a noun and an adjective. It is literally “non-hypocritical love” or “Genuine Love”. Genuine love does not say one thing and then act another way. Agape love is not to be used like a mask on a stage in order to pretend that we are someone that we are not. Instead, our love is to be genuine and verses 10-21 spell out what genuine love in action looks like.

I believe that Paul is continuing the theme of mind renewal began in vv. 1-2 and continued in vv. 3-8. Just as we need to learn to “think as a body”. We also must have our mind renewed in order to put genuine love in action to the family of God, humanity in general and even to our enemies. This passage is all about developing the mind of Christ and showing what the will of God is: “the good, perfect and acceptable.”

As in 1 Corinthians 12-13, the apostle Paul moves from his discussion of spiritual gifts to the topic of love. I think it is very interesting that in both of these passages one may observe the themes of: humility toward one another, unity in the body, diversity in spiritual gifts and love in action.

As we look at the second half of verse 9 in more detail, we see that genuine love includes an abhorrence of evil, as well as a commitment to the good. In other words, genuine love is not a passive, effeminate quality that sugarcoats evil, but rather an active, righteous quality that opposes evil. Allow me to be provocative and suggest a new slogan based on the description of genuine love in this passage, namely: “True Love Hates!”

As we look at this passage we will see genuine love in action looks as it is shown to the family of God, humanity in general and our enemy in particular.

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. (10) Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; (11) Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; (12) Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; (13) Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. (14) Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. (15) Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. (16) Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. (17) Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. (18) If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (19) Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (20) Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. (21) Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21

I. Genuine Love in Action to the Family of God, vv. 10-13.
Paul moves from his description of believers as the body of Christ in verses 3-8 to the metaphor of believers as the family of God in verse 10. That familial love is referred to in this passage is shown by two compound Greek words that are used in this verse.

The first is philostorgoi which is translated “kindly affectioned” and combines two Greek words for love. The first is a general term for love in the New Testament, the other a word that refers specifically to natural affection as shared between parents and children. “Kindly” is here being used in its original sense as related to our being “kin” to one another. In other words, we are to love one another as family. Just as you don’t have to take classes to learn to love your children or love your parents, our love for one another as believers should be that natural.

But there’s another term used in this verse that indicates that familial love is in view. The word is philadelphia which means “brotherly love” (which is why we call Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love.” This word is the combination of two Greek words philos (meaning “love”) and adelphos (meaning “brother”). So you can now see how much emphasis Paul placed on this love being shared in the family of God. The next few verses spell out for us the specifics of what this love looks like.

First, “in honour preferring one another” which means we are to consider our brothers and sisters in Christ to be more worthy than ourselves.

Second, in verse 11, “Not slothful in business” which means we are not to be lazy in our duties to one another.

Third, “fervent in spirit” which literally means to have spirits which are boiling over. This happens when we our spirits are inflamed by the Spirit.

Fourth, “serving the Lord” meaning we are to be in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Fifth, in verse 12, “rejoicing in hope”

Sixth, “patient in tribulation” meaning that when persecuted we are to endure, not passively set by but actively to persevere.

Seventh, “continuing instant in prayer” carries the idea of urgency and steadfastness in prayer.

Eighth, in verse 13, “distributing to the needs of the saints” uses the verb form of the word koinonia to denote the fellowship or sharing in each other’s needs.

Ninth, “given to hospitality” which involves sharing of one’s home and resources.

This is Genuine Love in Action!

II. Genuine Love in Action to Humanity in General, vv. 14-16.
I believe that Paul begins discussing how a believer’s genuine love should be displayed to humanity in general in these verses. Some connect verses 14-16 with verses 10-13 because of the content of verses 15 and 16. Others link verses 14-16 with verses 17-21 because of the content of verse 14. Since there is clearly a break here (note the shift from participles to imperatives), I prefer to think of this as a separate section dealing with humanity in general. These are general attitudes and actions we should have toward believers and unbelievers alike.
The first way in which love is to be shown to our fellow human beings is that we are to bless those who persecute us! This is a revolutionary concept that is reminiscent of the teaching of Jesus in Luke 6:27-36,

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, (28) Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. (29) And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. (30) Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. (31) And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. (32) For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. (33) And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. (34) And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. (35) But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. (36) Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Next, in verse 15, Paul says to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” May I say that it is much easier to do the latter than the first. Some have suggested that reason Paul put rejoicing with those who rejoice first was for that very reason. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 these words,

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (26) And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. (27) Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

Then, in verse 16, Paul exhorts to unity and humility. Isn’t it interesting how often in Paul’s writings these two ideas come together. This is because that the means to true unity is always humility! Since the means to true unity is humility, Paul gives the example of Christ in Philippians 2 as a motivation to humility and therefore unity. This is genuine love in action!

III. Genuine Love in Action to an Enemy, vv. 17-21.
This is where the rubber meets the road. This proves whether or not your love is genuine. It’s easy to pretend to love when everyone loves you, but what about when someone hates you and persecutes you.

Paul here says to “repay no one evil for evil”! Again, Paul shows a familiarity with the teaching of Jesus who said in Matthew 5:43-48,

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. (44) But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (45) That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? (47) And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? (48) Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

One reason that Paul gives for not repaying evil with evil is that we might “provide things honest in the sight of all men”. This means that others are watching how we are responding to the evil that is being done to us! We must be blameless. This is exactly what the next verse (18) calls us to be. We can’t control others actions and reactions, but we can control our own. With some people it will prove impossible to have peace, but we can be blameless so that the lack of peace is not our fault! We can be peaceable even if we can’t have peace.

Paul emphasizes his point again in verse 19 by saying “don’t avenge yourselves!” We are not to take vengeance for evil done toward us into our own hands! Instead we are to “give place to wrath” which means we are to get out of the way and allow God to bring judgment. In other words, “Let go and let God!” This is clearly what is meant because Paul next quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35 the following statement, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”

But what is our response to be to our enemies. We are to bless those who persecute us (verse 14). As Paul now quotes from Proverbs 25:21-22 in verse 20. We are not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good (verse 21).

But what does this mean? How does doing good to our enemies heap coals of fire on their heads? Why is this a good thing?

Well, this is the way you can get rid of your enemies. This passage is simply stating that acts of kindness done to your enemy shame him and bring him to a place of repentance. As Bible commentator James Denney wrote, “The meaning of ‘heaping burning coals on his head’ is hardly open to doubt. It must refer to the burning pain of shame and remorse which the man feels whose hostility is repaid by love. This is the only kind of vengeance the Christian is at liberty to contemplate.” Greek scholar A.T. Robertson wrote that the burning coals were a “metaphor for keen anguish.” St. Augustine said, “We should incite those who have hurt us to repentance by doing them good.” This view corresponds to an ancient Egyptian custom. When a person wanted to demonstrate public contrition, he would carry on his head a pan of burning coals to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt.

This passage provides a dramatic picture of how God deals with man in goodness to lead him to repentance. As Romans 2:4 states, “knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Likewise, in the verse we have been examining, we are commanded to do good to our enemies to produce a state of repentance in them. Martin Luther comments, “God converts those whom He does convert by showing them goodness. It is only in this way that we can convert a person, namely, by showing him kindness and love.” Wasn’t this the very way that God responded to His enemies at Calvary? As commentator John Phillips has written,

The cross represents the greatest manifestation of the hatred in the heart of man toward God and at the same time the greatest manifestation of the love in the heart of God toward man. That very spear which pierced the Saviour’s side drew forth the blood that saves” (Phillips, John. Exploring Romans. p. 211).

So do you have enemies? Do you want to get rid of them? Try showing kindness to them! Then not only will you have gotten rid of an enemy, you will also have gained a friend!

This is the result of genuine love in action to our enemies!

In the end, the question that remains is: Are you a hypocrite or do you have genuine love?

The Logic of the Gospel (Exposition of Galatians 3:10-14)

Recently my friend Jeff Wright issued a plea for posts regarding the content of the gospel. He is collecting and moderating all such posts on his blog. His initial post referenced Galatians 3:6-14 and since this is one of my favorite texts of Scripture, I would like to contribute the following sermon which I first preached about ten years ago (and several times since) to the discussion. I enjoy preaching this sermon as much as any that I’ve ever preached. I hope it will be helpful.

The book of Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of Christian liberty and the Christian’s Declaration of Independence. Just as it is necessary to understand the background and circumstances leading to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, it’s also necessary to understand the background of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Paul had founded in the church in Galatia on his first missionary journey but soon after he left, some teaches from Jerusalem came and preached a different message from what Paul had preached. Paul had said that you are saved by trusting in what Christ has done on the cross. The new teachers, called the Judaizers, said that yes you’re saved by trusting Christ, but you must also be circumcised. They just added to faith. As the Judaizers taught their new gospel they attacked Paul personally. They attacked his authority as an apostle and the authority of his message. When Paul heard the news from Galatia he was heart broken. The people with whom he had invested so much time had forsaken the Gospel. So Paul writes a fiery, passionate letter to condemn the Judaizers’ false teaching and the Galatians’ acceptance of it. This is the most intense of Paul’s letters because of what was at stake. Paul realized that what was at stake was not merely his reputation as an apostle, but the Gospel itself so He writes with fervor. See Galatians 1:6-9 for evidence of this.

Paul begins his letter then by defending his call to apostleship and the source of his message in chapters 1 and 2. But then in chapter 3, he begins to defend the message: the Gospel!

Because the Judaizers based their teaching on the law from the Old Testament, the apostle Paul uses the Old Testament to make his argument. The false teaches said that Paul was teaching a “new” way that was in opposition to the “old” way of the Old Testament. In this passage paul demonstrates from four key Old Testament passages that the “Gospel” is the “Old” and “New” way.

I like to call Galatians 3:10-14 the “logic of the gospel” because Paul logically builds his argument for the Gospel with four consecutive statements from the Old Testament which summarize the Gospel. These are: 1. A Statement of Accusation; 2. A Statement of Justification; 3. A Statement of Condemnation, and 4. A Statement of Propitiation.

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (11) But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. (12) And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. (13) Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (14) That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:10-14

I. The Statement of Accusation, v. 10.
Here Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 which says, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” We are each shown our guilt here. This gets everyone from the most moral to the drunk on the street. The word “cursed” has to do with “a proclamation of doom by God.” Romans 6:23 says it this way, “The wages of sin is death.” But this proclamation of doom and death is upon “every one”. From the big to the little, from the smart to the ignorant, everyone is under this curse. But Paul gets more specific: “that continueth not”. This is where everyone is caught. You say, “I do good,” “I keep the law,” but the Scripture says that you have to keep keeping the law. You can’t let up for one second. If you break one law, one time you are cursed. James 2:10 says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” If I kept every law that Lenoir City and Loudon County has for the next fifty years, I can wait in vain for the city and county to honor my achievement with a medal or plaque. It won’t happen. The law never rewards obedience, it only punishes disobedience. But I guarantee you that if after fifty years of faithfully obeying every law of Lenoir City, I am caught running a red light, I will be punished. Nothing will be said of my fifty years of perfect obedience. In the same way, the law cannot save anyone, it only condemns those who offend in any point. We are cursed!

II. The Statement of Justification, v. 11.
But Paul says that we can be declared righteous in the sight of God. How? By faith! No man is declared righteous by the law. But “the just shall live by faith.” In v. 11, Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4. He is still using the OT. Paul breaks in amid the doom and gloom and says that there is hope of escaping the curse, but it’s not by the law. It’s in Jesus!

Here we see the contrast between the only two religions in the world. The one of law, the other of faith. One is works, one is grace. One is dependent on man, the other is dependent on God! These are the only two religions in the world: the religion of human achievement and the religion of divine accomplishment. The religion of human achievement is masked behind a thousand different names, but it is always recognizable. The religion of Divine accomplishment involves God declaring guilty sinners to be righteous because they are trusting in Christ’s righteousness. The justified sing with Augustus Toplady, “Nothing in my hands I bring!” But the religion of works says, “Something in my hands I bring!”

III. The Statement of Condemnation, v. 12.
Next Paul moves to a statement of condemnation. We’ve already been accused and given a word of hope in justification. But now we’re finally condemned. Verse 12 says that the person who keeps the law shall live, but this is just a euphemism for if you don’t keep the law, you die. Yes, we are cursed and the curse is death! Romans 6:23 – “The wages of sin is death.” The death sentence has already been passed on you unless you’re in Christ. You are just waiting for the day for the executioner to come and take you to the grave and hell forever. Don’t cry for mercy if you won’t trust Christ. There is no mercy for one who depends on his own efforts or abilities.

If you say that you want to take your own chances, you will surely die. If you ever broke one law, one time, then you are guilty and must die. Don’t say, “Well, I’m better than some. You’re not going to be judged against someone else. You’re judged against God’s holy standard which knows no compromise. Christ is your only hope.

IV. The Statement of Propitiation, v. 13.
Propitiation is an old word that I’m afraid we lost its meaning. It means “to satisfy wrath.” Many do not believe in the wrath of God in our day so this word is little comfort to them. But to those of us who have been accused and condemned by a Holy God, we know this is a profound truth.

You see every religion has an idea of propitiation, but it’s always man trying to appease their gods. But Bible Christianity is the only religion which teaches that God has satisfied his own wrath. He has been propitiated. How? Verse 13 says, “Christ was made a curse for us.” Here again Paul quotes the Old Testament: “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” Deuteronomy 21:23. This verse was written thousands of years before Christ was born and yet God was already preparing his people for the substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf.

The Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982, honoring the 58,000 American troops who died. Marine Sergeant George Hutchings of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division, Charlie Company said of the Vietnam Memorial: “On that wall is the name of Corporal Quinton Bice, who was hit in the chest with a rocket running a patrol in my place. A Christian, he had shared the Gospel with me, but I didn’t understand it till he gave his life in my place.” Jesus Christ took the rocket of God’s Judgment upon sin in the place of all believers.

Let’s see if we can piece together what Paul is saying:
1. We are cursed.
2. We can be declared righteous.
3. The curse is death.
4. Christ took the curse.

Christ hung on a tree. He took the curse of the law on Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

The question is not, then, whether or not you are cursed. We’ve established that everyone is. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The question is not whether or not you are condemned. The curse is death and John 3:18 says, “he that believeth not is condemned already.” The question is whether or not Christ was condemned for you. Your sins will be punished. Will you pay for them yourself in hell forever or has Christ paid already paid for them on your behalf on the cross?