The Seventh Sunday After Epiphany February 20, 2011
360, 395(1-3, 5, 8), 400, 47
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow redeemed:
My schoolmates and I played a silly little game at lunch time when we were in grade school. One of us would try to really make an impression of how much we liked a certain food by saying something like, “I just love pizza.” Then someone else would chime in, “Do you love it enough to marry it?”
It is silly, of course, but in that ridiculous comparison of “love” that made grade school children giggle uncontrollably, there is an example of truth. The big difference in meaning between “I love pizza” and “I love a person” is just one illustration of how the word love is used in multiple ways.
Love may be used for nothing more than liking something or someone. Love may be cleverly used to disguise the harsher sounding reality of the words lust and sin. Love may be an empty set of four letters that is nothing more than just another word that rolls off the tongue without any actions to support it. Love rings throughout the religious world as well, but often it is a hollow tone because the God who is love is forsaken and replaced with what sinful man calls love.
There is a higher love. It is a love that is not just emotional affection or physical desire It is a love of purpose and action. It is a love that is Christ-like because it reflects Christ’s love for us. CHRISTIAN LOVE IS MORE THAN JUST A WORD it is I. True love, II. Fulfilling Love, and III. Thankful Love.
Paul had just finished telling the Roman Christians to give everyone his due when he went on to say, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another…” [v.8] Earlier Paul said, “give taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor…” (Romans 13:7). In other words, give everyone what is rightfully his so that you don’t owe anyone anything, “but” Paul adds, “there is one debt you will always owe and can never completely fill and that is to love one another.”
If we are to make payments on this continuing debt of love, we need to first of all know what this love is. The apostle John helps to define it when he writes: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16). The very definition of true love is found in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us sinners. Jesus’ work establishes the criteria of what real love is. So then, if we look to see what kind of love lies behind Jesus’ death on the cross, we will learn what kind of love it is that we owe to one another.
We can definitely say that Jesus did not lay down His life for us because we were so attractive to Him. There is nothing attractive at all in stubborn and rebellious children who demand their own way and go their own way. Such are we by nature because we rebel against God and sin. There is nothing attractive in sinners whose righteousness God describes as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Paul said, “I know that in me that is in my flesh dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:18). We are sinners. There is simply nothing in us that would cause God to send His Son or lead Jesus to come.
The love which lies behind Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t come because we are so loveable to God. God showed His love by sending Jesus for us in spite of the fact that we are completely unlovable. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The love which lies behind Christ’s death on the cross was concerned with our needs and eternal well-being even though we didn’t deserve it. It is a love of mercy and compassion that saw a need and took action to fulfill that need even at the cost of self-sacrifice.
Jesus’ love that moved Him to die on the cross was not a love of self-interest in any way. It was completely a self-sacrificing love that did not seek any advantage for Jesus but always had our advantage at heart. There is no other way to explain Jesus’ willingness to give Himself up to the troubles of this life and the pain and misery of His suffering and death. This is the love that led Jesus to lay down His life for us and there is no love that is greater (cf. John 15:13).
This kind of love that we know through Jesus’ death is true love. It is the kind of love that Jesus would have us show to one another. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).
To give one another this true love that has Jesus Christ as its perfect example is what Paul says should be our one ongoing debt with the people we meet and with whom we live and interact. It is a Christian love that is more than just a word and takes action in showing love to one another. It is a love that does not depend on likes and dislikes or the attractiveness and desirability of the people we are to love. It is a love that has genuine concern for the well-being of others—first of all spiritually and then also physically. It is a love that will take action to help the other person even to the point of self-sacrifice. It is a love that doesn’t think, “what’s in it for me.” It is a love that comes and continues even if it is not returned.
This true love is a love that is focused and has a purpose and the purpose is not to serve one’s self but to serve one another. It is a love that can be applied to all people in equal measure without favoritism and without exclusion. It is the kind of love that loves one’s enemies and seeks their welfare rather than just those whom we call friends and whom we hold dear.
Paul describes this true love at some length in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. There he says that true love is patient, is kind, does not envy, does not parade itself or puff itself up with pride. It does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, and thinks no evil. True love does not rejoice or find pleasure in sin, but rather rejoices in God’s truth.
Christian love that is more than just a word is this true love like that which moved Christ to go to the cross for you and me.
As God’s creatures it is our responsibility and His expectation that we fulfill His Law. Paul explains that our responsibility to show true love to our neighbor is the same as our responsibility to God’s whole Law because love fulfills the law. “…for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. [v.8b-10]
Paul specifically mentions the sixth, fifth, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments but includes them all in his summary, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” True love, like that which we just described, fulfills the Law. Therefore, any lack of the true love in what we think or do or say is lawlessness and sin (cf. 1 John 3:4). Every sin—every breaking of God’s Law—is a lack of true love.
Consider how every sin against our neighbor is a lack of love. Murder, bodily harm, or hatred toward other people is in no way showing them the love that seeks to help them and that sets self-interest aside. Men and women who engage in sexual activity outside a God established marriage of one man and one woman are guilty of a tremendous lack of love by accepting, condoning, participating and helping the other person in his or her sin.
A true love toward our neighbor fulfills the Law by doing everything it can to help our neighbor keep what is his. It is, therefore, a lack of true love and a demonstration of self-serving love to steal something. This is true also in those situations when our neighbor knowingly, albeit foolishly, surrenders what is his in games of chance and all other activities associated with gambling. Oh yes, it is true that our neighbor has willingly risked his money or other God-given gifts, but it is not an action of law-fulfilling love to take advantage of his foolishness and try to win what is his for ourselves. True love that fulfills the Law does not seek its own.
Bearing false witness against our neighbor and destroying a reputation through gossip—whether the news is factually true or false—is a lack of love. A fulfilling love works to defend the neighbor’s good name, takes his words and actions in the best possible way, and makes every effort to help the neighbor remove from his life whatever may be destroying his good reputation. Nor will a love that reflects the love of Christ have any time for jealousy or other related sins that come from coveting.
A law-fulfilling love is love by God’s definition. It has become fashionable to turn a blind eye to sin and not rebuke it or to say anything against someone else’s sinful ways. This is done all in the name of love, but it is not love by God’s definition. It is not a fulfilling love. A so-called love that sits idly by while someone walks the road to Hell is no love at all. A so-called love that opposes God’s Law cannot fulfill it.
Christian love is more than just a word, it is a love that fulfills the Law of God perfectly. By God’s grace and as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, we display this Christian love in our lives. It is a love in the lives of children of God that is more than just a word and does take action by demonstrating true love to one another.
Sadly, we do remain flawed in our love because of our sinful natures that we still possess. This is why it is such a great and wonderful gift from God to know that this love is perfect in Christ—that His perfect love fulfilled the Law for us and covers our failures. Christ’s fulfilling love gives full salvation from our sins and that is the love that fills us with thankful joy.
“He who loves another has fulfilled the Law.” OK…but why bother? We know that there is no possibility that we can love and fulfill the Law perfectly. We know that if we can show Christian love to someone for an hour, that in the next hour we might very well fail. We know that no matter how hard we try none of our loving is going to earn a place before God or give us forgiveness of sins. So why love one another?
We know that lack of love is a sin and that God will punish all unforgiven sin in Hell. We might try to love one another because of the fear of what will come if we don’t. A “love” and its actions that come out of a fear for the Law and the threat of punishment isn’t true or Christian love. A love that is created by threats is a love that is manufactured just as a way to avoid punishment. That kind of love has no interest in its neighbor, it is only interested in preserving its own self.
“We love God because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Adam and Eve had the fruit of one tree that they were forbidden to eat by God’s command. Before God told them about the fruit of the one tree which they should not eat He displayed His generosity by saying, “of every tree of the garden you may freely eat” and then, “but of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat…” (Genesis 2:16-17).
When God gave His law to the children of Israel on Mount Sinai, He first reminded them of Who He is and of His mercy and grace by saying, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:1).
God’s command not to eat from the fruit of one single tree in the Garden of Eden was not mean-spirited or burdensome to Adam and Eve—they had free run of the whole rest of Paradise. Thanksgiving and love to God for all of His goodness would lead them to ignore that one tree and never eat from it. Adam and Eve stepped into trouble when they doubted God’s goodness and wanted more.
God definitely attached punishment and the Law’s threats to his commands given on Mount Sinai, but before He ever gave the Israelites a single command He impressed upon them that He was their loving God who had miraculously delivered them and promised to keep on doing the same. Gratitude and love to God for all that He had done and promised to yet do was what would motivate them to keep His Law by putting Christian love into action.
When we want to show love and affection to someone, the most common way to do so is to embrace the person. We cannot walk up to God and give Him a hug. God is a spirit. We can’t see Him, we can’t touch Him. God is almighty. There is not a single thing we can do to help Him and show love in that way. Yet, when we hear from His Word about all that He has done for us— from His marvelous creation to His continuing preservation to His gracious salvation—the Holy Spirit working in that Word creates a thankful spirit within us that desires to show love back to Him.
The way in which we can show our thankful love to an invisible almighty God is to live in a way and do the things that please Him. A “I love you” and a hug from a child to his father can show love; but when that child honors, respects, and obeys his father that is a love in action. When we, God’s adopted children, honor and respect Him as the one true God and fulfill His Law by loving one another, then we are showing our love to Him. “For this is the love of God (love shown toward God) that we keep His commandments and his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
Jesus summarized all the commandments into two statements: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Paul summarized them all with just one command, “You shall love they neighbor as yourself.”
Love for God above everything else is in first place. God’s overflowing love to us creates the all-encompassing love for God which leads to thanksgiving and that bubbles out in love toward one another and into a life that fulfills God’s Law. Paul’s summary is correct because when there is a love for one another that reflects Christ’s love, it can only come from a love for God that was there first.
A Christian love toward one another is a thankful love for God in action. That is why Jesus will say on the Last Day, “I was hungry and your gave Me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the one of the least of these my brethren your have done it to me” (Matthew 25:35-36,40).
We love Jesus and seek to show that love in more than just words by loving one another. Our love for God comes because of the undeserved love that He has shown to us. Without God’s love to us in Christ we would be without real love and stuck with the world’s love, that is we would be unloved, loveless, and lost. We love Him and are eternally thankful because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.