Loving the Least

Romans 13:8-10

January 17, 2010 | Brian Bill

How many of you watch infomercials?  Afraid to admit it, aren’t you?  In a 2010 issue Consumer Reports tested 15 different products to find out which ones deceived, delivered or landed somewhere in between.  

Here’s what they found about the appeal of infomercials: “The secret lies in neuroscience.  Infomercials are carefully scripted to pump up dopamine levels in your brain, says Martin Lindstrom, an advertising expert and author of ‘Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy,’ which details how ads affected 2,000 research subjects.” 

“Infomercials take viewers on a psychological roller-coaster ride,” Lindstrom says. The fun starts with dramatizations of a problem you didn’t know you had, followed by the incredible solution, then a series of ever more amazing product benefits, bonuses, and giveaways, all leading to the final thrilling plunge of an unbelievably low price.  After the ride, Lindstrom says, “dopamine levels drop in 5 or 6 minutes. That’s why infomercials ask you to buy in the next 3 minutes.” 

There’s a lot of good advice in this issue, including: pause ten minutes before buying, slow down the spellbinders, ask if you’d pay cash for it, consider other solutions, and calculate the real price.  Here’s something I didn’t know.  Have you ever wondered why most products cost “just $19.95”?  It’s because people can part with 20 bucks without a lot of concern.  According to one expert, a $19.95 product costs about $6 wholesale.

Are you wondering how some of your favorite products held up to Consumer Reports scrutiny?  The “PedEgg” does remove calluses and dead skin but the testers were not wowed with the “ShamWow.”  I’m sorry to be the one to give you some bad news about the “Snuggie.”  The basic problem is that it doesn’t fit right and it sheds when washed.  They do have a Snuggie for dogs that I’m going to look into.

After spending two weeks focusing on how we’re to relate to government authorities, we’re going to look at the next three verses in Romans 13 and it’s my prayer that you and I will be wowed by the Word of God, for God never deceives and always delivers on His promises.  Someone last week asked me when we would be done with the government stuff because he’s ready to move on.  Another person told me she didn’t like the sermons on submission while another commented on how helpful they were.  Go figure.

Turn in your Bibles to Romans 13:8-10: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.’”  Since the word “love” is used five times in three verses, I want to propose this summary statement: We’re to love all life without limits.

Here’s where we’re headed today.  We’re going to begin with interpretation and then we’re going to move to application as we allow God’s Word to be our authority as it relates to an issue in our culture today.

Interpreting God’s Word

 I see two main points in this passage.

1. Pay off your dollar debts. 

Look at the first part of verse 8: “Let no debt remain outstanding…”  This is in the present imperative which means that Paul is forbidding an action that is already going on.  We could say it like this, “Do not keep on owing.”  This is sometimes interpreted to mean that a Christian is never justified going into debt of any sort but the Bible never categorically forbids borrowing or lending.  John MacArthur writes: “When borrowing is truly necessary, the money should be repaid as agreed upon with the lender, promptly and fully…and whatever is owed must be paid on time and in full.”  

When considering whether or not to take out a loan, it’s wise to consult Proverbs 22:7: “…the borrower is servant to the lender.”  And if we make a loan, Leviticus 25:35-35 warns us to not take advantage of people. This isn’t easy in our current economic climate but the idea is to pay your bills on time.

2. Keep paying on your love loan. 

I read this week that our country has a debt of 12 trillion dollars!  That means that each citizen’s share is about $40,000.  That sure seems like a debt that we will never be able to repay, doesn’t it?  We’ve already learned in Romans that we have a debt to share the gospel (1:14), to the Holy Spirit to live a holy life (8:12), and to the government to pay our taxes (13:6).  The rest of this passage declares that Christians have a type of perpetual indebtedness.  We’re to pay what we can’t repay: “…Except the continuing debt to love one another.”  Friends, we are under an obligation to constantly make payments on a debt that we can never pay off.  Origen, an early church Father, said this: “The debt of love remains with us permanently and never leaves us.  This is a debt which we pay every day and forever owe.”  

Since the obligation to love is the key point in this passage, who is it that we’re to love without limits?

  • Love One Another.  This phrase shows up throughout the New Testament and refers to fellow believers.  Jesus gave this command to his disciples in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 
  • Love All Others.  We’re to love believers and we’re to love everyone else as well, which means we can’t opt out if we just don’t like someone.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:44: “…But I say to you, love your enemies.”   Galatians 6:10 brings these two debts together and rolls them into one “love loan”: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  

We see this in the word “fellowman” in Romans 13:8.  This can be translated as “the other” or “all people.”  And then twice we’re told to love our “neighbor” in verses 9-10.  A neighbor is “anyone near.”  In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus redefines a neighbor as anyone in need that God brings in front of me.  The question is really not, “Who is my neighbor” but rather, “Who am I being a neighbor to?”  

What does this kind of love look like?  Most of us don’t think this way but paying on our love loan and fulfilling the law of God work together.  They’re often regarded as contradictory but Paul makes it clear that living a life of love fulfills God’s law.  Look at the end of verse 8: “…For he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”  At the end of verse 9 Paul says that God’s commands are “…summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  And at the end of verse 10 we read, “…Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

You’ll notice that Paul lists four commandments from the second half, also known as the “social section” of the Ten Commandments.  Before we list them, you’ll notice that the order is changed a bit from the list in Exodus 20 – 7th, 6th, 8th and 10th.  

  • Do not commit adultery.  Love does not break the marriage covenant, no matter how good it might feel, or how bad your marriage feels.  True love values the virtue of another and will avoid causing someone else to sin.  
  • Do not murder.  To murder means to kill someone unjustly.  When we love, we will not rob someone of their life.
  • Do not steal.  Do you remember hearing last month about the pastor from England who told people that it’s OK to shoplift as long as they don’t take more than they need and they steal from large retailers?  That’s crazy.  When we love, we will not take what is not ours.
  • Do not covet.  Coveting underlies all the other sins.  Instead of craving what another has, or just plain wanting more, we’re to be content.  In our desire for what we don’t have, it’s easy to become insensitive to the needs of those around us.

Paul then adds this phrase for those of us who think we’re performing pretty well: “…and whatever other commandment there may be.”  It’s as if he’s saying, “All these and all the other ones as well.”  There’s actually another command implied in verse 10 where we read that “Love does no harm to its neighbor.”  There’s no higher law than love

Paul next pulls out another command from the Old Testament that trumps all the ones he’s already mentioned from Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  All the commandments can be gathered together into this one relational rule.  

Instead of thinking that you have to work at never breaking God’s laws, which is impossible anyway, because we’re all sinners, Paul is propelling us to live a life of love, to love all life without limits.  When we do, and this is only possible through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we’ll end up fulfilling God’s laws.  Our daughter Emily wrote a paper on this passage and points out that “when we truly love ‘the other,’ we are automatically doing what the other commandments demand.  No one who truly loves another person will murder, commit adultery, steal or covet.”  

Look again at the last phrase in verse 10: “Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  This literally means that the law “stands filled up.”  Living by love and living by the law are not mutually exclusive.  MacArthur adds, “They are, in fact, inseparably related.  God’s law cannot be truly obeyed apart from love, because love, and only love, is the fulfillment of the law.” Galatians 5:14 says it succinctly: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love is the only debt that we can never fully discharge

Love is a never-ending debt, which means we will never be in a position to say that we have “loved enough” or that we can just coast in our Christianity and be crabby toward others.  Love is the only debt that we can never fully discharge.  My highest obligation toward you is to love you and your highest obligation is to love me, which isn’t easy sometimes (just ask Beth). And here’s the deal.  Even when you don’t feel love for someone, if you choose to show love without limits, the feelings will often follow.

Whenever I came in contact with someone this week, whether they were a believer or not, I tried to say to myself, “I am in this person’s debt and I must pay them the love loan before moving on.”  I will owe this debt until the day I die.  And while I’m alive, I must pay this debt as often as possible, as much as possible, to everyone I come in contact with.  Let’s consider this exercise: Every time we come in contact with someone this week, let’s say this to ourselves, “I am in this person’s debt and I must pay them the love loan before moving on.”  The crazy thing is that no matter how much we pay on the love loan, we’ll always owe more on it.  Even if we feel we’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty, there is no love loophole.

Before we leave this point, let me add some depth to the word “love.”  This is the word agape, which is not some emotional and mushy response to what someone does for us.  Its loving people for their good, not mine as an act of my will, whether I have happy feelings or not.  It’s an unconditional and sacrificial commitment to a sinful person.  You’ll know that you’re exhibiting this kind of love when your will kicks in and you demonstrate goodwill toward the unlovely and the unlovable, toward those who do not love you, and even toward those you don’t like. 

Now that we’ve interpreted this passage, let’s see how we can apply it to the issue of abortion.

Applying God’s Word

Last week we learned that submission to the governmental authorities does not mean that we must remain silent, especially when moral matters are at stake.  It’s in that spirit that we must speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.  

On this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, we affirm, along with thousands of other churches, that every human being, from conception on, is an image bearer of God, stamped with divine dignity and worthy of protection.  Tomorrow we recognize the incredible impact that Martin Luther King, Jr. had in our country in helping to establish the dignity of every person, regardless of skin color.  Someday I hope that our country will gain the conviction to stand up on behalf of the preborn.  I appeal to my fellow followers of Jesus; it’s time for us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.  Proverbs 31:8-9 challenges us to advocate for those who have no voice: “Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  We’re called to reach out with care, courage and compassion to our neighbors in need.  We’re to love all life without limits.

Some pastors have chosen, for various reasons, to remain silent on this topic.  I don’t see that as an option this morning.  Where God has spoken, I must speak.  My goal is not to be politically correct but to be biblically correct. I’m compelled and constrained to communicate God’s heart as clearly as I can, with as much love as I can.  Proverbs 14:25 summarizes my purpose and my hope: “A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.”  I submit that while abortion is, and should be debated politically, discussed emotionally, and described medically, at its primary roots, abortion is a moral issue, and as such, must be defined biblically.  

Before I go much further, I recognize that some of you are struggling with the after-effects of abortion.  I hurt with you and want you to know that no one is cut off from the cleansing power of the Cross.  No sin is too big to be forgiven by the grace of God.  We can put you in touch with others who have had abortions and they can help you find healing.

I want us to look at the abortion issue through the lenses of two complimentary truths – God’s love and God’s laws.  I think this will clear up some of the abortion distortion that is so pervasive today.

1. God’s love must guide us to love without limits. 

Sometimes the debates about abortion have been filled with labeling and loudness rather than loving.  Ponder these truths with me…

  • We must love women who choose to have an abortion.
  • We must love what God is doing in the womb as the preborn develop and grow.
  • When we work at paying our “love loan” we will regard all life as sacred.
  • We must see the preborn as our neighbors and love life without limits.
  • We must do no wrong to our neighbors.

As I’ve been watching the horrible images that are coming in from Haiti, I’ve been torn up.  One seasoned reporter referred to it this way: “This is a humanitarian crisis like we have never seen.” The more images there are, the more a deep sense of urgency has gripped much of the world.  Why is that?  It’s because every one of those people is created in the image of God and is to be loved without limits.  One of the most moving stories this week was when CNN reported on the 11-year-old girl who was rescued from the rubble of her home.  After she was freed, she died before she could be taken to a hospital.  Her last words were, “Mother, don’t let me die!”  When Campbell Brown, a CNN anchor heard this, she broke down on the air and had to go to a break.

Listen to this. There have been approximately 51 million lives lost to abortion since it was legalized in 1973!  In 2008, there were almost 50,000 abortions in Illinois alone!  Did you know that abortion is the leading cause of death in the world, killing as many people as all the other causes of death combined?  Love should move us to respond because there are babies in the womb right now crying out, “Mother, don’t let me die!”

2. God’s laws must guide us to love without limits.

When I first heard this story I was on the elliptical at Champion.  As I was fighting back tears as I watched the middle TV, I looked at what was on the TV on the right and saw that people were debating whether they liked Jay or Conan as the hosts of the Tonight Show.  It’s almost as if we can’t stay focused on tragedy for very long in our country.  The same is true with abortion.  We have a hard time staying focused on the real issue. Let’s go back to one of the commandments listed in verse 9: “Do not murder.”  At the heart of the abortion issue rests one single, overarching question: Is abortion a form of murder?

According to abortion proponents, a preborn baby is not considered a living human person.  Almost universally, those who favor abortion rights believe that what is aborted is something less than a human.  I’m convinced that if somehow it could be proven conclusively that the destruction of preborn babies is in fact the willful murder of human beings, the debate on abortion would be over, and the law of the land would as clearly prohibit abortion as it does all other forms of homicide.

The fact that the preborn are people is no small point.  Scott Cox points out that the first thing any society does if it is going to mistreat a particular class of people is “to dehumanize them.” Some theologians in the 19th Century espoused the idea that blacks had no souls in order to justify slavery. How much easier it is for our society today to do this “when the voice and even the form of those who are being dehumanized and mistreated cannot be heard or seen because their cries are silent” (sermoncentral.com).

That’s why pictures of the preborn in the womb are so powerful.  Do you know what age groups are the most pro-life today?  It’s those in their teens and 20s because they’ve grown up with sonograms on their refrigerators.  A new poll by the Pew Research Center shows a 7% drop in the support of legalized abortions by Americans – from 54% a year ago to 47% in 2009, the largest shift since pollsters began tracking the topic in 1995 (citizenlink.com).

I listened to a podcast this week featuring Scott Klusendorf, author of The Case for Life.  Here’s something that he said: “The debate itself is not complex.  Either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life or you don’t.”  This is really helpful because for many of us we think the issue is so contentious, complicated and controversial that we just check out.  The primary question is this: Are the preborn people?  He argues that the preborn are distinct, living and whole members of the human species, regardless of their size or location.

Let me demonstrate this visually by asking some of you to come up to the stage right now.  I’d first like to have someone who is pregnant.  Now I need a child, then a teenager, followed by individuals in their 20s, 40s, 60s and someone even older than that.  As they’re lined up here, can you tell me the main differences between what is in the womb of this pregnant woman and everyone else up here?  The main differences are age, size and location.  

We started the service with our children singing.  What would you think if all of them suddenly disappeared?   Or, if they had not survived in their mother’s wombs?  Klusendorf offers another compelling question that clarifies the issue for someone who does not believe abortion is wrong.  Here’s the question: “If legally someone can kill the unborn, then why can’t people legally kill toddlers?”  He calls this the “trot out the toddler” argument.

Earlier this week, I forced myself to watch a video that graphically shows what happens in an abortion.  I felt physically sick afterwards and those images of body parts will stay with me a long time.  There is no doubt that the preborn are fully human.  Why do images of abortion make us angry and even sick to our stomachs?  Because we know inherently that life has dignity.  One person sums it up this way: “If something is so horrifying that we can’t look at it, perhaps we shouldn’t be tolerating it.”  

Ways to Respond

Let me list some ways that we can get involved.  It may be more comfortable to adopt a passive stance with regard to the abortion issue.  It certainly would be the least offensive response.  But who, with a clear conscience, can sit back, say little, and do nothing while babies cry out, “Mother, don’t let me die?”  

  • See yourself as a “survivor” of abortion.  Everyone born after January 22, 1973 is a survivor.  Historically, those who have endured an atrocity have always labored in earnest to end acts of violence.
  • Consider adoption.
  • Write letters to your legislative representative.
  • Speak up for life when you have the opportunity.
  • Be consistently pro-life.  We need to be pro-life and “whole life,” valuing all human life – the preborn, orphans, widows, the physically and emotionally challenged, those with Down’s Syndrome, the homeless, earthquake victims, those with AIDS, the hungry, the poor, those in prison, and the elderly.
love all life without limits

The issue of abortion is much more important than any infomercial.  While Consumer Reports is helpful, what we really need are Christian Reports – reports of Christ followers who love all life without limits, who don’t just respond within three minutes but who spend their entire lives paying on the love loan.  As we’ve been learning in this series, since God says it; that settles it.  Let’ say that together as we close: God says it; that settles it.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?