The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Love
16th Sunday after Pentecost
September 24, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Love
Dear friends in Christ,
He became the ruler of a mighty empire due in no small part to his mother. Several years later, he had his mother murdered. He also had his brother (half or step) murdered so there would be no threat to his rule. He thought of himself as close to a god. He entered the Olympic games and surprise, surprise, won every event he entered. Who knew what would happen to the man who beat him in a contest? He was unstable and his conscience no longer distinguished right from wrong. He was morally corrupt in almost every way. He had Christians executed as enemies of the state. He was Nero, Emperor of the Roman Empire.
It would be hard to love someone like that. However, that is exactly the kind of love Paul has in mind today as we conclude our series in the Book of Romans. The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Love. We are to love our neighbors even if they have some of Nero’s characteristics. We are to love our government even if it is like the government Nero ruled over. Love is the fulfillment of the law and therefore the way we give thanks to God for his mercy to us in Christ.
Romans 13:1–10 (NIV84)
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 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.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Love the Government God Established
We are to love the government God established. Paul’s government was the Roman empire ruled by Nero when he wrote to the Romans. The Christians in Rome would feel the wrath of Nero when he began to have them persecuted and executed. It would be somewhat understandable for the Christians to hate Nero and even to plot to overthrow him. Plenty within Nero’s own government wanted to overthrow and assassinate him. However, Paul makes it clear that the believers in Rome are not to engage in rebellion against the government God established. Instead, they are to submit to this government. Those believers were to submit to a corrupt and immoral government.
Certainly no government on this earth is perfect. Some, we would say, are better than others. As long as governments are headed by people with immoral and corrupt sinful natures, there will be some degree of immorality and corruption in every government. This does not give any believer the excuse to therefore disobey their government. It does not give us an excuse to stop paying taxes because tax money goes to support unbiblical things. We do not get a free pass to ridicule and mock our government leaders because we don’t agree with their policies or actions. We are to honor, respect and show love to those who serve as government leaders.
Maybe this would be easier if we were under a dictator like Nero. Show disrespect to someone like that and you will be facing serious punishment or even death. In our nation, we are free to express our opinions about government leaders. However, we may go beyond expressing opinions and into dishonor and even toward feelings of hate for government at times. Name calling too often replaces respectful disagreement. We are not always careful about how we talk about those in authority over us; our teachers, our police, our local, state and national leaders. We do not give them the honor and respect they are due because there are no consequences for showing this kind of disrespect in our nation. However, Paul tells us that we are to love the government leaders in authority over us for another reason – conscience.
This is God’s law and you know this law of God. Therefore, your properly informed conscience will bother you when you do not show love to those in government. We often pray for civil servants who are worthy of honor and respect. However we are to honor and respect them whether they are worthy of it or not. When we don’t we are telling God that he established the wrong government. We are telling God that he doesn’t know what he is doing. We are telling God that we don’t trust him to handle things in this world.
Though we have failed to keep this command of God, Jesus Christ kept this command for us. Very often, and rightly so, we talk about Christ’s death on the cross which paid for our sins. Without this we have no hope of forgiveness. But just as important as his death in our place is his life in our place. He did what we could not and by faith in him, his righteousness counts for us.
When challenged by Jewish leaders on whether to pay taxes to a pagan government, Jesus told them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Pay your taxes. When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane under false charges, he did not resist. He would not allow his disciples to begin an armed rebellion. He submitted to the governing authorities. When Jesus was on trial before Pilate, he submitted to the questioning, the flogging and the ridicule of the soldiers. He did not fight back. He did not threaten. He trusted the plan of his Father in heaven. Jesus obeyed his Father and submitted to the earthly governing authorities in order to be our Savior. Through Christ and only through Christ, we too have fulfilled this law to love and honor those in government.
Love the Neighbor God Redeemed
We do not owe Jesus anything for what he has done to save us. His perfect righteousness on our behalf is a free gift through faith. His innocent suffering and death to atone for our sins is a free gift, ours by faith which is also a free gift. We are not in debt to God. But Paul tells us to consider ourselves in debt to others.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 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.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
It is not a good idea to be constantly in financial debt. It limits your options and causes lots of stress in your life. Living in debt is a poor use of the financial blessings God has given you. Paul does not advocate living in financial debt all your life. Instead he encourages us to live as though we owed everyone love. As we pay this debt of love, remember one thing.
Jesus already paid your debt before God. He loved the world, every singled person by offering himself on the cross for everyone. He also love every individual he met while walking this earth. He loved the little children and wanted no one to stop them from coming to him. He loved the poor and needy by feeding them physical and spiritual food. He loved the sick and injured and healed them. When crowds came to him at the end of long days, he did not send them away but helped them. He loved his disciples though they said and did foolish things. He loved his friends and brought back Lazarus from the dead for Mary and Martha. Jesus loved those who actively opposed him by calling them to repentance and to faith in him. He loved the Jews and he loved the Gentiles. We do not love others because we owe God. Jesus loved more than enough for all of us.
Instead, we love to thank Christ and because we owe it to others. We owe it to the people in our lives to love them because of what Christ has done for us. We have the certainly of eternal life in Jesus. We have no fear in death and no guilt in life because of Jesus. God has lavished his love on us through Christ though we did not deserve it. Do you know someone who doesn’t deserve God’s love? Maybe it is that one student in your class. It could be your boss, your cousin, your neighbor or that person who answers the tech support phone when your internet is down. And it is also your spouse, your children, your friends and your pastor. God places people all around us so that we can show his love to many. May our loving words and actions lead others to see the Savior who loved us first and best. We will never run out of people to love as Jesus loved us.
One final point about love. Paul tells us what it means to love our neighbor. He writes, “Love does no harm to its neighbor.” Love does not buy a case of beer for an alcoholic. The person may like the gift but it is going to harm them. Love does what is best for the person. We do not love others in order to get their approval or to get them to thank us or love us. We love because we owe it to them to do what is best for them just as Jesus did what was best for us. Sometimes Jesus’ love was met by rejection and hatred. When he pointed out sin, many tried to hurt him. When he told people that he was the only Savior, many rejected him. So it will be when we lovingly tell others about Jesus, the only one who can take away sins. Continue to love others in this way even if you are rejected and ridiculed. Do what is best for others, not what is best for yourself. That is love.
Tradition tells us that Paul got to stand before Emperor Nero for trial. Nero would eventually condemn him to death. What do you think Paul would tell such a corrupt and immoral man and leader of government? I imagine he said much the same thing that he said when on trial before Governor Felix and Governor Festus. Paul was more concerned about the eternal destination of the men who presided over his trials than he was with the outcome of the trials. He told them about Christ, the one who died and rose again to save all people. Paul loved them. May we also love and respect those in government and every individual we meet with the love of Christ.
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