We want to take some time in the Word of God tonight, so let me encourage you to open your Bible, if you will, to Romans chapter 13. We’re looking at verses 8 to 10. The title of this particular section is: The Key to Obedience. Or I suppose another way to approach it is: Love Fulfills the Law. Romans 13:8 to 10 says this: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to its neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Now, as we noted in our last study of this particular text, in which we began to take a look at these verses, one of the results of justification, one of the results of salvation, one of the results of being made right with God is a new and unique relationship to society and that is a relationship of love. “A new commandment I give unto you” – Jesus said in John 13:34 – “that you love one another. By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.” The distinguishing mark, as we know, then, of a Christian is love. “It is love that not only distinctively marks a Christian but that fulfills the law,” says the apostle Paul.
Now, in this brief passage, I pointed out to you that there are three features of Christian love, discussed the debt of love, the discharge of love, and the design of love. We began last time by looking at the debt of love. Verse 8 says, “Owe no man anything but to love one another.” Now remember, the statement, “Owe no man anything,” is a bridge from the prior section. In verses 6 and 7, he’s been talking about paying your taxes, which you owe the government. And you are to pay your taxes. That is a debt. He bridges from there to the point about love by simply saying, “Owe no man anything but love.” In other words, pay all your debts, and the one debt you’ll always pay and never really have paid is the debt of love.
Now, we suggested last time we discussed the passage that this is not meaning that Christians cannot have a debt; it means that they must pay the debt they have. It is not forbidding us to borrow. It only obligates us to pay back. “The wicked” – says Psalm 37:21 – “borrows and does not pay back.” And the wickedness come not in the borrowing but in the failure to repay. What Paul is saying is pay your debts when they’re due. No debt should be outstanding. No debt should be overdue. And that means that we have to be a bit careful about how we get indebtedness. I would suggest to you that most people get into an indebtedness they can’t pay their way out of, most people have debts they can’t pay based upon the facts of carelessness; that is, they incurred they were unable to pay because they were thoughtless or careless – acting on impulse or because of a love of display; that is, they wanted to have something to show off to other people to such a degree that they didn’t consider their inability to pay it back. I suppose sometimes people incur debt because of envy, they desperately want to have what other people have, they want to stay up with everybody else, and so they feel they have to have certain things they’re not in a position to buy. And another way that people incur debt is the love of comfort. They’re dissatisfied with the things they have and feel they would be more comfortable if they had something else.
Now, when you incur debt because of carelessness or a love of display or envy or a love of comfort, those are unwise processes. Those are unwise ways to incur debt, and as a result, you may find yourself unable to pay back. There are, however, some reasons for incurring debt that are much more legitimate than those. One is, for example, a wise investment. And Scripture indicates to us that there is a place for borrowing money to make a wise investment. To assist in a business that is going to be profited by the investment. People could borrow money in biblical times, both in Old Testament and New Testament times, and incur a certain amount of indebtedness on the basis of an investment. There were times, for example, when a farmer who wanted to plant his crop needed to borrow some money to buy his seed or a farmer who wanted to breed some animals needed to borrow some money to breed the animals, which he then paid back, and profited by his diligence in breeding or in farming.
Incurring that kind of debt was reasonable because it was an investment necessary to make a profit, to be gainfully employed, and support your family. Borrowing that way, borrowing for business, was commonly done, both in Old and New Testament times. And along with it, it was not uncommon to have interest paid. There’s nothing in the Scripture that forbids interest being paid on a borrowing that is based on an indebtedness for the sake of profit, an investment. In fact, in Matthew 25:27, even the Lord suggested to the unfaithful servant that he would’ve done well to put his money in the bank so that it might have earned interest. If somebody earns interest, somebody pays interest. And so there were times when the Lord is even saying that’s obviously legitimate.
Interest, which is called in the Bible usury, was not forbidden then in cases where you were borrowing for the sake of profit. But there was a second kind of borrowing that is at least legitimate in Scripture in which interest was forbidden and that was borrowing in the state of desperate need. There may come a time in your life when you actually had nothing and you borrowed in order to live. In a case where you borrowed in order to live, no interest was to be charged. That would be indeed usury beyond the purview of Scripture. In fact, in Leviticus chapter 25 verse 37, “Thou shalt not give him thy money upon interest nor lend him thy food supplies for profit” – and who is he talking about? Verse 35 – “if your brother has become poor and cannot support himself.” You never give money to someone who is poor and charge them interest.
The same thing is indicated over in the 23rd chapter of Deuteronomy in verse 19: “Thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother. Interest of money, interest of victuals, interest of anything that is lent upon interest. Unto a foreigner, you may lend on interest. But unto your brother, you shall not lend on interest that the Lord thy God may bless you,” and so forth and so on. And this, again, has reference to someone who is in need. So where there was an investment involved, it was just business practice, and interest doesn’t seem, Scripturally, to be forbidden. But where there was a need, to charge interest was to violate the law of God.
Now, since Israel was not primarily a commercial people, money was loaned mostly for relief of poverty. And so the Old Testament really doesn’t say much at all about money being loaned for business interests. And in the case of loaning money for poverty, any interest was forbidden in the law. In fact, a generous man who gave without thought of interest, and who even gave without necessarily thinking of being paid back at all, was considered to be a truly godly man. True godliness was demonstrated in the generosity that reached out to a destitute person. In Psalm 15, for example, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” Who is it that really comes into the presence of God? The one that walks uprightly, works righteousness, speaks the truth in his heart, doesn’t backbite with his tongue, does not do evil to his neighbor, doesn’t take up a reproach against a brother, in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but he honors them who fear the Lord. He that swears not to his own hurt and changes not, he that puts not out his money to interest, nor takes reward against the innocent. A truly righteous man, then, is someone who gives money to people and doesn’t charge them interest. That is the mark of a godly person.
One of the reasons that God actually came in judgment against Israel in the Babylonian captivity was that they were charging interest to poor people. They had violated the law of God to such an extent that they were charging interest to gain off someone else’s destitution. In the 18th chapter of Ezekiel, we find this indicated in verse 5: “If a man is just and does what is lawful and right and has not eaten on the mountains nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither has defiled his neighbor’s wife, neither has come near an unclean woman, and has not oppressed any, but has restored to the debtor his pledge, has spoiled none by violence, has given his bread to the hungry and covered the naked with a garment, and has not given forth upon interest,” this is a man God will bless. And Ezekiel is really saying, “I’m indicting you because these people aren’t in your land.” This is the man God is looking for, one who gives without charging interest.
The people had disobeyed. I remember reading back in the 5th chapter of Nehemiah that Nehemiah himself made an oath to stop the people from continuing to do this, even after the time that they were taken into captivity. So the Bible does allow for borrowing with interest in a business way, not in the way where you’re charging interest against someone who is in a poverty situation. That is binding an unkind burden upon them and violating the law of God. But where interest is legitimate or where a debt is legitimately incurred, whether it has interest or not, it is to be paid back. And that is the indication of chapter 13 verse 8: “Owe no man anything.” Pay your debts. That is how Paul begins his point.
Now, then he goes from there to the real debt that we always pay and never pay off and says the debt we want to continually pay and yet never have paid is to love one another. That is the debt of love. We talked, didn’t we, last time about the fact that it is possible to pay that debt because we have a new capacity. In other words, God has poured into our hearts a capacity to love. Romans 5:5: “The love of God is shed abroad in your hearts.” We have been given the capability of love in our salvation, and so we draw on that new capacity. We sink the bucket, as it were, of faith deep into the well of love, and we share love with others. That is our indebtedness. We are to love others.
I love what Guy said tonight about eating brown rice and vegetables and going to the home of a perfect stranger who had prepared a whole meal of that because he knew that’s what would meet this man’s need. That’s what would attract him to Christians. That kind of selfless, thoughtful love. That capacity is planted in the heart of every Christian, and a Christian who does not demonstrate love, who does not pay the debt of love to everyone, no matter who they are, no matter how much in competition with you they may be, how unkind, how bitter toward you, is one who is not drawing on the capacity God has given him. And so we begin, then, with a debt of love, which is served by a new capacity.
The second point we want to note is the discharge of love, which is based upon a new command. The discharge of love in verses 9 and 10. Now, here Paul illustrates this new love in a very marvelous way. We saw it in our study of Matthew 22. We’re going to see it again tonight. He shows how the new law is the royal law of love, as James 2 calls it. It is an all-encompassing law, and he makes his point in just a very, very marvelous way. Notice verse 9: “For this,” he says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love works no evil to its neighbor.”
Now, here is a wonderful summation of the law of God, and the apostle Paul gives one law, the law of love, and says that one law fulfills all other laws. In other words, all of the ten commandments – and he names four of the ten, and then he adds the one about loving your neighbor as yourself. But all of those commandments are fulfilled in the one new royal law that James calls the royal law of liberty, that is the law of love. And I think it wonderful to mention at this point that Paul shows us that love and law are not contradictory. Love and law are not mutually exclusive. Love is the fulfilling of the law. In fact, you can take the whole of the ten commandments and you can summarize all ten commandments into two statements: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. In those two commandments, you have all the law and the prophets together. And this is the point that Paul is making. If we, as Christians, say, “How can I fulfill the law of God? How can I keep all of God’s law?” The answer is in love. Love is the fulfilling of the law.
Now, Paul suggests four of the commandments, the seventh one, the sixth one, the eighth one, and the tenth one. He leaves out the fifth and the ninth of the second half of the ten commandments. And I don’t think there’s any particular reason for that. he’s just selecting them as samples of the ten commandments. And that’s why he says – notice verse 9 – “And if there be any other commandment.” He’s really just sampling the ten commandments and drawing out four of them.
Now, they are sort of out of sequence from our Hebrew text; that is, they come from the Hebrew text, the seventh, the sixth, the eighth, and the tenth. But in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, they are in the order of the listing there, as listed in Deuteronomy 5:17-21. So Paul here is referring, at least in his own thinking, to a text that is the Septuagint. That is a Greek translation of the Old Testament. And he simply lists four of the commandments and says if you just know this, you’ve got the whole law. The law is summed up in this statement: You will love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law is collected into that one statement.
So the key to obeying the law is love. If we love, we’re going to obey the law. I mean it’s this simple, folks. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is a moot point if you love somebody. Right? And you hear a couple say, “Well, we committed adultery because we loved each other too much.” And my reply to that is, “No, you committed adultery because you loved each other too little.” Because love doesn’t defile, see? Love doesn’t steal purity. Love doesn’t rob holiness. Love doesn’t do that. Lust does that. Selfishness does that. You never commit adultery and you never commit fornication because you love too much; you do that because you love too little – you lust too much.
And the same thing in regard to killing. “Thou shalt not kill.” Now, if you love someone, it precludes the command, doesn’t it? I mean I don’t need somebody to remind me not to kill people if I love them. And it’s a moot point to say, “Thou shalt not steal.” I’m not going to take what belongs to someone if I love that someone. Nor am I going to covet what they have if I love them. So love is not to replace the law. We’re not saying the old is gone and the new is arriving. What we’re saying is love is what Paul says, is the fulfilling of the law. Love is to give us a bottom line so that we understand how God’s whole law can be fulfilled.
And what God is after is not outward obedience, and that’s what this says. I mean the Pharisees would like to say, “Well, we don’t commit adultery, and we don’t kill, and we don’t steal, and we don’t covet,” but in their hearts, they were full of it, weren’t they? They were committing adultery with their minds. They were murderous in their thoughts, with hate. They would steal anything they could steal, and they coveted what they did not have. And so if all you had was the external law and its external definition, you could actually fulfill it without fulfilling its intent. That’s why the Scripture says the intent is that you love so that you do not commit adultery, not because you’re afraid to get caught or want to be pious but because you love the person. You do not kill, not because you don’t want to get caught or you want to appear religious but you do not kill because you love the person.
In other words, the keeping of the commandment flows from the heart of love. You could obey the law out of fear. Sure. Men may be afraid of God’s punishment. They may be afraid of God’s judgment, and so they obey out of fear. But you don’t really fully obey the law because fear is not the basic motive for obedience. The Bible doesn’t say, “You shall dread the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Scripture says, “Many people draw near to God with their lips, but their hearts are” – what? – “far from Him.” Fear will restrain you from some evil and its effect can be somewhat productive but it is incomplete. We are to keep the law, not out of fear only, but out of love.
Now, there are other people who keep the law out of self-interest. They do it because they think they’ll get something out of it. They were interviewing that fellow that fought for the heavyweight championship the other night and he said, “Here I am, fighting for the world championship. It must be because I’ve done so much good for so many people.” That’s an interesting philosophy of life. He pocketed his quarter million and walked away feeling that he was there because he’d done so much good for so many people. There are those people who want to live a moral life because they feel that God will owe them something and they’ll get repaid for it, but that itself is not a pure motive; that is the motive of selfishness. It’s not complete. It may restrain you from evil. It may even assist you in doing some good outwardly. But the true intention of the law is to cultivate love from the heart. That is how the law is really fulfilled.
And remember back in Matthew 22, what the Lord said? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law in the prophets, right? I mean it’s a marvelous thing to understand.
Now, if you were to go back to the law for a minute – can we do that for just a brief moment? Go back to Exodus chapter 20, and I’m going to give you the condensed version of this. But go back of Exodus chapter 20, and I want to show you how that the ten commandments are simply the law of love. The first four of the ten relate to God. The second half of them relate to relationships to men. And it begins, really, in verse 3: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Now, that’s a perfect description of love. Love, first of all, is loyal. Did you get that? Love is loyal. Love is loyal, it is true, it is not fickle, it is single-minded, it doesn’t have other gods. True love toward God will mean that there’s no love for any other deity, right? Love is loyal. And if you really love God, you’ll be loyal to God.
Secondly, love is faithful. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any carved image, any likeness of anything in heaven above or in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments.” And here we learn that love is faithful. It is loyal, single-minded, true, not fickle, and it is faithful. That is, it keeps its promise, is devoted to its object, and it obeys. This is just another kind of love. Another dimension of love.
Thirdly, love is reverent. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain.” If you love God, will you curse His name? If you love God, will you be unfaithful to His Word? If you love God, will you be disloyal to Him and follow another deity? Of course not. Therefore, the summation of those first three is love. They are simply ways to demonstrate love.
And then finally, in reference to God, verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you’ll labor and do your work. The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, or daughter, manservant, maidservant, cattle, stranger within your gates. For in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. Rested the seventh day, wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” And what is he saying here? Love sets apart itself for pure, undefiled, uncompromising devotion and worship. We could say love is holy. Love recognizes the place of God. Love sets apart itself for devotion and worship. If you say you love God, you’re going to worship God. If you say you love God, you’re going to serve God and keep His commandments. If you say you love God, you’re going to be faithful to all of His Word, you’re going to be reverent to His name, you’re going to be loyal to Him as your only God.
So you might say, then, that the first four of the ten commandments sum up the first and great commandment of Deuteronomy 6, quoted by the Lord in Matthew 22, and that is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Now listen to me. If I love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and strength, am I going to have to worry about these laws? Not really. Because if I love Him like that, I would never have any other God, I would never make any graven image, I would always obey Him, I would never take His name in vain, and I’d always remember that He is a holy God who is to be worshipped, right? So love fulfills all the law. It’s just that simple.
Now, the remaining six commandments are the ones, really, that Paul refers to, and they speak about love toward men. For example, verse 12: “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long on the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Now, isn’t that an expression of love? If you love your mother and father, are you going to honor them? Of course. So we could say love is respectful. Love is respectful. It bows to authority. It respects those who are worthy of respect. In verse 13: “Thou shalt not kill.” Of course not because love is protective. Love doesn’t slaughter, love protects. It believes every life is sacred. Everyone created in the image of God. And verse 14: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” says love is pure. Love doesn’t defile other people. Love lives to exalt what is holy and pure and good and virtuous. “Thou shalt not steal.” Love is unselfish. It doesn’t take what belongs to someone else. It gives, rather than takes. Love is truthful – verse 16 – it doesn’t bear false witness against thy neighbor, doesn’t lie, doesn’t give false testimony. And love is content. It doesn’t covet the neighbor’s wife or covet the neighbor’s house or his manservant, maidservant, ox, ass, or anything that is the neighbor’s.
Do you see the point? Love fulfills the whole law. And the second half fulfills the second part of that great law, “Love thy neighbor” – what? – “as thyself.” So that sums up the law, and that is exactly what Paul is saying.
Now you can go back to Romans chapter 13. So all of these things, don’t commit adultery, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t covet, and any other of the commandments is briefly comprehended in this saying; namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. And, by the way, that is an exact quote out of Leviticus 19:18.
What is God saying in the ten commandments? Saying two things. Ready for this? I’ll sum up the whole law. “Love Me, love men.” That’s it. “Love Me, love men.” That is the fullness of the law. On that, hang all the law and the prophets. It’s all right there in those two simple things. And, you know, I suppose when you look at the Bible and it’s thick and you see so much in there and you wonder, “How can I keep the whole thing? How can I know what all the rules are?” – it’s very simple. Love God, love men, do what you want. You say, “You’re kidding.” No, that’s exactly what I mean. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, love your neighbor as yourself, and just go do what you want. And believe me, if you’re living in those conditions, what you want will be exactly what God wants. That’s how the law is fulfilled. You’re not going to kill anybody, you’re not going to defile anybody, you’re not going to steal from anybody, you’re not going to covet what somebody has if you love them.
In fact, I’ll make a confession. I steal every time I want to. I do. Every time I want to steal, I steal. You want to know something? I don’t want to steal. So I’m protected. You say, “What is it?” It is the Spirit of God cultivating in the heart the love that precludes any desire for that.
Now, what does He mean, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? He’s not talking about some kind of psychological self-love. He’s not building a case for that, not building a case for you to develop a healthy self-image. He’s just saying if there’s anything basic in life, it is this: you take care of you more than you take care of anybody else. It’s similar to Philippians 2 where Paul says, “Look not each man on his own things, but on the things of others.” Be as concerned about the comfort and the happiness and the peace and the joy of others as you are about your own, which is taken for granted. It’s assumed.
I mean whose face do you wash in the morning? Whose hair do you comb? Whose wardrobe do you buy? Whose comforts are you so concerned about? Well, in the same way that you have instincts towards self-preservation and self-comfort, you ought to treat others the same way. Pay as much attention to them as you do to yourself, so that you’re always loving, loving, loving, loving, loving. Say, “Who’s my neighbor?” Anybody who comes across your path. Anybody. And you say, “Well, that’s hard to do.” You have a new capacity for that; the love of Christ is shed abroad in your heart. Now, if you want to know how that love acts, read 1 Corinthians 13. It’ll tell you how that love acts. It’s all right there.
So the debt of love is an unpayable debt. You’ll pay it all your life and never pay it up. And your debt is to keep on loving and keep on loving. And the discharge of that is simply toward your neighbor. That is, anybody who comes across your path ought to feel your love. And that love means that you will fulfill the law. You’ll never do to that neighbor anything harmful if you love.
And that brings us to the last thought, and we’ve already hinted at it in the end of verse 8, the end of verse 10. “For he that loves another has fulfilled the law” – verse 8. Verse 10: “Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Verse 8 literally says: “For the one loving has fulfilled the other law.” That’s very important. “For the one loving has fulfilled the other law.” Do you know what the other law was? The second part of that two-part statement of Matthew 22: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the other law. And the one loving fulfills that other law, number two of the two greatest laws. And then verse 10 indicates that love is the plērōma. Love is the fulfilling, the fulfillment of the law. So love gives to the law the full measure of its fulfillment.
Now listen. A Pharisee, a legalist, somebody keeping the law out of fear or somebody keeping the law out of self-interest can never really fulfill the law, never fill up its intent. Legalism will never do that. You may restrain yourself from adultery, restrain yourself from murder and lying and coveting and all of that. You may restrain yourself from that because of fear or because of self-interest or wanting to appear religious because of some legalism. That is not the fulfilling of the law. That’s superficial. To fill it up, it has to come from love that is in you – love that can be a reality because of the work of Jesus Christ.
And I believe it says in Matthew 5:17 that Jesus came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill the law. You can take that statement about Jesus fulfilling the law many ways. He fulfilled it by being its fulfillment prophetically, He fulfilled it by keeping it perfectly, and He fulfilled it by being the perfect expression of love. Every way that it could be fulfilled, He fulfilled it. So we’re called to love, and if we love, we fulfill the whole law. And that is our unique relationship to society.
Now, remember, we’re all the way back to chapter 12 verse 1 when all of this begin to unfold. From chapter 3 on to the end of chapter 11, everything’s been about salvation, redemption. Now that we’re redeemed, we come into chapter 12 and we see the results. First, we present our bodies, and then we’re not conformed to the world, and then we begin to use our gifts, and then we begin to demonstrate certain virtues and graces to the church and to the world around us. And then, as regards the government, we submit ourselves and pay our taxes. And then, as regards our relation to all of society, we are characterized by love. And again we’re back to John 13:34-35. “This is the new commandment I write unto you, that you love one another. By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples.” And love is the fulfilling of the whole law.
It’s – may be possible to illustrate it like this. Have you ever thought of the fact that in music there are basically seven notes? That’s right, isn’t it, Clayton, seven notes? It’s amazing. You know a little child can learn those seven notes in an hour? But a Handel or a Bach or a Beethoven couldn’t exhaust those seven notes in a lifetime? It’s incredible what those seven notes can create because of an almost infinite number of combinations and interpretations. Those seven notes utter the grand music of heroism, the soft music of courtesy because love can be heroic and love can be courteous, love can be patriotic, love can be expressed in martyrdom, grandiose gifts of love and expressions of devotion, and yet sometimes it’s the smallest, tiniest, little act, a quiet word, a loving touch. Love, like music, is so simple, a child can understand it. Its combinations are so infinite, a lifetime could never begin to exhaust its possibilities.
It is a comprehensive grace that includes everything there is, in terms of Christian living, attitude, speech, and action. It is possible to fulfill the law. The only way is through love. And so Paul says, “That should be your relationship to everyone around you.” Now, let me see if I can’t help you to see this flesh out. Listen very carefully. I want to read 1 Corinthians chapter 13, but I don’t want you to look at your Bible. I’m going to read you a paraphrase. It came from a group of people in South Africa. Listen to this, 1 Corinthians 13.
“If I have the language perfectly and speak like a native and have not His love for them, I’m nothing. If I have diplomas and degrees and know all the up-to-date methods and have not His touch of understanding love, I’m nothing. If I am able to argue successfully against the religions of the people and make fools of them and have not His wooing note, I am nothing. If I have all faith and great ideals and magnificent plans and not His love that sweats and bleeds and weeps and prays and pleads, I’m nothing. If I give my clothes and money to them and have not His love for them, I’m nothing. If I surrender all prospects, leave home and friends, make the sacrifices of a missionary career and turn sour and selfish amid the daily annoyances and slights of a missionary life and have not the love that yields its rights, its leisures, its pet plans, I am nothing. Virtue has ceased to go out of me. If I can heal all manner of sickness and disease but wound hearts and hurt feelings for want of His love that is kind, I am nothing. If I can write articles or publish books that win applause but fail to transcribe the Word of the cross into the language of His love, I am nothing.”
We owe a debt and the debt we owe is to love. It’s possible because we have a new capacity. We have been given a new command, and the new command is that we in fact do that. The design is that we may fulfill the law of God. What could never be done through the law, can be done through love provided in us by salvation, the work of the Spirit of God.
And, beloved, I would just say to you in closing our brief time in the Word tonight that if there’s anything that, of necessity, needs to mark believers, it is the expression of love. The expression of love. Just to make it very practical, I heard two interesting things today. A lady came to me this morning, and she said, “I’ve never been in a place – I’ve never been here before. I have never been in a place where I have felt so much love, so much kindness. Everyone came around me today and helped me. I went to a Sunday School group, and they put their arms around me, and they made me feel welcome. I am overwhelmed at this expression of love.” And I said, “Well, I’m so happy to hear that.”
Someone else came to me later today and said, “I overheard two waitresses talking at the restaurant down the street, and they were talking about what lousy tippers the people from Grace Community Church are.” Now, that may seem like a small thing to you, but it sure says volumes if you happen to be a waitress. It seems to me a rather small way to show a whole lot of Christian character. It may not even have been someone from Grace; but on the other hand, it might have been. The world is watching us – so is the Lord. And what they both wish to see is love in the little things as well as the big things. Let’s bow in a word of prayer.
Our Father, we know that the greatest example of love is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. His love is the model, and His love was fully sacrificial. He gave Himself even to those who refused the gift. He gave Himself to those who disdained it, who mocked it, who were ungrateful. But He was love, and love has to give. May we learn to give, not because we want to get, not because we want to gain prestige or favor from men, not because we want to appear religious, but to give because we’re filled with love. Help us to love the unlovely as well as the lovely. Help us to love those who love us and those who don’t. Help us to love those who appear to be our enemies, our closest competition, those who are unkind, unfair, and unjust, that the world may know that we have a debt to pay, and our debt is love.
Some of us are punctilious about paying our financial debts and miserable when it comes to paying the debt of love. May we be faithful. May the world know us as lovers of men. Work Your work in every heart, that we may experience the full release of the love shed abroad in us. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.