Let’s open our Bibles to Romans chapter 13 again tonight, as we come back to the Word of God. Wonderful, wonderful section. One that I’m sure if you’re any student of Scripture, you’ve read many times, and meditated on, and perhaps taught, shared with others. Great truth. Romans chapter 13 verses 8 through 10. Let me read these verses so that you’ll have a setting for the lesson that God has brought to us tonight. Beginning in verse 8, “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.” Michael Griffith, who has written some very insightful books, once quipped that, “Enthusiasm is much easier than obedience.” He was right. And I think the apostle Paul would have given an amen to that.
Look with me for a moment at the 7th chapter of Romans and verse 14. He says, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am fleshy, sold under sin. For that which I do, I understand not. For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I,” verse 19, “For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Paul would’ve agreed with Michael Griffith that enthusiasm is easier than obedience. We understand that. No matter how much we want to obey, we sometimes find it difficult to do that. No matter how eager we are to do what we know to be the will of God, we find ourselves bound by our humanness and unable to fulfill all of the good that we, in our hearts, desire to do. But may I suggest to you that, in spite of this difficulty in the matter of obedience, obedience is still essential for the believer. If I could boil the Christian life down to one word, I would say it is the word obedience. Following the truth of God. Following the Spirit of God. Obeying the Word of God. Obedience, power, blessing, and joy are all four legs to the same chair. They’re all essential elements of the Christian life. And obedience is certainly at the very heart of that. For without obedience, there’s no power, no blessing, no joy.
We need to understand that. There are some people who would tell us that the Christian life is a matter of just sort of letting go of everything and letting God do something. And there is a sense in which we have to allow the Spirit and power of God to work through us, but there’s a tremendous amount of effort on our part in the Spirit to obey. Admittedly, the word obedience is not a popular word. To a child, obedience is a very threatening word. Obedience is an invasion of their world of independence. Obedience to a child can be a very ominous word, a very frustrating word, a word that forces them away from the thing they most want to do to the thing they least want to do. And some of that childhood aversion to obedience maintains itself through adulthood, doesn’t it? And particularly with an unregenerate person, that is a person who doesn’t know God, there is no desire to obey God. There is no desire to obey the Word of God. That has no binding claim on the life of an unbeliever from his viewpoint. He does exactly what he wants to do.
But, contrary to how a child feels about obedience, and contrary to how an unbeliever feels about obedience, a Christian, as illustrated by Romans chapter 7, has a great desire to obey. And if I were to give one key distinction between a true Christian and a false, professing Christian, I would say it is a heartfelt desire to obey. That’s the truest indicator of Paul’s genuine conversion in Romans chapter 7, is that heart of obedience, that desire to obey. For a Christian, obedience is a sweet word. It is a hopeful word. It is an encouraging word. It is a welcome expression of the deepest desire of the heart of a Christian.
The supreme illustration of that that I find in Scripture, and you might want to look with me for a moment, is in Psalm 119. Without question, this is the greatest statement or series of statements ever made by any child of God relative to the desire for obedience. In Psalm 119 and verse 10, the Psalmist says, “With my whole heart have I sought Thee; O let me not wander from Thy commandments.” In verse 16, “I will delight myself in Thy statutes; I will not forget Thy word.” In verse 20, “My soul breaks for the longing that it has unto Thine ordinances at all times.” Verse 24, “Thy testimonies are my delight.” Verse 33, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end.” Verse 34, “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.” Verse 35, “Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments, for therein do I delight.” Verse 40, “Behold, I have longed after Thy precepts; give me life in Thy righteousness.” Verse 44, “So, shall I keep Thy law continually, for ever and ever.” Verse 45, “I will walk at liberty, for I seek Thy precepts.”
The only freedom the Psalmist wanted was the freedom of obedience in verse 45. Verse 47, “I will delight myself in Thy commandments which I have loved.” Verse 48, “My hands also will I lift up unto Thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in Thy statutes.” In verse 54, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” Verse 70, “Their heart is as fat grease, but I delight in Thy law.” Verse 72, “The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.” Verse 77, “Let Thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live; for Thy law is my delight.” Verse 92, “Unless Thy law had been my delight, I should then have perished in mine affliction.” Verse 97 sums it up, “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” Verse 98, “Thou, through Thy commandments, hast made me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me.” Verse 99, “I have more understanding than all me teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation.” Verse 103, “How sweet are Thy words unto my taste, yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Verse 111, “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart.” Verse 112, “I have inclined my heart to perform Thy statutes always, even unto the end.” Verse 113, “I hate vain thoughts, but Thy law do I love.” Verse 15, “Depart from me, you evildoers, for I will keep the commandments of my God.” And then, down in verse 127, “Therefore I love Thy commandments above gold, yea, above fine gold.” Verse 128, “Therefore I esteem all Thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way.” Verse 129, “Thy testimonies are wonderful; therefore doth my soul keep them.” Verse 131, “I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Thy commandments.” An indication of real desperation.
And verse 140, “Thy word is very pure; therefore Thy servant loveth it.” Verse 143, “Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me, yet Thy commandments are my delight.” Verse 159, “Consider how I love Thy precepts; revive me, O Lord, according to Thy loving kindness.” Verse 163, “I hate and abhor lying, but Thy law do I love.” Verse 164, “Seven times a day do I praise Thee, because of Thy righteous ordinances.” Verse 165, “Great peace have they who love Thy law. Nothing shall offend them.” Verse 167, “My soul hath kept Thy testimonies, and I love them exceedingly.” Finally, verse 174, “I have longed for Thy salvation, O Lord, and Thy law is my delight.”
It’s remarkable, isn’t it? There is the hunger of a redeemed heart. And we know enough about David, being the one who is the Psalmist, to know that he didn’t always do what he said he wanted to do in the Psalm, right? I mean any cursory study of the life of David will reveal the fact that David couldn’t live up to his own love, in a sense. But it is the mark of genuine salvation to have a great and consuming passion for obedience, to love the law of God to the point of desiring to obey it. This is essential. This marks the attitude of the true child of God. The spirit of a heart that is willing to obey, longing to obey, not out of fear, but out of love.
In the New Testament, we find in 1 Peter chapter 1 verse 2, that Peter addresses the sojourners. Calls them in verse 2, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience.” The sanctifying work of the Spirit of God is a work unto obedience. It produces an obedient heart. It produces what Paul in Philippians 2:12 was talking about when he said, “Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. You, who are believers, as you’ve always obeyed, keep your obedience so that you work on the outside to salvation that is in the inside.” In the last chapter of Romans verse 19 of chapter 16, Paul says, “Your obedience has come abroad unto all men.” In other words, the mark of your Christianity is a life of obedience, a testimony of obedience. It is, then, the pattern of obedience that is the mark of the Christian. Like Romans 7:22, Paul says, “I delight in the law of God in my inner man.”
Now, what does obedience involve? If a true Christian has the heart that longs to obey, what does it involve? Simply, as we’ve seen in Psalm 119, it means to keep God’s Word. And in Psalm 119, David uses a whole series of words to refer to Scripture: commandments, ordinances, precepts, statutes, Thy Word. All of those terms basically refer to the revelation of God. And the heart of obedience says that the consuming passion of my life is to obey God’s Word. Somebody comes along and says, “Well, now, wait a minute. If we’re saved by grace, and saved into grace, and stand in grace,” as Romans 5 says this grace in which we stand, “and are no longer under the law,” as Romans 6 indicates it, “then is it not so that we no longer are bound to the law?” That is true in one sense; not true in another. We are not bound to the law as to its power. In other words, the law, after we’re converted, has no power to condemn us. We are not bound to the law as to its penalty. It has no power to kill us, to execute us. But, we are bound to the law as to its precepts, for God has not changed His morality. God has not abandoned His standard of truth.
And so, it says in Romans 8 that even though in verse 1, “There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” That is, the law has no power over us. The law cannot execute a penalty over us. Still, “We have been made,” verse 2 says, “free from the law of sin and death.” That is from the law’s ability to cause us to be guilty of sin unto death. “For what the law couldn’t do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” In other words, because of the sacrifice of Christ, the law can no longer kill us. He died in our place. But when we were redeemed, and though we are no longer under the law’s power and penalty, the purpose of redemption is in verse 4. “That the righteousness of the law might be,” eliminated? Is that what it says? No, what? “Fulfilled in us, who now walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” In other words, walking in the Spirit we now have the capacity and ability to fulfill the law.
See, we are free from the law only in the sense of its power to dominate us and condemn us, its penalty to sentence us to eternal death. We are not free from the law as to its precepts. We are still commanded and called to a life of obedience to the revealed Word of God.
Now, obviously, the question comes: How are we going to keep the law? How can we keep it? If we are called to obedience and if, by nature, we long for obedience, how are going to keep that law when we find ourselves restrained? Yes, we have the power of the Spirit in us, the law of the Spirit of life in us, as we read in Romans 8, that law that enables us to do the will of God. But we also have in Romans 7, don’t we, the flesh. And therein is the battle. In the inner man, we delight in the law of God, but we have another law warring in our members, and that’s the principle of sin in our humanness. And so, we have the sin principle in our humanness warring against the heart of obedience. And every Christian fights that battle. Every Christian.
Couple of Wednesday nights ago, we had our family meeting. A lady stood up, and it was really a beautiful testimony. She’d been a Christian about a week or so, and she asked the question very simply. She may be here tonight. She asked the question, she said, “You know, ever since I received Christ into my life, I’m just in constant war. When will this end?” And I said, “When you die or go to heaven.” She said, “Oh no.” It was absolute, instant distress. But I said, “The single greatest evidence that I can see right here in what you say that you’re a redeemed individual is that you’ve got a war, because unredeemed people don’t have a war. But you do. And it is your humanness, residual, warring against the new creation that delights in the law of God.” The hopeful part of it is that the longer you fight the battle, the more victorious you’re going to be, and you’ll learn to gain the victory, even before the Lord comes to deliver you from the constraints and restraints of your humanness.
So, all of us then are faced with a heart of obedience if we’re true Christian. I really believe that the heart of a Christian is a heart of obedience. A longing to do what is right. That’s Romans 7. And it is sometimes restrained by our flesh. Now, how then do we overcome that? I mean what is the key to obedience? How do we get to that? How can we simplify that? I want us to see if we can’t discover that in Romans chapter 13 tonight.
Now, as we know, from this section of Romans, beginning in chapter 12, this is the practical part of the epistle. And he’s talking about all the ramifications of being a justified soul. Everything that’s going to result from our salvation. Right relationship to God is discussed, isn’t it, in verse 1. Right relationship to the world is in verse 2 of Romans 12. Right relationship to the church is in verses 3 through 8. Right relationship to everybody comes in verses 9 to 21. Right relationship to the government, we’ve been looking at, haven’t we, in chapter 13:1 to 7. And now, we have right relationship to society in general in verses 8 to 10. This is just another dimension of life that is impacted by salvation. It affects everything: how we’re related to God, to the world around us, to the church, to everybody in general, to the government, and to society. He’s going to get into it in chapter 14, how we’re related to the weaker brother, isn’t he? In terms of not causing him to stumble or be offended. This whole section is an outflowing of right relationships that come from a redeemed soul.
Now, he says in verses 8 to 10 that the key thing in your relationships within society is the word “love.” And I want to try to just show you very simply in this passage tonight that love is the key to obedience. We’ve tried to say already that obedience is what’s in our heart to do, and we’re trying to get a handle on how to do it. And the key to understanding that is to understand love, because love, he says twice in the passage, is the fulfilling of the whole law, you see. So, in a way, he reduces all of obedience to one thing, and that is love. I remember hearing a man one time when I was young saying, “The Christian life can be lived like this: love everyone perfectly and do whatever you want.” I thought that sounded pretty good. I just didn’t think it made much sense. Love perfectly and do whatever you want? But I understand it, and I think you will, too, after you’ve looked at this passage a little more closely.
So, Paul says, in reference to your relationship to the people around you, love is the key. And then, he expands that and says, in effect, that love is the whole thing in the Christian life, the key to everything in terms of relationships, all relationships. And he gives us three loves here that we can kind of track our way through on. One is the debt of love; two, the discharge of love; and three, the design of love. First of all, notice the debt of love in verse 8. He starts out “Owe no man anything, but to love one another.” Owe no man anything, but to love one another. Now, what does he mean by owe no man anything? He’s just been writing about paying your taxes, hasn’t he, in verses 6 and 7. And this is a bridge from the prior text. He’s been talking about the essentiality of paying your taxes. It is a natural transition then to come into this idea of paying all your debts, all of them, whatever they are. He goes from the debts that we owe to the government to the debts that we owe to anybody in general, just our relationships to people around us. And the imperative here applies to every single relationship. No believer is to have unpaid debts. Very pragmatic stuff. Pay your debts. Don’t owe anybody anything.
Now, people have immediately asked upon reading this verse, “Does that mean that we are not to be allowed credit? Does that mean that we are not to borrow, that we are not to take money on interest, that we are to have no financial obligation at all? That if we can’t plunk down cash, we can’t buy it? Is that what it means? There’s no basis for borrowing anything, anytime, for any reason?” Let’s find out. Go back in your Bible to the 22nd chapter of Exodus. Exodus chapter 22. In verse 25, and here in Exodus, God is laying down some societal laws, and rules, and principles. And in Exodus 22:25, it says, “If you lend money,” I’ll read that again, “if you lend money to any of My people who is poor among you,” someone obviously needs the money, “you shall not be to him as a usurer, neither shall you lay upon him usury.” Now, usury is an old English word that basically means exorbitant interest. Gouging someone. Like when you can’t pay any of your debts, and you’re so deep in debt that you go to the place where they say they’ll consolidate all your debts, and you pay interest that will choke you. When you find someone, and you lend them money, and they’re poor, that is, they’re in a position where they need the money, it is not discretionary. They need it. You lend it to them, but do not charge them exorbitant interest. Usury does not mean any interest; it’s not just an indicator of interest at all. It means interest that is unfair.
Now, the assumption of verse 25 is that it’s perfectly all right to lend money. The other assumption is that if it’s perfectly all right to lend it, it must be perfectly all right to what? To borrow it. On the basis of the fact that you’re dealing with need. This is a person who has to have it. And the warning is not to charge high interest because you’ve got a desperate person on your hands who has really little other choice.
In Deuteronomy chapter 15, we find a further teaching in the Old Testament that helps us get a handle on this. Deuteronomy 15:7, “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of the gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he lacks. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand, and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother.’” In other words, you know what happened in the seventh year, don’t you? All debts were cancelled, and land was not used. And somebody might say, “I’m not about to loan that guy the money. Next year is the year of release. Next year is the Sabbath year, and all this thing will be cancelled. I’m not loaning him my money. He won’t have a chance to pay it back.” He says, “Don’t do that. If he has a need, you lend it to him.”
Verse 10, “You’ll give it to him, and your heart will not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto; for the poor shall never cease out of the land. Therefore, I command you, saying: ‘Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy in thy land.’” In other words, lending was a very important thing. And the poor people, for example, the farmer whose crop didn’t turn out right, or made an unwise investment, or who was robbed, or whatever it might have been to cause his poverty, we are to lend to those people. Therefore, we make no assumption that lending and borrowing is wrong. In the case of need, in the Bible, it is right. It is advocated, as long as it is not an exorbitant interest. And here, we find it should be done with a willing heart, with a willing heart.
Look to Psalm 37 for a moment, in verse 26. And here, just a commendation of a righteous man, of a blessed man, of a good man. It says, “He is ever merciful,” and here is the characterization, “and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.” The righteous are not only not forsaken, but they are gracious and merciful, and they lend, and they are blessed. So, it is a blessed thing to lend to someone who has need for what you have in surplus.
In Proverbs 19:7, “All the brethren of the poor do hate him. How much more do his friends go far from him! He pursueth them with words, yet they are lacking to him.” In other words, poor people sometimes can’t get what they need from the people who say they’re their friends. But down in verse 17, “He that has pity on the poor lendeth,” I love this, “unto,” whom? “The Lord, and that which he hath given, will He pay him again.” When you lend money to someone who is in need, you are lending to the Lord, and the issue is not whether he pays you back, that is the person to whom you lent it. The issue is that the Lord promises that He will pay you back, that He will pay you back. I can give testimony to that in my own life. There have been times when we have been asked to lend amount of money to someone who was in a state of great need. And we did so in good faith, and with joyful and eager hearts, and I can promise you that never have we done that without experiencing the super-abundant blessing of God. That is the testimony of the text, as well.
In Matthew chapter 5 and verse 42, coming over to the very familiar Sermon on the Mount, it says, and here is one of the principles our Lord wanted to see put into practice, Matthew 5:42: “Give to him that asks you; and from him that would borrow of you, turn not thou away.” When someone comes with need, you should respond in eagerness to meet that need. In Luke 6:35, it’s the same thing. “Love you your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great.”
So, all of that to say this. The text of Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, always indicates that the one who lends is generous, that it should be done toward those who are in need. It should be done without a high rate of interest. It should be done with a willing heart. It should be done with a spirit that says, “I am lending to the Lord.” It should be done with the hope of eternal reward, spiritual reward, even more so than being paid back. But may I add as a footnote, the Scripture really knows nothing about lending and borrowing for things that are not related to need. It really says very little about that. It does not advocate that we get into debt for luxury. As someone said, “Today, people buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, from people they don’t even like.”
In Matthew 25:27, the Lord’s giving a parable there, and He talks about the fact that one of the servants who was given a talent, verse 27, “Should have put the money to the exchangers, and then at my coming, I should have received mine own with interest.” Now, there is an indication, and it’s the only one really in the New Testament, where the Lord actually says, a wise investment, putting money in a bank to be used to make interest, a wise investment like that is good. The assumption is that you’re giving them your money. They’re lending it out, making interest on it, which they pay you. So, the Lord understands that there are circumstances in business in which lending is a necessary fact. There are many businesses you couldn’t even operate. It’s obvious that very few of us could live in a home if it wasn’t for the fact that we borrow money. Borrowing is reasonable, particularly lending and borrowing in reference to people who have need for the basic needs of life. It’s really renting money. You can rent money like you rent a house, or rent a car, or rent anything else. But keep this in mind. The borrower is servant to the lender. Whatever you owe him, you can’t use for any other purpose, right? So, as much in debt as you are, is how much available funds are not usable to you, to the Lord, to whatever the Lord might put on your heart.
So, you want to be very careful and very restricted in terms of how you borrow, but it is not wrong. What it’s saying is, if you owe it, what? Pay it. It is not forbidding the indebtedness. It is forbidding the nonpayment. It is essentially exactly what you have in Psalm 37:21. “The wicked borrows and doesn’t pay back.” Psalm 37:21. “The wicked borrows and doesn’t pay back.” That is not acceptable to the Lord. Pay your debts. Owe no one anything that is outstanding and overdue.
And then, he makes an amazing transition, “But,” verse 8, “to love one another.” In other words, the only debt you’ll always owe is what? Love. That’s a debt you constantly owe, you constantly pay, and you never pay off. You owe love. You owe love. You pay love. You still owe love. You pay love. You still owe love. You spend your whole life paying it, and never do you pay it off. Origin, the early church father, said, “The debt of love remains with us permanently and never leaves us. This is a debt which we pay every day and forever owe. The debt of love.” And the apostle is saying, “This is something we owe everyone in society. We owe everyone around us. This is something that marks our life.” Like John 13:34 and 35, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples: if you have love one for another.” Right? We are to be marked by love. In 1 John, it is the very characteristic of a Christian, chapter 2 verse 10, “He that loves his brothers abides in the light.” Chapter 3 verse 23, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” Chapter 4 verse 7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.” Verse 21, I think also says it, “This commandment have we from Him: that we who love, that he who loves God love his brother also.” In other words, it is the mark of a Christian that he loves, that he loves.
And his love is to be toward all people. We owe that debt to everyone. We pay it all our life and never diminish it. We are to love. We are to love. Jesus made this clear in His ministry repeatedly as He called His disciples and the people who listen to His messages to love. “Love your enemies,” He said. “Love your enemies,” Matthew 5:44. “Pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father who is in Heaven.” In other words, your Father who’s in Heaven loves the ones who are His enemies. You love them, too. You love them, too. Be distinctive as marked by love.
And didn’t we already see that in chapter 12 of Romans, for example in verse 14? “Bless them that persecute you; bless and curse not.” And then, in verse 20, “If your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsty, give him a drink,” and so forth and so on. In other words, we are to show love, even to our enemies. To all the people around us, we demonstrate our Christian testimony by demonstration of love. Galatians 6:10 says, “Do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith.” Paul said, in Colossians 3:14, “Put on love.” First Corinthians 14:1, “Follow after love.” Philippians 1:9, “Abound in love.” First Timothy 2:15, “Continue in love.” And Peter adds in 1 Peter 1:22, “Be fervent in love.” And, obviously, we are to be bound together by the bond of perfection which is love.
So, we’re to love everyone. That’s our debt. That’s the debt of love. Christians ought to be known in the world as those who love. Now, what is love? How do you demonstrate love? Is it an emotion? Is it a spiritual goose bump? Is it a warm and fuzzy feeling? What is love? Well, let me suggest what it is biblically, and I’m just going to suggest it briefly. Love, first of all, is teaching others the truth of God. That, in itself, I think, is a supremely important element of love. Paul, in 2 Corinthians chapter 6, talks about all the things that he is committed to, all the things he has done for the Corinthians. He’s come to them, come through all kinds of strifes, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watchings, fastings, verse 5, verse 6, pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.
Key thing I want you to see is that he came by knowledge, by the word of truth. Love is a matter of teaching truth. Love is a matter of articulating truth. Love is a matter of saying what has to be said from the Word of God. It’s Ephesians 4, where it says, “Speaking the truth in love.” Speaking the truth in love. I believe that love involves teaching others what needs to be taught. It is not a feeling. It is an act.
Secondly, it involves ministering to the needs of others. Ministering to the needs of others. It is not just giving them facts; it is giving them personal assistance, personal help. In Hebrews 6:10, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love.” And what is that? “That which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” Your labor of love and your work of love is your ministry to the needs of the saints. It is an act, not a feeling. It is a verb, not a noun, in its truest form. So, loving is teaching others what they need to know. It is coming to them by the Word of God and by knowledge. It is coming to them in ministry.
Thirdly, I believe love is serving one another in a way that causes them to grow because of your careful behavior. In other words, setting an example. Love sets an example. Love sets a positive example of spiritual life so that people can grow from it. Paul writes to the Galatians who are in need of this message, and he says, “Brethren, you have not been called unto liberty.” Pardon me, “You have been called unto liberty. Brethren, you have been called unto liberty, only not to use liberty as an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Now, what he means there is this: yes, you are called to liberty, but not to use that liberty to offend someone else, but rather restrict that liberty to serve someone else. So, the idea then is: love is an act of cautious behavior that stimulates someone else’s growth rather than retarding it. It is the kind of life that leads others toward the Lord, not towards sin.
There’s another element of love. Love also covers the sins of others. First Peter chapter 4 verse 8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” You remember that passage? Love, then, is something that teaches people the truth. If you love someone, you speak the truth. If you love someone, you give them the Word of God. Paul said in that 2 Corinthians 6 passage, “My speech is candid. I’ve been very open, and I love you, even though you love me less for doing it.” Love speaks the truth. Love ministers to the needs of others. Love serves others with cautious behavior that leads them toward the Lord, not toward sin. It doesn’t flaunt its liberty. And love covers faults. It is not in a hurry to expose. It is in a hurry to cover.
Another thing love does is love forgives. Love forgives. In Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32, it says, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be, therefore, on the basis of a forgiving heart, followers of God as dear children; and walk in love. As Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, you love others and give yourself for them. As Christ loved us and forgave, you love others and forgive.”
I’ll tell you another thing about love. Love endures. It bears all things in terms of 1 Corinthians 13. That passage sums up all these things. But love endures. Love is patient. It says in Ephesians 4:2, “Forbearing or enduring one another in love.” It is taking their foibles, and their faults, and their mistakes and their errors, and the things about them that are not so tasteful.
And, finally, and I guess in a summary fashion, love sacrifices for others. “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his,” what? “His life for his friends.” Read John 15:12 to 15, “And you are My friends,” Jesus said, “if you do whatsoever I have commanded you.” So, love, love is an action. Love teaches, love ministers to needs, love sets an example that doesn’t lead people toward sin, love covers their faults, love forgives, love endures all of their problems and all of their idiosyncrasies, and love sacrifices in their behalf. The whole idea of a self-sacrificing love is of giving someone what it is they need of spiritual truth, and help, and concern. It’s not a question of how you feel emotionally. We owe this. This is what we owe people. We’re not to owe them anything else. Pay your debts and owe them love. That’s your debt.
And, believe me, this love is the heart of Christian living. It is the magnet that attracts the world. You say, “But how can we love like that? How can we do that?” I believe it’s because we have a new capacity. The debt of love is linked to a new capacity. Before you were saved, you couldn’t do it. But now, according to Romans 5:5, you can do it. Do you remember that passage? Sure you do. Romans 5:5, “Hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.” How can we love like that then? Because the love of God is what? Shed abroad in our hearts. We have a new capacity. We have a new resource to love the way we ought to love. To love like Epaphroditus loved, who loved so much, he served Paul, and he served the church, and he served the Lord until it almost killed him.
How can we love like that? Because the love of God is shed abroad. That means lavishly poured out. More than sufficient, a love beyond description is granted to us. That love becomes the well. That love of God becomes the well that we draw from when we want love to give to others.
Somebody would ask the question. I asked it myself. Okay, I’m supposed to be obedient. Part of that obedience is to owe a debt of love and to love everybody. In order to love everybody, I have to have a supernatural love. God gives me that supernatural love. That becomes the well out of which I draw the bucket. Now, how do I let the bucket down? How do I tap that? Let me see if I can give you a little list you might want to write down. How do I let down my spiritual bucket? We’ll call this. How do I get into this love? How do I appropriate it? How do I make it my own? I think there’s several, a series of several elements. First of all, it’s important that you understand the resource. You got to know the well is there, right? First of all, understand the resource. It is there. It is available.
Do you remember Ephesians 3? Paul’s prayer? That you may be able to comprehend? You know that one? Ephesians 3:18. “That you may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passes,” what? “Knowledge.” The first thing is you’ve got to comprehend what’s available, and realize that there is love for any experience. There’s love for any occasion. The well is more than sufficient. So, first of all, you understand it. You understand the resource, and you seize that resource and make it your own by faith. Yes, Lord. Yes, God. The love is there that I need for that person, and that person, and that person, and that person, and that person. Whoever they are. First, you understand the resource.
Secondly, you submit to the Holy Spirit. Comes a point in life when you learn to turn over to the Holy Spirit, the control factor in your life. You can carry your bitterness, and your anxiety, and your hatred, and your animosity, and revenge, and your vengeance, and all the things you feel towards someone. You can carry them on your own, or you can yield them to the Spirit of God. And when you submit to the Spirit of God, then the Spirit of God takes over your life, and bitterness is replaced by love, and vengeance is replaced by affection. First Thessalonians 4, “But as touching brotherly love, you need not that I write unto you, for you, yourselves, are taught of God to love one another. You’re taught of God to love.” How so? Because the Spirit of God has shed that love abroad in your heart. Galatians 5:22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, but love first.”
So, the first thing you want to know is that the love is available. You understand the resource. The second thing you want to know is that, if you submit to the Spirit of God, He’ll teach you to love. You are taught of God to love one another. You don’t need to be taught by somebody else how to do it. It isn’t a gimmick. You yield to the Spirit of God, and the Spirit teaches you.
There’s a third factor, and I’m not sure these are necessarily split like I’m giving them to you, or even organized in this particular flow, chronologically. I’m just pulling out the elements. The third one comes to us from 1 Peter 1:22. “Seeing that you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently.” The third thing is a purified heart. What does that mean? That means that you’re not going to be able to exercise the debt of love until you’ve dealt with what? Sin in your life. Until you see it as sin. You see your bitterness as sin. You see your vengeance as sin. You see your anger as sin, your hostility as sin. Any wrong attitude you see in your life, you see it as sin. That’s got to be confessed. That has to be dealt with. So, first, you understand the resource. Then, you submit to the Spirit who teaches you to love. Involved in that is the purification of the heart.
Then, there’s another thing in 1 Peter while we’re there, chapter 4 verse 7: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober minded and watch unto,” what? Prayer. And above all things, have fervent love among yourselves, for love shall cover the multitude of sins.” He indicates to us that there’s a key thing to pursuing love, and that is this: the end of all things is at hand. In other words, dear friends, we live in a sense of urgency, don’t we? That’s the fourth point. Realize the urgency of love. It’s time for us to drop the gloves, right? And start to love, because the end of all things is at hand. It’s time for us to live the way we ought to live. It’s time for us to attract people the way they ought to be attracted. So, we understand the resource. We submit to the Spirit. Purify the heart, realize the urgency.
Go back to Colossians 3:14, and there’s another element in this debt of love being properly paid. Colossians. This is very, very basic. “Above all these things, above everything else, put on love, put on love.” Now, you know what that tells me? This is a conscious choice. This is a conscious choice. I choose to love.
I was counseling a couple who have been having a difficult time in their marriage, and they have been struggling and struggled rather seriously for quite a time. And I sat with them and just briefly shared with them, “You must make a conscious choice to love. You have to train yourself in moments when you feel like being angry, moments when you feel like asserting your rights, moments when you feel like you’ve been defrauded or deprived, moments when you are interrupted, when you have been treated rudely, when unkind words have been said, you must train yourself to make a conscious choice to love.” We had a great talk about that, and I got a phone call two days later after that, and the man involved said, “I just want to tell you that the difference in the last few days in our marriage has been that both of us, every time something poses itself as a problem, are endeavoring to do all we can in the Spirit of God to make a conscious choice to love, and to make peace, and to show kindness, no matter what the price to our own ego might be.” That’s a conscious choice you make. That’s a factor in learning how to pay the debt of love. You choose to love. I choose to love. I choose to make peace. I choose to forgive. You learn to do that by training your mind to do that under the power of the Spirit of God and a commitment to obey.
There’s a sixth thing in this matter of learning of how to love, and that is, this might sound like it comes really off the wall, that is to be with believers. To be with believers. You’re going to find it very difficult to do this if you’re isolated. You say, “Where did you get that principle?” Hebrews chapter 10, verse 24 says, as you well know, “Forsake not the assembly of yourselves together, much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Why? In order that you may stimulate one another to what? Love. There is a stimulation to love that occurs in the dynamics of Christian fellowship and the accountability that it brings to bear in our life.
So, how are we going to love the way we ought to love? Well, we have to understand the resource is there, submit to the Holy Spirit, purify the heart, realize the urgency. We’ve got to get this on, because the end of all things is at hand. Make a conscious choice, be in the fellowship, and there’s two more that came to my mind.
Number seven, it’s concentrate on others. Concentrate on others. This is a real key. In Philippians, and you’re very familiar with this wonderful passage. We’ve commented on it many times through the years. But in Philippians chapter 2, Paul says, “If there is any comfort in Christ, any comfort of love, any fellowship of the spirit, any tender mercy and compassion.” In other words, if there’s any love in the fellowship, if there’s any love at all, “Let it be the same love,” verse 2, “that is loving everyone the same, one accord, one mind.” How do you do it? “Let nothing be done through strife and vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Let not every man look on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” In other words, if there’s going to be love in the fellowship, we have to preoccupied with others, not us, right? I’m not looking to be loved; I’m looking to love. That’s a whole different perspective. Concentrate on others.
And then, a last one: consider the results. Consider the result. That’s a marvelous, marvelous reason to live a life of love, because of the wonderful results. Oh, how wonderful the results are. You say, “What do you mean by that?” Well, we learn from even the life of our Lord Himself: the Scripture indicates to us that He loved, and as a result of His love, He was loved in return. John summed it up, “We love Him because,” what? “He first loved us.” There’s a dynamic in love that is reciprocal. People are all the time looking to be loved. If they only realized that, if they would just look to love, they’d be loved. You understand that?
So, we are to love. That’s a debt that we have to pay, the debt of love. How are we going to pay it? How do we pay the debt of love? Understand the resource. It’s there. It’s available. If we don’t tap it, there’s no fault but our own. Submit to the Spirit and be taught by Him to love. Purify our hearts by the confession of sin. Realize the urgency. Make a conscious choice. Stay in the fellowship. Concentrate on others rather than ourselves. And consider the effect. Consider the effect. Love given, inevitably, is love what? Returned and received.
So God, by a new creation of grace and saving us, has given us a new capacity to fulfill the debt of love. The reservoir of love is absolutely inexhaustible. It’s inexhaustible. It serves to allow us the privilege of representing God in the world by loving as He loved, and being loved in return. One ancient writer wrote, “By the very nature, by its very nature, love is the duty which, when done, is never done. Since He loves not truly who loves for the purpose of ceasing to love, by loving, love is intensified, the more it is exercised, the less it can become satisfied.” Love, then, should be a deep desire rising from a regenerate heart. It is an element of our obedience. In fact, it is the supreme aspect of our obedience. And we can do it. We can fulfill the debt of love because of a new capacity.
Now, this just gets us into the passage, but I’m not going to take the time to go on. We’ll do that in two weeks. But I want to end it up with something that I want you to think about in a pragmatic way, all right? You say, “Well, how am I going to start? I want to pay the debt I owe, the debt of love. What should I do?” Let me suggest some things, okay? Tomorrow, all right, this is all for tomorrow. This is your assignment. Tomorrow, you ready? Listen carefully. Mend a quarrel. Search out a forgotten friend. Make a phone call to that friend. Replace a suspicion with a trust. Replace a suspicion with a trust. Let an old bitterness die, by the power of God. Write a letter to someone who loves you and won’t expect it. Encourage someone you know very well with how much they mean to you. Keep a promise.
Here’s a few other ones. Ask God to help you to forget a wrong someone has done to you that you remember very well. Reduce your demands on the people in your house. Say thanks. Say thanks. Say thanks all day. And then, tell someone you love them, again and again and again. Just three more. Pray for an enemy, any enemy. Take your pick of the list. I don’t know how long your list is. Take your pick. Oh, here’s a good one. Send a check to someone you know has a need. And then, finally, ask God to help you to love the way Jesus loved. Let’s share in prayer together.
We have a debt of love, Father. We know that. We desire from the depths of our hearts to pay that debt. That’s part of our obedience. In fact, that’s really the summation of our obedience. For in love, the whole law is fulfilled. We realize that we can love because we have the resource. It’s there. It’s shed abroad. It’s deep within us. We want to love that way. Help us to take those necessary steps to love, and to realize that love is self-sacrificial service to those about us who have need. Help us in the days ahead to put to practice these things that are the practical ways in which we can demonstrate our love. Be pleased with the way we pay our debts, owing no man anything, but owing everyone love, always paying and always owing. That the world might know we belong to You because of our love, and that they might be attracted by that love to the One alone who can save them, the One in whose name we pray, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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