The central difficulty with the great idol of the collective, the false god of statism, is that we have wanted to substitute the word of man for the Word of God. We want to define love according to our own lights. We have wanted to define justice without reference to biblical law, and this then makes us choose between individualism and collectivism. And then, because we have been thrown into a realm where might determines right, the collective always wins.
But we are individuals saved by grace, bound together in a mystical body. This has been done in accordance with the Scriptures, which means that love and justice are defined from outside the world. And it also means the Church provides the only genuine alternative to the chaos of the one and the many in the unbelieving world.
“Owe no man any thing, 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 bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:8–10).
Summary of the Text:
A community like ours should be bound together by love. Sounds great, but what do we mean exactly? Our bonds to one another need to be stronger than the bonds of debtor/creditor (v. 8). If we love the other, then that means we have fulfilled the law. Paul then mentions the seventh, sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments, in that order, and says that they are all comprehended in this one commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The word rendered as comprehended is a verb that comes from the root kephale, meaning head (v. 9). Paul then tells us why. Love works no evil to its neighbor, and this is why love is the fulfillment of the law (v. 10). Love, in short, refuses to perpetrate injustice, and justice is always defined by the law of God, which in turn is shaped by the character of God Himself—and remember that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). Put all these together, and meditate on these identities. God is love, love is the law . . . and so the law not an adversary to love.
Remember also the context of this passage from Romans 13, and that chapter divisions were not in the original. Do not retaliate personally against injustice (Rom. 12:17). It is not that vengeance is wrong, but rather that vengeance is the Lord’s (Rom. 12:19). Show grace in your own name (Rom. 12:21). Since vengeance and wrath belong to God, He has the authority to deputize His own agents (or deacons) of wrath, which He has done in the civil magistrate (Rom. 13:1-4). So the love that is enjoined in our text (Rom. 13:8-10) is not in an adversarial relationship with the facts of hard justice. It is possible because of hard justice. The hard justice is one of the premises from which Paul argues to get to his exhortation to us to give ourselves over to love. Hard teaching creates tender hearts. Tender teaching creates hard hearts. The jackhammer of the Word breaks up our hard hearts. The feather duster of the Word leaves our hard hearts just where they were.
Injustice is Therefore Lovelessness:
Injustice is sin. And the apostle John defines sin for us in a very succinct way. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, ESV). Sin is lawlessness. That’s it; that’s the heart of it. But what is it to keep the law from the heart? Scripture describes that as love. And so what does it mean to love someone? It means to treat them lawfully from the heart. Note that this excludes a mere ticking of boxes. The emphasis needs to be on the heart.
Jesus teaches us this explicitly. “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matt. 23:26). Cleansing the outside of the cup doesn’t get the inside clean. But when the inside is clean, what happens? Jesus says “that the outside may be clean also.” Clean the outside, and you have a (partially) cleaned outside. Clean the inside, and you get a clean inside and outside both.
The Great Clash:
In the first message of this series, I said that one of the great enemies of our day is “relativism, subjectivism, the despotism of feelings.” And by this I meant “the idea that the world of facts is not the controlling reality. Reality, in other words, is optional.” We have been taught—ad nauseam we have been taught—that love is what you feel. When the feeling wanes or goes away, as the theory goes, so has the love. This has been the source of untold misery in the world. According to the ethical system of snowflakes and social justice warriors (SJWs), injustice is defined by whether or not it hurts someone’s feelings.
But in a biblical framework, when your feelings start to wander off, love looks up with a sharp maternal gleam in her eye and says, “Get back here.” In a biblical framework, you and all your feeling are like a first-grade teacher taking her whole class to some busy downtown museum, and because she loves them, every last one of them is on a neon-colored leash.
As we talk about true Christian community, which is based on koinonia fellowship, we have to begin with the nature of covenant commitments. This applies to marriage and family, it applies to membership in the church, and it applies to the rest of life also. I am going to ask you to bear with a few illustrations, but they all line up with what a wise Puritan once said about marriage. “First he chooses his love, and then he loves his choice.”
If you go down in the basement of a house, you will likely be able to find cold concrete in straight lines. Let us call it cold covenant concrete—a bunch of very unsentimental concrete. Then go up into the living room, and you will there find curtains, warm colors, cushions, sofas, carpet, and so on. This is where you live, and it is what makes living there enjoyable, but it cannot be the foundation of the house. Roll up the carpet, mound all the cushions, throw the curtains on top of it, and then try to situate a stud wall on top of that.
Or imagine you discipline your emotions the same way some folks discipline their kids (or not). Some people are so disordered in this that they have come to believe that if someone’s “children” are not unruly hellions, then this must mean that they don’t even have kids. No, they have kids, but their kids mind. We like to describe self-controlled people as “unemotional,” but what we really mean is that their emotions are not half-civilized yard apes on a sugar rush. And by the way, before the wrong people start commending themselves for how “unemotional” they are, I would remind them that anger is an emotion.
Covenant vows, covenant oaths, don’t move. They are to be the foundation. Your feelings and sentiments do move. What happens if you make them the foundation? When they go up and down, the whole house goes up and down—like living in a volatile earthquake zone. Foundations matter. This is the Lord’s express teaching.
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24–27).
And recall the three governments mentioned in an earlier message—the family is the ministry of health, education and welfare. The church is the ministry of grace and peace. The civil magistrate is the ministry of justice. But the (non-institutional) government that supports and makes possible all three of these is self-government.
Put On Your Jesus Coat:
Because we are forgiven by God through Christ (Eph. 4:32), so it is possible for us to be exhorted to imitate Christ (1 Pet. 2:21). But we are to imitate the whole process. Jesus did what He did for the joy that was set before Him (Heb. 12:2), and because of His obedience true joy is a possibility. But Jesus did not go to the cross on an emotional high. The greatest act of love that was ever offered up to God was the death of Christ on the cross (Rom. 5:8), and Jesus tried to get out of it (Matt. 26:39). But His house was not built on the cushions, and so it is that we are saved. His love for you had a more sure foundation than that. What would have happened to you and to me if in the garden Christ had obeyed His feelings instead of His Father?
So put on Christ (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27). Put on your Jesus coat. Make sure you put your arms through both sleeves.