Heavenly Helps for an Enduring Love
by Pastor Jim Lincoln on April 15, 2007
How do you react when your alarm clock goes off in the morning? Isn't that a strange time? It takes me a few moments to figure out if I'm really awake or still asleep. For a moment I feel like I'm in both worlds. Dawn can be a confusing time of the day. The light part of dawn calls you to get up and get going. The dark part of the dawn calls you to hit the snooze and get some more sleep. For me it's a battle. Now some don't have this conflict. They just greet the day full of life and vigor, with a bounce and zip in their step, eager to face the day. I'm happy for you. That's not how it works for me. Beginning in v.11, of chapter 13, Paul's language suggests that each day brings with it battles to be waged and won. And there's no greater battle than the battle for love to win out in our lives.
Love: The dominant thought of these two chapters (Romans 12 & 13) Christian love is the dominant thought of these two chapters. The way we love will say far more about the reality of our worship (12:1-2) than anything else. Also, the extent to which Paul goes to teach us about love here may say something about how challenging love is, and how intentional we have to be to see love win out each day. The paganism of Rome was a loveless religion. That's all it could be. Pagan gods themselves were often loveless, cruel, jealous, immoral, and self-centered. The kind of love Jesus spoke about was relatively unheard of in the city of Rome. Paul's strategy for advancing the gospel was for this small band of Christians to bring the love of Jesus to that city and bear a credible witness to the gospel. It was a costly call. But, that's just what they did. These Christians offered charity and hope to cities filled with homelessness and poverty. They offered a sincere welcome and genuine community to newcomers and strangers. To a city filled with orphans and widows, they offered care and support to the most needy. To a city polarized by racism and politics, they offered a new basis for getting along. To a city faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christians offered concrete care and nursing services at great risk to themselves. And, to a city filled with thousands of pagan gods, Christianity offered the simple hope of the one true living God. Love like this didn't come easy. They had to resist every impulse to give up. The culture didn't honor them for what they were doing; instead it resisted and even maligned them at every turn. They accused the early church of cannibalism and incest because of their communion services and the deep love they had for each other. The message of Christian love was resisted; it threatened the pursuit of selfish appetites. It still does.
Paul's message of love in these two chapters is struggling to find an audience today as well. I've yet to see it in any pre-marital counseling guide. It's far too demanding, rule or obligation oriented, to be seen as authentic by today's definitions of love. The Romantic idea, drilled into us by thousands of movies and television programs, assumes that if people are really sincere love, "just happens", as long as people are sincere and do what comes naturally. To connect love with words like obligation, debt, painful sacrifices, law, and self denying disciplines renders it inauthentic to the modern mind. The fact that these words sound inauthentic when associated with love is a sign of how far we have strayed from the biblical idea. Now, it's convenient to remove them from our definition of love. It gives people the feeling of virtue without the need for the hard work of moral learning and effort required to attain it. The hardest thing you will ever do is to love somebody. At the same time it is the most rewarding and satisfying thing you'll ever do. But it will be the hardest. Look at how Jesus loved us and tell me it wasn't hard.
A Summary of Love in Chapters 12 and 13.
Pick up Paul's lessons about love starting in Romans 12:9:
1. (9) Authentic love demands deep moral commitments; it "abhors what is evil and holds fast to what is good."
2. (10) Love requires affection and humility, "Outdo one another in honor."
3. (11) It requires enormous effort, "Don't be lazy about love. Be zealous about it."
4. (12) It requires optimism in the faced of trial, patience, and the discipline of prayer.
5. (13) It is about giving and sacrifice and opening up your home to people.
6. (14) It means blessing those who mistreat you and empathizing with those who are sad and discouraged. It means that you don't retaliate when wronged, but you leave room for God to mete out justice. You trust that God uses civil authorities to carry out a justice that individuals can't. That idea runs through 13:7.
7. (13:8) Paul calls love an obligation, a debt we owe. It's an obligation because God commands it, and it's an obligation to grace because the nobility and worthiness of grace deserves it. We could never merit God's love by our obedience, but such love deserves nothing less than our obedience.
8. (9) Authentic love has to do with keeping the law or the commandments. Paul then lists several, in case they have forgotten them.
But this is not the way love is described today. Today it is a feeling that just happens when you are being sincere, and if you stop having that feeling, well that is a sign that love is no longer authentic, so you move on. Paul is more aware of the temptation to give up on love than we know. That's why he has labored so long at this and has been so specific about it. After bringing all these pieces of authentic love together in v. 11 he says, "Besides all of this" or in addition to this noble vision of love that will glorify God and bring hope and joy to others ...there's another piece of God's grace that will fund you with the resources you need to walk in love.
It's this last piece on love in chapter 13 that I want us to look at this morning. I'll put them as commandments or admonitions, because that's the way Paul puts them. 1. The first way is this. Wake up to the day! Wake up to the time in which you live in relationship the future God promises you (11-12a) 2. The second is this; Renounce the deeds of darkness. Renounce the things that will keep you asleep or dead to the real love. (12b-13) 3. Put on Christ. (14)
I want us to think about obeying these three exhortations to help us endure the difficult race of love. Listen, if it were easy Paul wouldn't have labored so long and hard about this. However, God gives us the grace that makes it possible for us to bear a credible witness to His love. Other who have gone before us have done it and shined like lights in their dark times. By His grace, so can we.
OK, The first admonition (11): Wake up to the time in which you live! And knowing this time will help you love people the way you should.
11: "Besides this you know the time that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand..."
Look at the exhortation implied, "Wake up for the night is far gone and the day is at hand." What's the time that Paul's talking about? Notice it isn't a time of darkness. "The night is far gone." Also, notice that it isn't the time of full daylight. "The day is at hand." What time is it? It's the time between the darkness of night and the full light of day. It's that time when your alarm goes off. Elsewhere, Paul says that this is the time between Christ's first and second coming. We don't live in the darkness as it was before Jesus came and brought His light to the world, the light of His forgiveness, mercy, truth, and a million gifts He has given us. At the same time that light doesn't shine in the fullness of the day. It's still dawning. The old age of guilt, sin, sickness, strife, and death still are with us. We are now living with a foot in both ages. The word Paul uses here for "time" is not chronos or time as chronology. It's kairos or time as an age or season. We live now in the overlap of these two ages. Through faith in Jesus we are forgiven, accepted, and empowered for holy living and love...but...nothing is yet perfect on this earth. We now see dimly as through a bad mirror. We still struggle with all kinds of things like doubt, sin, and sickness. Our bodies still decay and die. We get depressed, discouraged, we offend each other and disappoint each other. Christians know the times in which we live. We're not naive about the incredible joys of faith, and we're not naive about the failures of faith and love we will yet encounter. Any account of the world that doesn't hold these two things together is a set up for cynicism or discouragement. What time is he talking about? The dawn of the age to come has arrived. That means that the night is quickly fading ---darkness is passing--and sun of righteousness, perfect joy, and perfect peace will surely come in its fullness in due time. So, Paul says, "put on the armor of light." In other words, even though you are fully aware of the darkness that is still with us and not na?ve about this don't set your mind on the darkness or how long it has lasted. Set your mind on the truth that the day of Christ's appearing - the sunrise - is at hand. Just as the sun at dawn signals that the full daylight is coming and that the power of darkness is broken, so certain will it be that Christ will come back, and the fullness of His light will shine with perfect, joy, love, and righteousness. It's only a matter of time. He says in 11b, "Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed." Your freedom from sinning, your perfect health, your perfect ability to enjoy Jesus and God, your perfect ability to obey him and live in perfect joy, is getting closer every day. Every groan in this mortal body brings you closer to that reality. Paul isn't predicting that Jesus will return in his generation. He's not setting any dates. His point is to draw your attention to the significance of the day yet to come ...not to get you to start marking your calendar. I once saw a bumper sticker that read, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." Well, from a chronological point of view that's obvious. But from a psychological view, it may help us to be awake to the significance of the day. This is what Paul is doing.
Let me make two early applications: First, it's hope like this - in this future reality - that holds the will to the task and nourishes the heart for the strength to endure. Paul knew that the task - at times - would be so void of any present evidence of hope, so painful and difficult that you would need a greater vision of what is to come than what you feel at the moment. You have to delay gratification. Immediate gratification can't be your long term plan. In other words, you will measure the present cost of love against the future in order to determine if what you are setting out to do is worth it. Therefore, it makes a huge difference what you understand your future to be! What does the farmer see when he plants the seed? He sees the harvest. In his battles with weeds and weevils what drives him on? Where does he get endurance? He gets it from the vision of the harvest. How does a mother endure the travails and pain of labor and child birth? She does so because she is focused on the future reality of her new born child. She has that picture indelibly stamped in her mind and heart. The present will be insufficient to hold the will. It may be too painful to hold the will to the task. Paul says, "Look, wake up or stay awake to the future reality of blessing that's beyond your wildest imagination in its joy, hope, beauty, and wonder." You must, because there will be seasons when you just can't see it. And if you don't, they will steal your joy, hope, and your ability to endure. Second: He says in v. 12 to "put on the armor of light." That means that the dawn is a season of battle, and you will need weaponry to prevail. Many believers never anticipated the cost or pain of battle. What's that armor? He doesn't say. We could fill in from Ephesians 6: the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes fitted with the gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, the word of God. He might be thinking of fighting the doubts, accusations, wickedness, and hopelessness with the light of the gospel, forgiveness, acceptance with God, irrevocable promises, certainty that we will someday be like Jesus, and the present power of the Holy Spirit within us. He leaves it open. But his words imply that you must get geared up for a battle every day with armor of light. Put on the character that reflects your new identity. This isn't faking it or pretending; it's acknowledging that you are more than a one dimensional person. It's something that you'll have to fight and work at to enjoy. So, know the times in which you live in relationship to the good day coming so that you can endure the hard commitments of love in the interim. There will be seasons so difficult that you will need this. So, wake up to the day. The night is far gone, the day is at hand.
The Second help he gives (12b) us to live in love is to Renounce deeds of darkness. . "So then, let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy."
He mentions three categories of darkness: orgies and drunkenness, sexual immorality/sensuality, and quarreling and jealousy. This translates into three inordinate desires: Inordinate desires for drugs or substance abuse; Inordinate desires for sex (immorality, pornography); Inordinate desire for attention, being first or being right that produces quarreling and jealousy.
Look, don't look for relief from pain in alcohol or drugs. They will simply put you to sleep. They deaden you to reality. You say, "Well, that's exactly what I'm after!" Paul says there's a better reality, and that's being awake to the light of the gospel. Don't try to satisfy your desires for sexual intimacy by disconnecting sex from the covenant of marriage. It will put you to sleep to the more satisfying joys of marriage. I recently read that 25% of all search engine requests are related to pornography. Internet revenue alone from pornography is 2.5 billion a year. Don't be conformed to this darkness. The night is far gone. The day is at hand. Put on the armor of light. Don't' let thoughts like that awaken the deeds of darkness. They will deaden you to a greater reality in the gospel. If you've been treated with injustice or mistreated don't choose resentment, anger, envy, covetousness, and jealousy. What are we supposed to do with such thoughts? Cast them off! By grace and through faith in a better reality and more satisfying blessing, cast them off. You renounce them. Beloved, this is a great and noble act of love...to renounce the deeds of darkness. It's also one of the historic vows of baptism. As you are buried with Christ in baptism you are renouncing your allegiance to the darkness. Let me ask you this, "What have you renounced lately?" Now, don't call me a legalist. This is not legalism. This is a necessary piece of love. If you haven't renounced anything you're going to miss out on love and you won't be able to love. Cast off the deeds of darkness.
Put On Christ! (13:14)
Finally, this morning, "Put on Christ." I love the way Paul balances the negative command with positive one. The mind can't maintain a stand alone negative command. Try it. Here, I'll show you what I mean. Right now I want you to NOT think of... an American flag blowing in the wind. Listen up! DO NOT THINK OF AN AMERICAN FLAG BLOWING IN THE WIND! How'd you do? How many of you were able to not think of or not picture a flag blowing in the wind? Renunciation and resistance are critical disciplines but they are insufficient. Sometimes an over occupation with negative commands only awakens you to them. So, how do we put on Christ making no provision for the flesh? Well, Put on Christ. Clothe your mind and heart with Christ by calling to mind the promises of Christ that awaken more faith and joy. Instead of pulling the blankets over your head and going back to sleep, pull the covers of Christ's love and promises over your mind and heart and take comfort in them. Remember these words, - "I will never leave you nor forsake you." - "More are they who are for you than those who are against you." - "Who can separate you from the love of God in Christ? No one." - "I will loose none that the Father has given me". - "I am the Good Shepherd who gives life abundantly to those who believe in me. I lay down my life for the sheep." - "If Christ is for you who can stand against you?" "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." - "My God shall supply all your needs in Christ Jesus my Lord." Beloved, just cover you heart and your mind with the words of Christ that awaken more faith along with a thousand more that speak of your blessed reality in Jesus. Get them closer to your skin than your clothes. Cover your heart and mind with the promises that speak of more hope. Cover your mind and heart with the beauty of Jesus' steadfast love that speaks of more joy and love for him. Someone said that, "Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ is not just the alternative to making provision for the flesh. It's the way you keep from making provision for the flesh." How often do you get dressed? Most of you do so every day. When you put on the armor of light every day it's hard for the deeds of darkness to stick. The light of Jesus burns them off. Jesus said, "If your eye is good, (If you see Jesus as your joy and hope), your whole body will be full of light. So, cover your heart and mind every day with Christ.
Loving others: Let me remind you that these exhortations come to us so that we will keep our resolve to love God and each other especially in the seasons we don't feel like it. One preacher said that when you drink or do drugs to the point that your mind ceases to serve your body, you are tearing apart the mind and body which God has joined together for our good. That's not what love does. When you cultivate sexual stimulation whether in your mind or your body with a person with whom you have no marriage covenant, you tear apart what God has joined together. That's not what love does. When you brood over wrongs, incubate them, and swell up with pride, resentment, and jealousy that someone else gets more glory than you, you tear communities apart. That's not what love does. Love does the opposite. It keeps the mind united by putting on Christ. It keeps the marriage united by putting on Christ. It keeps the community of faith united by putting on Christ. Let me close with Jesus' exhortation to the church of Ephesus. He said to them, "You have done many things well, but I have this against you, "You have abandoned the love you had at first... Therefore, remember from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first. If not I will come to you and remove your lampstand..." Rev. 2
When the feelings of love begin to fade, don't pull away or step back. Do the things you did at first. Remember that early affection. Remember how you gave so much effort to establish your love. Remember how forgiving and hopeful you were. Renew you efforts at love that you gave at first. Renew your joy in each other that you had at first. Renew your dedication that you had at first. Renew the sacrifices you made at first. Renew the passion you had at first. Repent from self serving, and do those things you did at first. Beloved, the endurance it takes to love this way must be nurtured by a greater future reality. There are times when the present signals just aren't enough. It demands that we renounce the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Most importantly, you will need to put on Christ, call to mind the joy of His love for us and how he endured in love for us, call to mind His faithfulness to keep his word to us and bless us with every thing we need for life and godliness. He is faithful and He will do it.