Nov24TueNovember 24, 2015
These are my notes to the sermon I preached on November 22, 2015. You can also listen to it here.
Title: The Debt You Always Owe
Big Idea: Believers ought to love one another because this fulfills what the law commands.
On the one hand, Paul tells us to get out of debt while on the other hand he tells us we have an ongoing debt of love.
In light of what the verse says, some Christians have tried to be very careful and have adopted a policy in their life that they will undertake no debts. They will not purchase a home until they can pay cash for it; they will not purchase an automobile unless they can pay cash for it; they carry no credit cards. They refuse to buy anything unless they have cash on hand for it.
Others understand the verse not as a prohibition against entering into debt but as a mandate to pay all of your debts, to not let any debts remain outstanding.
Which does the Scripture mean? Does the text mean that we are not allowed to borrow money? Or does the text mean that once we borrow money we have an obligation to pay our debts?
Certainly many Scriptures regulate debt and borrowing and many Scriptures warns us about some of the dangers of borrowing but nowhere does it condemn the practice. In fact, Scripture, as a whole, allows the concept of borrowing capital for purposes of investment. In the parable of the talents, the lazy servant at least should have put his money in the bank and given it back with interest. Implicit in that parable is that the bank pays interest by loaning money. Jesus didn’t condemn that system, but rather condemned the servant for not using the system to earn a profit. Therefore, I think that the point of this text is that we are to pay our debts. Fulfill the terms of the loan on time. Don’t take out a loan or charge to your credit card what you cannot afford to pay back. Avoid useless and frivolous expense. Just because your neighbor buys a new car or TV doesn’t mean you have to have buy it also! Just because your children want a certain toy for Christmas or their birthday doesn’t mean you have to go into debt to buy it. Beware the sin of overbuying. Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.” Why is this person considered wicked? Not because he borrowed but because he did not pay back what he borrowed. Why is that wicked? Because it is called stealing! But how are the righteous described? They are generous and give! Often debt reveals underlying greed that drives us to buy things we can’t afford or it reveals that we love the world and the things of the world. We want to have the latest toy and so we go into debt but that is a bad witness. Also, if you are in deep debt, you’re not free to give generously to the Lord’s work.
So the Christian is to pay his bills on time and not be swamped in debt. The Christian should not incur debt that he cannot pay back on time. However, there is one debt that can never be paid off – the debt to love one another. This obligation has no limit. Love is a debt that continues forever. You can never say, “I’ve loved that person enough. I’m going to stop now. I have paid in full.” I love my spouse as much as I should, I don’t need to work at it any longer.
But perhaps you wonder, How did I incur this debt of love to others?”
You must always remember God’s love for you has been, and always will be, absolutely unconditional. Regardless of how you treat God, He showers you with mercy, grace, compassion and patience. He lavishes his love upon you. Therefore the Scriptures say, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
In other words, we keep on paying this debt because we are debtors to God’s great love. Because of our sins we owed a great debt to God. Christ came to pay a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay. The wages of sin is death and the only way we could pay our debt would be to suffer eternal separation in the lake of fire. When the Lord Jesus took our place on the cross, He died as our substitute and He full paid the debt we owed. The sinner could ask, “ "But God, am I not obligated to spend eternity in the lake of fire because of my sin?" God could answer, "I am completely satisfied that the debt has been paid. My beloved Son paid it all!" As the hymn says, "I will sing of my Redeemer, and His wondrous love to me; On the cruel cross He suffered, From the curse to set me free. Sing, oh, sing of my Redeemer, with His blood He purchased me, On the cross He sealed my pardon, PAID THE DEBT and made me free!"
Every Christian is a love-debtor, no matter how much love he gives. Every time we meet someone we ought to say to ourselves, “I need to show him or her the love of Christ. I have a great and wonderful debt to pay.” When we go to church, work, shopping, school – wherever we go, whoever we meet, we owe love. Christian, you owe your spouse, your children, your difficult boss, your annoying neighbor, your gossiping church member a debt of love. Despite how you are treated, God is calling you to a supernatural love for others that knows no bound and is never paid off.
This is our debt that we perpetually owe.
I am Debtor – M’Cheyne
So as Christians who are debtors to God’s love we perpetually owe love to others.
If we love our neighbor we may be said to have fulfilled the law that God gave through Moses.
Fulfill is a beautiful word. It means to satisfy, fill up, to receive the full measure. If you think of the law as a cup to be filled, we can say that it is love and love alone that fills it as God intended it.
Now this is a surprising thought for several reasons:
I start with this because it is a crucial thought and safeguards us from all sorts of malarkey. Love and law are not contradictory. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love impels you to do what the law would have you to do. So love and law are not enemies. They are not competitors. All the various commands of the law are simply expressions of love! Love is the heart and soul of the commands!
Understanding this safeguards us from legalism. Legalism focuses on the commands and loses sight of love.
It also safeguards us from sentimental sap. How often have you heard something like “as long as we have a loving feeling it must be right.” Hogwash. Love is not cut free from law. The moment it is it dissolves into the mush that it has become today and virtually any course of action can be defended as loving.
So please recognize that love never goes around or over the law. It never goes beyond it nor does it dispense with it. Love is the fulfillment of the law not the end of the law! And please recognize that love can be negative! It can say no!
After all, didn’t Paul write in Romans 6:14 that we are not under law, but under grace? Didn’t he write in Romans 7:4 that we have died to the law? And what about Romans 10:4 which says that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
So what gives? Is it fulfilled or not?
It is a difficult question to which we find an answer in Romans 8:3-4. Although the NT shows that God condemns the law both as a method of salvation our text tells us that the righteousness demanded by the law is attained by the life of love that Christ lives in and through us by the Spirit.
In light of this I will make two statements which may seem contradictory:
First, God’s law has no relevance to the Christian life. What is meant by this is that it does not and cannot save us. If it could, Christ died in vain.
Second, God’s law has every relevance to the Christian life. By this is meant the law acts as a guide for us. Good and evil are defined by the law. Therefore by God’s grace and Spirt we are set free to walk in it not to save us but because we are saved. Said in another way, love fulfills the law. Love comes from know Jesus Christ our Lord and as we know him we learn to love him and in loving him we delight to obey his commands.
Do you see the practical power of love? Recognizing that the law is a revelation of God’s will and holiness, we wisely seek to do it.
Time and time again worldly psychologists tell us that before we can properly love others we must first learn to love ourselves and that our biggest problem is that we just don’t love ourselves enough. What is more they dare to point to verses like this to prove it.
Listen – there are only two great commandments, not three. Love God and love your neighbor. Nowhere are we commanded to love ourselves or told that before you can love others you have to work at loving yourself. That is not a Biblical concept and if you think it is you need your mind renewed. The Biblical teaching is that we naturally care for ourselves and love ourselves quite well. We all take care of ourselves and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt in every situation. This is why in Ephesians 5 we read, “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” You see, we all have this natural, intense, enthusiastic self-love and so therefore we should have an intense, enthusiastic love for others also. That is the point of the 2nd commandment. The more contemporary teaching of self-esteem and self-love misses the whole point.
William Hendriksen astutely remarks, “It is a certain thing that a person will love himself, and it is also certain that he will do so in spite of the fact that the self he loves has many faults.” So the Bible and the 2nd great commandment is saying, “Extend the same grace to other faulty sinners that you extend to yourself as a faulty sinner.” Love your neighbor as you do in fact love yourself.
We need to pause and ask ourselves what love is. It is a word we use a great deal and usually in emotional categories. However, the Bible tends to describe love in action categories. Twice in John 14 Jesus says if you love me, keep my commands.” 1 Corinthians 16:14 says, “Let all that you do be done in love.” Ephesians 5:2 says, “walk in love.”
So what is love?
Certainly it should involve our feelings but at its core it is a commitment that results in action.
John Murray gives a rich definition that I would encourage each one of us to meditate upon: ““Love is emotive, motive, and expulsive. It is emotive and therefore creates affinity with an affection for the object of love. It is motive in that it impels us to action. It is expulsive because it expels that which is alien to the interest in which love seeks to promote.”
Let me give you an easier one – love is seeking the best interest of another. So with a total stranger, love may be the commitment to sacrifice our comfort and tell him about Jesus. Love may be the thoughtfulness to recognize a need and take action to meet it. Love may realize that a brother in Christ is drifting spiritually or is in sin and so you take the initiative to try to help him to the Lord.
You see? Love is practical. Love is action.
Therefore Paul proceeds to cite 4 of the 10 commandments to show that we love by doing/obeying the commandments.
One who is filled with God’s love does not commit adultery. No doubt, those who commit adultery convince themselves that they love their new partner but they are deceived. They love themselves and wrongly think their new partner will make them happy. They certainly aren’t loving their present spouse or children either!
Remember, Jesus broadens the definition of adultery to inward lust – Matthew 5:27-28, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
One who is filled with God’s love does not murder. While most of us have probably never murdered anyone, Jesus pointed out that our anger towards others violates this command.
One who is filled with the love of God does not steal.
Finally, one who is filled with the love of God does not covet. This means to fix your desire upon. This desire underlies all other sins because coveting something that isn’t mine leads to committing adultery, murder, and stealing. James 4:1-3 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are (A)at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask (B)wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
Of course Paul is not being exhaustive so he adds in v. 9, “and whatever other commandment there might be” and in verse 10, “Love does no harm to its neighbor.”
Thus love involves concrete actions. We cannot love people in the abstract. It requires continual self-denial and effort and thought. I have to take my focus off myself and love others as enthusiastically as I love and serve myself! Sure, you’d really rather watch tv than help with the kids or do the dishes but love puts others first.
The point I wish to bring home to us is how irresistible Christianity would be if we as Christian’s truly loved this way. Just think, true love does no harm to others. That means:
- Couples ready to split up because love has left their marriage could go back together and learn how to work it out. Homes and families would be safe and secure.
- We wouldn’t have any more wars. We wouldn’t have to worry about terrorist attacks. Think about how much money and energy is being expended simply because we can’t trust people to love each other!
- There wouldn’t be any more crime. You wouldn’t need any prisons or courts of law or police.
- There would be so much split and division in the church of Christ
We could go on and on but I think you get the point – this passage is telling us that the ability to love is the radical force that Jesus Christ has turned loose in this world and it has the power to change everything.
But it has to start with you!
And maybe you say, “How can I love like that?”
If you are a Christian, if you know Jesus Christ, you have the power to love. Romans 5:5 says “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.”
Oh this is amazing! Christian, you can act in love, show courtesy, kindness, patience, understanding and forgiveness, whatever it takes, whatever the scene demands, you can show it. It is a debt that you owe and you can pay it not out of your meager store of love but out of the limitless overflow of God’s love toward you and in you!
I wonder what kind of radical things would start happening among us if we were to live on this basis, if every person would say and live, “I need to show some love to this person. I have an obligation to pay him or her that debt.”
How irresistible Christianity would be! Just think how the gospel would spread!