Paul has been teaching us how to live the heavenly, Spirit-filled life. Through faith in Christ, we’ve been delivered from this present evil age and we now belong in the heavenly realms where Jesus Christ is now seated. And so, instead of being conformed to this present evil age, we’re to be transformed by the renewing of our minds by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. And the Holy Spirit works in us from the inside out, making us more and more able and willing to do God’s will on earth as it’s done in heaven.
And so, we’re to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, wholly devoted to living for God’s glory. And we’re to use whatever gifts God has given us in the right way. And we’re to love one another and put others first. And we’re to be full of zeal as we seek to serve the Lord. And we’re to endure afflictions and share what we have with others. And we’re to bless those who persecute us, instead of cursing them. And we’re to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, living in harmony with one another. And we’re to serve one another in humility. And instead of repaying evil for evil, we’re to do what’s right. And we’re to try to live at peace with everyone so that we’re never overcome by evil, but will always seek to do what is good and right and pleasing in the sight of the Lord.
And then, last time, we saw that we’re to submit ourselves to the governing authorities. And we’re to submit ourselves to the governing authorities for two main reasons. First of all, because we know that whatever authority there is has been established or appointed by God, so that to rebel against the authorities is to rebel against what God has instituted. In other words, we’ll want to submit ourselves to the governing authorities for the sake of conscience, because if we rebel against what we know has been instituted by God, then our conscience will only accuse us of doing what we know is wrong. And then the second reason for submitting ourselves to the governing authorities is because God has given the governing authorities the right to punish the wrongdoer. As Paul says, they don’t bear the sword for nothing. And so, to avoid possible punishment by the governing authorities, we should submit to them.
This then is how to live the heavenly, Spirit-filled life. And it’s all so down-to-earth, because it’s about how we treat one another and how we live our daily lives. In fact, according to verse 7, living the heavenly, Spirit-filled life even involves paying our taxes.
Paul moves from the idea in verse 7 of paying whatever taxes we owe to the idea in verse 8 of paying off the outstanding debt of love we owe to one another. And today’s passage can be divided into two parts. In verses 8 to 10 he’s talking about love. And in verses 11 to 14 he’s talking about how we ought to live our lives in the knowledge that the Lord is coming again.
Verses 8 to 10
So, look with me now at verse 8. Paul says:
Let no debt remain outstanding….
Now, I’ll pause there to say that the Bible doesn’t forbid us from taking out loans. After all, in Psalm 37 we read that the righteous person is always generous and lends freely. And in the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, the Lord teaches us not to turn away the one who wants to borrow from us. Borrowing is taken for granted in the Bible; and the Lord’s people ought to be willing to lend what they have to the person who needs to borrow from them. But what Paul is saying to us here is that we ought to repay whatever we have borrowed promptly. Again in Psalm 37, while the righteous person lends freely, the wicked person borrows and does not repay. So, we’re to repay whatever we have borrowed, sticking faithfully to the terms of the loan.
So, back to verse 8:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another….
So, you borrow £10,000 to buy a new car; if you meet all your payments as you should, then eventually the debt is paid off and your obligation to the bank is over. However, according to Paul, our obligation to show love to one another is never over. This is a debt which remains outstanding and which we can never, ever pay off in full. So, we can’t say to someone:
I’ve loved you enough now. I don’t have to love you anymore.
No, so long as we’re living, we are obligated to love one another.
And Paul continues and says:
for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law.
There are two things to make clear here. First of all, there’s no restriction on who we ought to love. You see, when he said earlier that we’re to love one another, it’s possible to take those words to mean that we’re obligated to love our fellow believers only; ‘one another’ in the Bible often refers to believers only. But when Paul says here that we’re to love our fellow-man, well, there are no restrictions on that. We’re to love whoever we meet, whether this person is a believer or not. And then secondly, when Paul refers to the law here, he’s referring to the moral law, summed up by the Ten Commandments. In previous chapters, Paul made clear that we’re no longer under the law as the way to life. No one is justified, said Paul, by the works of the law, because through the law we become conscious of our sin and guilt. So, keeping the law is not the way to receive eternal life. However, believers are still under the law as a rule for life. The law shows us how God wants us to live. And what’s the law all about? Well, the law is all about how we’re to love our fellow-man. That’s what the law is all about; and so, whoever loves his fellow-man is fulfilling, or doing, what the law demands.
And so, in verse 9, Paul refers to some of the commandments to show that they’re all about loving our fellow-man and can be summed up by the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. So, take the command forbidding adultery: well, if we love our neighbour, then we’ll not do anything to spoil their marriage. Take the command forbidding murder: if we love our neighbour, then we’ll not want to hurt or harm them. Take the command forbidding theft: if we love our neighbour, we’ll not want to take their property. Take the command forbidding coveting: if we love our neighbour, we’ll not resent them for owning what we don’t have; instead we’ll be glad for them and will rejoice with them over their good fortune. And Paul adds that whatever other commands there may be are summed up in the same way: they’re all about loving our neighbour. And whoever loves their neighbour will never harm their neighbour. That’s what Paul is saying in the first part of verse 10. Whoever loves their neighbour will not harm their neighbour by spoiling their marriage; whoever loves their neighbour will not harm their neighbour by harming their life; whoever loves their neighbour will not harm their neighbour by stealing their property; whoever loves their neighbour will not harm their neighbour by resenting their good fortune; whoever loves their neighbour will not harm their neighbour by lying and ruining their reputation; whoever loves their neighbour will not harm their neighbour by failing to give them the honour they deserve. Whoever loves their neighbour will never harm their neighbour. And, therefore, whoever loves their neighbour is able to fulfil and do what the law demands of us.
And remember: our obligation to love our neighbour never comes to an end. This is a debt which we can never pay off in full. So long as we’re living, we’re obligated to love our fellow-man, whoever he or she may be. This is how to live the heavenly, Spirit-filled life. This is how to do God’s will on earth as it’s done in heaven. Just as there’s perfect love in heaven, so we’re to seek to love one another here on earth.
Verses 11 to 14
When we turn to verses 11 to 14, we see that Paul wants us to live like this in the knowledge that the Lord Jesus is coming again.
‘And do all this’, he says. He’s probably referring to everything he’s said since the beginning of chapter 12. So, do all this — offering your body as a living sacrifice, be transformed by the renewing of your mind, use your gifts, love sincerely, submit to the authorities, love continually, and so on — do all of this, understanding the present time.
What does he mean by ‘the present time’? Well, he goes on to explain what be means by using three statements: first, the hour has come for you to wake from your slumber; second, the night is far gone; and third, the day is at hand. So, what is the present time? It’s the time when the night is almost over and the new day is almost upon us. By ‘the night’, Paul is referring to the present evil age which is drawing to a close, because Jesus Christ will soon return to judge the living and the dead and to make all things new. So, the night, the present evil age, is drawing to a close. And the new day — the day of Christ’s appearing — is at hand. So, since the present evil age is drawing to a close, wake up! Wake up and wait for the coming of the Lord.
And notice what Paul says in the second half of verse 11:
our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
Paul is referring here to our final deliverance from sin and death. Right now, sin still bothers us; and, unless the Lord returns, we’ll all die. But when the Lord comes again, he’ll raise his people from the dead to live for ever. And when the Lord comes again, we’ll be glorified in God’s presence so that we’ll be done with sin for ever. So, when Paul refers to our salvation as something that lies in the future, he’s thinking of the completion of God’s work in us when at last our bodies will be raised from the dead and we’ll be glorified in his presence. And that day is nearer now than when we first believed, because every new day is a day nearer to that great day when Christ comes again. So, parents say to their children that the day when they go on holiday is getting nearer; so, make sure you’ve packed your bag and you’re ready to go. And the day when Christ comes again is getting nearer; so, let’s expect it and wait for it and be ready for it.
And Paul explains to us what we ought to do while we wait expectantly for his return. First of all:
let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.
‘Weapons of light’ is perhaps a better translation, because it conveys the idea that we’re to stand firm and fight against all the schemes of the devil and against all the temptations of this present evil age. We’re to stand firm and fight to do what is good and pleasing in the sight of the Lord.
Paul then says:
Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
‘Let us behave decently’ should be translated ‘let us walk decently’. It’s the familiar picture of walking in the ways of the Lord; walking in the right way; walking along the right path; walking as those who are looking forward to the day when Christ comes again. So, we’re to walk in the ways of the Lord instead of walking in the ways of the present evil age. Paul’s lists of sins are always interesting, because as well as listing sins like drunkenness and sexual sins, which every faithful believer seeks to avoid, he also lists things like dissension and jealousy which are often alive and well in the church. Well, we’re not to walk in those ways.
And then we’re to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, everything we do and say and think ought to resemble him. And instead of thinking about how to gratify the desires of our sinful flesh, instead of planning and preparing and daydreaming about the things we might do to indulge our sinful desires, we’re not to even think about those things.
We’re not to think about those things, because we no longer belong to the present evil age. We now belong to Jesus Christ and we’ve been raised with him to the heavenly realms. We’re to set our minds on things above, where Christ is, and from where he’ll come again. And so, knowing that this present evil age is drawing to a close, knowing as well that we belong in the age to come, we’ll look forward to Christ’s return and we’ll live our lives on earth in such a way that they will demonstrate that we belong in heaven with Christ our Saviour.