Exploring the Scripture
Paul’s teachings in Romans 13-14 urges believers to live the gospel’s principles in practical, everyday life. Today’s passage focuses on two ideas: 1) the foundational commandment to love one another, which sums up the entire body of Jewish law; and 2) the urgency of a Christ-centered lifestyle as Christians wait for the Second Coming.
Paul advises the Romans to avoid debt. The only debt they should incur is indebtedness that results from loving one another. In ancient times, a standard definition of love was this: love is wishing only good for others, above all else. To want goodness for another carries a duty to work to make the wish for goodness active. Thus, it is impossible to love without being under the obligation (the debt) of love.
For centuries, rabbis and prophets debated which commandment was the greatest. Various answers were proposed, quoting scriptures such as Micah 6:8, Amos 5:24, and Leviticus 19:2. Matthew, Mark, and Luke recorded Jesus’ answer, based on Deuteronomy 6:5: to love God completely is the primary commandment. The second most important is to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). However, before any of the Gospels were written, Paul identified love as the law’s fulfillment, which testifies to the early knowledge of Jesus’ teaching about love.
Paul’s list of directives in Romans 13-14 stands as a Christian summary of the ethics that bind them. Paul is direct. Living love underlies and supersedes all the rest, both for Jewish and Christian law. “Love does no wrong; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (v. 10). Although Paul continues to offer advice and urge ethical behavior, all else functions as examples of doing no wrong while standing under the debt of love.
“You know what time it is…” (v. 11). Early Christians believed Christ would return soon, possibly within their lifetime. Paul encourages them to be prepared and alert (v. 12). Righteous living includes giving up vices such as drunkenness, debauchery, immorality, quarreling, and jealousy. These vices he mentions as “works of darkness” (v. 12), done in secret, are held tightly within men’s and women’s hidden activity to decay and damage relationships. But “the night is far gone, the day is near.” Christians are creatures of the light: open, transparent, glowing with love and goodwill, awake and ready for Christ’s return.
“The armor of light” (v. 12) and “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14) are synonymous. Both refer to adopting Christian values and a lifestyle that shines clearly for all to see, and that provides a barrier against the impulse of “the flesh, to gratify its desires” (v. 14). Here, the “flesh” refers not only to physical appetites but all the temptations of superficial, worldly existence, some of which he used as examples in verse 13. Like soldiers preparing for battle, the faithful “put on” Jesus Christ to ward off temptations and strengthen resolve. Paul’s intent, however, goes far beyond donning a mask or costume. “Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” is a discipline of the heart that transforms and strengthens the believing community to fulfill the law of love in daily life.
Project Zion Podcast
Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.
- To want good in another’s life (to love) carries with it a duty to work for that good.
- Love underlies and supersedes all Jewish and Christian law because love does no wrong.
- Christians are creatures of the light: open, transparent, glowing with love, awake, and ready for Christ’s return.
- Adopting a Christ-centered lifestyle provides a barrier against the lure of superficial, self-centered values.
Questions to Consider
- What debts do you owe to those you love most deeply? How do you perform those duties?
- Do you agree with the idea that “love does no wrong”? Can you think of an exception? What is Paul saying?
- How does your congregation show it is a community of light rather than darkness?
- How do you deal with the paradox of being open and vulnerable as a form of protection against the world’s brokenness?