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Sunday September 7, 2008

Rev. Robert L. Clark II


Romans 13:8-14

Romans 13:8-14
13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves
another has fulfilled the law.
13:9 The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not
murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other
commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as
yourself."
13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the
law.
13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for
you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we
became believers;
13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of
darkness and put on the armor of light;
13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not
in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.
13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the
flesh, to gratify its desires.

Over the course of the last few weeks we have been talking with Paul about how we

are to live well with one another. We have been talking about living the life of love,

the Christ life. In today’s reading Paul tells us that the only obligation we have to

one another is the obligation to love. He tells us that the commandments, "You

shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not

covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your

neighbor as yourself."

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

There are two potential problems with this command to love, two traps into which

we may easily be drawn. The first is that of allowing the command to love to

become a burden. The command to love becomes burdensome when we turn love
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in to a sort of measuring stick; when we measure our self-worth by our ability to

love. We all know people who have fallen into this trap. Many of us have been there

ourselves. Some of us still are. We think that God’s command to love our neighbor

means that we are supposed to have warm fuzzy feelings about everyone in the

world and when we cannot genuinely generate such feelings we see it as a failure

on our part. We beat ourselves up and vow to try even harder and we do try. We

try and try until our inability to generate a genuine feeling of universal love leads us

to a place of self-loathing, until our inability to love others becomes an inability to

love ourselves. This is a terrible condition and it is not at all consistent with God’s

will for you that you should find yourself laboring under such a burden.

The second trap may be even worse than the first. Some people, perhaps many of

us, respond to the commandment to love by adopting and then professing a

superficial version of universal love that is in fact nothing more substantial than

sugary thoughts and saccharine words. This is an intangible fairytale love that

never really makes it into the real world of everyday life. It is love without action

nothing more than cheap emotion and it falls far short of fulfilling Jesus

commandment to love one another.

The safe guard against falling into either of these traps is written into the

commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These words are not a command

to universal love. There is no call here to develop a feeling of universal ‘warm-

fuzzies’. The commandment is to love your neighbor, to love those with whom you

come in contact. The love referred to in this commandment has nothing to do with

the spreading of a universal blanket of emotional warmth over the anonymous

masses of humanity. This is a call to the act of love. God commands us to do love,

not to feel love. Doing love is personal, it is hands on. Doing love is active. Doing

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love is physical. Doing love is demanding. It is expensive. Doing love begins with

doing no harm and overflows into doing all the good that you can do, in as many

ways as you can, as often as you can, for as many as you can.

Having said all of this; let me take a moment to clarify the meaning of neighbor and

the boundaries of proximity. My neighbors are all those who enter into my circle of

consciousness. My neighbor is the person sitting across the table from me, the

person of whom I have direct awareness through personal contact. But that is not

the extent of my neighborhood. My neighbor includes the person who lives across

town,of whom I have been told by others, “This person has a need with which you

can help.” But that is not the extent of my neighborhood. My neighbor is the

orphaned child in Africa whose face I have seen on television. My neighbor is the

woman inChina I learned about on the internet. My neighborhood is as wide as the

diameter of my circle of awareness and includes all who are contained within that

circle. In other words, if I know you exist, you are my neighbor and I am responsible

for loving you. I am not responsible for generating warm feelings for you. I am

responsible for doing you no harm and for doing all the good that I can for you in as

many ways as I can and as often as I can.

The trick is I must do this without doing harm to myself. God’s commandment is

that we must, "Love our neighbor as we love ourselves." We have described our

neighborhood as the community of all persons who are within our circle of

consciousness, all the people of whom we have awareness. The person at the

center of your circle of awareness is you. Therefore, one’s love of neighbor must

begin with love of self. One’s capacity for the love of others is equal to one’s

capacity for self love, which is to say one cannot love another if one does not first

love oneself. Self love prohibits self harm. It does not allow self-incrimination, self

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hatred, or self-deprecation. That means no beating up on yourself. It means not

judging yourself more harshly than you ought. It means accepting you for who you

are. It means acknowledging that who you are is nothing less than a child of God,

created in the image of God, and beloved of God. It was of you that God spoke

when saying, “This is very good.” You are the one for whom God gave his only

begotten son so that by believing in Him, you would never taste death but have

eternal life. By remembering all of this you can avoid the trap of allowing love to

become an onerous burden. By remembering who God created you to be, you will

become that person; an emotionally and spiritually whole and healthyperson. A

person who is whole, a person who is emotionally healthy, looks out on the world

through the eyes of self-love and sees in it the goodness which God saw and

proclaimed in the beginning. From such a one love need not be forced but rather

flows as naturally as honey on a hot summer day.

That we understand the importance of the ‘Love Command ‘and the immediacy of

its demandis imperative. We are called to the life of love and we must begin its

practice immediately, not next week, not tomorrow, not one hour from now. We

must begin now. You know this. You know as well as I do what time it is. Now is not

the time for complacency, for procrastination, or for sleeping. The day of salvation,

the day of Christ’s coming is closer now than it has ever been and how we live until

that day is important. How we live makes a difference. It makes a difference for

our own lives but also and perhaps more importantly it makes a difference in the

lives of others, in the lives of our neighbors, of our families. Paul admonishes us to

live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery

and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead,” he tells us, “put on the

Lord Jesus Christ…” Meaning put on the light, the light of heaven, the light of truth,

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the light of salvation, put on the light and by so doing become a beacon shining

with the reflected light whose source is none other than Jesus Christ, our Lord and

Savior. Become a beacon to draw other to the true light which has come into the

world. Accept yourself as the beautiful, perfect being God created you to be. God

loves you. Jesus loves you. I love you. Love yourself. Love your neighbor. Amen.