Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life are wildly popular. The Bible talks more in terms of God's Law fulfilled by loving one another. How do we pay this outstanding debt towards one another?
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Romans chapter 13 613 Rules of Love!
Intro: Law is making a comeback- Jordan Peterson- 12 Rules for life etc. 5M copies. I came to realize that shared belief systems made people intelligible to one another—and that the systems weren’t just about belief. People who live by the same code are rendered mutually predictable to one another. They act in keeping with each other’s expectations and desires. They can cooperate.
We’ve had ten though for quite some time! Here Paul’s mind goes to the second half of the ten comms as they mainly deal with human relations (The first 4 mainly deal with our relationship with God) and he only leaves out lying- because this is a generalization.
But why connect this all to love? We hear a lot today about Love is love is a key phrase in the new religious movement sweeping the West- many activities are passing for love. Well, love is a nebulas word these days. Although we can sum up God’s Law by one word love- it is still helpful to break down the definition of love to see how it works out. Love is…
1. The Debt you can never repay.
Bad Debt: Being in debt is always a dangerous place to be in life - always to be avoided as much as possible. Ties in with being a good citizen- no debt means you add rather than subtract from the society around you. Debt is very dangerous- CAP (Christians Against Poverty)- a powerful ministry, one we will need more and more in uncertain economic times. This is not saying- No debt- just enforcing the need to pay debt back. Part of the reason of course for doing that is the inherent risk and therefore danger of debt.
But this talk of debt is quickly turned into a bridge in Paul’s mind, serving to deliver him onto another side of a riverbank. He wants to talk about another form of debt that can never be paid off!
Origen put it, “Let your only debt that is unpaid be that of love—a debt which you should always be attempting to discharge in full, but will never succeed in discharging.” Moo, Douglas J..(p. 433).
To love! “Ok, I have loved you enough…time to stop!” OK, I have loved you for ten years- time to trade you in for a new model! The day will come when you pay your mortgage off, but not your marriage off, not your parental bond off, nor your fellowship in the Gospel’s love, nor the love towards your neighbor. In fact, this call to perpetual love is so strong that it is a Law- the Law of God in fact.
2. The Extent of the Debt
We are on a bit of a train journey here – the Context: Train detour- 12.9-21 theme of love, now back on track. The Carriages on the train - the section on the state v.1-7 is wedged between the command to love our enemies in chapter 12.17-21 and to love our neighbor in chapter 13:8-10 - living as part of society- v.8 (whoever loves others) loving our fellow man, v.9 loving our neighbor, then it’s love inside the church- love one another. So everyone gets to ride on this love train.
The Couplings: 13.7- give what you owe to the State, then v.8 is broader- give what you owe to the citizens of the State which is to pay the debt of love. We are not called to be hermits, but salt and light in every corner of our neighborhoods, communities and cities. E.g., the early bishops in the Roman Empire were known for their practical love towards the poor…that one by one, love is shown to our fellow citizens, and that is a debt that will never be fully paid off!
As for action, Christians met the obligation to care for the sick rather than desert them, and thereby saved enormous numbers of lives! Toward the end of a plague, Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria wrote a pastoral letter to his church, extolling those who had nursed the sick and especially those who had given their lives in doing so: Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.
Stark, Rodney. The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion (p. 117). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
3. Fulfilling the Debt
a. The Law: Now Paul speaks the Love language of his Jewish audience- he exalts this call to love by dressing love in the most glorious robes than Jewish people could imagine, he calls it the fulfillment of the Law and there was nothing more important to them than the Law of God because they knew the Law of God reflected the Heart of who God is.
- For us today - it works the opposite way! I compare it to a conversation I overheard recently in Panera Bread restaurant where two believers talked only in terms of being freed from the Law completely, leaving the ten commandments no part in a Christian’s life. So which is it?
- There are 613 laws in the Old Testament and they are like a nut- hit it and it splits into three broad categories - civil, ceremonial, and moral laws.
b. But Who really fulfills the Law? See Romans chapter 7- the power source which alone can keep God’s law comes through Jesus Christ - what we can’t do- Christ does, Rom.8.3ff… what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.
- Christ alone fulfills the Law Rom.6. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master because you are not under the law, but under grace.
- Therefore are Law and love- incompatible? The Law can be framed in the negative- you shall not, and in the positive- you shall…
- Love does not have an inner compass of its own, it needs an external moral standard. Otherwise, it turns to sentiment – feelings, desires, etc. But you can command love because it’s more than a feeling, it’s an action towards another person. It’s this last division of the Law- the ethical category, like the Ten Commandments, that Paul is focused upon here….
c. 3 Levels of Application – on the road to faith there are 3 steps in using the Law:
- To Restrain sin – like a baby harness, or the Curb on the road, it acts like a barrier saying, don’t go there.
- To Convict us - that we are sinners – it’s like a mirror, we see what we really are inside. For example, the Law says envy is very wrong, but when we look inside our hearts we discover envy is everywhere, like cancer.
- As a Rule of Life – The Law is like a map. It shows us how to live practically e.g. don’t tell people lies. Or to paint that in a positive picture it’s like a garden, full of the flowers that please the Father e.g. where the sacred flowers of life, sexuality, property and truth all flourish. Why would we not want to grow these flowers for God’s pleasure? In the garden, there are many flowers, but as you enter the garden it’s through a large brick wall, and over the doorway is the name of the garden- Agape- Love. (PowerPoint Slides - 10 commandments = Love)
- The Law can’t judge you, it can’t condemn you, for there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. But Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and to live without law would be to live in sin. Prof. Donald MacLeod, Edinburgh Theological Seminary.
- So now through the Holy Spirit you are empowered to keep it as a way of life, not as a way of salvation, but as "under the law of Christ" as a rule of life Gal. 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.)."
Conclusion: which one today, right now do you need the power of the Holy Spirit to help you in? Realize the eternal weight of God’s law rests upon this call to love in that specific way.