Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law

Paul’s letter to the Romans follows a familiar pattern that is found in many of his letters. He spends the first several chapters focusing on the Gospel. Then in chapter 12 Paul starts to focus on applying the Gospel to our everyday lives:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2, ESV)

You can have the greatest message in the world, which the Gospel truly is, and yet if it does not apply to our everyday lives, what good is it? The Gospel is the greatest message in the world and it applies beautifully to our everyday lives.

In chapter 13 Paul discusses two specific ways that the Gospel applies to our lives. As we shall see in this post, both are important but one is more important than the other.

The first thing that Paul mentions is that every person must be subject to the governing authorities:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1-2, ESV)

There is no authority except that which God has established and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Those who rebel against the authorities are rebelling against what God has established.

This is based on the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your Father and your Mother.” Martin Luther’s Small Catechism explains: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise our parent and other authorities but give them honor, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”

When it comes to earthly authorities 2020 is going to go down as quite the year. It was already going to be a memorable years simply because, in case you haven’t heard, we are having a presidential election.

When the pandemic broke out we turned to the government. Then the demonstrations started. And they have not always been peaceful. Again, this has put our governing authorities in the spotlight.

The authorities have certainly had to step up this year.

The second thing Paul talks about is loving our neighbor:.

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. [9] For 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: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [10] Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10, ESV)

In Matthew 22 the following exchange took place between Jesus and a lawyer:

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. [36] ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ [37] And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment. [39] And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [40] On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:35-40, ESV)

Love is the law that is actually more important than submitting to the governing authorities. I think this is best illustrated with something that happened to two pastors back in 2008 when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding area.

As the authorities often do when hurricanes hit, the governing authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order. In response to the government’s order to evacuate the area the first pastor packed up his family and some of his belongings and headed out of town. He made it to safety and waited until it was safe to return to his home. He fits in with the first part of the text where it says we are to obey the government.

The other pastor also heard the evacuation order and prepared to evacuate. But as he is getting ready to leave, he went to make sure everything was in order at his church. Then there was a knock at the door. It was some people who were seeking shelter. They knew they had to leave but they had nowhere to go. They need shelter. So the pastor stayed. He did not evacuate as the government had ordered. Instead he opened his church to anyone who needed shelter. Several hundred people ended up seeking shelter from Hurricane Katrina in his church.

This pastor fits in with the second part of the text the part about loving our neighbors.

There are times when love for our neighbor will take priority over doing what the government says.

This applies directly to the Gospel. Instead of following the law to the letter, which meant that God would have to condemn us to death, God chose to love us. He sent Jesus to fulfill the law for us and then to die for us on the cross.

Because of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins on the cross we know that when we come knocking on God’s door needing shelter from sin, death and the devil, we will not be turned away. God’s love always takes precedence over strict adherence to the law, even the laws of the governing authorities.

We are not always going to get things right. There has been much uncertainty especially in dealing with the pandemic and the racial unrest. Almost every church has had a different approach to reopening. Each church did what they thought was best for their congregation.

Back in May, as the shutdown dragged on, our church leaders were prepared to defy Minnesota’s governor, Tim Walz and reopen our churches whether he allowed us to or not. Fortunately, Governor Walz changed his mind and it never came to a direct conflict but it could have if both sides had dug in.

There again the Gospel needs to have precedence. If mistakes are made whether by the authorities or the by us the, the citizens, we need to show love. That is why our church leaders thought it was so critical to get the churches opened up again. The love of Christ, which is such a great blessing and force for good, was not being proclaimed.

The Gospel is the greatest message in the world and it applies beautifully to our everyday lives. Because of Christ we know that whenever we come knocking on God’s door he will shelter us from all of life’s storms. We do need to submit to our governing authorities because they are sent from God. But above everything we show love to our neighbors.

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