Have you ever come to a breaking point in your life when you realized that it was time to make some changes, but you weren't completely certain what changes you needed to make? I remember a particular season like that in my life that took place when my children were all very little. I was involved in so many things at once, and had taken on more ministry responsibilities than I should have. On top of that, I was working three jobs, and had started neglecting things like my health, my personal finances, and good stewardship of my available time.
Finally, I came to a point one evening when I said to my wife, "Andrea, we're driving to Florida for some vacation." It had been a long time since I had taken time off, so she didn't really believe me when I first said that. She told me later that she actually believed me when she heard me pay for the hotel over the phone.
We took that vacation, and it was a wonderful experience. Giving myself a week to decompress and relax with my family was a huge help to me. I remember saying to myself, "So, this is why people seem to like vacations so much." While I was rested up, I was able to take a better assessment of everything I was involved in, and when we returned home, I began to reprioritize my obligations, commitments, and demands on my time. I kept some things, dropped others, and started to see the priorities the Lord wanted me to focus on more clearly.
I think Romans 13:8-14 is a portion of God's word that can be helpful to us all in that same respect. In looking at this Scripture, I think we're invited to ask, "Is it time for me to restructure my life's priorities?" Take a look a some of the priorities that are emphasized in this passage...
I. Owe nothing but love
I'm grateful for the emphasis we see in Scripture related to the concept of "love". By nature, God is the perfection of love. He has shown us His love in countless ways, but there's no greater example of love we can point to than the fact that God the Father gave His Son, Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. And since we're the beneficiaries of the deepest kind of love that could possibly be demonstrated, we're called to be lavish in sharing that love with others.
In Romans 13:8, Paul speaks of the concept of debt when he tells us, "Owe no one anything, except to love each other,". It's clear that his emphasis here is on showing love generously, but I appreciate the way he explains the concept in this passage. He appeals to the familiar life experience of owing debts as he stresses this truth.
I don't know what your perspective toward debt happens to be at present, but my perspective has definitely changed during the course of my life. I used to be quite comfortable with debt, and I had plenty of it. In addition to my mortgage, there was a time in my life when I had vehicle debt, student loan debt, and credit card debt. In time, I realized that having those debts had a negative impact on my quality of life, so I worked hard to get rid of them. At present, I'm at the tail end of my mortgage, which is my last debt, and by the grace of God, it is my intention to never incur another financial debt as long as I live.
I imagine that Paul would support that goal, but if he was coaching me, he would remind me that as a follower of Christ, there is one obligation that will remain in my life even after my financial obligations are satisfied. Even when my mortgage balance finally reaches zero, I will continue to be obligated to love my brothers and sisters in Christ. It's Christ's calling on my life and your life, not to hold love back or fail to offer it. As recipients of His generous love toward us, we're instructed to be lavish in the genuine love we share with others. In so doing, we will fulfill the essence of what the Ten Commandments were teaching us to do toward our friends, family, and neighbors.
II. Understand the heart of what God has commanded
If I asked you to recite the Ten Commandments, could you? When I was a child, the church I grew up in required me to memorize them. In our home, I give my kids the gift of extra time online if they write out the Ten Commandments, explain what they mean, and then sign and date the sheet they wrote them out on. I think the Ten Commandments are important to know.
The initial group of commandments focus on our relationship with God:
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not worship any graven image.
3. You shall not take God's name in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath to keep it holy.
The second group of commandments focus on our relationships with one another:
5. Honor your father and your mother.
6. You shall not kill.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness.
10. You shall not covet.
But even if you can't remember the Ten Commandments in order, I'm sure you can remember this simple summary of them, "Love God and love one another." Isn't that what Paul is explaining here? If we love others with the love that we have been shown through Jesus Christ, we won't disrespect them, hurt them, steal from them, or kill them. If we love our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our co-workers, (even those who act like they're our enemies) with the love of Christ, we are effectively fulfilling the teaching of God's law regarding human relationships.
III. Turn off the TV, and open the shades
The other day, I was talking to someone who was unhappy that his TV remote was missing. A member of his family that stopped by for a visit had misplaced it, and the loss of that remote seemed to have a major impact on the quality of his day. A few days earlier, I was talking to someone I grew up with. She told me that one of our common friends has come to a season of life where, by choice, most of his time is spent sleeping or watching TV. What do you think about those decisions? Is that how the Lord wants us to live our lives and spend our time?
When Paul conducted his apostolic ministry, I get the impression that he did it with a sense of urgency. When reading the Scriptures that he penned, or the Scriptures that were written about him, I'm given the impression that he wanted to make the best use of the time he had been given. And as we can see in Romans 13:11, he wanted us to make good use of our time as well.
In this verse, Paul was addressing the problem of spiritual laziness and complacency. Spiritual complacency truly is a tragedy, particularly for believers who ought to know better. We don't have much time, so why waste it? Now is the time for us to wake from our slumber, because the full effects of our salvation will be experienced sooner than we realize. In Christ, we have been justified. At present, the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us. Next up, the Father will glorify us, and we'll finally experience the eternal outcome of what He is doing for us.
So if you've been complacent about your walk with Christ, it's time to turn off the TV and throw open the shades. Don't waste the time you've been given. Use it to make investments in your walk with Christ, and then as your faith is overflowing, make that same investment in the spiritual lives of others. But don't just sit around and stare.
IV. Live in the light of Christ
The final priority Paul emphasizes in this chapter is the concept of prioritizing living in the light of Christ, instead of the darkness of sin and temptation. Keep in mind the fact that he's expressing this teaching to fellow believers. Let that sink in for just a second. Paul is making it clear that those who have been blessed with new life in Christ can quite easily be led astray, or lured into the temptations of darkness if they aren't intentional about wearing the armor of the light of Christ.
Look at some of the examples Paul gives of the works of darkness. He speaks of sexual sin, drunkenness, quarreling, and jealousy. Do you think you're above being tempted by any one of these issues? He also admonishes us to "put on" or clothe ourselves with the presence of Christ, so we won't makes plans and provisions aimed at rebelling against Him.
All of us have struggles, and none of us makes it through this life without making mistakes. So as you look at this passage, don't make the additional mistake of assuming that the Lord isn't aware of our struggles. In a fallen world, it can be difficult to consistently live in the light of Christ. But don't forget that we aren't being asked to do so without His help. He hasn't asked us to clothe ourselves in our own armor. Christ offers us His armor. And I'm confident that the protective power of Christ within us and around us is sufficient for what we need.
So, what have been your priorities up to this point in life? Are these the priorities you believe Christ is calling you to continue to emphasize, or is it time to restructure them? Is the love of Christ lavishly flowing from your life? Do you understand the heart behind what God has commanded? Are you sleeping when you should be active? Are you living in the light of Christ?
© John Stange, 2019