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Christian love (Rom 13:8-14)

Love is in the air – we had our first of four Summer weddings in church this week! (And a new series of “Love Island” has begun on ITV too, if that’s your thing!). But what does true love look like? Is it just about romantic feelings and directed only to our spouse – or is true Christian love rather more comprehensive than that?

Its here that today’s passage from Romans comes to our aid. Because in today’s reading the apostle Paul provides us with a biblical perspective on love. In particular he offers us good reasons to love others, he explains what Christian love looks like; and he hints at the help available to us when we struggle to love. Let’s begin by looking at why we should love others…

Christians have a debt to pay!

Did you know that the UK Government borrowed just over £300 bn last year, equivalent to 15% of our GDP – the biggest sum ever in peacetime! The cost of furlough payments and fighting COVID means that our total national debt now stands at £2.1 trillion (£2,100 bn)! That’s equivalent to 97% of UK GDP and equivalent to £32,000 for every British man, woman and child. Its a vast amount, an inconceivable sum, that that will almost certainly not be fully repaid in our lifetimes. It is an ongoing, continuing debt that our country has to its creditors.

In verse 8 this morning, Paul introduces us to another ongoing debt that can never be fully repaid. He commands us to have a continuing love for those around us. Or as he puts it: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (v.8)

Our obligation every day is to find ways we can love our neighbour. Whether that’s by practical tasks, or by words of encouragement, evangelism or and advice – or simply by praying for someone, its our daily duty to love those people we come into contact with.

And Paul doesn’t want us to simply take his word for it. On the contrary, he says, all of God’s Old Testament commands can be summed up and condensed into a single requirement to love our neighbour. As Paul says in verses 8 and 9: “whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law. (v.9-10)

When we come to the New Testament, we see that this command to love our neighbour is a comprehensive, all embracing one. Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that anyone we meet in need is our neighbour – whatever their race, colour or creed.

And in our Gospel reading this morning, Christ makes clear that even our enemies are entitled to our love. Our debt of love to those around us really is without limit!

What does Christian love look like?

I’ve spent a bit of time this week watching some of the highlights from the Tour de France. The strength, stamina and bravery of the riders is amazing to see, as they endure hours in the saddle, steep climbs – and (this week) some terrifying crashes that make you wince!

But its one category of riders who particularly impress me. They are known as the “domestiques” (or “servants”), and they are the riders who who work selflessly for the benefit of their team leader. These domestiques sacrifice their own ambitions of winning the Tour de France to help one of their team mates get hold of the famous Yellow Jersey.

The domestiques’ duties include:

  • Supplying their team leader with drinks and food, so he doesn’t have to carry them himself.
  • They provide practical and verbal encouragement to their team leader if he is struggling to keep pace or takes a tumble. They often provide a slipsteam for their leader, sometimes even give the team leader their own bike if his own one breaks down.

In short, these domestiques are a great example of self-sacrifice. For the good of their team-mate, they endure personal hardship and a humble position.

From a Christian perspective, the work of the domestiques is almost a work of love. To love others is to serve them, it is to put their needs before our own. It is to find ways to benefit them and keep them from harm. Who can we serve this week, I wonder? How can we minister to our family members, friends, colleagues and others in the coming days? Can we help them practically? Can we encourage them verbally? Can we pray for them, spiritually? Have a think!

Clothe yourself in Christ!

In the Tour de France, the ‘domestiques’ wear the same colour cycling outfit as the leader they serve. They have the same appearance as their master.

The same principle applies to Christians, because Paul says twice in our passage today that Christians must be correctly attired! We must look like our ‘team leader’, the Lord Jesus. So in verse 12, Paul says: “let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light”. We are to live upright, moral, ethical lives that imitate the life of Christ. Our lifestyle must appear Christ-like and loving to the watching world.

Paul makes a similar point in verse 14, when he tells his readers to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”. We clothe ourselves with Christ by putting our faith him, living lives of love like him, and by allowing ourselves to be strengthened and guided by his Holy Spirit.

So as we await Christ’s return, as the day of salvation draws near, let’s love one another as Christ loves us.

Phil Weston