“Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law. Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency, as in the daylight: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires.” (Romans 13:10b-14 HCSB)
I’m not a tux and tails kind of guy. Never have been. No, I’m much more a flannel and denim type of person. I wear a suit and tie when I need to, but I would much rather be in my fishing clothes, standing in the middle of stream with a pole. But, the real key is to be aware of the situation and circumstances and wear the appropriate attire. You could go fishing in a tux, but why would you? You could wear your fishing gear to a formal dinner affair, but you’re likely to feel and, certainly, look out of place. In fact, as I write these words, I’m planning to attend an important work meeting tomorrow and I’ve been told, by my boss, that the attire is “business casual.” I doubt that means a fishing shirt and denim jeans. Business casual, it really just means slacks, a button down collared shirt, a suit/sport coat and leave off the tie. Right? Yeah, it is always better to be a little overdressed for one of these meetings than underdressed.
In this week’s focal passage, Paul tells us not only why we should love our neighbor but how we should “dress” for the occasion. Let me begin by reminding you that last week we ended on a high note, LOVE is the the fulfillment of the law. The law isn’t just a list of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” commands that might leave us feeling as if following God is going to be a very boring life. It is full of the challenges to love people in the same manner that God loves us and, more to the point, how we love ourselves. We were reminded that the law isn’t just about simple moral commands, like “don’t murder” someone, but a lesson on how to love them the way that we are loved. When you love God supremely and love others like yourself then that kind of love results in the fulfillment of God’s commands in a positive way and not just a negative “don’t do that” moral demand approach to obedience.
Paul begins this section by pointing back at those things (love fulfills the law) and points forward with “besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour to WAKE UP from sleep.” So, in addition to the discovery that love fulfills the laws demands, Paul wants us to know it is time to wake up from our sleep and get busy. Wow. What a timely message for the church. What a timely message for OUR church. Hey Church! Wake UP! Get busy letting the love of God and love for our neighbors be on public display as a means to glorify God and draw men to Christ.
I think we often have this false view of the early church as if everything she did was perfect and Christ honoring. Not really. While there are certainly great examples of faith, obedience and Godly love for neighbor, there are also lots of poor examples. Examples of very real personal struggles, stumbling faith, halting obedience and faltering love for God and others. Scripture never glosses over the early church’s struggles, but lays them out in glaring contrast to God’s expectations (see Acts 4:32 – 5:11, for one example).
Now, Paul addresses the issue of a sleeping church in Rome as the dawn begins to appear and the time of salvation is near. The language Paul uses indicates that he’s talking about the second coming of Christ. The culmination of our salvation. The completion of our transformation. The fulfillment of God’s promises. You see, we live in this “almost, but not quite” time in God’s plan. When Jesus came, He brought the Kingdom of God from heaven to earth – well, almost.
“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God will come, He answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable; no one will say, ‘Look here! ’ or ‘There! ’ For you see, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21 HCSB)
The Pharisees expected the Kingdom of God to come in a manner that would expel Roman rule and restore Israel’s independence. But, Jesus tells them that the “kingdom of God is not coming” in an observable way but that the “kingdom is among you” or in your midst. I can almost see the Pharisees stop, when Jesus said that, and look around. Where? He was standing in their midst, yet they missed it. The kingdom of God was in front of them and they couldn’t see it. I’d remind you, Jesus prayed “Father… thy Kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth, just as in heaven.” The coming of God’s kingdom among men is when God’s will is being done by His people, just like it was being done by Jesus. It is when the church is living in accordance with God’s Word and His will, is obedient to His commands, and is actively expressing and being empowered by His love. In other words, the kingdom of God is among men when the church is living like Jesus.
WAKE UP, church!
So, Paul says it is TIME to wake up because “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” How can salvation be nearer now than when we first believed? Salvation has a moment of redemption, a lifetime of transformation, and an eternity of blessed completion. I became a follower of Jesus at the age of eight, I am currently following Him and in a state of ongoing transformation, but I anticipate the time when I will die or Jesus will return and my transformation will finally be competed. I was saved, I’m being saved, and I will be saved – the past, present and future tense of God’s redemptive work. So, the salvation that Paul references that is “nearer to us now” is that final state of redemptive completion. In this instance, I don’t believe Paul is referencing the death of believers but is referencing the return of Christ. In other words, we need to wake up because our Lord is returning soon and we need to be ready.
I know, the church has been claiming this for 2,000 years. But when? Surely, if He was going to return then He would have, right? Why the delay? What’s taking so long? “They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:4, 9 ESV) So, God isn’t being slow to fulfill His promise because He’s forgotten or is negligent. He’s patient, wanting everyone to reach repentance and turn to Christ in faith. He’s giving you a chance to come to Him in faith, will you? Maybe you don’t quite understand the urgency in Paul’s words…
I’m a procrastinator by nature. I do my best work under a looming deadline. However, I’ve learned that really only works when you have two fairly accurate numbers; how much time it will really take you to complete the work and how long you have to get it done. It’s simply impossible to do 4 hours of actual work in one hour of time. Often, you can’t even do that if you have 4 people trying to complete the 4 hours of work in one hour of time. So, when you are missing those numbers or the numbers won’t work then procrastinating is a bad idea. There’s nothing quite like walking into a meeting with your boss and saying, “Sorry, I didn’t get that done. I ran out of time. I did a poor job of planning and preparing.” Those meetings usually end on a bad note, for you.
Now, just imagine having that same conversation with Jesus. He told us to be ready. Yes, He’s loving and forgiving but He also knows when we’re lying, being lazy or just shirking our responsibilities. Paul says, wake up because the night is far gone; the day is at hand. Wake up, church. We have a job to get done and the King will be back, soon. We don’t have any time to waste. Not only that, people are dying while we play around. The longer we stay focused on the wrong things, the less time we have and the more people we miss with the message. The longer we delay in loving others like He commands the later it gets and more people die without Christ or hope.
So, let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Sounds a little cryptic, doesn’t it? What are works of darkness? Sounds a bit ominous. Put on the armor of light. What does that mean? Paul explains, the works of darkness are those things done at night, in secret or places where folks don’t know you. He then gets much more specific, live your life in a way that draws folks towards God and what’s good and decent and not in partying and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy.
“Our bodies have been created not just by God. Our bodies have been created for God. This culture screams at every turn, ‘Please your body.’ The Bible shouts at every turn, ‘Please God.’” — David Platt
So, the focus of Paul’s words is not on what we shouldn’t do (partying, sexual promiscuity, fighting) but is really focused on this phrase: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly (physical) desires.” As I pointed out last week, we shouldn’t focus on the “don’t” commandments but focus on those we can “do”, love God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. This “put on Jesus” statement is, in essence, the same thing. Don’t put on those dirty clothes (or actions) of your past life but put on the clean, fresh, life-changing love of God. Begin to live like Jesus did, not for His own benefit and glory but for God’s benefit, God’s purpose, God’s glory.
We all seek and, usually, struggle to find purpose in our life and that’s because we often search in the wrong place. We look for our life purpose in our work, our relationships, our achievements, and our knowledge and skills. When those things fail to provide what we seek, we struggle with self worth, personal goals and often with depression. In other words, when we get our life priorities in the right order, the order that God prescribes, then we begin to discover our purpose and our passion. Paul says, put on Christ and don’t make plans to satisfy your physical desires. Get your priorities and plans in line with how God made you, to love and serve Him and you’ll begin to find that life becomes satisfying, fulfilling.
I want to end by simply pointing out that we often make plans to satisfy our physical desires, but we seldom make plans to “put on Christ”. We’re willing to focus our life and attention on those things that leave us feeling empty and used but we ignore the very thing that will bring us joy and contentment. If this is what you’re doing, you’re focused on the wrong thing. Stop, evaluate where you’re headed and make plans to change direction – plan to “put on Christ” and discover what its like to love Him and be loved by Him, to serve Him and to be served by Him. If you do, you’ll be dressed for the occasion when He returns.