Always In Debt

Lesson 51: Romans 13:8-10

Always In Debt

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I was too young to understand what was going on when the relatives on my mother’s side of the family all gathered at my grandparent’s house for a Mortgage Burning. It seemed a little strange when everyone gathered in the kitchen and gave little speeches. Then they set fire to a piece of paper and dropped it into the sink. Everyone cheered when the flames appeared. Then there were congratulations and lots of smiles.

I didn’t notice anything particularly different about how that paper burned, no sparks or colored flames. Why did it mean so much to everybody? That thing they called “mortgage” burned just about like all the other paper I ever saw set on fire.

After it was over my parents tried to explain what it was all about. They have retold the story a few times or I would not remember what they said. They explained that when someone buys a house it costs so much that you have to borrow money to pay for it. The mortgage was the paper that said the house wasn’t completely yours until you paid back the money you borrowed. After many years my grandparents owned their house in full so the mortgage paper could be burned. The debt was gone and everyone was happy.

As I got older I learned that there are many things we are not able to pay for right away. We borrow to be able to afford things like college tuitions, houses, and cars. Sometimes our debts can become quite a burden. It is a nice feeling when a debt is retired and the payments end.

There is a debt which is neither a troublesome burden, nor can it ever be retired. It is the debt of love. It is a joy to make the payments on this debt. Unlike that mortgage, the debt of love can never be paid off so that we are free of its obligations. It is a debt that we love to have. Unlike our financial debts the debt of love relieves our burdens and brings joy.

Paul had just spoken of our duty concerning material debts in verse 7, “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” These kinds of obligations can be a burden. Owing money or service to someone can be a nagging misery. Then Paul brings up that un-retireable debt in verse 8.

Our only unpaid debt to others,
ought to be our love toward them.

Romans 13:8a, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, …”

Some misunderstand this verse believing that it forbids all borrowing. Paul is not addressing the economic issue of borrowing here. Loans were regulated in God’s law, but they were not forbidden (see Exodus 22:25). Jesus said in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:42, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” If God approved of borrowing in those instances, it must not be a moral problem in itself.

There will always be debts. Our goal and duty is to satisfy them by paying them off responsibly to eliminate the obligation. There is that one exception to our desire to retire our debts. We ought to be conspicuously unable to stop loving.

But what is this thing called love? If we are going to understand the principle taught here we need to know what we are dealing with. We have dealt with the “love” issue many times before because it is one of those central themes we see evidenced all through the Bible.

Moses summed up the law not only in 10 Commandments. He also summarized the first four commandments in Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” and in Leviticus 19:18 he summarized the last 6 Commandments saying, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus quoted those words of Moses in his summary of what the law is in Matthew 22:37-40, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Paul quotes these same words of Moses in verse 9 of Romans 13.

Law and love stand in such a close and intimate relationship, that it is hard to find places in the Bible that talk about one of the two without the other. Jesus made these two indivisible when he said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

I defined love by its biblical boundaries a few lessons ago in our study of Romans 12, “Love is a disposition implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled joyfully to obey the revealed desires of our Creator; both toward the Lord himself, and toward others.”

Therefore there are those three distinct aspects of love as God created it.

First, there is love’s foundation. The human ability to love as God defines it was lost by the fall in Eden. To be made able to love as we should, we need to be regenerated by the application of the work of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer. Only then are we made able to honor God out of gratitude, and to be devoted in our actions and attitudes to promote godliness in others. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” His redeeming love is our enablement.

Next we experience the work of love. This is the obedience of a grateful heart changed by grace. Once restored by the work of our Redeemer we become a tool in the hand of a loving God. We are moved by the compassion he implants in our hearts to do those things which put our concerns for others into action. When people do helpful things for their own benefit or advancement, it is not love. The biblical concept of love shows itself when others are treated as God says they should be treated, and when it is done with the driving desire to glorify God and to give him all the credit for the good that we do.

Finally, when we engage in doing that which is love, we receive its blessing. There is a feeling that overtakes our hearts when we love. Therefore the legitimate feeling of love is a result of God’s blessing upon our being loving. Love is not just a feeling as the world often sees it.

God gave us his written word so that we could look there to know what things we should do to be really acting with love. Jesus said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. …”

Unregenerated people, cannot know love as humans were created to know it. Their inner disposition remains unsubmissive to the glory of the True God. However, since love is such an important part of what it is to be human, a substitute for love had to be switched for the real thing. The feeling was turned into the reality of love, completely reversing the way God made our hearts to work. They believe the feeling of love is what stirs us to act lovingly toward someone. Love then becomes something mysterious into which we fall. It is reasonable then to suppose that if we just fall into love, we can fall out of it just as easily. Some marriage vows promise to remain married “as long as we both shall love,” rather than the biblical form God gives us to remain loving “as long as we both shall live.”

This does not mean that unbelievers never do kind things which they may call “love”. God restrains sin in all people every day. If he did not do that, total chaos would break out. However, their obedience does not come from a redeemed disposition. God’s glory is not their main object. When people are motivated to be kind by what makes them feel good, the whole idea of love is turned inside out and upside down. Self interest becomes the driving force, rather than thankfulness for the grace of God and a true concern for others God has created.

This is why the things the world calls love are often fleeting and unsatisfying. When the Beatles sang, “All You Need is Love,” there was some truth to the words, but they had a completely wrong view of love. It was divorced from the Savior who alone makes love possible, and from God’s word which alone shows us what love does.

The debt to love, is never satisfied or set aside. It is the one debt we cannot pay off. Dr. Robert Haldane says of those who treasure the debt to love, “The more they pay of this debt, the richer will they be in the thing that is paid.”

The debt of love here in Romans 13:8 is actually a blessing because of the fact that it can never be retired. We can no more be released from the command to love, than from the moral principles God summarized as expressions of love in the Ten Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).

The debt of love is owed to all our neighbors, not just to believers. No one is excluded, and the obligation is never concluded.

Love and law are closely connected in God’s word

Romans 13:8, “… for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Dr. Charles Hodge wrote on this verse, “Acquit yourselves of all obligations, tribute, custom, fear, honor or whatever else you may owe, but remember that the debt of love is still unpaid, and always must remain so; for love includes all duty since he that loves another fulfills the law.”

Since the Gospel enables us to love by grace, and since the moral law defines what loving behavior is, therefore if God puts the desire of love into our hearts, and we learn from the law what is right to do, then by loving our neighbor, we will be fulfilling the law of God most perfectly. Perfect love would be perfect obedience to the law of God. Love is the thing the law demands and reveals. Love is the very thing the law shows the unredeemed he cannot do. The whole law is grounded in our love to God and to man. So Jesus said in Mt 22:40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

To illustrate what law he meant, Paul quotes a few Commandments.

Romans 13:9, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “

It wasn’t necessary for Paul to list all ten of the Commandments. It was sufficient to quote Commandments: 7, 6, 8 and 10. Then he quoted from Leviticus 19:18 showing that it is all summed up by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Love was never given as a replacement for the law. That is never said in the Bible. The Antinomians who say that, cut the meaning out of both love and law. God never gave love to be instead of law. He gave the law to show what it means to love. The inability to do so condemns the lost and proves the depravity of us all aside from God’s grace. Jesus satisfied the law for his people judicially by dying in their place. He satisfied its demands practically by granting them his righteousness. Yet he also works in the redeemed person’s life so that they will be being conformed more and more to the moral perfections God reveals to us in his law.

The first 4 commandments show that God is not loved in just what ever way we imagine. He is loved when we worship only him and no other god, when we refuse to make physical images to represent him, when his name is used only with due honor and respect, and when his whole Sabbath Day is kept as he tells us to keep it.

The last 6 commandments show what it is to have true love toward our neighbor. Loving our neighbors is not just whatever makes people happy and comfortable in some nebulous sort of way. It is to honor parents and those God puts in authority, to respect life and oppose murder. It is to work for what we have and not try to get things by wrong or immoral ways. It is to tell the truth because it is right to do so, not only because it might feel good or further our own interests. And love is to enjoy and manage responsibly what God gives us, not coveting what God has given to others.

As Moses, Jesus and Paul all put it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It does not say because you love yourself. The modern idea that self love must come first is a tragic lie that ruins lives in a very cruel way. Self-centeredness is condemned throughout Scripture. Rather, it says we should love our neighbor “as” we love ourselves. God made us to instinctively protect and look after our safety and well being. We duck when things come at our heads fast. We blink when our eyes are threatened. We jump out of the way if something is about to hit us.

We are glad to protect ourselves from murder, theft, lies and oppression. We try to make sure that God’s law is not violated by others trying to hurt us. This is how we ought to deal with our neighbors. We ought to do all we can to promote God’s blessing in their lives.

Only when a person learns to make God to be his first love can he begin to appreciate the worth of all humans as creatures of God, created in his image and valuable, even the tiniest unborn baby. Only then can he appreciate the awesome debt Jesus paid to redeem a sinner, transforming a rebel against God, into child of God who is loved forever.

Love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

The Apostle draws the simple and obvious conclusion. If we do what God says is right and good toward our neighbor, we do him no wrong. Love looks for ways to help others to be blessed. It does this because it is right and because it honors God to do so.

Real love is not just a gushy feeling we fall into and someday may fall out of. It is not a deep need to be with someone who makes us feel good to be around. It is not the occasional charitable things we do for the poor and needy.

Love is a behavior that flows from a heart redeemed by Christ. Love is a source that creates a river that keeps flowing, a debt that is constantly being paid, a debt that makes us glad to owe it.

Those who do not love in this way are not redeemed by grace. They do not want to love in this way. It goes against the core of their nature which is centered in self.

1 John 3:17, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

1 John 4:8, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

The love we show in this life on earth is imperfect in all of us. Such love is perfect only in Jesus Christ. However, though imperfect it grows in us if we belong to the Savior through the new birth.

Our humble and sincerely repentant effort to love God and our neighbor shows Christ to others. Our Christian witness is not just the occasional opportunity to explain the Gospel. That is a wonderful act of love and should be done whenever possible. Our witness is also that life we lead hour by hour every day. It is how we shop, drive, work, invest, play, party, relax, lead, or follow. It is the continual showing of the evidence of our Savior’s work in our hearts. John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The original Greek text of this verse (Romans 13:10) begins and ends with the word love. That is the emphasis God gives to it.

So Paul again states his theme: “love … is the fulfillment of the law.” If we do not have love for God’s glory, or for our neighbor’s benefit, what does it profit? What good is it to love with a false compassion that is only a disguise for satisfying self? There is no blessing in that. Evil dressed in the mask of godliness insults the divine law, which love is indebted to promote.

So, First, make sure of your salvation in Christ. Then, become so exercised in the ethics and morals of the Bible that those good principles seem natural to you. And pray for God’s sanctifying Spirit to mold you to be Christ-like toward God and others.

Love as if it is a wonderful debt to owe. Joyfully make the payments, all day, every day.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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The Poison of Revenge

Lesson 49: Romans 12:17-21

The Poison of Revenge

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Violence has been a part of our world since its earliest recorded moments. It uses whatever technologies are available to do damage and harm. There was a time when swords and well crafted clubs were the best and only weapons of terror. In time arrows, cross-bows, and the powerful long-bows extended the arm of terror and made it possible to penetrate the best protection and defenses available at the time. Not long after that gunpowder made it possible to hurl projectiles like canon balls and bullets hitting targets at greater distances and with more penetrating power. Riffling made the bullets even more accurate. Firearms became more portable, higher powered, and more sophisticated in their ability to hit targets quickly. Explosives have evolved into sophisticated nuclear devices able to be lobbed at enemies by missiles crossing oceans and continents with ease.

It is wrong to blame our present dangers on advances in technology. History records that some of the most devastating and savage acts of terrorism were not caused by bombs or automatic weapons. Entire populations were left maimed and dying in the wake of sweeping attacks by enemy nations in the time when the most sophisticated weapon was the sword.

The poison that gets out of control in terrorists and in unstable people is present in every fallen heart. We see it when aggressive drivers on the highway try to run others off the road, or take shots at them. We see riots where neighbors using rocks and clubs take out vengeance upon one another. We even see fights break out on playgrounds between children at play.

Vengeful attacks are not limited to physical violence. They may be launched in a barrage of hateful words spoken in hatred and revenge. People use cutting remarks or a sarcastic gestures to hurt others by belittling them or insulting them. They lash out to hurt back when they have been hurt. Vengeful attacks cannot be excused on the grounds of self defense. They are moved by a self-deified heart.

Paul explained the root of it all in Romans 5:12 where he said, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men.” The result is what Jeremiah described in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

Justice is imperfect in our world. Often the wicked appear to be getting away with evil. When victims see justice not carried out as quickly or as severely as they see fit, they may take the law into their own hands, or lash out to get even.

Revenge can be a sophisticated poison, one that is in some ways socially accepted and encouraged. They call it standing up for yourself, getting even, or sweet revenge. But it is not sweet at all. It’s a bitter poison to the human heart. It eats up the soul of those who steal God’s sole prerogative and right. Getting even often gets us a sour spirit. It usurps what is God’s, and shoulders a divine duty which no one can bear.

In Romans 12:17-21 Paul reviews God’s prescription for his children

Christians ought to resist the
temptation of personal vengeance.

Romans 12:17, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.”

Evil done toward us should not be paid back with evil of our own. It is the natural tendency of the lost human soul to seek revenge, retaliation, or retribution. That attitude must be replaced by a more proper view of justice and its deserts. Only our faith in the power of the risen Christ can enable us to overcome that urge to get even on our own. Testings of our character when we are wronged often expose the false hearted “Christian”.

We should be careful that our behavior is honorable in the sight of everyone. We should never let vengeance move us to lay aside right principles when we are wronged. There is no good moral law of God that can be set aside just because someone else is wicked. Personal vengeance is an unhealthy attitude, and it brings reproach upon the gospel, upon the name of Christ which we bear.

Believers are bound to do all they can to promote
peace rather than to return evil for evil.

Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

Jesus said that the peacemakers are the ones God blesses. When we promote peace we also fight against the misery that comes from revenge. The best thing for our own souls is to live as the God who made us prescribes. No one knows better than our Creator about what is good for us.

However, in this sinful world our attempts at peace are not always accepted. We cannot control all situations or how others respond to what we do or say. Our duty is to persevere toward promoting peace.

We also need to remember that peace at any cost is too great a price to pay. We cannot compromise with evil or abandon the demands of justice simply to make things seem to be peaceful. That which is purchased at the expense of duty or godly obedience cannot truly be called “peace.”

Revenge is not ours to take. It belongs to God.

Romans 12:19, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

People read the expression “give place to wrath” in different ways. Some have taken this to mean we should give room for the wrath of those who are against us, that we should step aside and give it room to rush on by. Though that is certainly correct in one sense, it is not what the words mean here.

The grammar indicates that this is making reference to the wrath of God. To clarify this the NASB translates it as, ” leave room for the wrath of God.” We ought to let wrath occur, as God has instructed us. It should not come by our personal attacks on others, but by just and proper authority. Let those God has put in charge deal with justice, though it may be imperfect for now. Give it time, give it room, and in the end, justice will be done without our violating God’s order.

Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35 which confirms that interpretation. There it says, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.”

The Lord is the only one who has a right to vengeance. He will deliver it justly in his good time.

Here on earth God assigns justice to be carried out only by certain people. Parents are to raise their children in love. When they disobey, their parents must discipline them kindly in ways that will encourage them in godliness. Elders are to shepherd the members of the church. When members are unrepentant, the Elders admonish them, bar them from the sacraments, or in extreme cases remove them from the church. Masters are to provide fairly for their employees. When they are unfaithful workers their employers may withhold pay, or dismiss them from work. Civil judges and governors are to keep the peace in society for their citizens. When crimes are committed they may impose fines, or even execute capitol offenders.

However, even those who hold these offices are not to take vengeance personally. They are to impose the corrections they are authorized to administer as agents of God. To interfere with these authorities is to defy God’s designation of his ministers (Romans 13). When we respect these authorities, and refrain from taking our own vengeance, we promote happiness for ourselves, and for all whose lives we touch.

Instead of personal vengeance,
we are to overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21,”Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”


While there are some confusing things about this passage, its meaning is clear. When people do evil against us and behave as enemies, we are to overcome the evil by doing good to them.

To illustrate this Paul uses the most common needs we can provide for them: food and drink. The principle is that we are not to return evil for evil, but should do good when ever we can. This was the law of God from the beginning. Human philosophy and culture perverts this idea as the Pharisees did in the time of Jesus. They said in Matthew 5:43, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” That is found no where in Scripture. It was a horrible corruption of God’s word.

Jesus corrected them and said in the next verse, “But I say to you, love your enemies” Then he expanded on that with references to the law they should have known: he said, “… bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

This fits perfectly with the elements of love we derived from Scripture in our last study. The foundation of love is a heart regenerated by the work of Jesus Christ. In our fallen estate we cannot love as God defines it. Only when new life is given to the lost by grace, can self-centered concerns be replaced by God-centered motives. The actions which are called “love” are the obediences to what God commands us to be and to do. Without God’s revelation, love would have no definition. When we do what God commands toward our neighbors and toward our enemies we are loving them. Jesus is said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” When we love as we should, God blesses us with a feeling of peace and satisfaction because we are being what he created and redeemed us to be. The “feeling of love” is a fruit of love, not its cause.

The confusing part of this passage is when Paul adds that in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Paul was quoting from Proverbs 25:21-22 following the wording of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament commonly used by the Jews at that time). This passage reads, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.”

Paul quotes this to explain why we should do good to those who do evil to us. this is our proper motive. But how is heaping coals of fire on an enemy’s head like doing good toward him? This is obvious figurative. It should not be taken as literal. Giving food and drink is not the same act as putting burning coals on a person’s head.

So what did this figure mean to those Hebrews who first read Proverbs 25? It seems to have been a common figure of speech or idiom understood by God’s people representing some judgment of God being poured out upon the wicked. For example we see in Psalm 140:10, “Let burning coals fall upon them; Let them be cast into the fire, Into deep pits, that they rise not up again.”

The idea of Dr. Ridderbos that this meant a neighborly gesture of given them a bucket of coals for their fire which they could carry home on their heads is creative. But he shows no support that this expression ever had that meaning.

So why should we hope that our doing good would bring down God’s judgment upon them? Certainly making them suffer should not be our motive in doing good. We do not leave them to God because he can hurt them more than we could. That goes against the whole context here. However, if our doing good is an evidence of God’s work in our own hearts, then it serves as a testimony to the truth and power of the gospel. Just before Jesus said that we should love our enemies, he also said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

This judgment of conscience (as God describes it in Romans 1 and 2) will show them their own corruption which they do not want to admit. It hurts them and works against what they want to believe, but God will use it to bring his chosen ones to repentance and conviction of sin. In this way some of those who are enemies are transformed into brothers in Christ.

Those not brought to repentance will become all the more angry when we respond kindly to their attacks. It reveals their lost rebellious hearts. It shows them as vessels of God’s wrath designed to reveal his power, justice and holiness (Romans 9:22). To them whose debt to God is not paid for by Christ, one day judgment will come eternally. The weight of their conscience serves as a warning to them of the wrath to come. Dr. Haldane points out that when a person is not overcome by good done to him unworthily, he must be in “the most awful state of hardened wickedness, and their punishment will be dreadful.”

God may at times use the pain to their conscience to cause them to back off. Regardless of how God uses the good we do to those who oppose us, it is the right thing for us to do because God commands it. Our motive in doing good is not to punish our enemies. It is an obedience to our Redeemer. To yield to anger is to be conquered by the enemy.

Vengeance shows weakness and frailty, not strength. The idea of personal vengeance is totally un-Christian. If we are vengeful, desire to get even, and if we inflict pain on those who hurt us (either physically or by our words), we reject this biblical teaching. We should have the attitude of Christ in us.

One of the sad chapters in my own childhood was the time I hurt a friend. As a child I was not a fighter. It was not something I would have been very good at anyway since I was one of the smaller kids in school. But my size made me a good victim when some of the bigger ones wanted to impress somebody. They would come up behind me as I walked home from school and start pushing or saying provoking things to make themselves look tough. Of course I was not so foolish as to give in and start a fight. That’s what they wanted me to do. I tried to turn the issue aside by the way I responded to their prodding. Most times it worked. Now and then I would end up taking a few hits, no serious harm. It was done more for show. They would walk off with their easily impressed friends.

One day I had a disagreement with a friend of mine, a boy whose family had moved to Buffalo from England. His name was John. He and I had the same birthday which we found to be a good start for a friendship. Now I don’t remember what the issue was, but John and I got into an after-school argument one day.

There were others who had gathered around watching us argue. Those more violently minded kids sensed a good opportunity to provoke a fight. That was a favorite after school pastime for some who lacked other things in which to excel. They started pushing us together and adding to our argument. We started to rather tamely poke at one another. Somehow, in the heat of the situation, the confrontation escalated into an all out punching match. Then I noticed that the bullies who had used me as their victim before, were actually urging me on and cheering for me against this new guy who wasn’t quite as well accepted yet. My selfish desire to take advantage of the moment, and to show John who was really right in our disagreement got the best of me. With one well thought out swing I gave it all I had. My little fist flew through the air and hit poor John right in the face below his eye. He bent over and grabbed the bruised spot and started to cry. The gang crowded around me with congratulations. For that moment I felt like a real hero.

The next day in class my already troubled conscience was stirred by my 4th grade teacher, Miss. Turner. I highly respected her and the patience she had with the class. I remember her noticing John’s bruise and asking what happened. There was no way I was going to help her out on this one. But the witnesses who had urged the whole thing on proudly shouted out that I did it. There it was — my moment in glory. The bullies actually attaching my name to victory and justice. But Miss Turner didn’t seem to see it that way. She looked at me with her kind but obviously troubled smile and said, “So I guess that means you won.”

It didn’t sound like she was really asking. Her tone of voice cut deeply. I didn’t feel like a winner at that point. And I knew I hadn’t proven that I was right about anything we had been arguing about either. I had done something I had no right to do. I felt very cowardly and defeated as that moment. I realized that the teacher I had so respected was disappointed in me. She had put her finger directly upon the real issue. There was no victory or justice there at all. Later that day I apologized to John. We continued as good friends until his family moved away again. Since then we have lost touch with one another as so often happens with our childhood friends.

That incident drove home an important lesson for me. When in God’s providence we are treated with cruelty, belittled, or taunted, we should realize that such matters cannot always be avoided. In God’s hidden purposes our suffering always has a very important purpose. Our responsibility is to respond to it in a proper way.

We should try to promote peace. We should do it prayerfully, depending upon God alone, and only in ways prescribed to us in Scripture. Peace with others is never found by abandoning the demands of justice when civil order is violated. Judicial penalties are the exclusive duties of the offices God has designated. Parents should deal with their children when they disobey. Elders oversee the spiritual lives of the members of their congregations. Business managers may terminate or redirect the responsibilities of workers who do not fulfill their responsibilities on the job.

When victims try to take justice into their own hands and execute wrath aside from God-given authority, society descends into chaos rather than peace.

The world glorifies the “tough guy” who stands up for himself and makes those suffer who get in his way. In reality, that person is neither strong nor tough. He is weak and to be pitied for his inability to overcome evil with good, and to leave vengeance to the Lord. His is the way of a child, not of one with maturity and strength.

If in moments of sinful weakness we resort to personal vengeance, we need to confess it to God. We should apologize humbly to those we hurt, and work hard to grow in Christ so that others will see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

By God’s grace, through Christ, may we find the strength to love as God tells us to love.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Genuine Christianity

Lesson 48: Romans 12:9-16

Genuine Christianity

by Bob Burridge ©2012

When the Christmas season approaches each year, people make up wish-lists and start dropping hints to loved ones and friends. Stores put up displays designed to entice us to want the products they invested in and put up on their shelves. Commercials on television and ads that pop up on websites try to show us how delighted we will be if we buy their product. Children are made to think that this year’s number one toy will bring them endless hours of delight and fun. Teens become convinced that certain products will instantly make them attractive and popular.

Armed with scribbled or downloaded lists, and minds full of well dropped hints, we shop. To fulfill the dreams of those we love, we brave the traffic either on the streets, or on the internet. Urged on by the joy we hope to bring to those we deeply care about, we fill secret hiding places with gifts, and empty our bank accounts of our extra earnings.

The lists help us select what our loved ones have said they want. However, we need to be careful that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that these outward things will really make anyone truly happy, or that they are the best way to show our love and friendship. We need to keep our balance. Our shopping traditions, while probably expressing a genuine love in many cases, may also betray that we put our trust in the wrong things.

In our world of self-interests, people often look to find their joy and satisfaction in clothes, cars, toys, gadgets, entertainment, leisure, sports, and countless other things. They look for security to their investments, possessions, and savings. They measure their worth by earned titles, degrees, and how many people know them by name. Things like these become obsessions. None of them really provides a lasting sense of inner satisfaction. People who get them soon need more, better and newer of whatever they hoped will provide what they believe is missing.

Not that any of these things are wicked to have, but when we think they will bring us inner peace, security, joy and satisfaction, we have elevated created things over the promises and person of the One who made them. To be a healthy part of the body of Christ serving in this present world, we need to know the kinds of things God tells us are best to be the objects of our highest affections. In this next section of Romans Paul shows us that upon which the genuine Christian life should be centered.

As Christians, we ought to love with a genuine sincerity.

Romans 12:9a, “Let love be without hypocrisy.”

The word “hypocrisy” comes from ancient Greek. It came to be used in those times to describe actors playing a part in a play. Today, we say a person is a hypocrite when he pretends to have attitudes and convictions other than what is really in his heart. Dr. Haldane points out that our fallen society is filled with “false pretensions of love”.

The Bible is our Creator’s word to direct us in how those redeemed by Grace can live to show proper honor toward God. In a sense, it should be our operator’s manual for life. There God teaches us that love is not what the world imagines it to be. Our love should come from a heart made alive by Christ. It should reflect the undeserved love of God toward sinners whom he makes into his children.

To the world love is a confused mixture of unexplainable things. Some see it in outward acts of kindness and care for others. The word is often used for the satisfying physical and emotional needs in a romantic situation. Often it is seen as a feeling that mystically overtakes us so that we fall into and out of love passively. These things can all come from very selfish motives. People may to these things only to make themselves feel good or to get others to treat them favorably. They are not the essence of love as God explains it in his word.

Confused fallen people even say that it is love that moves them to abort certain babies, set murderers free, encourage sexual activities outside the bonds of marriage as God instituted it. These are not acts of love at all. They are tragic counterfeits. Biblically, love begins in the redeemed heart, evidences itself in godly actions and attitudes, and results in a good and satisfying feeling because of our engagement in what pleases God.

Those are the 3 elements of love in the Bible.
1. Its foundation is a heart regenerated by the work of Jesus Christ. In our fallen estate, we cannot love as God defines it. Only when new life is given to the lost by grace, can their center of concern change from self to God. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Jesus as Savior, enabling the person to purpose and to do what formerly he could not and would not.

2. The evidence of love is obedience to what God commands us to be and do. Being born-again sets the person free form the bondage of sin and death. This makes the person want to do what is good and right, both toward God himself, and toward others.

Jesus is said in John 14:21 “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” Love is always defined by the principles God has revealed to us in the Bible. There is no other way to know what is really right and good. The loving person’s attitude and behavior toward his neighbor should be what God says it ought to be. Also, his attitude and behavior toward God is what Scripture reveals is truly pleasing to the Lord. In this way love is something we can do as enabled by redeeming grace. It is not just something we feel. God commands us to love one another as an action, not as a feeling. 1 John 3:18 says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Therefore, Biblical love is concerned about the true needs of others as seen by God.

3. There is also a feeling of love. This is the blessing that God gives to those who humbly show evidence of his grace at work in their hearts. The feeling is a fruit of love, so it should not be mistaken for love itself. As feelings come and go people often believe they fall into and out of love, almost as if they were victims of forces of nature. Biblically we are commanded to love. It is something we do in obedience to our loving Redeemer. The feeling is sure to follow as the blessing God covenants to give when his ways are honored.

I define the general biblical use of the word “love” this way, “Love is an attitude implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled to obey joyfully the revealed desires of our Creator both toward the Lord Himself and toward one another.”

The love believers should have as members of the body of Christ should not be just an outward show, or a mystical feeling. It comes from redeemed hearts doing all things for the glory of God, and for the advancement of the spiritual growth of their neighbors.

We should not treat evil and good in the same way.

Romans 12:9b, “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”

The lost soul has no standard by which he can identify what is good. He tends to think something is good if it makes him feel comfortable. He clings to those things, and avoids as evil whatever disrupts his security and personal peace. He may even see things God forbids as good things if they feed his selfish lusts. He will probably also see the good things God encourages as being time wasting annoyances.

Genuine Christianity should agree with God about what is evil and good. We need to cling to the good tenaciously, while we avoid evil. Bad things cannot simply be pushed out because you suspect they will keep you from happiness. That is just more self-centeredness. You must see how they offend God and therefore you become appalled by them.

To remove the evil it must be displaced by what God says is good. There is no moral neutrality or vacuum. If you wanted to get the darkness out of a room you don’t look for ways to chase it away. You get rid of it by filling the room with light. To successfully overcome hurtful attitudes and behaviors, you need to replace them with that which is good. Paul says you should cling to, become united with, what God says is good. Literally the words mean “be glued together with what is good.”

Our attitude toward others should be honorable.

Romans 12:10, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;”

Instead of being devoted to self-needs, the Christian needs to look to the needs of his brothers and sisters in the Lord. The word for “brotherly love” is philadelphia (φιλαδελφία). It is the kind of affection family members have for one another.

We should be good examples by showing honor toward others in Christ’s family. Unlike the world, our goals in career and with friends should never be simply to out-do others. As Paul said it in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Serving the Lord should be the prime concern in our lives.

Romans 12:11,”not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;”

The 1611 King James Version has “not slothful in business …” Today we think of the word “business” as having to do with commerce, buying and selling things, and managing a profit making company. That is not the meaning of the words here. The word translated “business” is more broad. It means any activity, whatever we set out to do. Believers in all their zeal need to be motivated in every area of life to be serving the honor of God.

In all we do, career included, we must do our best as those who represent Christ. In Colossians 3:22-23 Paul wrote, “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”

There ought to be great joy in the believer’s outlook.

Romans 12:12a, “rejoicing in hope.”

The world around us follows the natural way of our fallen souls. It rests in temporal securities such as stable jobs, sound investments, savings, and good health. These are all very uncertain things which bring no assurance of happiness in themselves. Often, concerns about security become destructive worries and obsessions. The more people get, the more they worry about losing it.

When we are redeemed in Christ, we have a more sure confidence. God’s promises are at the foundation. By counting on his word we find hope in whatever circumstances we face, both gains and losses. That sure confidence becomes the foundation for real joy.

The Bible records those promises in undeniable clarity:

Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”

Hebrews 6:19, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,”

Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Difficult times can be endured and overcome.

Romans 12:12b, “patient in tribulation,”

Even in times of suffering we know that our God rules in heaven and earth. Life brings tragedies into every life at one time or another. We all experience losses and pain. But through it all we have that confidence that we are not alone. Psalm 23 reminds us that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us. In those times we do well to remember Job, David, Habakkuk and so many others who faced losses and hard to understand circumstances. Trust in God, not that he will keep you from adversity, but that he will preserve you through those challenging times.

The true believer relies upon his Heavenly Father.

Romans 12:12c, “continuing steadfastly in prayer;”

Those who trust in God’s promise through Christ must learn to see the importance of prayer. Talking to our Heavenly Father who alone holds all things in his hands, is a great comfort. The greatest cure for human anxiety is to learn the power of personal and regular prayer. Paul, in advising the Christians in Philippi wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

A tragic loneliness comes to those who cut themselves off from communion with God in prayer.

We ought to show concern for the struggles
of others in the family of God.

Romans 12:13, “distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.”

The world around us would rather leave mercy and care to charitable agencies or government. However, God does not call institutions or governments to care for the needy. He calls his children to do it in love and in the name of Christ to bring glory to God. The greatest benefit in the work of mercy is not the relief of hunger, disease, or poverty. It is the promotion of God’s glory by showing the humble compassion he puts into his children.

The hospitality it speaks of here is not social entertaining in our homes. It is providing for those away from home and family when they have needs. Believers ought to budget their resources and time so that they are able to do all they can to be quick to take care of others in times of special need.

As Christians we should have
a godly response to persecutions.

Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Here Paul summarizes a larger issue. The world is quick to curse those who trouble them. In contrast, we as children of God ought to actually bless those who treat us badly. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “… love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

How easily we respond with an angry glance, a sharp word, or a cold rejection when people take advantage of us, hurt us unjustly, or belittle what we hold dear. Some even respond with violence or try to cause harm and suffering in return.

But it’s to our shame when we act in a way so unlike Jesus Christ. His warnings to the haters of God and to his persecutors was never from personal hurt. He even prayed regarding the forgiveness of the civil crime of his own crucifixion. There were some yet to be redeemed who foolishly called for his death. The first Christian martyr Stephen prayed similarly.

We should learn to be more empathetic toward others.

Romans 12:15-16, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”

The world of fallen souls, of which we too would be a part if it was not for the grace of God, has little real concern for the feelings of others.

In the grip of sin, our society is moved by self-mindedness. When things go well for others, people often jealously wish that the blessing was theirs. When others suffer, they often distance themselves from the situation so their peace of mind will not be troubled. When the lowly in society face problems, the proud bask in their own success as if they were better than those who suffer.

Christians need to join with those who rejoice, to be happy for them and with them. We need to enter into the sorrows of others when they weep, and understand their suffering.

This verse is not so much calling for feelings of sympathy, which often looks down in pride upon troubled people in a condescending and haughty way. Rather it is calling for empathy.

The American College Dictionary defines “empathy” as, “entering into the feeling or spirit of a person”. Being of the same mind is to become united with their feelings about things. When God blesses them, we ought to thank God with them. When they endure adversities, we ought to struggle with them.

We dare not be concerned only for our own feelings and needs. We should learn to see through the other person’s eyes. Understand their struggles and needs. Remember that we are all sinners saved by and blessed by God’s grace alone. Calvin said “… a Christian ought not to aspire, in an ambitious manner, after those things by which he may surpass others, nor indulge in haughty feelings, but meditate rather upon modesty and meekness….” Ambition and personal drive is often the mask of selfish greed.

We ought not to dwell upon our own successes, and conceitedly take pride in our own wisdom. Rather we ought to rejoice in every success as God given. We should also learn to sorrow in every pain since it is the consequence of the fall of man.

A “God-first” attitude changes everything. What a wonderful blessing it would be if we could be such a person for our friends and loved ones. Be a friend, a brother or sister in the body of Christ, a bright spot in a shadowy world of self-interest. God in his word calls us each to develop these characteristics through the power of the one who gave himself that we unworthy rebels might become emissaries of the Creator of all that is.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

The Israel which God Loved

Lesson 34: Romans 9:6-13

The Israel which God Loved

by Bob Burridge ©2011

Does God love everybody? The general belief is that he does, and that this is a primary teaching of the “Christian faith”. Like so many of the theories people come up with, it is not what is taught in God’s Word.

Paul had been warning the Jews that because of their continuing rebellion, and now their rejection of the Messiah, God was going to judge them as a nation. They did not like the message of Jesus. Both Jesus and Paul warned that God was about to judge Israel and remove her national privilege. The Jews could not accept that. In their thinking they were God’s specially loved people.

If what Paul was saying is true, that her time of national honor and glory was about over, then what had gone wrong? Had God’s promises to the ancient fathers been a failure? Absolutely not!

So Paul explained that he had a deep concern for Israel and wanted them to know the truth. The fact was, apostasy had set in, and God was angry with those who called themselves his people but were not.

Paul takes up this central question in Romans 9.

Romans 9:6a, “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. …”

The problem was not that God’s promises failed, or were ineffective. He was keeping his promises exactly. The problem is that they didn’t see that side of God’s covenant with Israel. The promises had been gravely misunderstood.

Misunderstanding God’s word brings confusion today as well. There are so many different groups, each promoting its own brand of Christianity. They imagine that we are all really God’s people and that our different beliefs are not important. The uniting assumption is that God loves everybody. There is the problem. God’s promises seem to have failed, because people assume things God never promised.

Paul goes on to show what they had distorted about the promises.

Romans 9:6b, “… For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,”

To begin with, we need to know who God considers to be his Israel. His promise to his people, both to church in the Old Testament and in the New, is made on two levels. We went into detail about his in our last study.

On one level, God establishes an outward organization we call the Visible Church. It is made up of professing believers and their families. This was the Nation of Israel in the Old Testament, and is the Apostolic Church of the New Testament. God set up this outward form to represent how he chooses some from an unworthy humanity. The outward national advantages to those of the seed of Abraham were listed in the previous verses (Romans 9:4-5).

On another level, within the outward visible church, there are the true children of God. This is the Invisible Church. It is made up of those actually redeemed by Christ. They are saved by grace from the deserved outpouring of God’s wrath. They are the spiritual seed in whom God puts the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Since only God knows for sure who these are we say this group is to us invisible. God commands all the saved to join in the worship, fellowship, and discipline of the visible church. Not all members of the visible church are necessarily truly God’s redeemed people.

That’s what Paul said back in chapter 2 concerning the Jews.

Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”

The failure of the Jewish Nation in no way shows a failure of the promise. It shows the true nature of God’s promise. God has always been faithful to his true Israel. His covenant never fails to accomplish everything that was promised, but only to those for whom the promises were actually intended.

Paul tried to help the Jews understand God’s original promise.

The answer was actually proven in what every Jew already admitted. The promise was first made with Abraham, not with Israel.

Romans 9:7a, “nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; …”

God selected Abraham and his seed from all the other humans then alive on the earth. God called that one family to go to Canaan, and to become the visible nation of Jehovah. Within that visible nation God also chose some to be invisibly touched by grace. These only were the true sons of God. Being a physical descendant of Abraham did not guarantee being a child of the promise of grace. in Galatians 3:7 Paul had explained, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”

Jesus told the Jews the same thing. Some had boasted to Jesus saying, “Abraham is our father.” (John 8:39). Jesus answered implying that it was not that simple. He said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.”

He went on to explain to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me…” (John 8:42) . Then Jesus revealed their true spiritual heritage. Though they were all descended from Abraham he said, “You are of your father the devil …” (John 8:44). Jesus made it clear, all those descending from Abraham were not necessarily the true sons of God.

Next, Paul showed that God narrowed the scope even more

Romans 9:7b-9, “… but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.’ “

From among Abraham’s sons God only chose Isaac and his descendants. [en Isaak klaethaesetai soi sperma ( ἐν ᾿Ισαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα)]. These alone were to be the visible nation of God’s people. Obviously the Jews had no problem with this historic fact. They did not consider the race of Ishmael to be part of the called nation of God.

Their own understanding of God’s word taught that being a child of the flesh alone did not necessarily bring God’s promise. God never intended it that way. Only those to whom God extends his promise are counted as the promised seed.

Then Paul showed how God narrowed the scope even more.

Romans 9:10-12, “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ “

From all the lost families of the earth God chose the family of Abraham. Then he chose only the seed of Isaac to carry on that promise. But not all of Isaac’s descendants were of the promise either. Of his twin sons, Esau and his descendants were not to be part of the nation of God. Every Jew knew this. God chose only the line of Jacob, who was called Israel, to be the chosen Nation.

They both had the same father and mother. They were twins. This was to make clear that the choice was based upon God’s sovereign choice alone. Not all in the outward family were chosen to continue on the special promise. The one twin was chosen, and the other was not.

To further show the sovereign nature of the choice, the younger was chosen not the older. That was against the usual custom and God’s general law of primogeniture. God does not base his choices upon anything outside of his own eternal purpose. He makes it very clear that the choice was not based upon anything the sons did or would have done themselves. The determination was eternal, before they were even born.

Remember, Paul is using these obvious choices and rejections of the visible nation to show that a similar election of God takes place in the invisible nation. If God did not intend to include all the physical line of Abraham and Isaac in his visible nation, then certainly it is foolish to imagine that all the visible nation was to be saved eternally. That was never promised in the ancient Covenant of God. (We will see more about this spiritual election as Paul continues to develop his point in this section of Romans.)

No, God’s promise to Israel had not failed! The Jews had misunderstood who the true Israel was. Those who rejected Messiah, and who had perverted the temple worship and sacrifices were not true sons of God by the spiritual promise. They were only outwardly and by appearance the visible nation of God.

God’s promise had exactly succeeded, once that promise was properly understood.

Were all the Jews specially loved by God?

Paul quoted from the Scriptures to show that idea to be absolutely wrong.

Romans 9:13, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ “

Does this mean that God loved the one and hated the other?!! — Yes, that is what it says!

Paul quoted directly from Scripture. Malachi 1:2-3 had said, ” ‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘Yet you say, “In what way have You loved us?” Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ Says the LORD. ‘Yet Jacob I have loved; But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness.’ ”

Note on the word, “LORD”: When the word “LORD” appears in all upper case letters in most English translations it represents the covenant name of God which is sometimes represented by the word “Jehovah”. In Hebrew, the Old Testament writers only wrote the four consonants יהוה which in our alphabet are “YHVH”. These four letters are often called the “tetragrammaton”. To avoid any careless use of this holy name the Jews would read it as “Adonai” (אדני) which means “Lord”. The vowels from Adonai were adjusted and put into the four letters. In older times the letter “J” was pronounced as our letter “Y” so the name “Jehovah” was invented. The reason the vowels don’t look the same in English has to do with rules of the Hebrew language. Even in the New Testament Jesus and the Apostles used Greek words for “Lord” (usually the Greek word “kurios” [κύριος]) when quoting the Old Testament where this tetragrammaton was used. This is why today we still use the word “Lord” when quoting those passages rather than attempting to pronounce the four Hebrew letters. This is the principle the Holy Spirit used in directing the writers of the New Testament, so it is the most biblical approach to reading and writing those passages. To let us know that the original word was YHVH the letters of “LORD” are often printed in all uppercase letters. The actual pronunciation of that name of God is somewhat uncertain. In older times they tried to pronounce it as “Yahweh” but there is no “w” in the Hebrew language. We now know that the letter “ו” that appears there should be rendered by our “v”. The best we can estimate is that the name would have been pronounced as “Yahveh”.

Those who want to believe that God loves everyone have a problem here. They must come up with some way to twist these words around in unnatural ways, otherwise they must admit that salvation is a sovereign work of God’s grace to some alone. That is something the fallen human heart cannot comprehend.

Several theories have been suggested to explain away the plain statements of the Bible.
1. Some say .. “hate here must only mean that God loved Esau less than Jacob”
That only brings in more confusion. It is clearly not what the same words mean in Amos 5:14-15. There it says, “Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the LORD God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. …” Does God want us to love evil less than we love good? That would be absolute nonsense.

If it only means that God loved one less than the other, what would that possibly mean relative to the point being made? If God loves some less than others, then what causes that distinction? The same problem remains.

If God loves everybody (which is never said in Scripture), what would love mean? Does God love Satan and the fallen angels just a little less than he loves the angels that remained faithful to him? Does he love the pagans just a little less than he loves the redeemed? If love is common to all, then it means nothing special to any.

Besides, If we can do that to the idea of “hatred” in this verse how can we make sense of the next part that says that God loved Jacob? Does that mean he only hated Jacob less than he hated Esau? You can’t make God’s hatred to be anything less than what the word hatred means, while at the same time you keep his love as really love. Such a tangled confusion denies the plain meaning of these very simple words.

2. So some have tried another theory.
They suggest, “Perhaps hate just means that God “slighted” him, or “treated him with an act of hatred.” Does this mean that God slights people he nevertheless loves? Does he treat them with an act of hatred when he does not actually hate them? This solution causes more confusion than it is imagined to eliminate.

We need to remember that God’s hatred of Esau is nothing more than what we all deserve. Jesus took on that hatred which resides in the hearts of some, in order to satisfy the demands of holy justice for them. That was an act of redeeming love that did not fail. It saved all those Jesus came to save. No one the Savior came to redeem is lost.

These foolish attempts to re-build the meaning of this text fail completely. Such ideas do not fit the purpose of Paul in showing why God’s rejection of national Israel was not a breaking of his ancient promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Those denying the obvious meaning of this verse often try to back up their position with a reference to 1 John 4:8. They quote the part that says, “God is love.” The problem is that this verse is not making a complete identity between God and love. It is not saying that the words are always interchangeable. The point is that God defines what love is, not that our idea of love defines God for us.

We should never use our confused human feelings about love to explain God. Rather God shows us what love is by his redeeming undeserving people. God is the original. All other love is derived from him. God’s love promotes his glory and furthers his eternal design. So our love should promote the same. That is John’s point. We who do not love as God loves, have not really known him.

The Bible also makes it clear that God hates the workers of iniquity. Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.” Then in John 3:36 John the baptist said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Some have tried to save this idea of universal divine love by saying, “Isn’t it God’s love that sends daily provisions for the wicked?” However, that is not what the Bible calls it. When Paul speaks of that in Acts 17 at Athens, he calls it a display of God’s long-suffering, not of his love. When the wicked receive God’s rain and sunshine, they imagine they deserve them. This only condemns them more because of their self-centered view of life. Daily care for the world in general is not done out of love for the wicked, but to display God’s power, and to provide a livable world for his own children.

There are some who with great sincerity explain that God loves the sinner but hates his sin. That is way too general a statement. Sin cannot exist without a sinner. To hate some abstract idea of sin when detached from the person doing it does not explain why there are those God says he hates and fits for his wrath. If persons are not personally responsible for their own acts, there is nothing left to hate. It is true that God loves those he chooses to redeem yet does not like it when they sin, but that is a far more narrow statement. No where in the Bible does it say that God loves all sinners while he hates only their sin.

Part of the problem is that some have a wrong idea of hate. Hatred is not sinful. Biblically, that which is sinful ought to be hated (Amos 5:15). But in us fallen creatures, our hatred of evil is mixed with evil itself. In God it is not. We horribly distort God if we see his love as his only or dominant attribute. God is not only love. He is also holy, just, and consistent. He judges as well as blesses. If God does not hate he is not the God of Scripture.

In loving Jacob God shows unmerited favor toward him. In hating Esau he acts justly toward him. That is what he and all humans, even Jacob, deserve. Even in John 3:16 God’s love for the corrupted world order does not offer to save everyone. In that verse the love of God sends a Savior to redeem only those who believe. And believing is not possible for any aside from the gracious work of God’s Holy Spirit. The Spirit applies the atonement of Christ to remove the offense and to reconcile. Without that grace, Jacob would receive the same deserved hatred, as would we all. Any godliness or faith is due only to the distinguishing grace of God.

God chose Abraham and his seed from all the fallen race, but not all his descendants were chosen. Only Isaac was chosen. Not all of Isaac’s seed was chosen either. Only Jacob was chosen. His brother Esau was rejected and cursed. Even of the 12 tribes of Jacob (Israel) not all were the spiritual seed of promise. Only a remnant will be saved. This becomes evident as Paul continues to develop his point in the remaining verses of this section of Romans.

Romans 9:27, “Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved.’ ”

Romans 11:5, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”

Those rejecting Jesus as the Messiah were not of that chosen remnant of Israel. God only intended to redeem the “children of promise”. In Galatians Paul leaves no doubt about this fact.

Galatians 3:9, “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

Galatians 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Obvious questions come up in our limited and fallen minds which want to find a way out. Paul deals with them in the next section of this chapter.

God has always been faithful to his true Israel.

His promises never change nor fail. His covenant accomplishes all that is promised to those for whom they are intended.

Confusion about God’s promises is not just a matter of debate among scholars. Confusion hurts people. The average church member struggles to live to please God. But there is no comfort in outward things. If we put our hope in our own goodness, in our own choices, in church membership, in baptism, in prayers, in a re-defined God who loves and wants to redeem everyone but is for some reason unable to do so, then we hope in a tragic deception.

If, on the other hand, our hope is placed humbly in God’s grace, which is ours by the sovereign work of Jesus Christ, then we learn that we are loved even though we on our own could never deserve it.

Grace is greater than what we now are able to understand it to be. That appreciation grows as we learn more of God’s nature and of ourselves, removing the myths and human theories about each.

Has God loved you? Here is how you can know. Has he brought you to deeply sorrow for your sins? Has he made you know that Jesus paid your debt as no other could? Has he shown you that he lovingly calls you to him for forgiveness and comfort?

If so, then you have a solid foundation for hope, hope in a promise that cannot fail. The faith implanted in you by grace is a seal on your heart that you are not only visibly one of his people, but that you are invisibly redeemed by a love that never fails.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Living Lovingly

Living Lovingly

Characteristics of the Christian
by Bob Burridge ©2001, 2011

2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

There are specific characteristics that should be seen in the life of every Christian. Our interest isn’t just to define them, but to learn to do two things:

1. to develop these attributes in our own lives
2. to encourage them in those around us.

A good way to begin is to look at
what it means to love one another.

Love is the first item in the list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Jesus himself said that love was the summary of all the law and prophets. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus was asked what was the foremost of all the commandments. His answer, quoting the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, was this …

“Jesus said to him, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love is so important in Scripture, it would require a whole series of studies to do it justice. Love is the word the Bible uses to summarize the way believers should live. We we need to look at what exercises will strengthen the love Christ put in us by his grace.

There is a divine command that God’s children should learn to love.

Jesus said that loving one another was a mark of discipleship. John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

If all men know we are Christ’s disciples by our love, then we need to know what it means to love, and what love looks like when we do it.

Love has many meanings the way we use it generally. We should define it the way God uses the word love in his word. I suggest this definition:

“Love is a disposition implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled joyfully to obey the revealed desires of our Creator; both toward the Lord himself, and toward others.” (Pastor Bob Burridge)

Obeying God’s desires as to how we should behave toward him and toward others involves a lot. We need to know how to be loving at home, at school, at work, at play, in worship, socially, shopping, and while we are fixing things. We need to know what it means to love in every situation. It needs to become a part of what we are, and of what we do all the time.

Love is described in some depth in 1 Corinthians 13 (we will use the New King James translation). The old KJV uses the word “charity” instead of “love.” In 1611 AD charity meant love at its noblest.

This chapter doesn’t tell us everything about love, but it is a good summary of what our lives should be like when we love.

If love is a fruit produce by the Holy Spirit working in us, we should know how to nurture this fruit. We need to know the seed that begins the growth of love in us, the labor needed to cultivate it to its fullest yield, and the good harvest our labor can reap from this important seed.

What is the seed that makes love begin to grow in us?

Biblical love as a disposition is alien to our fallen human nature. Left to our inclination at birth, human love lacks an essential quality. It does good to others so that it can improve it’s own situation.

The self-centeredness of fallen human love is obvious. It wants companionship, help, sex, and opportunity. For those reasons it focuses on what it can do for others to get these things for itself.

It loves other people as long as it gets what it wants. When hurt comes along, or when the companionship is strained, what the world calls love produces accusations, arguments, and fightings. Sometimes it leads to infidelity, gossip, divorces, law-suits, and defamation. In extreme situations it even leads to perjury and violence. This kind of love isn’t just artificial, it is a cruel costume for selfish evil.

Biblical love begins when the seed of spiritual life is implanted in regeneration. Only when the fallen creature is restored by grace through Christ can anyone begin to realize love as the Creator intended it to be.

The Bible says, “we love because He first loved us.” If God hadn’t first sent his Son to redeem us, love as God reveals it would be completely unknown in our world.

Love is an essential evidence of our belonging to Christ. That is why Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

When you grow a plant, its life is in the seed. But to make it grow to its fullest, there are things you need to do. It needs water, soil, nutrients, proper lighting, and protection from disease, insects and hungry animals. When God implants this love in us there are things we are called upon to do.

What labor is needed to cultivate love to its fullest yield?

The Bible speaks of love as an action. It is a command. God says you should love your neighbor as yourself. He tells husbands to love their wives, and he commands us all to love one another. So when people say “I just can’t love that person”, they imply that God makes unreasonable demands of us. Love is first an obedience before it becomes a feeling. This is good news. It means there is something we can do when love doesn’t seem to be there.

God doesn’t say, feel love for your neighbor, or husbands feel love for your wives. He doesn’t say fall in love with others. He tells us to love them. It’s a direct command. Do you have trouble loving others? Then here is a message of hope. You can do something about it.

God’s word tells us specific things to work on to nurture love to grow in us. It defines what we do toward God when we love him, and toward others when we love them. This seed implanted in us by grace requires these obediences as it grows. The same grace that implants love enables and moves us to grow in our obedience to God’s word. We need to do loving things while trusting in God’s promises to succeed.

Paul presents 16 qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. …”

Notice that this love isn’t presented in some abstract, ideal environment. It is shown acting in the real world, a world where bad things happen. It responds to being provoked, wronged, and generally attacked. We see how love bears up in the midst of adversity and selfishness.

People who are loving in these ways, show that its seed has been planted in their heart. Love is directly defined in the Bible as doing what God has commanded toward others:

John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
John 15:12, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:14, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”
John 15:17, “These things I command you, that you love one another.”
1 John 5:2-3, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

This is what we need to do when there is a lack of love in our lives. We need to learn God’s moral law, and determine by Christ’s enablement to obey the biblical commandments toward God and toward our fellow humans.

When the seed of love is implanted in regeneration, and when it is cultivated by the means of obeying God’s instructions, we will enjoy the full harvest of this fruit of the Holy Spirit.

What good harvest can our labor reap from this small seed?

When we do what God commands, he blesses us with that feeling of love. The general form of his covenant promises is this: “Do and be blessed.” This does not imply that God waits for our efforts. It means that God uses the power of his word and the work of the Holy Spirit to produce our efforts. It is all by his grace. When we are made aware of the need, and of the way God has ordained for the need to be met, and when we obey lovingly with confident expectation of success, we discover the work of God active in our hearts. As we then do what we are moved to do, the full blessings of love in our marriages, homes, communities, and church family will be realized. We will feel the love God promises that we will experience.

It is this effect of love, the feeling, that the world craves. But fallen man wants the feeling without faith, without the obedience. So he becomes frustrated at the work of conjuring up a feeling. He runs from church to church, from job to job, from marriage to marriage, community to community, club to club … looking for love and finding no reward.

Our duty before God is without dispute.

First: We need to make sure we are made alive by Christ, and that we are humbly thankful for that work of grace. By faith, lay hold of the promises God makes, and trust in his enablement. If the seed is not planted, love cannot grow to what it ought to be.

Second: We need to cultivate implanted love by obedience to God’s word. We must learn to keep God’s commandments toward one another, and toward God himself. Without the evidence of obedience, there is no reason to believe the seed has been planted. Of course all of us are imperfect in our obedience. So another part of our obedience is to help others to love, and we should forgive their failures as we are forgiven by our God.

Third: We need to expect God’s blessing when we obey him, and treat others as he says we should knowing that God will give the increase.

When we are patient and kind, and are not envious, braggardly, arrogant, rude, or self-seeking, and are not easily provoked, or take wrongs into account, and we do not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rather we rejoice in truth, bear all things, believe all things, hope in all of God’s assurances, and endure all things, and when we do all this persistently, then God will bless us with all the rich feelings of love in our hearts.

Note: The verses in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

Words of Love

Words of Love

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011

In John 21 Jesus and Peter had an interesting conversation. Two different words in the original text are translated by the one English word “love”. To understand the main point of this important passage it is helpful to look at the setting in which the conversation took place, and to find out how the original words were used in that place in history.

The setting was the shore of a lake after the resurrection of Jesus. He appeared to his disciples after a disappointing night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus told them to lower their nets on the other side of the boat they miraculously caught more fish than they could haul in.

After a breakfast Jesus had prepared for them, Peter was asked a series of questions. The conversation is recorded in our Bibles in John 21:15-17.

1. Jesus asked, “… do you love (agapan, αγαπαν) me more than these?”
Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (philein, φιλειν) you.”

2. Jesus asked, “… do you love (agapan, αγαπαν) me?”
Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (philein, φιλειν) you.”

3. Jesus asked, “… do you love (philein, φιλειν) me?”
Peter replied, “Lord; You know all things; you know that I love (philein, φιλειν) you.”

The events at the time of the death of Jesus left Peter with an awareness of his own weaknesses. At the Passover supper Jesus predicted that his disciples will all be offended by him. The word translated “offended” is the word from which we get our English word, “scandalized”. Peter objected and said that he would never fall away (Matthew 26:33). Jesus then told Peter that before that night was over he would deny him three times. Peter pridefully contradicted the Lord and said, “I will not deny you”. Of course we know that he did. Proverbs 16:18 reminds us that, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.”

That background is important because Jesus started off by asking Peter if his love was greater than the others. The Apostle seemed to believe he was stronger than the rest on that night when Jesus was arrested.

The fact that two different words for ‘love” appear in the original text has caused some to focus upon the synonyms without a good understanding of what they meant at that time. This has caused a misunderstanding of the main point Jesus was making.

Clearly John had some distinction in mind when he translated the Aramaic conversation into Greek under the oversight of the Holy Spirit.

First it needs to be pointed out that these words are not as far apart as some well meaning interpreters have said.

The New Testament often uses these two primary Greek words for love to refer to the same thing. The following chart is helpful to see the similarity of these synonyms.

Both are used to express philein, φιλειν agapan, αγαπαν
God the Father’s love for God the Son John 5:20 John 3:35
God’s love for his people John 16:27, 1 John 4:19 Galatians 2:20
The disciples love for God John 16:27 Mat. 22:37, Romans 8:28
Our love for one another Titus 3:15 Matthew 22:39
Both are used of misdirected love Matthew 6:5, 10:37 2 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 2:15

It is clear that these two words were used to refer to the same kind of love, but they also have some subtle differences. They were not used in a completely interchangeable way in common speech at that time.

The word philein (φιλειν) describes the tender concern and care we have in our close personal ties. It’s a very personal and heart felt compassion. The Greek word for “kiss” (philaema, φιλημα) is derived from this word. This is the warmer and more intimate word for what is in a person’s heart. For example it was used in the Bible to describe the love between parents and their children (Matthew 10:37). It was used by John in his Gospel to describe God the Father’s love for us and our love for Jesus (John 16:27).

The word agapan (αγαπαν) is the more common word for “love” in the Bible. It is used many more times than philein. It’s the word used in the Bible for commands to be loving. The focus is upon the outward behaviors that our love produces. It’s the word used when we are told to love our neighbors, to love God with all our hearts, to love our wives, and to love our enemies. The Bible also uses this word when we are told not to love the world.

The Bible never uses philein (φιλειν) for a command to love. Commands are always agapan (αγαπαν). An action or behavior can be commanded, a feeling or inner devotion cannot be.

It confuses the point when some have imagined that Jesus was asking if Peter loved him with a higher love (agapan, αγαπαν), and Peter kept lowering the standard to use a word for a lesser love (philein, φιλειν). That’s not what the words mean. Nor is it consistent with the character of Jesus to keep lowering the standard to accommodate Peter’s lesser love.

So often we hear well meaning but poorly instructed Pastors and teachers speak of “agape love” as if it is a far superior kind of love than “phileo love”. Aside from the fact that they usually use a noun form in one case and a verb form in another, their understanding of the Greek language spoken at the time of Christ is sadly lacking. The Bible itself does not support that kind of distinction.

Jesus used the more general and common word for love when he first asked Peter “do you love me?” Peter probably felt the sting of the question since he had boasted that though the others might fall away, he would not. His failure that night exposed his underestimation of his own imperfections and corruption. So his answer was to point deeper to the tender and devoted love he felt for his Master. Peter used the word that meant that inner compassion.

Jesus again asked Peter if he loved him, but this time he didn’t make the comparison. He didn’t add, “more than these.” Peter again persisted in pointing to that inner devotion he believed was in his heart for his Lord. He seemed to think this answered the question. However, instead of responding about this general and inclusive type of love, he kept assuming that the devoted love in his heart would satisfy the Lord that he would be obedient. That was the same assumption he made at the Last Supper when he could not imagine that he would turn away from the Lord, but he did.

Finally Jesus revised his question using the same word Peter was using. He asked Peter if he really had the inner-affection he was claiming. Without that, the love of obedient devotion and action would be unstable. Peter was grieved at this third question. Perhaps he did not grasp the totality of what Jesus was asking. Likely Peter was deeply convicted about his past assurances and failures, so he persisted in his affirmation of tender affection.

After each question and answer, Jesus commanded Peter to do something. He told him to feed his people. The command was worded in a slightly different way each time.

After the first question in verse 15 Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου).
After the second question in verse 16 Jesus said, “shepherd my sheep” (ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου).
Finally, after the third question in verse 17 Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου).

This is the focus, the reason for the questions: the obedience to which Peter was being called.

Feeding the sheep is the prime task of shepherding. When Paul wrote to Timothy about the work of the Elders he repeatedly emphasized the work of teaching God’s word. This is how God’s sheep are fed. It’s how heretics were to be silenced. It’s how hurting sheep would find comfort. It’s how sin in the church would be handled. We are all lambs in the sense of being dependent children of God. We are all sheep in that we are members of his flock.

Love is the foundation of all godly obedience and service. That is why the Bible says,

John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:14 “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”

1 John 5:2-3, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

So love isn’t just a feeling. It is a disposition that compels us to real moral obedience. In each of these verses just quoted the word used is agapan (αγαπαν). This is a love that evidences itself as legitimate because it acts in ways that honor God. It is what can be commanded of us. It does what we claim is in our hearts. It shows that it is really what we think it is. Peter needed to be reminded that his devoted love and affection for his Lord should motivate him to action. He must feed the sheep, the people redeemed by grace.

This is a good question to ask ourselves. We say we love God, but does our love for him authenticate itself in our actions toward our neighbors, toward our spouses, our children, our enemies? Does our presumed “love” do the hard things God calls us to do? Do we love God sincerely so that we seriously abandon the things that we know are wrong in our lives? Do we love so much that we set aside time every day to search God’s word? to pray? to encourage other believers? to worship faithfully and to engage in all the elements of worship with all our heart?

Note: The Greek words, agapan (αγαπαν) and philein (φιλειν) are used here in their root verbal infinitive form. The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.

Love in the Bible

Love in the Bible

by Bob Burridge ©2011

We hear the word “love” used in so many ways. It can be used in a casual way when we speak of how much we love pizza or a good movie. It is used of that special devotion and care that unites a man and woman in marriage. It can be used profoundly when we express our devotion to our God as Creator and Redeemer.

It’s popular to talk about God’s love and our love for one another without a good definition of what it means. To some God’s love means that he could not hold us accountable for our sins, or that he would not uphold justice in the eternal punishment of those of us who remain unredeemed by the work of our Savior. Some believe that loving your neighbor means being easy on law breakers, but shows a disregard for their victims.

1 Corinthians 13 contains familiar words, but it teaches a profoundly different kind of love than what the world understands.

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus was asked what was the foremost of all the commandments. His answer, quoting the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, was this …

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

If Jesus said that love is a summary of all the law and prophets, then we need to know what it means to love, what love looks like when it is present, and how to develop love in our lives.

Some years ago I was challenged to piece together the main elements of love in the Bible. To summarize what I found, I put together this definition of love as it appears in God’s word:

“Love is a disposition implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled joyfully to obey the revealed desires of our Creator; both toward the Lord himself, and toward others.”

As fallen creatures, the disposition of legitimate love is missing from our souls. It needs to be implanted in us by a work of God’s grace. As fallen people we are separated from God’s fellowship by our guilt. In this alienated condition love is replaced by selfish attitudes and behaviors. Until we’re changed by the work of Christ, we do things that offend God, harm ourselves, and take advantage of others.

Even passing civil laws can’t keep us from doing unloving things. Laws don’t stop law breakers. Crimes continue even though there are statutes against them. Laws can’t make us love, or stop us from being unloving. We need them to restrict lawlessness, punish crimes, and to protect victims, But laws haven’t ended racial bigotry, theft, lying, pornography or other vices. Laws and national policies don’t stop bad people from doing horrible things. It’s our fallen nature, alienated from God, that makes us do unloving things.

Biblical love begins when spiritual life is implanted in regeneration. The Bible says, “we love because He first loved us.” If God hadn’t first sent his Son to redeem us, love, as God reveals it, would be completely unknown in our world. The only thing that can change the way people behave is by a change of heart that impels them to do right rather than to do wrong.

Galatians 5:22 says that love is a fruit produced in believers by the Holy Spirit. In fact, love is the first item in the list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Only when the fallen creature is restored by grace through faith in Jesus Christ can anyone begin to realize love as the Creator intended it to be. Unless a person in born again, regenerated by grace, he can’t produce the fruit of the Spirit. What he calls love is a tragic imitation.

Even after the Spirit implants love into our redeemed hearts we need to nurture it the way God tells us so that the fruit grows. The same grace that implants love enables us to grow in our obedience to God’s word. This means that the redeemed have to know what God tells us is right. They need to act trusting in his promises as their only hope of success.

The Bible tells us that the disposition of love produces obedience. Obeying what God’s desires toward himself, and toward others involves a lot.

In one word, love summarizes the way the Bible says believers should live. We need to know how to be loving at home, at school, at work, at play, in worship, socially, while shopping, and when we’re fixing things … in every situation. It needs to become a part of what we are and what we do all the time.

The Bible directly defines love as doing what God has commanded:

John 14:21 Jesus said, “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves Me”
John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
John 15:14 “You are My friends, if you do what I command you”

So love isn’t just a feeling. It’s a disposition that compels us to real moral obedience.

1 John 5:2-3, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.”

God’s word tells us specific things to work on to encourage love to grow in us. It defines what we do when we love God and our neighbors.

In the next section of this chapter, in verses 4-8, Paul mentions 16 qualities of love:

“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; Love does not brag, and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; It does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things Love never fails.”

People who are loving in these ways are bearing Love’s fruit. They show that it has been implanted in their hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit.

In God’s covenant promise he tells us that when redeemed people obey, he will bless them richly with inward satisfaction and joy. The general form of his covenant promises is this: “Do and be blessed.”

It is this effect of love, the feeling, that the world craves but can only imitate. They want the feeling without first having a changed heart. So they expect that the feeling comes first, then the obedience. When they feel love, they decide to act lovingly toward a particular person.

But that’s backwards and self-centered. It confuses love with our normal sexual urges, with the emotion involved in romance, with the benefits a person gets from being with certain people. It’s no wonder then, that when the benefits fade away, and when challenges come, the feelings a person thought was love also disappear.

This kind of love only lasts as long as the person gets what he wants. When challenges come along, or when the companionship is disrupted, there’s no inner cause producing kindness and patience so it ends.

This is just an imitation of the love lost in the fall of Adam. It’s the artificial substitute that can be experienced in broken fellowship with God. Until that sin barrier is removed by trusting in Christ, a person is isolated from the source of real love, he’s separated from God.

So fallen man tries to replace the real thing by conjuring up feelings. He runs from church to church, from job to job, from marriage to marriage, community to community, club to club — looking for love, but finding only disappointment.

Outside of what God provides for his redeemed children, love is only an illusion, it’s not real. But this kind of love isn’t just artificial, it is a cruel costume for selfish evil.

Love isn’t just an added benefit believers in Christ hope to find in their lives. Jesus said in John 15:17, “This I command you, that you love one another”

It is a necessary obedience that either shows that a person is redeemed by grace, or the lack of it makes us doubt that our faith in Christ’s work is sincere. It is an essential evidence of regeneration Jesus spoke of in John 13:35 when he said, “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He commands husbands to love their wives. He commands us all to love one another.

If love is implanted by the work of the Holy Spirit, it’s fruit can grow in us. This is good news! It means that for those who trust in Christ, they can grow in love.

The excuses used by the world fade into meaninglessness. You can’t say, “I just can’t love that person”. — Yes, you can. But you need to love them in the way the word love is used in the Bible.

Maybe you can’t accept some of their rude and sinful ways. Love doesn’t mean you have to approve of every imperfection you see in others. No one is perfect. But you can treat them in a way that honors God. You can understand the sin that holds them captive. You can discover the peace that God gives you when you obey him in how you treat others.

First the disposition of love needs to be implanted by grace through Christ. Then it needs to be prayerfully and diligently nurtured into obedience by the means God has given us, and enables in us. It can not be just an outward obedience. It needs to be one that comes from a changed heart. When we treat others so that they are helped to benefit from God’s promises, we also receive the blessing of inner joy that only a true and active love can bring.

There’s a moral crisis in our world today. It does not come from the music industry, or from the drug peddlers, or from pornographers. Those businesses wouldn’t be profitable if there was a change in the consumer’s hearts.

The real crisis underlying the moral crisis is a deficit of the real biblical kind of love. Without a love for God and a true love that does what pleases God toward our neighbors, there are no laws or political solutions that can stop the disease of immorality.

We have a gospel that can implant love and obedience into fallen souls. We who say we’re born again in Christ can stop that crisis at our own doors. If our love for God is genuine, we will be impelled to do something about it. If we don’t care, then we should first of all make our own salvation sure. We need to diligently work on nurturing the love Christ puts into us.

Note: The Bible quotations in this syllabus are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.

Provoke One Another

Provoke One Another

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Provoking someone is not what we normally expect the Bible to tell us to do.

Google’s English Dictionary gives the following definitions for the verb “provoke”:

  1. Stimulate or give rise to (a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one) in someone
  2. Stimulate or incite (someone) to do or feel something, esp. by arousing anger in them
  3. Deliberately make (someone) annoyed or angry

The Bible uses this word in a very different sense.

Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works”

We are told to provoke one another to that which is good, not to anger or other unwelcome emotion. We have a responsibility to carry out what this verse is talking about.

To begin with, we are told to consider one another. We should not be unprepared about how to stir up others to good attitudes and behaviors. We need to consider what will actually accomplish this goal. We should strategize, looking into what will have the intended consequence of our actions toward one another. We might plan long in advance for weddings, vacations, parties, even for our evening’s television schedule. Certainly our duty toward others is important enough that we put in the same effort ahead of time that we would in planning an evening watching our favorite shows.

The action we’re commanded to take it to provoke the other person. The word “provoke” here is actually not a verb in the original text. The text reads eis paroxusmon (εις παροξθσμον), “unto provocation” Our English word “paroxysm” comes from this word. It means, “a sudden extreme reaction to something”. The word in Greek means to stir up someone to some behavior: regardless of it being a good or a bad response.

In this case we are to stir up something good in others. We should provoke them to love and to good works. We are called by God here to create situations that help others to improve and mature spiritually.

It’s so easy when people are thoughtless, self-centered, our simply rude, to respond to them in ways that humiliate them, or that provoke anger in them. That’s exactly the opposite of what God calls you to do here in this verse.

When you deal with others in your life day by day, do some advanced planning. Consider the way the people you’re dealing with respond to things, and strategize how to stir them up to responses and attitudes of love and of good works. This is your assigned duty.