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Friday, September 11, 2015

Romans by the Book (Lesson 110)

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Established November 2008
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4

Romans by the Book                                                           Lesson 110

A Roman nobleman passed away, leaving enormous debts that he had successfully concealed during his lifetime.  When his estate was put up for public auction, Caesar Augustus instructed his agent to purchase the man’s pillow.  When someone expressed surprise at the Emperor’s order he explained, “That pillow must be particularly conductive to sleep, if its late owner, in spite of all his debts, could sleep on it.”  (The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, ed. by Clifton Fadiman [Little, Brown and Company, p. 28)

Overwhelming debts which cannot be repaid creates stress (pressure), a fact no one will deny and no one likes.  However, Scripture affirms there is one debt that every child of God will always owe - we’ll never be able to pay it off:  it is the debt of love to others.  There isn’t one Believer who’ll reach the place where he or she can honestly state, “Now I love others as much as I ought to.”  No matter how much knowledge you’ve gain no matter how much you’ve matured as a Believer; there will still be room to grow in love.

Please turn with me to Romans 13:8.

Romans 13

8:  Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he (or she) who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

9: For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

10: Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

In verse 8, our Apostle Paul warns these Believers in Rome of the dangers of being immersed in overwhelming debt.  I found no place in Scripture where it specifically prohibits the practice of borrowing money.  There are Bible passages that regulate it, but do not prohibit the practice (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37; Psalms 15:5, 37:21; Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:34). 

At the same time, the Bible does warn against the dangers of being in deep debt, as does Paul in v8:  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many (unnecessary) griefs (1 Timothy 6:10).   

The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave (Proverbs 22:7).  The Jewish laws, by order of the court, permitted them to sell Hebrew “debtors,” with their wives and children, into servitude for a period of 7 years.  Additionally, a person who discovers he is unable to pay his debts could voluntarily give himself in bondage to his creditor (Exodus 21:1-4; Deuteronomy 15:12-13; Leviticus 25:39; 2 Kings 4:1; Isaiah 50:1; Amos 8:6; Matthew 18:21-35).  Slavery in those days was an aspect of the economic conditions at that time.  In fact, most slave situations were not primarily due to a person being taken against his will, but because poor people either sold themselves or their children into slavery.  Slavery was designed to pay a debt to a debtor, and once the debt was paid, the person was free.  A slave could buy his own freedom from the profits of his selling his property.  People took their debts seriously back then.

Today’s society has been cultivated into a culture of credit, with each generation using it to spend more freely and carelessly than the one before it.  In fact, the majority of people today perceive “credit” as an additional source of income – a way of life. 

Carrying too much debt is a problem for the saved and unsaved alike.  Extreme debt often reveals a person’s underlying greed (another word for “greed” is lust).  It also reveals a love for the world and the “stuff” in it (1 John 2:15).  People run into financial trouble because they desire things they “want” but can’t afford, so they borrow money excessively.  In addition, they max out every credit card they possess.  Their spending spree eventually leads to crushing debt, financial stress, and bankruptcy, which is not a good witness because it’s equivalent to stealing, if we’re being honest.  They knew they couldn’t repay the debt they were amassing but they kept “spending” anyway. 

As ambassadors of Christ Jesus and citizens of heaven we are to “set the example” by doing everything possible to avoid being in deep debt.  There will be times when you’ll need to borrow money for the “essentials” (things you need); Scripture does not forbid this, as long as you intend to repay your loans.  

In addition, Paul wants us to avoid any legal debt, meaning we don’t want to find ourselves in a position where we have to repay a “debt to society” by doing time in the county lock-up or worse, prison time; this is also a poor witness.   

Verse 8 warns against being in unmanageable dept, but this verse is more about the Believer’s obligation to love our neighbor, an issue Paul has been commenting on since Romans 12:9 and many struggle with, then it is about struggling with our finances. 

Looking back, I’d have to say there’s a marked difference in people’s attitudes and behavior toward their neighbor from the 1960’s to today.  For example, my brother’s and I would shovel our neighbor’s walk in the winter, rake their yard of leaves in the fall, or run grocery errands with no thought of being paid for the good deed.  I didn’t even know about the Apostle Paul or Christ Jesus’ teachings at that time!  We simply responded to a “need” because we were moved to do so.  It was a heart-to-heart thing, if you know what I mean; one neighbor helping another.  Today the vast majority of people don’t even know their neighbor’s names.  Coming home from work, they pull into their subdivision, hit the garage door remote key, drive into the garage and park, hitting the remote one more time, the garage door closes behind them and they enter their home – without ever interacting with a soul.  The connections they make after this is through their electronic devices via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. and you don’t want to get me started on this subject…

As I pointed out a couple lessons back, Scripture establishes relationships as the most important aspect of human existence and filters all of its instructions down to two responsibilities:  love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:34-40; Leviticus 19:18).  These directives appear throughout the New Testament: (Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8; Ephesians 5:2; Titus 3:1-2). 

Of the example set for humanity by the Creator God, Moses wrote:  “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien (foreigner) by giving them food and clothing.  So show your love for the alien, for you (once) were aliens in the land of Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

I think Gentiles forget sometimes or were never taught that at one time they:  were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:  But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (through faith in God’s Gospel).  (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 2:12-13).   

Bearing all this in mind, let’s look at verse 10. 

Romans 13

10: Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

In verse 9 Paul quoted a few of the Ten Commandments relative to the proper functioning of society.  He specifically mentioned murder, stealing, and adultery and he mentions one other sin too; the sin of coveting.  It could be said that every sin committed brings forth pain and suffering, destruction and division.  It could also be said the only love in any sin man or woman commits is a love for “self.”  This is why at the heart of every evil practice you’ll find the sin of coveting.  You see, it’s impossible to break any of God’s Law’s or man’s for that matter without first “coveting” something; then you can throw in some human envy, hate, and jealousy. 

Our English word “covet” comes from the Greek word Pleonexia meaning:  grasping for more.  Greed is another word for covet – because someone “covets” he or she steals, lies, commits adultery, murders, disrespects their parents, and generally disregards the needs of others.  The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed (covetousness), for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”  (Luke 12:15)

Every true Believer has a debt to (agape) love others.  This is a debt that we’ll never be able to fully discharge.  The reason why this is always going to be an owing debt is because there will always be an opportunity for us to do good works.  Paul writes:  For we are His workmanship (masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus for (what) good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we (true Believers) would walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Another way of saying this is:  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for seeking the other individual’s highest good, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

One example of seeking the other individual’s highest good just came to mind, so let’s all turn to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10.  This parable was precipitated by a question asked of Jesus by a lawyer, an expert in the Mosaic Law:  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  (Luke 10:25)  This question provided Jesus Christ with an opportunity to define what His disciples’ relationship should be to their neighbors. 

The Good Samaritan

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.  And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.  Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor (the word “neighbor” in the Greek means, someone who is near) to the man who fell into the robber’s hands?”  And he (the lawyer) said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”  (Luke 10:30-37)

The 3 Men

The Priest – moved to the other side of the road.  How can he be sure if the man is his neighbor (a Jew); he had been stripped of his clothing and left unconscious?  Historically, a person can be identified either by their dress or their dialect.  Priests were to be ritually clean, and exemplars of the Law.  By Law, if the man was dead, he could not approach him closer than four cubits (about 7.33 feet) without risking defilement and he would have to overstep that legal boundary just to determine his condition.  Considering the risks too high, the priest chose to goes on his way instead of showing compassion for the injured and dying man. 

The Levite – was a descendant of Levi who assisted the priests (Aaron’s descendants) in the Jewish Temple.  He may have seen the priest pass by the man without assisting him, causing him to think he could do likewise.  He may have been concerned about his safety, thinking the robbers were still nearby, which put his life in jeopardy.  In any case, because he worked closely with the priests he too would have known God’s Laws, which included the greatest commandment.  But he decided to pass by the injured man without showing any compassion or love, failing to do the right thing.

The Samaritan - here we have the man who is the least likeliest to have shown any compassion for the wounded man.  Samaritans were a mixed-race, having intermarried with non-Jews.  The relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was one of hostility because of some negative events in the past.  The Samaritan is not a Gentile.  He is bound by the same law as the Jews.  The Samaritan would not be from that area, so the half-dead man would definitely not be his neighbor (another Samaritan). 

We don’t know if the injured man was a Jew or a Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he didn’t ask the man either his race or religion.  The “good Samaritan” saw a man in dire need and he responded, giving him assistance above and beyond the minimum required. 

He dressed the man’s wounds with wine (to disinfect) and oil (to soothe the pain).  He put the man on his animal and took him to an inn for a time of healing.  He paid the innkeeper two denarii (the equivalent of two day’s wages).  He then instructs the innkeeper to take good care of the man.  To ensure that his every need would be taken care of he told the innkeeper he would repay any outstanding debt on his return.  It’s safe to assume he did not expect any of his money to be returned.  The Samaritan saw his neighbor as anyone who was in need and then sought the individual’s highest good.  

In effect, Jesus Christ is the Samaritan in this parable.  Like the Samaritan, Jesus was an outcast in the eyes of the Jewish lawyers, Priests, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees.  He was willing to go to the lost, the outcast, and people in need wherever they were; no matter what condition they were in.  He was willing to teach and to touch the unclean.  This parable teaches us that love is something a person “feels” and then “responds” to. 

Love isn’t a four-letter word.  It is actually spelled COMMITMENT.  Agape love is something you do, meaning love is a verb!  God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to come to earth, in the form of a Man, to die for the sins of all.  Thus, love is something God did!  It demonstrated His commitment to a lost and dying world.     

Where do we learn to love like this?

When we speak of biblical love in the context of loving our neighbor or anyone else, we must realize that such love is the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22).  This type of love doesn’t spring up within people because they are “good.”  The source is Deity.  Men and women cannot develop such love without the indwelt Holy Spirit.  Once this is accomplished, at the moment of salvation, the Spirit of God takes possession of the Believer’s life, which is accomplished as the person follows the Word of God.  This love fills their heart and they grow more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ in their attitude and the behavior towards others (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

(To be continued)

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