If I were to ask you, “What do you owe?” you would immediately think about money. Yet, there is more. Right before our epistle reading for today, Paul gives us a few examples:
7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13).
Then, 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Pay what you owe – yes, but don’t love like it’s a debt that you are paying to another.
Love fulfills the law. Luther says this of love working through faith. “It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active.” ~ Luther
Out of pure joy – out of changed and renewed heart – out of confidence that God loved us first – faith is always active in love – not just getting by – not just considering the self – not acting as if a debt grudgingly being paid.
Did you owe God an hour and a half of your time this week? “You’ve been pretty good to me, I guess I can spare some time out of my busy schedule. Just don’t always expect me to do, especially if You’re not good to me. I’ve got stuff to do, you know.”
Did you owe it to your conscience? “I don’t want to feel bad throughout the week – I want to feel good. I did the right thing. I went to church! Get that guilt off my chest!”
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you (Psalm 32).
Coercion and force are not how our Lord wants to work. He would rather you stay near Him you love to stay near Him, because staying near Him is good, because when you come to Church you hear His living and comforting voice that gives You life.
“I can’t wait to go back. He gives me strength. He gives me hope. He forgives my sin. He loves me! He loves me! Hear hears me! Oh, how I love Jesus because He first loved me!”
That’s how this love-thing works toward God. The whole law is fulfilled in that word “love.” In two sentences, instead of one word, it goes like this: “Love God. Love neighbor as yourself.” It’s also clear we love God through the neighbor.
9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 12)
That neighbor of yours then, that one right next to you now, the one that was next to you this morning, that one who will be next to you tomorrow at work, that one that you like most of the time and that one that you don’t like most of the time –
Owe no one anything, except to love each other.
Not like a debt – “You did this for me so I’ll do this for you.” They won’t always do things for you. But God is your Provider and He loves you.
Not selfishly. “I’ll do this for you, but be ready for that favor I’ll ask later.” They won’t always notice, or be thankful, or return the favor. But God knows. “Lord, when did we do these things to you? When you did them to the least of these.”
Not out of guilt. “This should help me feel better about myself. I can sleep better now. I loved you, you, some today.” You can’t ever do enough to fully and consistently calm your guilty conscience. And your guilt is relieved, shame gone, “O perfect life of love, all, all is finished now….No work is left undone, Of all the Father willed; His toil, His sorrows, one by one, The Scripture have fulfilled.”
Jonah’s lack of love for God and for the Ninevites was obvious. God said, “Go that way to the Ninevites, whom I love, and whose evil has come up before me!”
Jonah, said, “I will go – this other way.”
Most of the time, love is not complicated. Most people know most of the time how to love. God clearly tells us what love
Jonah knew love was that way and Jonah chose to go this way. If you love out of fear or coercion, or because you owe something to someone – the difficult path will not be trodden.
But God loves Jonah and He loves the Ninevites and wants His Word preached, wants them saved from the evil that is hurting them – and God loves the fellow sailors that Jonah would join because of Jonah’s lack of love.
4 …the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up (Jonah 1).
Jonah will eventually tell them what needs to be done.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood,** for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
Jonah – who had feared the Ninevites, now loved the life of the fellow sailors more than his own life. It was his fault that God was angry** and the sea was loud and Jonah would sacrifice himself for the sake of others.
The men didn’t listen at first. But the harder they tried, the more and more tempestuous the sea grew.
The harder you try to love – genuinely love – without fear, selfishness, or guilt – the more difficult it is to be convinced that God is not angry, the louder Satan’s accusations grow – “You are unloving, sinner! You loved, but look at all that you have left undone! There’s more to do to please God, to calm His wrath, to quiet your guilty conscience.”
The answer wasn’t “row harder” for the sea to calm down sailors and it isn’t “love more” to be rid of raging noises fear, guilt, and selfishness.
The answer is a sacrifice of perfect love. Jesus dove in, hurled Himself in, out of love, perfect love, fulfilling love, not a selfish bone is His body love, innocent blood, to quiet the raging accusations of the Law. Paying all the debts you owe to God and others, guilt removed, and calming God’s wrath – nothing to fear, you! – and you get credit for His fulfillment of love – innocent you. The sprinkled blood of Jesus, His love for you, speaks a louder word than the raging of the Law of love.
The One who like Jonah, would spend three days in the belly of the earth, would rise again and go preaching and still is, present here to do so.
Simon, Peter, do you love me? Yes, Lord, you know I love You. Then feed my sheep.
He became your neighbor, loving You more than He loves Himself, is your neighbor – right next to you, in your midst today, wants His sheep fed – you! – being fed with with His body and blood, His love inside of you. Do not be afraid. His perfect love casts out your fear, guilt, and selfishness.
8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other (Romans 13).