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The central difficulty with the great idol of the collective, the false god of statism, is that we have wanted to substitute the word of man for the Word of God. We want to define love according to our own lights. We have wanted to define justice without reference to biblical law, and this then makes us choose between individualism and collectivism. And then, because we have been thrown into a realm where might determines right, the collective wins.
But we are individuals saved by grace, bound together in a mystical body. This has been done in accordance with the Scriptures, which means that love and justice are defined from outside the world.
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:8–10).
Summary of the Text
A community like ours should be bound together by love. Sounds great, but what do we mean exactly? Our bonds to one another need to be stronger than the bonds of debtor/creditor (v. 8). If we love the other, then that means we have fulfilled the law. Paul then mentions the seventh, sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments, in that order, and says that they are all comprehended in this one commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The word rendered as comprehended is a verb that comes from the root kephale, meaning head (v. 9). Paul then tells us why. Love works no evil to its neighbor, and this is why love is the fulfillment of the law (v. 10). Love, in short, refuses to perpetrate injustice, and justice is defined by the law of God, which in turn is shaped by the character of God Himself—and remember that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). Put all these together, and meditate on these identities.
Sin is Therefore Lovelessness
The apostle John defines sin for us in a very succinct way. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, ESV). Sin is lawlessness. That’s it; that’s the heart of it. But what is to keep the law from the heart? Scripture describes that as love. And so what does it mean to love someone? It means to treat them lawfully from the heart. Note that this excludes a mere ticking of boxes. The emphasis needs to be on the heart.
Jesus teaches us this explicitly. “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matt. 23:26). Cleansing the outside of the cup doesn’t get the inside clean. But when the inside is clean, what happens? Jesus says “that the outside may be clean also.”
The Great Clash
In the first message of this series, I said that one of the great enemies of our day is “relativism, subjectivism, the despotism of feelings.” And by this I meant “the idea that the world of facts is not the controlling reality. Reality, in other words, is optional.” We have been taught—ad nauseam we have been taught—that love is what you feel. When the feeling wanes or goes away, as the theory goes, so has the love. This has been the source of untold misery in the world. In a biblical framework, your feelings start to wander off, and love looks up with a sharp maternal gleam in her eye and says, “Get back here.”
In a biblical framework, you and all your feeling are like a first-grade teacher taking her whole class to some busy downtown museum, and every last one of them is on a neon-colored leash.
As we talk about true Christian community, which is based on koinonia fellowship, we have to begin with the nature of covenant commitments. This applies to marriage and family, it applies to membership in the church, and it applies to the rest of life also. I am going to ask you to bear with a few illustrations, but they all line up with what a wise Puritan once said about marriage. “First he chooses his love, and then he loves his choice.”
If you go down in the basement of a house, you will likely be able to find cold concrete in straight lines. Let us call it cold covenant concrete—a bunch of unsentimental concrete. Then go up into the living room, and you will there see curtains, warm colors, cushions, sofas, carpet, and so on. This is where you live, but it cannot be the foundation of the house. Roll up the carpet, mound the cushions, throw curtains on top of it, and then try to situate a stud wall on top of that.
Or imagine you discipline your emotions the same way some folks discipline their kids (or not). Some people are so disordered in this that they have come to believe that if someone’s “children” are not unruly hellions, then this must mean that they don’t even have no kids. No, they have kids, but their kids mind. We like to describe self-controlled people as “unemotional,” but what we really mean is that their emotions are not half-civilized yard apes on a sugar rush. And by the way, before the wrong people start commending themselves for how “unemotional” they are, I would remind them that anger is an emotion.
Recall the three governments mentioned in an earlier message—the family is the ministry of health, education and welfare. The church is the ministry of grace and peace. The civil magistrate is the ministry of justice. The non-institutional government that supports and makes possible all three of these is self-government.
Put On Your Jesus Coat
Because we are forgiven by God through Christ (Eph. 4:32), so it is possible for us to be exhorted to imitate Christ (1 Pet. 2:21). But we are to imitate the whole process. Jesus did what He did for the joy that was set before Him (Heb. 12:2), and because of His obedience true joy is a possibility. But Jesus did not go to the cross on an emotional high. The greatest act of love that was ever offered up to God was the death of Christ on the cross (Rom. 5:8). And Jesus tried to get out of it (Matt. 26:39). But His house was not built on the cushions, and so it is that we are saved. His love for you had a more sure foundation than that.
So put on Christ (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27). Put on your Jesus coat. Make sure you put your arms through both sleeves.