The Self-Sacrificing Love of Christ

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.


11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.


Today, Paul calls those who would be hearing this letter in Rome to wake up from their spiritual slumber and to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” like a garment. There is urgency in his words. It’s as if he is saying, “Listen, we don’t have time to mess around here…we have work to do.” 


Remember, the church in Rome struggled relationally because it was a clashing of cultures; it was home to both Jews and Gentiles…to the rich and the poor. And, while “toleration” might seem like a more reasonable or doable approach for such a cluster of people, Paul calls the people to instead pursue godly love for each other. And, remember the love of Christ that he is talking about is that “agape” love. It isn’t romantic love or emotion-based love. It is a self-sacrificing love. So, he’s not saying, “Roman church, I want you to really be nice to each other.” He’s calling them to self-sacrifice for their brothers and sisters in Christ. 


There’s a big difference between just tolerating each other and practicing agape love. The difference is that only one of those things fulfills the Mosaic law. Look at verse 8:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 

Here, again, Paul is pulling directly from Jesus. Remember, last week, we saw him pull directly from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is Matthew 22:


35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”


Later in his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul says:

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Gal. 5:14


So, both Jesus and Paul are telling us that the true impulse behind seeking to keep the Ten Commandments shouldn’t simply be obligation or even fear of consequences; it should be love. Why don’t you murder people? Why don’t you steal things? Is it fear of what could happen to you or is it love of your neighbor? This is where things can get confusing for us. As we’ve talked about before, the Greeks had multiple words for love, but we don’t. So, have you ever lied to someone you love? Have you ever disrespected or dishonored your parents whom you love? Well, this principle would say, then you don’t really love them. If you lie to someone, you don’t love them. If you covet something someone has, then you don’t love them. But, we would possibly say, “no, I do love them.” But, we’re using the same word for two different things here. So often, when we say we love someone, we are talking about an emotional feeling; we’re talking about affection. In other words, when we talk about love, most often we are talking more about how we feel than about what we do. This is why things can get confusing when we read a text like this. 


The Greeks would call emotional or affectionate love “philos” and romantic love is rooted in the Greek word “eros.” Philos often relates to the concept of friendship in the New Testament. For example, when Jesus was called a “friend of sinners,” it was the word philos being used. That same phrase could be rendered “lover of sinners,” but maybe sounds a bit off to our Western ears, and potentially conveys a different meaning to us. Back in Romans 12, Paul used philos when he said,

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” 


Now, interestingly, there are two other Greek words for love: “eros” which we’ve mentioned, is romantic, carnal, sexual love and “stergo” is like natural affection and most often relates to the natural love between parents and children. Two notes here: 1. Neither of those words are used in the New Testament. So, if you ever see the word love in the New Testament, you are probably seeing the word Agape, and maybe the word Philos. 2. We’ve experienced the difference between these kinds of love. Moms know there is a difference between the kind of love they naturally have for their children and the kind of love they have for their husbands. One of those things naturally happened and the other happened over time. Or you see the difference between the “love” you have for your friends and the love you have for your children. You recognize that those are different things, but, unlike the Greeks, we call all of those loves the same thing. 


So, when Jesus says “love your neighbor as yourself.” He’s not talking about “stergo,” and, thankfully, he’s not talking about “eros.” He’s not even talking about “philos,” which would make sense to us. He’s talking about agape. When you read John 3:16, you’re reading about agape love. You’re reading about a love so intense that it led the Father to give his only begotten son as a sacrifice for the good of those whom he loves. And then he says, “go and do likewise.” 


So, think about self-sacrificing agape love in the context of the Ten Commandments. Each command is a call to sacrifice something on the altar of love. 

So, here Paul contrasts agape love with what he calls the “works of darkness.” And, I think that it is safe to say, the works of darkness are simply the absence of humble, others-focused, Christly agape love in favor or arrogant self-love, which the Greeks called “Philautia.” Now, Philautia is also not a word we see in the New Testament, but in Greek literature it’s almost always seen as a negative. It is pompousness; it is self-focused. We might call it “narcissism” today, which is viewed negatively, but we also might call it “self-care” and view it positively. And, this is where the gospel flies in the face of a lot of modern psychology. Modern pop psychology says that you can’t love anyone else until you first love yourself. Whereas, the gospel says that you can’t really love anyone until you experience and are compelled by the love of Christ. 


But, let’s be clear, we’re talking about two different kinds of love here. Modern psychology, and the notion of self-love, is more about philos than agape. It’s more about being kind to yourself or being friendly to yourself or doing things for yourself. Also, since we’re talking about the Ten Commandments, notice that self-care is built into the Ten Commandments, and it is called Sabbath. And, Sabbath isn’t this narcissistic self-focus to the exclusion of others, Sabbath is all about resting in the goodness and provision of God. It’s real rest and rejuvenation. It’s not simply a spa day or a glass of wine on the patio of a luxury villa. The difference is that Sabbath rest is as much about your soul as it is about your body, whereas self-care is most often presented as primarily being about the mind and body. Getting a massage will not rejuvenate your soul. Practicing meditation outside of Christ will not rejuvenate your soul. The thing that we all desperately need is Sabbath. 


John Mark Comer takes note of the fact that God has to “command” the Sabbath which is the only spiritual discipline in the Ten Commandments. He says, “Does that strike you as odd? It’s like commanding ice cream or live music or beach days. You would think we’d all be chomping at the bit to practice the Sabbath. But apparently there’s something about the human condition that makes us want to hurry our way through life as fast as we possibly can, to rebel against the limitations of time itself. Due to our immaturity, dysfunction, and addiction, God has to command his people to do something deeply life giving – rest.”


So, Paul says we have to throw off all of this self-focus. It is self-focus, self-love, not self-sacrificing love, that leads us to drunkenness, sexual impurity, jealousy and fighting. All of that doesn’t come from agape love. Agape love isn’t jealous of anyone. Agape love isn’t fighting to get its way with anyone. Agape love isn’t cheating on its wife. And, Paul says the reason why we must put all these things off is because we have work to do. There is an urgency to the moment and the task at hand. He makes this statement, “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” And he’s not saying that justification is something yet to be received, he is saying the moment when we get to fully be with the Lord is closer now than it was when we first trusted in Christ, so let us not sit around and be lazy. Let us not neglect to love our neighbors because Christ is coming. 

This is our mission: declaring and demonstrating the gospel of Jesus in all of life. What stops us from doing that? Self-focus. It’s not agape love that stops us. Agape propels us out. Friends, we must put on Christ. We must step into him like a pair of pants. We must practice His way. 

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