April 19 (Reading for April 18-24: Romans 13, NIV). (This is coming to you early since I am going to Roswell to see my sister later today and will not be able to post it on Thursday. This devotional will cover Romans 13:8-14).
I see two major themes: verses 8-10 show us how we are to live, and verses 11-14 show us when we are to live that way. In the first theme, Paul referred to our continuing debt to “love one another.” He had talked about love in chapter 12. A we noted last week, love is a huge factor in resurrection living! “Be devoted to one another in love” (Rom. 12:10). But here, Paul states our need to love one another as a debt that we owe one another. He had been talking about paying our taxes (that is relevant for this time of year). He advised us to be careful about debt, “let no debt be outstanding” (v. 8). I don’t think Paul wants to send us on a guilt trip about our house mortgages and car loans, but he is saying don’t get yourself so indebted that you are a prisoner to your debt. This would limit your freedom to serve Christ. I remember hearing a man speak on missions, and he told his audience, “Some of you have your lives so planned out, with so much binding debt, that you cannot conceive of abandoning all to follow Christ” (Luke 18:22).
But one debt we should not only embrace but take on more and more is the debt to love one another. Paul agreed with His Lord (see Matthew 22:37-40) that all of the commandments “are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself”” (v. 9). Then is HOW we are to live, but WHEN should we live in this way? That may sound like a “duh” question, but Paul in verses 11-14 reminded us of a simple truth: “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Time is short! We have one less day to live today than we had yesterday. There is a human problem (meaning we all share it), in that we can think so much about tomorrow that we forget to live as we should today. This leads to our thinking that there will always be time to serve the Lord, so we don’t have to be concerned so much about what we do today. Paul said, “Wake up from your slumber” and love your neighbor—today!
There is a sense that all of eternity exists in today. In that sense, today is all you have. Think about Wednesday, April 20, which right now you call tomorrow. But when it arrives, what will it be? Today! So we can say that all of our “todays” are joined to make up eternity. And if you are anything like me, you find that future days are coming faster and faster. Today is the day we have to live—not tomorrow! We do not ignore tomorrow; we set goals and objectives for the future so that we can be more effective. But we cannot live as if we had the promise of tomorrow because we do not. James talked about that: “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (Ja. 4:14).
How should we respond to these reminders? “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime…clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (vv. 12-14). This is the only way that we can follow Jesus’s instructions: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34). I think a synonymous statement to “Clothe yourselves with Christ” is “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Paul advised the Ephesians to not only put on His clothing, but to also put on His armor: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11). So, finally, remember this: “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13).
– Al Gary