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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Who will be first?

What type of debts do you feel comfortable running up?  If you are a habitual spender, you may have all kinds of consumer debt in the form of commercial loans and credit card balances which far exceed your income.  If you are a little less likely to run up consumer debt, you may have debts such as mortgage, utilities, and insurance premiums.  There are lots of forms of "debt" - some material, others physical, still others emotional and spiritual.  One form of emotional debt is when we hold a slight over another's head continually in order to "exact" payment of some sort for the "debt" owed.  As we discovered yesterday, this is not to be the case with God's kids.  In fact, there is but one debt "owed" and that is the debt of love.  Now, this is a tougher "debt" to pay than some might imagine, because "we" have to take backseat in order to see this "debt" met.

Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. (Romans 13:8-10 MSG)

Simply put, we owe this debt of love - not because others deserve it, or earn it - but because it was first extended to us when we neither deserved it nor were capable of earning it.  When we love, we "complete the law" according to our passage.  The Law of Moses was established way back in the day when Israel came out of Egypt and God set them apart to be his people.  The "Law" was a set of rules - but in the keeping of those rules, even as imperfectly as they may have been kept - they pointed the way to the coming of the Messiah who would be capable of fulfilling all aspects of the "rules"!  So, when our passage states we "fulfill or complete the law" through this "love" we express toward one another, it isn't implying the "rules" of the law are to be kept one by one, bu that the law was totally and completely based upon love.

For God so loved the world - this is the basis of the law.  All rules given to Moses were simply to point to Christ and God's intense love for his people. This is such an intense love that it gave what no other person could give - life.  In giving life, God expressed the depth of his love.  For in the exchange of Christ's life for ours, we moved from eternal life without him into eternal life with him - life and love go hand in hand.  So, when our passage points us to a "summary" of what love is, it points us to look at all of life through the eyes of love - exactly as God looks at life!

So, I got this wrong for a long time - loving others as I love myself.  I thought it meant that I took good care of my every want and wish, so I should do the same for others.  Not!  I thought it meant one thing - God planned for it to mean another.  In order to understand what is stated here, we have to go back to the Law to see what was being spoken of when it was given.  We have to go to one of those Old Testament books people don't read very often - Leviticus.  Within those pages we find God pointing out two very important "rules" for living:  1) Love God first - he is to be the one in the most superior part of our lives who receives the attention above all others (including ourselves); and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself - this is where we find ourselves asking what this means.

In the Book of Leviticus, we find such passages as leaving a little grain in the fields when we gather in the harvest (because there will be travelers and those who cannot afford to plant their own grains who will come along to glean what has been left); not stealing, dealing falsely, or using false weights (as these would all be forms of telling a lie); and treating people with respect whether their "status" is privileged or poor (for all are created in the image of God).  I think perhaps the simplest meaning of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves is to "walk a mile in their shoes".  Nothing helps us connect with them more than seeing life through their eyes - almost like we "wear their skin" for a while.  Jesus did this for us - now he says we should do it for one another!

Let me be the first to tell you - this isn't easy.  Loving others like I love myself - experiencing life through their eyes, walking a mile in their shoes - this is tough stuff.  I think about me first - this is what comes naturally to most of us.  I think about how life will affect me - this is because in the most literal sense, we see life as it affects us FIRST and then how it may affect others SECOND.  Jesus tells us we have this backward - we need to see life through their eyes FIRST.  We cannot do this on our own - it comes by the empowering of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is only with his help we can put down our desires and see the needs of another.  It is only when he prompts us to consider another FIRST that we see we aren't!  Just sayin!