Updated: Feb 3
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
This is the Epistle reading for Proper 18, the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost. It will be read aloud in Episcopal churches (and others) on Sunday, September 10, 2017. While a short reading selection, it is a powerful disclaimer message, one worth taking note of.
When Paul said – again, realizing that Paul spoke as did Jesus, “for the Father,” through the Holy Spirit – “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” means a true Christian (only Saints and Apostles) repays everyone to whom he or she ever associates with love. LOVE (which is grossly misunderstood, but what else is new?) has been given as God’s blessing, making LOVE the only currency that matters. Thus, LOVE is all a true Christian owes in return for receipt of the Holy Spirit.
When Paul wrote, “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law,” the message between that line is: “Jesus Christ is LOVE.” Think back to the encounter Jesus had with the young rich man, who asked Jesus, “How can I be assured of going to Heaven?” When Jesus said, “Of course, there is the Law,” he meant step number one was to LOVE.
The rich man mistook obedience to the Law of Moses as step one, when LOVE is the only way anyone can be so compliant to the demands that include “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet,” … on and on. We know he mistook what Jesus meant, when Jesus then followed up the young man’s happy acknowledgement of the religious legal maintenance requirements by saying (in essence), “Don’t forget how much you owe!” That means that Jesus telling the young rich man to sell what he owned and give to the poor, was him saying, “The love of the poor made you rich; now go and show your return LOVE, which is you debt that holds you in the material realm.”
That is what Paul was saying as he wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Paul wrote that after stating the second greatest commandment that Jesus told an “expert of the law” (like a lawyer, only religious), when asked which was the greatest commandment. The first was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” This means Paul was repeating that line of thought, speaking from the same Mind of Christ.
When Paul told the Christians of Rome, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you have to realize the context. Romans ruled vast regions of the world as the Roman Empire; and they ruled as pagans, in the sense that they believed in many gods. Those Romans certainly did not believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the promised savior of Jews. Just as Jesus had his ministry for the Jews of Judea and Galilee (and the neighboring places where Jews lived), Paul was a Jew of Roman citizenship. Therefore, he wrote to the Jews of Rome, who were Romans. However, they were the lowest class of citizens of Rome, most of whom lived in the slums that Nero would burn, so he could build a more beautiful Rome.
Simply by understanding these logistics, where Roman domination saw Jews as little more than slaves to the State – which was certainly in the minds of most Jews – Rome was the enemy Gentiles that enslaved poor Jews. Jews were then neighbors only to other Jews, because they believed in the same YHWH – the living God, while giving honor to the Law set forth by Moses.
This means a “neighbor” is someone of like kind. Of course, it is normal for human beings to question my views, pondering just who is a “neighbor” in the eyes of Paul and Jesus. Much confusion has come in modern times, since the Christian world (primarily Europe and the Americas) has become so culturally blended. World wars pitted nations against neighboring nations, so perhaps the blending is a grand plan to confuse who neighbors are, with immigration, migration and refugee displacement testing the limits of Christian acceptance of foreign “neighbors.”
According to the various definitions of the word “neighbor,” it commonly is a word used to denote someone who lives next door or in the same general area; but the word also bears a most generalized meaning, as that of “a fellow human.” Non-Christians like to focus on that definition, such that everyone on the planets can be called a “neighbor.”
That, of course, makes it hard to differentiate a family member who lives in the house on the lower 40 acres of the family ranch, and the enemy who hates your guts, who lives near the same town where you buy groceries. That makes subsets of the “neighbor” set, so a “neighbor” is a separate subset that is exclusive of “family” and “enemies.” This means a “neighbor” has to be someone who lives nearby. When geographic areas are widened, so that “near” becomes the same country,” a “neighbor” easily becomes any fellow countrymen.
Because Jesus spoke of love that identified enemies, neighbors, and friends (and by association family), and because Jesus was a Jew, who as a group segregated themselves from those of other religious-cultural values, a “neighbor” was (and still is) clearly a reference to someone who believes in the same God and follows the same moral codes. These are personal and cultural values passed on over great lengths of time, and not government declarations.
As a Christian in the eclectic neighborhoods of the United States of America, a “neighbor” would be other Christians; but they would represent those that one was not in a close personal relationship with. Further, in America, where so many religious backgrounds have relocated that do not worship the same God, but a brotherhood exists as “Americans,” one would want to show the same love that you would expect in return as another American.
Because Paul was a true Christian, Apostle, and Saint, we Christians who truly want to be just like Paul (and just like Jesus) should read “Love your neighbor as yourself” and only think in terms of having the same Christian mindset. There is a commandment to love the rest of the world, so it is okay to differentiate “neighbors” as just being other Christians.
The Jews could truly call someone in their subdivision a “neighbor,” because the Jews lived among those of the same faith and did not mix with Gentiles. We do not have that same arrangement today, especially in the United States of America. We can identify people by race, creed, or national origin, such as “My India Indian neighbor” or “My Facebook Muslim friend” or “My son’s Catholic teacher at the parochial school,” but this is simply a sign that Americans have largely lost their Christian identity. Political correctness requires that everyone must be a friend, regardless of how little one knows about someone’s personal and cultural values. That is quite relative to the newfound inability to properly identify who we are supposed to love like we love ourselves.
Meet the neighbors through children and block parties.
Relative to that dawning, when Paul then wrote, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep,” he was not referring to “time” as if wrist watches were common in 50 AD. He was referring to the “opportunity” that came with the presence of the Holy Spirit. He meant and other Apostles understood (thus “you know”) that the Holy Spirit made it the “right moment” to “rise up” and help their neighbors, as enlightened disciples. It was a presence that made putting on the armor of light possible: the protection of the Holy Spirit and the knowledge of the Mind of Christ. It was a light that easily identified friends, neighbors, and enemies … with LOVE.
The slumber they had awakened from was their prior state of confusion about the purpose of being a Jew. The Law had been difficult to incorporate into their daily lives and they struggled with the responsibility of be chosen by God, but not knowing what that meant.
Or dreams can become nightmares in the darkness.
The “works of darkness” kept neighbors divided against one another, while their fear of contact with their enemies led to disdain and animosity towards them by Gentiles. However, the presence of the Holy Spirit brought them to that state of understanding love automatically, especially in seeing all who welcomed Christ as their “neighbors.”
The Apostles found their love of God allowed them to “live honorably as in the day,” as shining examples of what God truly chose them to be – ministers of the truth and fishers of men’s souls. The light of day removed all fear of inadequacies and guilt that always surrounded them in a lustful world. As Saints, they could release that worry and realize the Christ Mind made them much closer to “salvation” than they ever thought they would be, when they first believed Jesus was their Christ.
The presence of the Holy Spirit being understood by the Romans to who the letter was addressed is the only explanation for how Paul could write, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The works of darkness are the imaginary dreams and fantasies of those asleep. Thus, being asleep is akin to being a mortal in a world that cannot sustain life eternally. To survive eternally is to awaken from the illusions of the world. That wake state is only possible when one “puts on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” To “put on the clothing of Christ” means to be reborn as him.