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[Ro 13:8] Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.  For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
 Do this, knowing the time that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.  The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
The letter to the Romans was written by the apostle Paul at around 57 AD in Corinth. The best guess is that this letter was written on his third missionary journey. During this writing, Paul was in Corinth and also working as a tentmaker and working with Aquila and Priscilla training them in the gospel. Some infer that he was training them to be leaders of the church, but I find no hard evidence of this ridiculous claim, as Paul never sanctioned female leadership in the church.
The primary reason Paul was in Corinth was to collect money for the Jerusalem church, which had its own financial troubles at this time. Paul wrote this letter to the Romans while in Corinth, yet he had never been to Rome, and his passion was so amazing for people he had never met. We do know from his writings that he desired to go there (Rom 1:9-13). Paul had plans to visit Rome on his way to Spain after he delivered the money to the Jerusalem church to assist them with their financial troubles. We do not know if he ever made it, but it is doubtful that he did at least according to some scholars.
Audience & Purpose
According to the Bible Knowledge Commentary, the letter of Romans was not addressed to the church in Rome, but all who are called saints in Rome. We know that there was a church in Rome, because Paul had sent greetings to the church that met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. Unlike what some will lead you to believe, Aquila and Priscilla did not lead the church, they simply hosted it. We do not kow for sure if Paul was aware that other churches existed in Rome, but since his letter was addressed to Christians in Rome, its probably safe to say that he assumed that there were other churches in Rome. His audience were mostly Gentile, as Rome was at this time a gentile city.
According to the electronic version of the Life Application New Testament Commentary the primary purpose of Romans was, "To prepare the way for his visit to Rome, to let the believers in Rome know of his plans to come, and to enlist their support for his future ministry in Spain" (Barton Bruce, Linda K. Taylor). Paul knew the power and influence that Rome had in that day, and knew that the gospel could spread much faster if he hit the Romans well with it. So, Rome was strategic for this reason. Another purpose for Paul being in Rome was to counter the misunderstandings of his new goal and mission behind his missionary journeys. Some Christians and even Jews were quick to slander him, and this is a reasoning behind his wanting to write this letter to counter their reasoning.
Occasion: Structure and Context
The Letter to the Romans is an epistle genre primarily with a soterialogical theme. As I previously mentioned, this letter was written at Corinth. In this letter it is important to note that this letter although it may be a classified as a letter genre does not read as such. This letter reads more like an elaborate theological essay. As this letter places a high emphasis on Christian doctrine, besides strictly a soterialogical tone. Some of the themes touched upon in light or great detail throughout the scope of the letter are sin, salvation, grace, faith, righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption, and resurrection.
NASB: [Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.]
KJV: [Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.]
NKJV [Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.]
NIV [Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.]
HCSB [Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.]
Romans 13:8 is a very controversial passage. I think that when one reads it they must take the entire chapter into context. The first part of the chapter Paul is referring to paying taxes to the authorities. But it's interesting how some articulate this verse as being strictly about debt. Some KJV only Christians infer that this verse is saying that it's a sin to use a credit card, take on a loan or borrow money in anyway. Some of them use Mt 6:24 as backing to their argument that its sinful to use a credit card, take on a loan, or borrow in anyway. In Mt 6:24 Jesus says that one cannot have two masters, and its impossible to serve both God and money (the KJV uses the original Greek word in this passage). So in their argument Rom 13:8 is indeed suggesting that one cannot be a slave of debt. There are many problems with their argument, since it usually bypasses the culture context, demographic, grammatical and theological hermeneutical factors to interpreting a translation. One must always consider such issues when interpreting the scriptures, even more useful with controversial verses and passages such as Romans 13:8. The more liberal side of the argument does not interpret Paul as saying that debt is prohibited, so they very easily abuse their credit cards, and take on many loans so very quickly they have a massive debt that they cannot hope to repay in their lifetime. Obviously there are different extremes of interpretation of this verse.
I think that its interesting that the KJV seems to communicate that its perfectly okay to be in debt to a woman, while the NIV says to let no debt remain outstanding, indicating that one can have debts. The NKJV eliminates the singular noun voice in this verse and changes it to the plural "no one" instead of "no man." While the NIV limits the passage to debt, its also again interesting how the NASB translates the verse in a similar fashion as the NKJV and does not bind debt to financial obligations, because what most people will conjure when the word debt is used will always be financial debt. So many that read this passage have concluded that Paul is prohibiting Christians from using credit cards, taking on loans, or borrowing money.
However, the electronic version of the Bible Knowledge Commentary says:
This is not a prohibition against a proper use of credit;
it is an underscoring of a Christian's obligation to express divine
love in all interpersonal relationships. A Christian should never fall short,
and so be "in debt," in loving others (Jn 13:34-35; 1 Co 15:14;
Eph 5:2; Col 3:14; 1 Jn 3:14;23; 4:7, 11,21).
The Life Application New Testament Commentary electronic version says a similar thing about this verse:
But we may ask; is Paul against home mortgages and school loans? Paul is not teaching against borrowing, except as it applies to borrowing things or money that we cannot hope to repay. Careless or deceitful debt is not acceptable behavior among believers.
I think that both these commentaries present a very accurate explanation of the complex controversial verse. Paul is not arguing against the use of credit cards and the borrowing of money, what Paul is against is those that are in so much debt that their debt has become a hindrance to their Christian life because it hinders them from carrying out the great commission.
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 neighbor as thyself.
Paul is referring back to the law (torah, Pentateuch) in this verse. The passages are from ex 20:13-17 and Deut 5:17-21. According to Stott Paul is know referring to how loving our neighbors as ourselves fulfills the law. Its odd that only in the KJV version does it mention anything about not bearing false witness. Stott says that new translations leave it out because the phrase may not be in the most reliable manuscripts. The KJV uses the Textus Receptus manuscript, while newer translations use the Alexandrian manuscripts. Paul concludes by saying that all the commandments sum up to this simple commandment. Love thy neighbor as thyself! This is something that Jesus also said in Mt 22:39, and he concludes by saying that all the law and prophets hang on this commandment. So its very important that we as Christians get it straight that we cannot emphasize secondary non essentials to the same degree as the simple commandment of love! Often Christians get really into it about the nonessentials, often we seem to lack love, and this is not what Paul taught in this verse.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
The Greek word agap┴ used for love in this verse is the same with both occurrences of the word in this verse. But in the three verses that the word love appears in 13:8-14 the other two times the Greek word agapa┘ is used instead of agap┴. In Greek the word agap┴ and agapa┘ very much mean the same thing. In the entire book of Romans, these Greek words seem to be dominant.
John Stott says comments.
Agape is a selfless love, which cannot be turned in on the self; and partly because according to Scripture self-love is the essence of sin. Instead, we are to affirm all of ourselves which stems from the creation, while denying all of ourselves which stem from the fall (350).
It's nearly impossible with our totally depraved human nature to put to death all of our fleshly nature and practice this form of love that Paul speaks about to the full. Stott says that the 2nd commandment requires that we love our neighbors as much as we do ourselves. Also Jesus said the same in Mt 19:19. Stott says that we need to seek the good of our neighbors and not their harm. This is indeed difficult to do, especially in a society as indiviliastic as ours. Most people today are not after their neighbors interests, but the interests of only themselves. Even the contemporary evangelical church is following this trend. But true disciples will strive to love their neighbors as themselves. In loving their neighbor as themselves, they are fulfilling the law, and as Stott points out we are still and never will escape this debt, because only Christ can take away our debts.
Do this, knowing the time that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.
Looking at verse 11 it seems to be out of context of verses 8-10 Verse 11 seems to summon action. Even Stott gets confused at how verse 11 and 8-10 are connected. When Paul says do this, he is most likely referring to the commandments. Stott says that verses 11-14 seem to play an eschatological foundation to Christian conduct. Earlier in 12:1 we are told not to conform to the pattern of this world, so one would assume that in verse 11 that Paul mentions time to remind us that we should know the time, and then to live accordingly. In Paul's day people thought that they were, the generation that would see the Lords return, so to them the hour was very near. However, as it turned out they were a long way off from his return. In Gods eyes, we need to look forward for the age to come. According to Stott in the above verses, three references to time are made and they are. (1) First, the hour has come (2) Because our salvation is nearer know than when we first believed. (3) The night is nearly over and the day is nearly here. I believe that in the passage that Paul refers to a night and a day. Night can mean the day of darkness, and the day can refer to when Christ returns. So one can take this verse and interpret it that the term progressive salvation is correct and that our salvation is being worked on. The sinner's prayer was the first step and when Christ returns is the last step to the salvation process.
Thomas R. Schreiner in his Romans commentary says:
The reason given is that "salvation" (soteria) is nearer to us than when we first believed. The word clearly refers to future salvation here, which will be available, only after the "night" has elapsed and "the day" of the Lord "has drawn near." The night has not yet passed away, nor has the day of the Lord arrived. In other words, the time of evil is nearly over and the day of the Lord is imminent (697).
We as contemporary Christians need to take this literally and understand that the day of the Lord is near and our final salvation is coming.
The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
We should live each day as thought it will be our last (as my Pastor at Sunrise Bible likes to say). Pastor AL Barber awaits his final salvation and always lives each day like it will be his last. He chooses to live like the age to come is right around the corner and all his investments and time and resources go into. Unlike many, he does not live for the treasures and riches of this world, but for the coming age, which will come when the darkness is finally over. Unfortunately many today are living as if darkness will always be here, but they will soon be surprised that the darkness will be gone in a very short time as will all the treasures they hid in the darkness because it will be revealed in the light.
Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. In part, B of the verse Paul seems to communicating that Christians are soldiers in conflict that need to be alerted and prepared for battle. Many other passages in the NT indicate that we are at battle and refers to Christians as soldiers (Ep 6:10-17; 1Th 5:8). In other verses honoring Christ is very often referred to as being in the light (Jn 12:36; Ep 5:8,14; Col 1:12; 1Th 5:5; 1Jn 1:7; 2:10). Stott says that a Christian's life is not sleep but always battle. When Paul refers to armor here, Stott says that this means behavior. Obviously, the behavior needs to be behavior that shows the light of Christ in us, so that others will see and hear the good news. In John, 13:35 Jesus says that men will recognize that you are my disciples by your love. So, we as Christians need to put on the armor of light because the day is near and the darkness is almost gone.
Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.
John Ziesler comments on this verse:
The list of things to be avoided by those who belong to the imminent new day is quite conventional, and need not imply anything about the habits or character of the Roman Christians. We cannot, for example, deduce from this verse that they were greatly given to drunkenness, though it is possible that there is an oblique allusion to what went on in the evenings in Roman taverns (320).
I do not think the scriptures are very clear about what went on in Roman taverns, and quite possibly the Christians may have had some exposure to heavy drink that will get one drunk. But lets make it clear that in that day and age with most wines it took allot more than a few drinks to get someone drunk. Also, wine, water and milk was for the most part all the drinks available. Today we have soda so we think of all heavy drink as bad, when in fact this was never the case. Paul was in no way in this verse condemning all heavy drinks! He was condemning drunkenness as it's a behavior of one belong to the darkness, not one belonging to the light. As John Stott says, "a decent Christian should have self control in the areas of drink, sex, and social relationships" (Stott 1994, 353). Unfortunately, there are many culture Christians roaming the church today that do not have self-control in these areas. They go out and get drunk quite often, and they frequently have premarital sex. A visit to a high school or college youth ministry at a large megachurch will validate this. But the acts above the acts of those living in the darkness, and its no wonder that the world get s a confusing message when Christians try to conform and be relateable to the world by conforming to the worlds standards. Christians are supposed to be the salt and the light of the world (Mt 5:13).
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
Concluding from the verse above this passage just tells us to live under Christ as Lord rather than under the flesh. When one lives under the flesh they are never satisfied with their life, and they constantly want more. Christ's brings fulfillment and everlasting joy that worldly things cannot bring. Worldly things bring temporary joy, but the joy only lasts for a season and then the joy is dead. As I mentioned in the verse above, sexual promiscuity and drunkenness are some of the lusts of the flesh that only last a short season. However living under Christ as Lord, and putting on the deeds of the light and putting aside the deeds of darkness is only the first part of the preparation, which we are called by the rising of the great day. Frederic Louis Godet says. "Our concern must be, besides, to put on the dispositions which are in keeping with so holy and brilliant a light" (Godet 1977, 451). We have a brilliant light if we continue to clothe ourselves with the clothing of the light, and this of coarse is the fruits of the spirit leading to good works. Stott says "Perhaps the thought is that we are to wear the characteristics of his teaching and example, and put on ""compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience"" (Stott 1994,353). These are some of the good works and fruits of a believer that do in deed separate us from those that live in darkness. It's a shame that some of the church today does not want to live by the light and to clothe themselves with clothing of light, but still wears the clothing of those living by the darkness, and yet they call themselves children of the light. This does nothing but confuses unbelievers. Jesus at his return will separate the sheep from the goats, and many that think they are sheep will be with the goats.
Overall the NASB does a good job at translating this passage into a language most English readers will understand. The KJV is good as well, but it's not in a language that most will understand. The NASB follows the Greek text more so, than the dynamic free NIV or even worse the Message. But no doubt, the Message is a quality translation for the bible illiterate. It catches the thrust and purity of the text when read by the ignorant, and this is something that the NASB and KJV may have a hard time accomplishing.
Overall, I believe the main points Paul is trying to make in this passage are as follows. Point A-Gods law of love is a potent force for a law-abiding life 8-10.
Point B- The urgency of the times is a call to good citizenship 11-13.
Point C- Salvation is nearer know than when we first believer 13
Point D- We need to put on Christ's garment, and put off the garment of the flesh 14.
Barton Bruce, Linda K. Taylor 2001. Life Application New Testament Commentary. Ed Grant Osborne. Wheaton: Tyndale publishing.
Godet Frederic Louis. 1977. Commentary on Romans Michigan: Kregel Publications
Schreiner Thomas R. 1998. Romans. Michigan: Baker Books.
Stott John R.W. 1994. The Message of Romans. Downers Grove. Inter-Varsity Press.
Walvoord John F., Zuck Roy B. 2000. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries
Ziesler John. 1989. Paul's Letter to the Romans Philadelphia: Trinity Press International
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