Faith that Works: Love in Community

Love in community

Paul next teaches us how to love each other. This is one of my favorite passages, but we’ve covered it in detail before, and so I’ll resist the temptation to go verse by verse.

Here’s the big deal. These simple instructions are the very core of the Torah of the Spirit of life. This is how we become living sacrifices. This what we become when God transforms our minds. This is how the gifts of service, mercy, etc. play out in church.

(Rom 12:9-21 ESV)  9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.  14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Notice how easy it is to see that the commands add up to “be like Jesus.” Indeed, it’s simple work to tie these teachings to teachings of Jesus. This is just so very Jesus.

The one exception is “never avenge yourselves.” This is one place where we are not to be like God, but it’s not that we aren’t to judge people (1 Cor 6:2 says we’ll judge the world), but that it’s not yet time. When it’s time for God to judge and exact vengeance, we’ll be there with him (1 Cor 6:2; Rev. 20:4; 22:5). But for now, we wait.

Love Your Neighbor

(Rom 13:8 ESV)  8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

I get in just all sorts of trouble for taking this one seriously. Think about it. Paul has absolutely no reason to worry about keeping the Law of Moses. Rather, he’s got to be speaking of the Torah of the Spirit of life — the law as fulfilled and transformed in Jesus and by the Spirit.

He is not a rabbi speaking abstractly about how a Jew might honor Moses. He’s an apostle telling his readers how to honor God’s law written on their hearts!

Therefore, he means it. If we love each other, we’ve fulfilled the law for which we’re accountable. Period.

Of course, the “each other” means that we’re in community with our fellow Christians. We can’t “love each other” if there’s no each other. Nor can we define “each other” as only those 20 people who agree with me on every niggling point of doctrine. No, “each other” is defined in Romans 15:7 —

(Rom 15:7 ESV)  7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

That is, we must accept (or welcome as fellows Christians) all whom Jesus has welcomed. And who are those? Well, what did Paul write in the preceding 14 chapters? I think it was something about everyone with faith in Jesus being saved.

(Rom 13:9 ESV)  9 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.”

Paul’s reference to “any other commandment” is strongly emphatic. This is really the whole law.

The Greek translated “sum up” is also found in Eph 1:10, where it means “gather together” or “bring unity to.” The word is most literally used of totaling a column of figures.

Add it all up, take the sum, and when you get done, the Torah of the Spirit of the life equals “love your neighbor.” And this observation ends all worries about circumcision, feast days, and mixing wool with linen.

What bothers many people, of course, is that Paul doesn’t include the Greatest Command — to love God — nor does he include many inferential truths about fellowship halls and how many cups we use for the Lord’s Supper, which “rules” appear nowhere in Romans.

Indeed, if one of our missionaries were to write a letter to a mission church he’d never been to, wouldn’t he feel obliged to discuss the Five Acts of Worship and plurality of elders as marks that define the boundaries of the Kingdom? But Paul is content with very different commands, but just the sort of commands that we find God writing on our hearts.

It’s easy to minimize Paul’s words to leave room for the rest, and yet Paul is addressing a critically important question — how do we honor Torah in light of Jesus? He gives the answer in plain and simple terms. And we don’t like the answer.

But, of course, he is not remotely suggesting that we don’t have to love God. After all, we are defined by our faith in Jesus, and we can’t believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah and Son of God without also believing in God. And belief in God necessarily equates with loving God (or else we worship an unknown god!). Paul is not abandoning his previous 12 chapters on faith! Or on the righteousness of God. Or on the necessity that we be conformed to the image of Jesus. He’s telling us how.

Therefore, what he says here must be taken as derived from what he’s said before, not as erasing all that he’s said before. Let’s do be serious.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Faith That Works, Grace, Romans, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Faith that Works: Love in Community

  1. This is my favorite topic, Jay, because I believe it is the foundation of what God and Jesus calls us to actually do with our lives. The legalists among us often miss points such as Romans 13:8 … “anyone who loves one another has fulfilled the Law”. Does it get any clearer than that.

    Jesus raised the bar for love in John, where is moves beyond the requirement of the Law to “love your neighbor as yourself” to “love one another as I have loved you and gave my life for you”.

    When that is the goal for our life, our failure achieve that goal is obvious. Our need for Jesus grace and forgiveness is obvious.

    Trying to love another person the way Jesus loves me is an overwhelming task. And to do so with each person with whom I interact can be exhausting. Much harder than complying with even the 612 laws of the Talmud!

  2. Jerry says:

    About 18 months ago I had a conversation with a man whom I’d never met prior to that evening. He kept probing about my beliefs on various issues – and I finally told him that love fulfills the law. He did not like what I said, and I dismissed him from my mind.

    Recently, I learned he is a trustee at a church that has had a split in the last few weeks. The split occurred, I have heard, because the trustees refused to allow the church to appoint elders. They were insistent that they “ran the church” and that any who didn’t like it could leave – which they did.

    Jay, what you had to say in this post is one of the most needed lessons for us to learn. Without it, we cannot really be a church of Jesus Christ!

  3. Jerry, your post reminds me of the “religion club” nature of our congregations. Thankfully, most of the clubs are governed by less stiff-necked people, but ultimately, the club BELONGS to somebody lower down than The Throne, and those people do indeed run that club. I have finally learned [a] not to be surprised when this happens, and [b] not to take offense (as much) when I see such bad behavior as in this case. After all, it’s their religion club, not God’s, and God’s people can be members or not, as they choose. The churchhouse door swings both ways. Either way, God’s people are His, no matter their club affiliation.

    What this trustee found out is that when you don’t listen to your club members, soon your club will be much smaller. He may or may not mind that.

  4. aBasnar says:

    This does not sound right, Charles. There is abuse of power, there are immature and unqualified leaders. But there are is also God-given/delegated authority, there are gifts of leadership to the church from the arch-shepherd. And we owe such men due respect, submission and support. Sometimes those who started on the wrong foot turn out to be great men of God, sometimes it is the other way round. Yet it was and still is God’s idea to entrust His flock to human shepherds, as fragile, fallible and disillusioning they may be. If God is with them, who are we to be against them?

    The church BTW is not a club. It is the house of the Living God, the Pillar of Truth, the Bride of The Lamb; God’s chosen people. Think HIGH about the church of God! Because God’s Glory is reflected in Her!


  5. mark says:

    “The one exception is “never avenge yourselves.” This is one place where we are not to be like God, but it’s not that we aren’t to judge people”

    This doesn’t make sense! I believe its bizarre to say we are not to be like God in this respect of revenge. This sounds hypocritical on Gods part. How can he ask of us something he is not willing to do himself? Is this principle don’t do as I do but do as I say? Is it not better to say God does the same as we do, that is overcome evil with good. Even more so isn’t more likely we will sin in this area? Jesus ask us to forgive others. What is the purpose to do so if Jesus in the end will not forgive those of whom we have forgiven?
    Be like Jesus except when he whips people out the temple. Don’t do that
    Be like Jesus except when he kills them for lying. Don’t do that either
    Be like Jesus except when he doesn’t forgive those who blaspheme. You get to love
    your enemies for God ,he gets to make a footstool of them.
    It just doesn’t make sense to me.

  6. Norton says:

    Unless I misintepret the meaning of “heap burning coals on your enemies head”, we can take revenge. To help the one who has mistreated you is about the most withering type of revenge that can be taken. Makes them feel low and inferior for a long time. Most of us, though, don’t have enough control over ourselves to inflict this kind of revenge.

  7. hank says:


    The difference, I believe, is in that Jesus (God), is perfect, eternal, and the creator.

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    Alexander, and others
    Alexander said, “Yet it was and still is God’s idea to entrust His flock to human shepherds,” I believe that you can search though many versions of the scriptures in the New Testament and will never find the term (shepherd) being applied to any human who was placed into a position of authority overseeing any of God’s children. You may find one that I have not located, but then I feel that you must compare that translation with the original sources. I believe that you will find that the term (shepherd) as it is used by Jesus always referred to either himself or his relationship to his followers. It was never used in a manner that would be indicating that an Elder was placed into the position that Jesus describes for the word (shepherd). Can we see that the position that is described as Elder should have some of the same concerns for the body of the church as a shepherd of a flock of sheep? Yes, but which Christian on this earth is exempt from the obligation of the same concerns for the church. I also see this concept within many conversations, notice, this following statement. “It is the house of the Living God, the Pillar of Truth, the Bride of The Lamb; God’s chosen people. Think HIGH about the church of God! Because God’s Glory is reflected in Her!” I have understood from my teachers and the scriptures that, we, that means you and I that are Christians, are the Temple or the house of the Living God. The assembly of more than one of us together does not create a third entity, called The Church. Continuing that concept notice the context of the following, “Think HIGH about the church of God! Because God’s Glory is reflected in Her!” upholds this entity to a higher status than the Christians that are the Church. As we have been learning from much of these studies that Jay has been guiding through, the Church as Christ sees it may contain many Christians that you and I would never have excepted as part of the body called The Bride of Christ, or The Church. Do you consider that each of us may be held accountable, if we attempt to diminish the Body of Christ, or Bride of Christ? We must be very cautious as to which of God’s Children that we refuse acceptance to, I see these lessons as very powerful instructions in obeying this portion of (Romans 13:9) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
    Jay, I believe your lessons have been great!

  9. Mark says:

    “heap burning coals on your enemies head”, This is interesting too! I have heard two
    types of interpretation one is revenge the other is the story of the fire carriers who would light the fires in the village ; they had hot coals on there head in clay pots to light fires.Kind of a positive spin of warming up your enemy. But to interpret meaning revenge we do get to do this ourselves. We are given permission to seek revenge.

  10. Mark says:

    “The difference, I believe, is in that Jesus (God), is perfect, eternal, and the creator”

    How does perfection justify revenge? If God is love how can he be exempt from his inspiration in 1 Corth 13.

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