Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Love in Romans

While I was teaching at a Bible college in Indonesia, I had the incredible blessing of teaching a class on Romans.  This gave me the opportunity to study the book of Romans in depth.  One of the ways I studied Romans was to study key words used throughout the book. This led to an insight about the use of the word love in Romans.

I noticed a very consistent pattern. In the first eleven chapters of Romans, when the word the word love is used it is always talking about God loving people.  There is only one exception (in some English translations there are 2 exceptions). With no exceptions, in the last five chapters the word love always refers to people loving other people.

Then I realized that the whole book of Romans is summarized by 1 John 4:11:

NIV 1 John 4:11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

This certainly is not the only way to summarize Romans, but I’m convinced that it is one of the best ways.  In fact, it is an excellent summary of what God wants for our lives.  First, we need to learn and believe that God loves us.  The main way He expresses His love is by saving us and calling us to Himself. As we understand and receive His love, we are changed. His love changes us from the inside out.  And then we start to reflect His great love to everyone around us.

Going Deeper

You might be thinking, “Hey, I thought Romans was a book with deep theology about how God’s salvation of people works, followed by practical advice for Christians.”  It is!  But all of this is related to God loving us and then us loving others.

Let’s think about how the theme of love relates to other major themes in Romans:

God’s Wrath is an Expression of His Love

Beginning in the first chapter of Romans we find one of the strongest and clearest statements of God’s wrath in the Bible:

NIV Romans 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

You might wonder what connection there could be between God’s wrath and God’s love.  But isn’t it right for God to be angry at anything that hurts the people whom He loves?  Shouldn’t God hate everything thing that, without His intervention, would utterly ruin His loving plans for the world? Isn’t God right to express His wrath against all which would separate Him from the objects of His love?  God’s wrath is indeed a good and holy expression of His love.

God’s Salvation is a demonstration of His Love

It is true that Romans includes a beautiful and detailed explanation of why salvation in necessary and how it works.  This costly salvation demonstrates to us what God’s love is like:

NIV Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s Law is a Reflection of His Love

The last five chapters of Romans could be thought of in terms of “Now that you’re saved by God’s love, this is how you should act”. This section includes topics such as using our gifts together with other Christian (Romans 12:6-8), sharing with those in need (Romans 12:13), not seeking revenge (Romans 12:19), obeying the government (Romans 13:1), not doing anything which would cause another believer to stumble (Romans 14:20), and much more.

Is there any overarching theme and unifying principle which ties together all the different topics in the last five chapters of Romans?  Yes!

NIV Romans 13:9 The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not covet," and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

God’s Mission is a Response to His Love

Great Commission thinking saturates the book of Romans.  Passages emphasizing the importance of spreading the good news about Jesus to others are found at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of Romans.

At the beginning of Romans we find these mission themed verses:

NIV Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.

NIV Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

In the middle of Romans we find the logic which compels missions:

NIV Romans 10:13 "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

Finally, at the end of Romans, we see Paul’s own missionary heart and zeal revealed:

NIV Romans 15:20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation.

Paul longed for everyone else to receive the great love of God which had saved him.  He wanted everyone to learn to obey God’s beautiful commands which are all based on His unstoppable love. Therefore, Paul was driven to go everywhere he could and give all that he had to spread this love.

I pray that you, too, will know God’s love.  May your life will be transformed by it.  I ask that He will work through you to spread His love to others near and far. Amen.

note:  below you will find a list of all the verses in Romans with the word "love"

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Here are all the verses  in Romans with the word “love” in it.  This is based on a search of the old NIV.  A search of other translations, or searching for the agape word group in Greek, will yield very similar, but not identical, results:

Romans 1:7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

note:  Romans 8:28 is the one “exception” to that rule that in Romans 1-11 the word “love” always refers to God’s love for us.  Of course, even in this verse, it is obvious that God’s love for us is very much in view.

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 9:13 Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

Romans 9:25 As he says in Hosea: "I will call them 'my people' who are not my people; and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one,"

Romans 11:28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,

**** Here we shift from a focus on God’s love for us to a focus on loving one another ****

Romans 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Romans 14:15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

Romans 15:30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.
Romans 16:8 Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Mark, for all of the research you do, in order to present God's word more clearly to those of us who want to know. <><