(for the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016)
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 neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; 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 armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. (Romans 13:9-14, NRSV).
The Apostle Paul clearly does not consider Jesus – the heaven-revealed one who is above and beyond even Moses’ law – to have called us away from a heart of love. A natural consequence of the Gospel Paul celebrates is the call to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. While Christ reveals the heart of God like never before, there is no wiggle-room available to any who would abandon Moses’ core call to ‘love’.
Paul simply puts it this way: ‘…love is the fulfilling of the law.’
This is a big call. Love points beyond simply not causing harm – although – as our passage clearly suggests – this is part of what love looks like. All those ‘You shall not..’ statements…
The call to love – ‘agape’ – however, calls us infinitely further. Agape is more than doing no wrong. More than the mere ‘tolerance’ of another.
Agape is the very highest form of love.
We know this simply because agape is the way Jesus related to us. We ‘see’ agape in the life, commitment, sacrifice and victory of Jesus. The Jesus of the gospels makes agape visible.
Importantly, it is the hope of Paul that the world will also ‘see’ this same agape love through those who follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Loving in the name of the incarnate God surely calls us to engagement, to compassion, to suffering alongside. It invites us to love ‘enemies’, and ‘sinners’, and all ‘tribes and nations’.
Paul wants the church to reflect the agape-laden heart of Jesus.
Apparently living this Christ-inspired love is the difference between being ‘asleep’ or ‘awake’. In the darkness between Christ’s ascension and Christ’s coming again – the time in which we live – we are asked to live ‘honourably’ in the hope of the soon-to-come dawn. Even – perhaps especially – in this darkness we are encouraged to ‘put on the armour of light’.
I suspect Paul’s repeated use of ‘agape’ indicates that he wants us to know this looks a lot like loving the world like Jesus did.