God has gotten the attention of every single person on the planet simultaneously with a pandemic. He has dramatically interrupted our lives, or at the very least, allowed the effects of sin (disease) to do so. Every day, there are more rules, guidelines, and restrictions, which we probably don’t like, however necessary. Our passage today is relevant, as is Scripture always is, to our times and circumstances. I hope that Romans 13:8-10 will be as helpful to you as it is to me today, with particular attention to verse 10 (with my highlighting). “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Verse 10’s “do no harm,” is not just about social distancing, but certainly includes that as a minimum requirement these days. However, in the context of the passage, Paul’s speaks of that which is more than withholding evil or danger and extends Christ’s love to others, all others. This is the debt that we owe after Christ has paid all other debts for us by his perfect fulfillment of the Law in our redemption.
Many Christians separate the gospel and the Ten Commandments because they came from God at different seasons in his progressive revelation throughout history. One reason we don’t like the Law is our inability to keep it, even after our redemption. But God’s Law is as much a part of his blessing as the gospel, though it serves a different purpose. All the rules and restrictions placed on us (or that we place on ourselves willingly today) will not cure coronavirus but will help keep it restrained. God’s commandments help to keep evil restrained, but only the gospel saves, and yet they are not to be separated. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17) Not to ‘replace’ but fulfill—that is, complete, accomplish, and satisfy all the commandments with his perfect obedience and sacrificial death. Having fulfilled the Law through our faith in Christ, Christians now only have one debt that we can never stop owing: love for God and for all people. “Verses 8–10 focus on the Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic law…The debt one never ceases paying is the call to love one another. Indeed, love fulfills what the Mosaic law demands.” (1)
Paul’s exhortation to love everyone without harming anyone can transform our attitudes during the pandemic as we face its reality with a biblical worldview. There have been many great quotations from Spurgeon, Luther and others on social media, which are very helpful. One article especially impressed me today, regarding NIH Director Francis Collins’ views about coronavirus scenarios. But later in the article, the interviewer and author, Peter Wehner, recalls Collins’ testimony of faith from earlier in his life. “‘Collins was the founder and creative force behind BioLogos, an organization that invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith…I asked Collins what he hopes more Christians would understand about science and what he hopes more scientists would understand about faith. “To Christians I would say, think of science as a gift from the Creator. The curiosity that we have been instilled with to understand how the universe works can inspire even greater awe of the Creator. This gift could hardly be a threat to God, the author of it all. Celebrate what science can teach us…And I think the message to scientists has to be there are really important questions that fall outside of what science is able to address meaningfully, such as ‘Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the meaning of love? Is there a God? What happens after you die?’ Those are not questions for which science or scientific methods can be applied.” He believes scientists would be better served by getting outside of a mindset that says the only questions worth asking are those about the material world.”’” (2)
My overriding prayer for the pandemic is Christian revival, for unbelievers to repent of their atheism, agnosticism, or false beliefs and turn to Jesus Christ for their eternal well-being. But revival starts with repentance and a good confession in Christ, so Lord, may it start today! Christians, however, are not exempt from repentance of our sins that hinder our ability to love God and his people. I pray that I will repent of any prejudices I may have toward scientists and government leaders, that pride or vanity won’t separate me emotionally and intellectually from others, and that I won’t give in to fretting and worry. “The word ‘fret’ comes to us from the Anglo-Saxon and carries with it such a variety of meanings as bring a rather pained smile to our faces…The primary meaning of the word is to eat, and from there it has been extended with rare honesty to cover most of the manifestations of an irritable disposition. ‘To eat away; to gnaw; to chafe; to gall; to vex; to worry; to agitate; to wear away’; so says Webster…Now, the grace of God in the human heart works to calm the agitation that normally accompanies life in such a world as ours. The Holy Spirit acts as a lubricant to reduce the friction to a minimum and to stop the fretting and chafing in their grosser phases. But for most of us the problem is not as simple as that. Fretfulness may be trimmed down to the ground and its roots remain alive deep within the soul… It was not to the unregenerate that the words’ Fret not’ were spoken, but to God-fearing persons capable of understanding spiritual things. We Christians need to watch and pray lest we fall into this temptation and spoil our Christian testimony by an irritable spirit under the stress and strain of life.” (2) You see, every time we give into fretting and fear we limit our ability to reach out to others in love, and even spread discouragement instead of God’s peace. When we fret, we harm, not just ourselves, but others, by our sins of omission, even if we binge watch TV for a distraction or spouting platitudes that supposedly make people feel better during a time of real danger.
Here is a time when we can ask people, “Can you imagine a world without disease, pain, or injury? Let me tell you about how and when that will happen.” “Do you think that disease randomly affects good people, or is it a judgment for something people have done? Would you like to know what Christ says in a parable about a man born blind?” I’m sure you can think of better questions than these, and not everyone is going to want to talk about religion just because they can’t go out or get the groceries they like. I think that’s where, “love does no wrong to a neighbor” comes in. Father, let me not judge or reject those who will not consider Christ, but find ways to love them as they are. I discovered a lovely prayer of Lady Julian in one of A. W. Tozer’s works that expresses her sincere love for God: “O God, please give me three wounds; the wound of contrition and the wound of compassion and the wound of longing after God.” Then she added this little postscript which I think is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read: “This I ask without condition.” She wasn’t dickering with God. She wanted three things and they were all for God’s glory: “I ask this without condition, Father; do what I ask and then send me the bill. Anything that it costs will be all right with me.” (4)
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:9-12)
(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Romans 13:8-10, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(2) Tozer, A. W., (Compiled by Anita M. Bailey ),“Man: The Dwelling Place of God,” Chapter 17, , The Moody Bible Institute, 1997, Kindle Edition.
(3) Peter Wehner, “NIH Director: ‘We’re on an Exponential Curve’ Francis Collins speaks about the coronavirus, his faith, and an unusual friendship.” MARCH 17, 2020, The Atlantic
(4) Tozer, Ibid, Chapter 25.
March 20, 2020