Romans 13:11–14 (NRSV)
An Urgent Appeal
11 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; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Besides this, you know what time it is. What time is it? It’s the most wonderful time of the year, well not quite. It is the time of anticipation. The time of year where we anticipate the coming Christmas. There is much to anticipate because with Christmas the light of the world comes to the world to dispel the darkness. Over the years of ministry I have had many conversations over the various holidays. The most interesting are those around Halloween and Christmas. The interesting thing about these conversations is that those that want to discredit faith point out that these were pagan holidays, and those that support faith tend to not know how to answer.
As the church moved further from the Jewish population centers they began to use different methods to convey the truth, when I say different method I do not mean that they changed the message but that they approached the people differently than they would have approached those who were in contact with Jewish traditions. The changing seasons are one of the most readily available tools to utilize by those preachers. All saints day was celebrated the first day of this month. In our tradition of faith we do not celebrate the saints. But when we look at the seasons it tells a story. Halloween or All Hallowed eve, is approximately the date where the period of night begins to overtake the period of light in length. So the early missionaries would use the periods of light and dark, which are already recognized by the population, to teach about the themes of the Gospel. So the night is long, the day is short and in ancient cultures people fear the dark because danger lurks in the darkness, the perfect love of Christ casts out all fear. The saints which are celebrated during this time are those that carry the message of love that overcomes the darkness.
But the darkness remains. There is a lingering anticipation of something more to come, a time where all humankind will live free from fear. These early missionaries would use this period of time to teach and preach about the anticipated coming of Jesus both his coming birth that was foretold in the journals of the Jewish prophets of ancient days as well and the glorious day of Christ’s return on that holy future day. There is hope today and hope for the future because the light of the world has come and will return.
This is the emotional landscape of the population that first received this letter that Paul wrote nearly 2000 years ago, the greatest difference is that unlike the early Christians of Ireland or Scandinavia, the Romans did have some knowledge of the Jewish people although they probably understood them and their traditions about as much as we understand the traditions of the people of Nepal.
There is darkness in the community of the disciples at this time. The writings of this letter is commonly placed during the reign of Nero, who was probably the most infamous persecutor of the Church. The deeds of this emperor would give most of us nightmares, and our spiritual ancestors lived through his days of terror. Which should give us pause when we consider the words that Paul wrote to the disciples of the church during this time. If we were to just look at the beginning of this chapter we would find that Paul speaks about being subject to the governing authorities. Nero was their emperor even though he was slaughtering them for his sick pleasure. I am sure you have heard this chapter quoted often over the course of the past few weeks, and I am also sure that most of those quotes have been taken out of context.
After Paul speaks about being subject to the government and accepting the harsh treatment without resistance, he goes on to speak of how we should live under the rule of others. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
This is what proceeds our verses today. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Besides this, you know what time it is. The term translated “know” in English is in a reflective form. Paul is telling us to remember and to honor the time. This moment you are living in, this age, this era, this is the time to honor and remember why you are here. Now is the time to wake up from our slumber and remember we are not children of darkness but heirs of light.
I want us to let that soak into our souls for a moment. Because the current emotion of our current moment is one that seems to be getting dark. Our culture and media constantly reminds us that the world in which we live is dangerous, twisted, and frankly a scary place. If you believe the reports on the internet you would find that somewhere in our nation someone was shoot over a black Friday purchase. If people are willing to kill over a cheaply made Television it is clear that we live in a dark place. Of course that was not the experience that I witnessed over the holiday, to be honest it was the calmest and most boring black Friday (or gray Thursday) I have worked in the past six years. But Paul is telling us, honor and remember this moment because now is the time to wake up and live clothed in the armor of light.
The night is drawing to a close, soon and very soon the light of the world will come. We greatly anticipate that glorious day, that day our salvation will be complete and perfected. The day of our lord’s return. But till that day we can only remember and anticipate. Until that day we must honor Christ today.
I want us to again remember what the people who first heard these word were living through. They had much to fear. Every day that they met together they ran the risk of being found and bound. Each day they celebrated life together with Christ, they lived with the constant memory that it might be the last time they see the person standing next to them on this side of the vail of life. Their very faith placed them at odds with governing authorities God placed over them. When they saw an officer of the law they would hold their breath praying that the soldier would continue to walk by. They were breaking the law, because they claimed a king other than Caesar. In this place Paul proclaims to them that they should not live in fear but live with the hope only God can provide. Not only does he say live, he says live honorably.
Do we live honorably? Do we live every day of our lives filled with the hope that Christ provides? Do we live every moment of our day knowing that the very power that raised Jesus from the grave abides in us? Do we believe that that same power can work through us and in us? Do we entrust our lives fully in that hope? That is the true question. Do we believe to such a degree that we would entrust every aspect of our life to a personality we cannot see directly, because our faith is entrusting everything about our life to something that is described as wind. That is what Jesus described the Spirit as, a wind, you do not know where it comes from or where it is going but you can see it tussling hair and singing through the leaves.
Let us live honorably. More accurately Paul is saying, “Let us walk in the manner of Christ.” Because to live is means to walk or behave. And honorably is with manners or proper conduct. So when Paul tells us to put on the armor of Light and to live honorably his is telling us to take onto and into our lives the holy lifestyle that Jesus exemplified while he lived among mankind. The lifestyle of praising God as we gather together in the meeting places as Jesus made it his custom to do. Withdrawing often to isolated places to meet with God personally in devotion and prayer as Jesus commonly did. And to go out into the community ministering to the needs of those around us, teaching them in word and deed; bringing with us hope, healing, and love. Let us live honorably doing no wrong to our neighbors, but not only doing no wrong but allowing the blessings of God’s grace to flow out of our lives into their lives.
Paul then shows us what this honorable life is not. Reveling and drunkenness. Maybe we should just jump over this because we might have just reveled a bit on Thursday. When the ancients speak of reveling they are speaking of binge parties, where people would gluttonously consume massive quantities of food and drink. We tend to focus more on the drunkenness portion of this statement because our culture seems to have a problem with overeating. We like large portions of everything, and we like to wash it down with even larger drinks. Then we throw half of it away. We waste the bread of life. This is why often in the ancient church they encouraged the sharing of food, or to join together to eat a common meal, so all were fed. Of course in some places these church meals became gluttonous affairs, where Paul would have to tell them to stop eating so much.
Let us live honorably not in debauchery. The lifestyle that Paul is speaking of is a lifestyle of unrestrained indulgent sensual pleasures. It is a lifestyle of selfishness where there is little or no concern for others. It is a lifestyle of greed and exploitation. It is a lifestyle where people only have value for what a person can receive from them. We live in a culture saturated debauchery, exploitation is nearly our currency. Are we showing an alternative to this lifestyle or are we participating?
Let us live honorably not in quarreling and jealousy. This portion of life is one that I struggle with the most. The term translated as “jealousy” is most often connected with zeal. The reason it is translated as jealousy is because the translators connect it to the strong feelings of envy, or the desire for things you do not poses. Zeal and zealous desires can consume our lives to the point that we cannot see around our ideologies and desires of power. Even though some of these desires are actually good ideas they can cause us to seek to obtain the fulfillment in ways that are contrary to the witness of our faith. One of my favorite quotes from William Penn is, “A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it.” This is a powerful quote that speaks to this quarrelsome jealousy of which Paul speaks. We must always take into account the people affected by our desires so that we do not cause injury. Often the right path is long and requires great amounts of work. We must be diligent in this work though if the desire is of God He will direct us in a way that will bring glory to Him and to those involved.
If we look at those three phrases we can see just why it seems as if the church has been diminishing in our culture. We have fallen asleep instead of rising up to the challenge set before us. We have often lived lives of excess instead of sacrificing ourselves to be blessings for others. People of the church have used their position for selfish gain while exploiting those around them. And we often have a jealous unrighteous zeal where we force people to conform instead of walk with them in the light of Christ. I am not saying that all of us have been sinful but often we are not neighborly in what we say and how we act.
“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Now is the time to live honorably in the world that opposes us. Now is the time to take on the life of Christ and live his holy lifestyle in our church, community, state, nation, and to the ends of the earth. Now is the time to rise up and walk clothed in the light of Christ, and to reflect that life and light to the world that is bound in darkness. Now is the time to live in that state of holy anticipation remembering and honoring the hope that we have in Christ who has come and will come again. We are living in that state of anticipation because he waits. He waits for us to rise up and live honorably in all things, to entrust all we have to him and to his glory. He waits because there are still people in our very neighborhoods who have not heard, or have not heard correctly. Today is the day that we need to wake up and realize that the Christian life is not having the right words or theology but is loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. The night is coming to a close and the day is near wake up!