First Mennonite Church
January 3, 2021
Understanding the Present Time
Text: Romans 13:8-14
Paul’s letter to the Romans is his greatest exposition of God’s work of salvation in Christ Jesus. In this letter, Paul describes the wretchedness of the human condition before God. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” states Paul (3:23). Both, the Jews and the Gentiles, rejected God’s revelation given to them, one through the law and the other through the created world, respectively. Consequently, both were under God’s judgement and were candidates of his wrath. But then, Paul explains the work of Christ. His redemptions includes everything, the Jews first, then the Gentiles, and even the entire creation (8:22-23). Then starting in chapter 12, Paul begins to make appeals on how the believer should respond to the wondrous work Christ has done on believer’s behalf.
Our passage this morning is part of that call on how to respond to God’s marvelous grace.
Today, as we step into the threshold of 2021, let us hear the word of Paul, afresh. As we noticed, Paul’s words for this morning cannot be more blunt and pressing! In this passage, he makes one of his strongest appeal as to what should be our ultimate duty, as Christians, in light of the times we are living today.
The first call is to be debt-free. And obviously, Paul is not talking about credit card debts, although it is not a bad idea. It is clear to us, debts are not arbitrary impositions on anyone. Debts are self-imposed or acquired after we get something or failed to do something we agreed to do. The bank does not charge me a fee if it’s not because I allowed the due date to pass by without paying. An employer is indebted to his employee for the work they do for him.
In the church, love is a mutual obligation among its member and that is not because church people can love on their own strength and will. We learned and continue to learn to love because Christ loved us first. The hallmark of God’s people, in Christ, is that they also love one another. Thus, Paul says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Loving one another is an ongoing charge. Our obligation to love never ends.
Then Paul proceeds by stating four commandments, which, if seen closely, are intended to be, when obeyed, expressions of public love. Regarding committing adultery, it is clear that the one who loves does not violate his or her vows of marriage nor intrudes in the vows of others. The one who loves does not take the life of another, rather seeks the other’s wellbeing. The one who loves seeks to share what he or she has, rather than depleting or diminishing the property of others. The one who covets is selfish at heart because he thinks he deserves what others have.
Paul summarizes all these commandments with the practice of love. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
Beginning in verse 11, Paul gets very specific, making an urgent call on the assumption that his readers are indeed on the same page where he is. And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Paul calls for action, “Do this, understanding the present time . . . .” There are two words for time in Greek. There is “chronos” and there is “Kairos.” Chronos refers to the sequence of time, like four P.M., May, 2020, or January, three, 2021. Kairos has the meaning of a special moment, an opportune time to do something, and in the biblical context, it refers to divine timing for decisive action (see Matthew 16:3, 1Thessalonians 5:1-3, 1Peter 4:17).
The urgency of Paul’s calling here about the divine timing is because on the day you and I committed our lives to the Lord, he transferred us from the darkness into his glorious light. We no longer are children of darkness or the night, as Paul writes in 1Thessalonians. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober (1Thessalonians 5: 5, 6). In Christ, the promise of the new age has dawned on us. However, the full day has yet to come. And that day will come when the Parousia takes place. The day of the Lord’s glorious manifestation in the clouds.
Therefore, it is expected of every believer to be able to comprehend and execute God’s will according to his timing for each of us. What is the Lord expecting of you during this time? Have we been able to discern the will of God for this time of our lives? Do you know what God is expecting of you this year? Paul enumerates three signs of God’s Kairos, special timing for us believers. The first is that the hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber.
My dear sisters and brothers, it is very easy to get carried away by the concerns, trends, and focus that sweep the mind of people this time of the year. During Christmas time and New Year, materialism, the concern to acquire stuff occupies minds and heart of most people. And it is easy to get drag by the social rip currents as it does to an unsuspecting beach goer. We need to be awake and know the treats there are around us, especially the subtle ones.
The second sign of God’s timing is that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Today is the third day into the New Year, already. Each second, minute, day and year we are given to live move us closer to the day Christ will return. I cannot tell you when that will happen, but the fact is, every day or year that goes by brings us closer to that day. Therefore, it is absolutely important that we do not lose sight of that pending and imminent promise.
The third sign that God’s timing has come is because the night is nearly over; the day is almost here. We are at the dawn hours. We are between the long dark night that is already gone and the bright new day that is coming. It is time to get dressed for the day. It is time to be prepared, to be ready for action. And what is it we must do now? Paul gives us the answer:
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Besides loving one another, there are some other things we must do based on God’s timing for us. Put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. The language Paul uses to describe what we should do is that of getting clothed, “put on.” But first, we must throw away, get rid of, the deeds of darkness. And what are those deeds of darkness? Let me read verse 13 and 14 from the Modern English Version of the Bible: Let us behave properly, as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in immorality and wickedness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts. We must behave properly as followers of Christ. We must behave properly, as deserving of those who have been transferred from darkness to the glorious light of Jesus. We must behave properly in everything we do and everywhere we go.
The second is, not to engage in carousing and drunkenness. Parties are not allowed these days, but people are still getting drunk and indulging in other things. The third is to avoid immorality and wickedness.
The fourth and last set of two thing Paul calls us to get rid of are strife and envy. It is remarkable that Paul regards these two activities of darkness as equals to those that preceded them. Most Christians do not have problems with revelry, drunkenness, sexual immorality and other activities that can be described as wickedness. But we do have problems with divisiveness and envy. We sometimes complain about things, and even things about in church. We sometimes succumb to the temptation of desiring things, including those we should not have or do not belong to us. Thus, knowing God’s timing for us, let us wake up and shake off the worldly slumber that constantly threaten to sweep us along. Let us wake up and put on Christ Jesus. Let us not make provisions for the flesh.
We should know that only Christian struggle with two natures in them. While we are still alive, we participate in two conflicting natures within ourselves. We have the new man, born in us because Christ dwells in us. But we also have the old nature, always fighting to take control of our speech, priorities, desires, and every aspect of our daily lives. The old nature in us always wants to be in control. Spirit is also longing and waiting for us to allow him to have full control over our lives. The Spirit of God is not like the flesh who wants to rule ruthlessly. The Spirit of God respects our will. Therefore, we need to make provisions for the Spirit, not the flesh. In other words, we must feed our hearts and minds with the word of God, noble thoughts and speech, etc.
“Two natures beat within my breast
The one is foul, the one is blessed
The one I love, the one I hate.
The one I feed will dominate.”
When we put on Christ Jesus as we do our clothes, we make him part of your life during our day. He goes with us wherever we go. He is partakes in everything we do. He protects us from the elements that surround us. He gives us identity.
As children of the day and the light, let us walk in such a way that we do not do or say anything that will embarrassment the Lord. Let us take a stand for the good and noble things. Let us stand for what is truth. Let us live in holiness for his name’s sake. Let us feed our minds and heart with things that strengthens our relationship with our Lord. Knowing the time and that the night has almost gone, let us live as children of the day. For, surely, our great and full salvation is coming because Christ’s coming is drawing ever closer with every passing day. Amen!