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Loving Your Neighbor Through Civic Engagement

Introduction

This Tuesday the three of us left who haven’t voted will vote. When we designed this series we thought this sermon would be right before people voted. The truth is, it’s likely a lot of you have already voted. One website estimates that 4.3 million have already voted in North Carolina, over 90 million in the nation.

A bit different from the 1st election. About 44,000 people voted. 100% of them voted for George Washington. But not all the electors in the electoral college voted for him. A very different day.

The series is called “The Big Picture.” And the point of it is to take a few weeks and think about some of the big principles God gives us in his Word that help us navigate life in our culture.

This morning, loving your neighbor through civic engagement. We’ll look at the command to love your neighbor first and then see how it connects to civic engagement.

By “civic engagement” I mean how we’re involved as citizens in our cities and states and country. This is things like voting in national elections but also mercy ministry in our own communities.

If you’re not a Christian, you’ve probably heard the phrase “love your neighbor.” And you’ve had thoughts about what it looks like to truly love someone else. This is a place to listen and see how your thoughts about love compare to God’s thoughts about it.

Let's read Romans 13:1–10 and pray. 

I. Not a Hallmark Card: The Commands of Romans 13:8–10

See the command in light of its context. A people made righteous by faith and saved by the mercy of God (Rom 1–11).

And then a people called to give all that they are as a living sacrifice to God.

Romans 12:1–2:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1–2)

As chapters 12–15 unfold they appeal to us in section after section to give ourselves to God first and then to others second. It’s a call to holiness and to service. In imitation of Christ himself.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (Rom 12:9)

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (Rom 15:2–3)

Nestled in these chapters is our passage, 13:8–10.

Notes the first part of it: “Owe no one anything.” 13:7 is what we “owe” in various ways. 13:8 picks up this language and uses it to set up the command to love our neighbors.

There is something we “owe” that can never be paid in full, and that’s “to love each other” (v8). That reminds us “love” isn’t contractual: You do something for me and then I do something for you. When you owe a financial debt, you can pay it off and then it’s over. It’s gone.

But the command to love is constant since it’s part of God’s moral law. God’s moral laws are obligations we’re always bound to. We don’t fulfill those in a “once for all” manner.

Then we see the whole moral law of God “summed up in this word” to love our neighbor as ourself.

Paul gives examples from the Ten Commandments—adultery (7th), murder (6th), stealing (8th), coveting (10th). When you “love your neighbor” you don’t do these things. When you walk in obedience to these you are “loving your neighbor.”

John Calvin:

The whole law is fulfilled when we love our neighbors; for true love towards man does not flow except from the love of God, and it is its evidence, and as it were its effects. John Calvin, Commentary on Romans (13:8)

Neighbor love flows out of God’s love for us and our love for God. Calvin reminds us that neighbor love is an “evidence” of God’s love being in us. It’s also an “effect” of that love being in us. You can’t separate neighbor love from God’s love. When you do it’s no longer loving.

Verse 10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” It’s the very opposite of doing harm. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about what love DOESN’T do than what love does. Love doesn’t…murder or steal or covet or commit adultery.

That reminds us of 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter.” There also Paul accents what love doesn’t do:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4–7)

Love doesn’t treat people badly even when they act badly. Love doesn’t give up on people.

But notice something else in this passage: Love rejoices with the truth. Love is the friend of truth. Love and truth are the closest allies. All true love “rejoices with the truth.”

Love isn’t sentimental. It’s not a hallmark card, the whole “love is never having to say you’re sorry” kind of thing.

Love rejoices with the truth. Love delights in truth. True love deals honestly with God’s truth. It doesn’t overlook it in some attempt to be “nice.”

When you’re living in a lie and denying Jesus Christ who is “the truth,” love doesn’t sit idly by. It doesn’t overlook these things with a shrug.

A summary of what we’ve said: Neighbor love seeks to help my neighbor flourish as God’s Word defines human flourishing. Neighbor love is inseparable from a love for God and God’s truth. Neighbor love separated from a love for God and God’s truth isn’t love.

 Therefore, our civic engagement must be connected to a love for God and God’s truth.

II. A Long Tradition: Several Voices on Loving Our Neighbor

Augustine wrestled with how we are to love our neighbor in his work On Christian Doctrine (Book One).

A section on living the Christian life. Tells us it’s about getting our loves in the right order: love for God, love for others, love for ourselves. He assumes we love ourselves. Key is to get the other two in the right place.

Without God, we love ourselves…and that’s all. With God, we grow in getting God first, others second, ourselves third.

And a practical idea: We’re called to love everyone. But that’s impossible. So, love those closest to you by God’s providence.

Martin Luther, On the Freedom of a Christian (1520):

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one….Lastly, we will speak also of those works which he performs towards his neighbor. For man does not live for himself alone in this mortal body, in order to work on its account, but also for all men on earth; nay, he lives only for others and not for himself….Here is the truly Christian life; here is faith really working by love; when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude, in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought; himself abundantly satisfied in the fulness and riches of his own faith. 
Martin Luther, On the Freedom of a Christian (1520)

Point for us from Luther: Free in Christ means free to give ourselves to others.

John Calvin, Institutes:

Let this, therefore, be our rule for generosity and beneficence: We are the stewards of everything God has conferred on us by which we are able to help our neighbor, and are required to render account of our stewardship. Moreover, the only right stewardship is that which is tested by the rule of love. Thus it will come about that we shall not only join zeal for another’s benefit with care for our own advantage, but shall subordinate our advantage to another’s benefit.
John Calvin, Institutes, III.7.5

Point for us from Calvin: We’ve been given much. Much is expected of us. From the overflow of God’s bountiful blessings we step out in service to others.

Dr. Albert Mohler, SEBTS a few years ago wrote,

An evangelical theology for political participation must be grounded in the larger context of cultural engagement. As the Christian worldview makes clear, our ultimate concern must be the glory of God. Building from that, we understand that when we are instructed by Scripture to love God and then to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are given a clear mandate for the right kind of cultural engagement. We love our neighbor because we first love God….Love of neighbor for the sake of loving God is a profound political philosophy that strikes a balance between the disobedience of political disengagement and the idolatry of politics as our main priority. As evangelical Christians, we must engage in political action, not because we believe the conceit that politics is ultimate, but because we must obey our Redeemer when He commanded that we must love our neighbor.
Albert Mohler, “Engaging the City of Man: Christian Faith and Politics”[1]

Point for us: Politics is part of how step in service to others. Love isn’t passive. It’s active. It gets involved. And it gets involved in things that will make a difference in blessing others.

David Platt, pastor of McLean Bible Church in VA. In his 2020 book Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask. This is the most concrete application, because it informs how we vote.

The poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant—they’re all made in God’s image. They all need God’s grace….Vote in a way that demonstrates supreme love for God and selfless love for others….Ask, “Who is my neighbor, and what do they need?” 
David Platt, Before You Vote[2]

Point from Platt: I would add a few categories to his list here. I would add, “the unborn, the church, my family, my church.” All of these are “my neighbors” as I go to vote. My vote is thinking, “What do they need?”

III. Making it Practical

We talked about the way LOVE and TRUTH need to go together. Here are several ways to make this practical in our civic engagement:

(1) Our culture believes a lot of lies. Many in the culture believe a fetus isn’t really a person and so abortion isn’t murder. This is simply a lie.

When did YOU become YOU? Was it when you were born? Is that when your DNA and genetic dispositions and hair color and eye color were determined? No, YOU became you in your mother’s womb. That’s when you were “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

It’s a lie to say otherwise. And because it’s a lie, it’s not love to overlook this issue in someone’s life. You’re not loving them if you let them believe the lies. Love will control how and when you bring in the truth. But love isn’t love if it never brings in the truth.

But “love is patient and kind.” Even as we might work to see abortion made illegal, we proclaim forgiveness and redemption in Jesus Christ. True and complete forgiveness. Real redemption. You don’t have to define yourself by this sin. You can be forgiven and redeemd.

(2) It’s a lie that gender is emotional and psychological and not biological. God’s Word tells us clearly that God made us “male and female.” Our sense of gender follows how our bodies have been made. It’s not love to deny this.

But “love is patient and kind,” and so love does acknowledge that people struggle with a sense of their own identity. They can get deeply confused on these issues. Love is willing to walk with people as they try and align their biological gender and their emotional and psychological gender. But we can’t put truth on the shelf in the name of love.

(3) We can also approach the issue of poverty in this light. James 1 tells us what “pure and undefiled” religion is:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (Jas 1:27)

Love sees “their affliction.” And we could add the plight of certain immigrants in our country as well, knowing the many passages that condemn oppression of the fatherless, the widow, and the sojourner. Love sees “their affliction.”

But God’s word is just as clear that people must prove themselves diligent:

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thess 3:10–12)

This is where ministries like the Chalmers Center come from. They’ve produced resources like When Helping Hurts. The idea that sometimes our charity isn’t helpful. Sometimes it’s destructive and prevents people from becoming those like Paul is talking about, “work quietly and…earn their own living.”

This is why we get excited about Safe Families for Children, the ministry many in our church work with. It is a tangible way to visit families “in their affliction.”

Not to do all the work for them. But to help them through a crisis to help moms and dads get back on their feet.

It’s a way to bring in a safety net when the circumstances of a person’s life leave them without one.

(4) As we vote. Vote for the candidates and policies you think will best help your neighbors flourish as God defines flourishing.

Vote for the candidates and party you think will produce the policies you think will lead to human flourishing.

Running for office—David Burnett years ago ran for US House of Rep. One of three candidates in the primaries.

Get involved—I know some of you are involved with various campaigns.

Communicate with your representatives—state and national.

(5) And then there’s COVID. COVID gives us so many ways to “love our neighbor.” Being so contagious and so widespread, we adjust our behavior to keep others in our life safe. Like we would with any disease.

There are many ways we will deny ourselves and our preferences for the sake of others. For the sake of unity in Christ’s church. For the sake of our testimony to a watching world.

We don’t want our message to be one of fear. But we also don’t want it to be one that gets interpreted as disregard for others.

Paul said love “does not seek its own, is not provoked.” In a pandemic, that’s good counsel.

Conclusion

A Summary: Neighbor love seeks to help my neighbor flourish as God’s Word defines human flourishing. Neighbor love is inseparable from a love for God and God’s truth. Neighbor love separated from a love for God and God’s truth isn’t love. Therefore, our civic engagement must be connected to a love for God and God’s truth.

Love is a call to action. Call love is not a passive thing. It motivates us to sacrifice. To be inconvenienced. Remember the good Samaritan.

Love is not a sentimental thing. A concern for the poor in the Bible is more than simply giving money to people who have less than you. Love caused a lazy to work.

Such a love is an imitation of the ultimate display of love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7–12)

Are you a Christian? Rejoice in God’s love.

Are you not a Christian? Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and experience a love you never imagined. You never thought possible.

A love that sees you exactly as you are and yet loves you fully. Without ever changing. Without ever proving unfaithful or cold or distant.

The love of Christ is the surpassing love of all loves. And it’s the love we are to reflect to the world around us.

Prayer and “Let the Nations Be Glad.”

[1] Accessed https://albertmohler.com/2005/07/13/engaging-the-city-of-man-christian-faith-and-politics.

[2]Before You Vote (Radical, 2020), 57.

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