"Loving Others, Loving Self"            Romans 13:8-14 (8-10)        Sept. 7, 2008

Love is what makes life worth living. Have you ever seen the stark black and white billboards with messages from God?

            I Love You ... I Love You ... I Love You. -- God
            That “Love Thy Neighbor” Thing: I Meant It. -- God
            Tell The Kids I Love Them. -- God
 
In the first three verses of today's text (8-10) Paul distills all God’s commandments into the word “love” (agape). He encapsulates the fulfilling of God’s law into two sentences: “Love one another” (see John 13:34 and 15:12, 17; also Romans 12:10 and 1 Thessalonians 4:9) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (citing Leviticus 19:18; see Matthew 22:34-40/parallels and Galatians 5:14).

Paul cites four people-oriented commandments. The Greek verbs are the same ones the Septuagint employs in Exodus 20 where Moses declares the Ten Commandments to God's people. The first four commands are in relation to God, the last six commands in relation to people.
 
Paul does not include the commands about life with God in this section because chapters12-16 are the practical instructions that follow his discussion of humankind's relationship to God. This is Paul’s exhortation to Christians to “walk” in their grace-changed, transformed and transforming, lives with special instructions about how to live in right relation to people.

8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; 11. . . , you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. 12 . . . Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day,
 
We don't love others to earn God's love; we love because God first loved us. We fulfill God’s law through loving others, not in order to be right with God, but through carrying out in our lives the gracious love that we have already experienced in Jesus Christ. (See also 1 Timothy 1:14; 1 Peter 4:8-10; and 1 John 4:17—5:3.)

Such an operational definition of the word “love” saves us from sentimentalizing it. Love is something done, not said. Agape love is action, not feeling. The Lord knows that people are not always lovable.
 
Paul is not directing Christ’s followers to feel warm and cozy about people. He is instructing us to put God’s love into action by wanting to do and actually doing our redeemed best for others — doing right by them. This itself requires trusting God’s grace.


 
If a Christian person truly embodies Christ’s love for others, he/she will follow the people-directed commandments of God’s law. It follows that to love the neighbor means not to be playing around with the neighbor’s spouse, not to murder anyone, not to steal another’s property, and not otherwise to act on any improper desire to have what the neighbor has.
 
In these ways, the Christian who actively exhibits Christ’s love avoids wronging his or her neighbor and indeed positively fulfills God’s law.
 
Paul echoes Jesus by concluding that all 613 commands of the Torah could be summed up in the practical performance of love—agape love. Both insisted that love is a verb, with its meaning fully contained in its action. Love is something done, not said.

So, why today's sermon title "Loving Others, Loving Self"?  Often, we are eager to help others, be kind to those who are hurting, visit the ill, comfort the bereaved . . . we tell others to rest, but work ourselves to exhaustion. We are kind to those who need compassionate understanding but criticize ourselves for not being perfect. We let others off the hook, but chastise ourselves for the slightest infraction.
 
How can we love others if we do not love ourselves? Not selfishly or exclusively, but kindly and honestly. Adolfo Quezada, author of Loving Yourself for God's Sake, describes this as self-compassion. Can we forgive ourselves as we forgive others? Do we cut ourselves some slack if when we make a mistake?
 
If we strive to love one another, as Scripture commands, why do some Christian persons feel it's OK to put themselves down? It truly is not Christ-like behavior. There is genuine humility and there is false humility. False humility insists on its worthlessness and inability to do or say anything right. I believe that this erroneous understanding of Christian humility has stifled many gifted saints from getting involved in congregational ministry.
 
Let me take this one-step further. I would venture to say that all, if not most of us, have known people in our lives that were bitter, negative, and even obstinate. Any attempt at comforting, encouraging, or helping them was stubbornly refused with a false nobility shrouded in self-abasement.
 
God never called us to hate ourselves. If we cannot shake ourselves loose from those things that have bound us in the past (or, still stifle us now) then how can we move forward in our own lives to live, and learn, and love as Christ commands us to?
 
I do not know what your life journey has taken you through, or brought you to at this point in your life. I do know that this has been a life-long struggle for me. Having moved here as a ten-year old from Germany, not knowing a word of English, being put back two grades in school, along with the typical childhood meanness that infests schoolyards, I have always felt like a "stranger in a strange land."
As a result, I developed a poor self-image and felt insecure in my world, one that seemed to threaten me on a regular basis. How could any one ever love me? I didn't fit; I didn't belong. Therefore, it was difficult for me to learn how to love myself. (Childhood logic doesn't always make sense as we mature.)
 
However, I am only one of millions who carry a burden of self-affliction and lack of healthy self-love due to life's circumstances. Jesus repeatedly taught that we are to love God, and love your neighbor as we love ourselves. The assumption is that people naturally love themselves, take care of themselves, and think of their own well-being, work to provide for themselves and so on. Yet, I have seen many instances where a person is NOT able to love another human being because of his or her own self-hatred or neglect.
 
Yet, those things seemingly impossible to us are possible with God. "God's unconditional love for you becomes your unconditional love for yourself," as well as for others (Loving Yourself for God's Sake, 7). There has to be a balance: love others, but do not forget to love yourself. Some people just have to learn to love themselves along with learning to love others. With God, all things are possible.
 
Take proper care of yourself. Rest when you need to. Have fun when you ought to. Be kind to yourself so that you can be better equipped, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually to love those God has brought into your life.
 
As pastor, I am reminded of this often; yet, each individual here has a sphere of influence, those people we rub shoulders with, so to speak, on a regular basis. (v. 10) Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” Has it ever occurred to you that loving yourself is also fulfilling the law?
 
It is a sin to hate anyone, including yourself. These are strong words, yet I have been challenged by them by those God has brought into my life to teach me how to love myself in order that I can love others to the glory of God.
 
Whenever we act in love, and with love, toward those around us, (including ourselves) we effectively fulfill the intention of 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 neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (13:9-10).
 
"The nature of God is to love us completely, but even God's powerful love can be frustrated unless we are willing to receive it and pass it on to others." (viii) ". . . Loving ourselves is the link between loving God and loving others, and, that it is for God's sake that we do all three." (ix)
 
Love God. Love one another, but don't forget to include yourself! Let us pray . . .
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
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