Here we come to the climax of Paul’s whole treatment of the law in the midst of this hortatory section in which Paul urged, encouraged, gave advice and exhorted the Christian community.
It was in this text that Paul was saying that it was important to be waking up and getting on with living in the kingdom of God, the same as he had previously in 1 Th 5. He was also expanding what he had said quite densely in Ro 12 where he had said 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
avdelfoi adelphoi This masculine plural word often gets translated as brethren or brothers and often as friends, but as is clear from its function, the best translation is brothers and sisters. It’s a word meaning siblings.
avdelfoi is non-gender specific and means brothers and/or sisters.
We know that Paul uses this word in that way because he specifically addressed joint congregations in which most likely the majority were women. It can also refer to brothers and sisters, foster brothers and sisters, siblings, cousins, neighbors or those who share the same religion. Paul uses this word in talking about relationships in Christ that have the character of family bonds, not mere friendships.
In antiquity when you addressed
a group of men, you would use avdelfoi.
a group of women, you would use sisters adelfe,j
a group of men and women, you would use avdelfoi. which would cover it.
In fact, the ancient world was a male dominant culture and if you had one man and twenty women, you would say avdelfoi.
So pa,ntej avdelfoi. from Ga 1 2 could have included someone like a Priscilla or a Euodia or a Syntyche, people who he knew from other places who’d been active with him in Christian missions.
The old world, the ‘present evil age’ (as Paul calls it in Ga 1 4) had been rumbling on. Most people were ordering their lives in accordance with the present evil age’s style and habits, just like people always have and still do! But the new world had already broken in. God’s new age had begun, and it would shortly come to fulfillment. Those who followed Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection inaugurated that new age, … those followers were commanded to live already according to the rules of the new world. The day had begun, even though, in fact, most people were still asleep (read clueless).
Paul’s instructions for what this daytime behavior would mean were quite specific and very bracing. It was at night when people would get drunk, go to wild parties and do all kinds of things they would be ashamed of in broad daylight. Of course, that kind of behavior had to go, however fashionable it may have been. Nighttime was when people felt free to indulge in shameless sexual immorality. That had to be ruled out as well.
By this point in v 13 Paul was heading for a list of types of bad behavior rather than a list of nocturnal activities. He contented himself with one more double prohibition which had nothing to do with the ordinary contrast of night and day. In other words, bad temper and jealousy can be just as common during the day as the night, and maybe even more so. The analogy, but not the point, had broken down. For the Christian, Paul was saying, anger and bitterness were just as much forbidden as drunkenness and offlimits sexual activity, though you wouldn’t think so from many churches.
But he doesn’t just tell people what to avoid. He shows them how to avoid it. ‘Put on the Lord Jesus, the Messiah’, he says. So what did that mean? How could we do it?
Once more, ‘putting on’ comes from the night/day contrast that we’ve previously seen in Ro. Here we are, getting up while the rest of the world still thinks it’s nighttime. And, we must put our Christian clothing on. The Christian’s ‘clothing’ which in v 12 Paul referred to as the ‘armor of light’ – the clothing we need when the light has begun to shine consists of Jesus himself, Jesus the Lord, Jesus the king. I know some Christians who in their private devotions each day make a conscious effort in prayer to ‘clothe themselves’ with the very character of Jesus. Some people do this by reading, slowly, a story from the gospels, and praying that the character of the Jesus they meet there will surround them, protect them, and be the thing that other people see when they meet them. For other people in their private devotions it’s a regular discipline of remembering their baptism, the time when they were “plunged into the water as a sign of dying with the Messiah”, and brought up out of the water as a sign of rising again with him. As we saw in Ro 6 for those who remember their baptism, they are no longer living in the old world, but in the new. This, indeed, is the heart of what is sometimes called Paul’s ‘ethic’. That is, the new world is here. Those who belong to Jesus belong to this new world. Therefore, they must live by its standards rather than by the present standards of society, no matter how that might impact them in the view of their peers.
But, in reading this text and others by Paul elsewhere in the NT, someone will say, surely Paul thought the world was coming to an end very soon? Didn’t he say in v 11 that salvation is about to burst upon the world? And if he was wrong about that, might he not have been wrong about the new day dawning at all?
It is important to stress that Paul did not believe, in that sense, that the world was about to come to an end. When he said in 2 Th 2 that the Christians in Thessalonica must not be worried if they were to get a letter saying that the Day of the Lord had arrived, it would have been clear that this Day could not have involved the end of the world. Because if it had to put it no more strongly the Thessalonians would have noticed.
Instead, and clearly, Paul was referencing great crises that were coming, as we might put it, within history, not simply to end it. What he has said about the coming new world in Ro 8 1827 indicates clearly enough that the new world would be the liberation of the present world, not its abolition. Finally, it’s noticeable that, right through the first and second centuries and beyond, Christian teachers went on telling people that God’s new world was dawning. It didn’t matter to them that it hadn’t happened within Paul’s lifetime or shortly afterwards.
In fact, the point Paul and the other early Christians were making was not that the final day of salvation was bound to happen within a short time. The event to happen within a generation, in Mk 13 and elsewhere, was the destruction of Jerusalem, which did indeed come to pass in AD 70. The point was that “the day” might come at any time. This was because the event which prepared the way for it, the resurrection of Jesus, had already happened. God’s new world had been launched. The sun was already rising, and it was time to get up. It didn’t matter precisely how many hours were left before the whole world was flooded with light.
In this inbetween time, in this time of the “already but not yet”, in this inaugurated kingdom of God in which Christians were commanded to live in the present world as citizens of the future one, in this time the time of fulfilment of God’s promises meant also the time of fulfilment of God’s law (vv 810). This ‘fulfilment’ had nothing whatever to do with people keeping the law in order to earn either God’s favor or their membership within God’s people or any special status. It simply had to do with them responding to God’s mercy and love – as we read in Ro 12 1- in the most appropriate way possible, by loving the way of life which reflects God’s own character loving it, indeed, in a way which those who have not known God’s love and saving grace cannot understand or appreciate – as we read in Ro 8 68.
Here Paul uses this idea of fulfilling the law, and of doing so, in particular, through love, as part of his appeal to the Christians in Rome to live attractive lives in the local community, surrounded as they are by the watching stares of puzzled pagans. Don’t get in debt to anyone, he says a warning our present Western society has done its best to ignore over the last generation. Don’t get in debt except to regard yourself in debt to everyone, to love them Paul was saying. If you love them, you won’t commit murder. If you love them, you won’t steal from them. If you love them, you will be delighted that this man has plenty to live on, that this woman has that fine dress, that this couple live in that attractive house. If you love them, you won’t covet what they have because you will be glad for them. (Covetousness, we recall, was the point at which the “I” in Ro 7 recognized its own inability to keep the law. See Ro 7 78.)
And, we also note, if you love your neighbor, you won’t commit adultery. English speakers have got into such trouble over the word ‘love’. The word love is a perfectly good word, but it has been made to do too many jobs. Our English word love has been made to cover both the selfless and selfgiving love Paul was speaking of here, which denies its own desires in order to do the best thing for its neighbor. And it’s been made to cover the thoroughly selfish pursuit of one’s own desire for another person’s body irrespective of consequences. We might call the second type lust, but nobody who falls helplessly in love (as we like to put it) with someone else’s spouse likes to call it ‘lust’. This other person is so attractive, so exciting, so interesting, so whatever, that it must be ‘love’. And, after all, doesn’t the Bible say that as long as you love that’s what matters?
We can see how easily some people argue like that with themselves, and sometimes even with their spiritual directors and counselors (their pastors and priests), but Paul would have made short work of it. The point of love, genuine Christian love, what the New Testament writers call agap (though some Greek writers used this word, too, in a wider sense like the English ‘love’) was that it meant copying the selfgiving love of Jesus himself. This love is included in the command to put on Jesus as we read in v 14. And in that selfgiving love there is no room for immorality, particularly for cheating in marriage, your own or someone else’s however much it tries to disguise itself as ‘love’. The watching pagan world of the first century would have known what to make of that. In fact, for another century at least, it was one of the proudest boasts the early church could make to the watching world that Christians were not sexually immoral. Would that we could make that boast today.
As Paul gives his ethical instruction and he gets to this climactic point, he focuses on love. This goes back to the twofold love command of Jesus in Mk 12 28-31.
the centrality of love
Love is central to Paul’s ethics. We might give a big yawn here saying “of course, ethics are all about love.” However, this is only because the ethical thinking of everybody in our day and age has been formed by the NT and Paul’s letters and by the Christian ethic. On the other hand, in the ancient world philosophies and religions, love played little role in ethical formulations. The Stoics hardly talked about love at all and the Platonists did not talk about love at all. This Christian ethic of love was completely unique in the ancient world. That love is at the center of everything is a Christian ethical idea formed from the Bible going back to Jesus’ twofold love command. As such, Christians acknowledge that all Christian ethics revolve around love and that is something that has been put in our minds so to us Christians, we think it’s self-evident. However, it wasn’t self-evident back then. Instead it was something unique to Christian ethics – the centrality of love.
Here again we have Paul transmitting Jesus’ teaching but in a new, inventive and creative way. In fact, Paul got such a crazy idea like this from what he knew about Jesus as found in Mk 12 where Jesus, when asked what ethics are all about, gave the twofold love command – the striking combination of Dt 6 4 and Le 19 unique to Jesus that no Jewish rabbi had ever put together before where everything in terms of your ethical obligations to God and your neighbor is contained in this twofold love command. Paul didn’t just quote Jesus but he transmitted, reinforced, applied and interpreted Jesus’ teaching of love of enemies Ro 12 14, 17-21, obedience to human rulers Ro 13 1-7, and the twofold love command and the centrality of love Ro 13 8-10.
Mk 12 28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
So, when no one else thought love was very important in ethics, Paul was saying that love was at the center of ethics. Paul took this teaching of Jesus in his twofold love command and put it at the center of his ethics just as it is at the center within Christian ethics. Jesus’ twofold love command became the basis for everything. Love became central in Christian ethics.
Elsewhere Paul focuses on part one of the twofold love command, and here he focuses entirely on part two of the twofold love command, to love your neighbor. He cites part two of Mt 12 31 in v 9 below.
faith, hope and love
Paul in his letters speaks about an important triad of ethical qualities: faith, hope and love. Topic 123 in Synopsis. For example, 1 Cor 13 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Theologians call faith, hope and love the theological virtues. Philosophers like Aristotle didn’t talk about these as virtues and instead talked about other virtues that Paul and other theologians recognized as well such as bravery, self-control, etc. However, faith, hope and love are unique to Christianity. These theological virtues have to do with your connection to God. Within Christian theology faith is not only this connection with God, it’s also a virtue. Hope for Christ’s second coming is actually a Christian theological virtue.
Notice how Paul says that this love for God and neighbor, that these theological virtues of faith, hope and love actually fulfill what the law always pointed to. Faith, hope and love are the fulfilment of the law. Faith, hope and love actually echo Jesus’ teaching that one can sum up the whole law through the twofold love command.
After Paul gave all this ethical instruction, the motivation was to be this Christian hope we just talked about.
the night has advanced, the day has drawn near was talking about the return of Christ and all of these wondrous events of the resurrection of the body and the renewal and restoration of all Creation and so on. That’s the motivation Paul gave that these Christians were to clothe themselves with the Lord Jesus and so on v 14.
the imminent return
Here, with the way Paul expresses hope in its relationship to Christian ethics, we next talk about one more theological controversy, a controversy between theologians of the historic Christian paradigm – whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant – and the post-Enlightenment paradigm types. This controversy concerns the significance of Paul’s expectation in his letters of the imminent return of the Lord.
Here in vv 11-14, and in other passages, it sounds as if the Lord is about to return at any moment. And yet it been almost two thousand years.
By way of reminder, theologians within the post-Enlightenment paradigm say the Bible and the church’s historic teaching cannot be the source of your theology and ethics. One argument they make concerns this expectation by Paul and other NT writers of the imminent return of the Lord. Post-Enlightenment paradigm types say this is obviously a human miscalculation. Obviously these Christian ethics depend on this view that the Lord is returning very soon, within Paul’s lifetime. In light of that this shows that this is just human stuff ultimately. Therefore, these biblical ethics, these Pauline ethics cannot be authoritative according to the post-Enlightenment paradigm type people.
We looked previously at another argument like with regarding violence in the Bible and the fact that the NT sometimes says one thing and the OT says another. Post-Enlightenment paradigm types say these examples just show you can’t use the Bible as your guide. Christians don’t see it that way. Here within this discussion of the imminent return of the Lord we have just one more example to the post-Enlightenment paradigm types that the Bible can’t be used as your source for theology and ethics. The Bible is just a human miscalculation showing how human all this “Bible stuff” is.
On the other hand, those within the Christian theological paradigm acknowledge there is this language of imminent expectation, this imminent zealous belief that Jesus could return at any moment. They say the imminent return is built into God’s will for Christians in every generation. In other words, Paul talks about the Lord’s return as imminent not because he believes it must occur in his lifetime but because that’s the way it must be for every generation of Christians. That’s how we Christians are to be hard-wired! Christians are to realize that it could happen at any time on any day. Paul is not setting a date.
This understanding was a theological thing. It was not only found in Paul’s teaching but we see it in Jesus’ own teaching in which we are told that no one can know the day or the hour. Therefore, it was not setting a date. Instead, it was an imminent expectation which was at the center of Christian life. In that the imminent return is still pending in no way invalidates the Christian message and ethics in any sense. This was, in fact, part of the picture of what makes Christian ethics effective and powerful.