I.O.U. Love

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  September 10, 2023

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Read Romans 13:8 – 14

Our New Testament lesson today comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church once again. 
Last week, the sermon was entitled, “The Antidote for Hate.”   And, this week, the theme for the sermon is I.O.U. LOVE.
Now, I am going out on a limb here and assuming that most of us are familiar with the abbreviation, I.O.U., which literally means just that… I owe you… something. 
Typically written on a small slip of paper, those three letters I.O.U. serve as an acknowledgment of an obligation of some sort that is to be repaid to someone else.  IOUs are a rather informal way to indicate that at some point in time the giver intends to repay money that may have been loaned in the midst of a crisis… or perhaps return the favor for other resources like food or shelter that were provided during a time of need.
Simply put, an I.O.U. is an indication that one person owes a debt to another that for some reason has not been paid in full yet… they have an outstanding debt.
But as we look at the first verse of our text for the morning, we find the Apostle Paul’s encouragement that there is only one debt that should be outstanding…
And that is the “continuing debt to love one another.”
While it may feel as if having credit cards, home mortgages, student loans, equity lines and other forms of indebtedness are simply a fact of life… I am sure we would all be excited to pay off those outstanding balances and shout, “I’m debt free,” like radio personality and financial advisor, Dave Ramsey, encourages his listeners to do.
However, we can never mark “paid-in-full” on the obligation that we have to love one another.  That is a debt that will always be outstanding because it represents all that we owe for having been loved so completely and unconditionally by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 
The fact of the matter is that we can never fully repay Jesus for the sacrifice that was made for us at Calvary.  But what we can do is our very best to love our neighbors… because  as the text tells us, that is the ultimate fulfillment of the law.  And just as a point of clarification that word “neighbor” is meant to signify all those who are around us… family members, friends, coworkers, colleagues, and strangers alike.
And so, this morning, let me suggest that as we look more closely at this passage from Romans, we will see that there are specific times when it is appropriate for us to issue an I.O.U. Love.
As we look at verse 9 of the text, we see several of the commandments from the Old Testament that have been highlighted… culminating with the command to love our neighbor as we love ourself. 
I especially like how these verses appear in the Message Paraphrase:

The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.
In fact, if we were to take a look at the complete set of the Ten Commandments, we would see that the first four commandments deal with how we love and honor God and the remaining six deal with how we love and honor one another (see Deuteronomy 20) …when all is said and done, it’s all about love.
We see this further demonstrated in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus was asked by one of the religious leaders which was the greatest commandment.  Jesus summed it up by saying:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37 – 40).
If repetition is an indication of the importance of a concept in the Bible… loving God and the people of God is definitely important. 
Now, there is something we would do well to pay attention to… and that is the fact that Jesus did not stop at saying, “Love your neighbor.”  He said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
And by echoing the words of Jesus as well as the words found in the Old Testament book of Leviticus (19:18), Paul lets his readers know that we have obligation is to love others in the same way we love ourselves.
The Life Application Study Bible commentary explains this idea of self-love as it relates to loving one’s neighbor like this: 

Even if you have low self-esteem, you probably don’t willingly let yourself go hungry.  You clothe yourself reasonably well.  You make sure there’s a roof over your head if you can.  You try not to let yourself be cheated or injured.  And you get angry if someone tries to ruin your marriage.  This is the kind of love we need to have for our neighbors.  Do we see that others are fed, clothed, and housed as well as they can be?  Are we concerned with issues of social justice?  Loving others as ourselves means to be actively working to see that their needs are met.  Interestingly, people who focus on others rather than on themselves rarely suffer from low self-esteem (Life Application Study Bible, 2005, p. 1904).

 In other words, whatever we are willing to do to meet our own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs... we ought to be willing to do that to help meet the needs of others. 
And yes, I realize that is a tall order especially when we may not be all that fond of our neighbors… but look at what Jesus was willing to do for all of us… and the debt that He willingly paid on our behalf.
We can never fully repay Jesus… but each of us can acknowledge our outstanding debt by issuing our own I.O.U. Love… first loving God and then loving our neighbors, even as we love ourselves.
Now, as we turn our attention to the remaining verses of our text, what we find is a call to act… sooner rather than later.
Paul’s message to the Romans (and by extension to us) conveys a sense of urgency. Listen to verses 11 – 14 as they appear in the Message Paraphrase:
But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!
Has anyone taken a look around at what is going in the world today?  If we ever needed the Lord before… we truly need Him now.
Paul’s letter to the Romans contains a warning against the deeds of darkness.  He lists several things that most folks would probably look at today and see nothing more than exciting material to use as a story line for the next edition of the Housewives of Whatever City.
Sadly, the world has come to accept and expect that the guidelines for what Paul would have considered behaving decently are antiquated and outdated.  Instead, society has become quite comfortable living by the adage, “If it feels good, do it.”  Even if “it” …whatever “it” may be, causes hurt, harm, or danger to someone else.
We seem to have lost sight of Jesus’ command to love one another… And if we’re being honest, most of the time if it feels like people don’t even have the first clue about what love really means.
But in his letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul said it like this:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.   Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4 – 8a).
 In the Message Paraphrase, those same verses read:
Love never gives up.  Love cares more for others than for self.  Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.  Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.  Love never dies.
 That sounds like the exact opposite of so much that is happening in the world around us these days… particularly that part about love not always being “me first” and the part about not flying off the handle.
This world would be in a lot better shape if we were all willing to put the needs of others ahead of our own and if we would take time to think before acting and reacting. 
Can anybody tell me what happened to that ancient concept of counting to 10 before responding?   You know, taking time to breathe before saying or doing something we will only come to regret later.
When did we get to the point that the old west philosophy, “shoot first and ask questions later,” became the order of the day rather than just a line in a cowboy movie?  If anyone knows the answer, will you please let me know?
In all seriousness, let me say this… these last verses of our text ought to serve as a wake-up call for us to get back to basics… because the I.O.U. Love that has each of our names on it is going to come due someday…
And we need to be ready because it going to be sooner than we think.
When Jesus comes back, He will be looking to cash in on our I.O.U. Love… He will be checking to see if we have been doing what He has commanded… if we are loving God and the people of God… if we have been caring for and meeting the needs of others as He has called us to do.
Now, if we want to be ready to pass the test so to speak… it might be helpful for us to do a quick review, to see if we are okay to have those IOUs cashed in.
So let me ask just a couple of questions for consideration…
Have we gone out of our way to help someone else like the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25 – 37)?  Or have we been too preoccupied to notice the people who have come across our path that are hungry, hurting, and homeless?
Have we taken to heart Jesus’ call to follow the example that He set for us, “… not to be served, but to serve…” (Mark 10:45)?  Or are we too busy focusing on putting ourselves in positions where we can be taken care of by others?
And last but certainly not least, have we learned to fully appreciate what Jesus meant when He said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)?
Laying down one’s life for a friend like Jesus did for us is certainly more love than we could ever hope to repay… and that is why we must be willing to extend that I.O.U. Love until the day that Jesus comes to collect.
And until then, we can offer our thanks for the love that Jesus has for each and every one of us.  It is a love that the Prophet Jeremiah described as an “everlasting love” (see Jeremiah 31:3).  And it is a love that will never let us go…
And with that thought in mind, I want to invite us to stand now and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go #540