We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
The connection between verses 11-14 and what went before is not as clear in the words at the beginning of verse 11—“Besides this”—as I would like. The Greek simply has “And this . . .” Several times Paul links things this way. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:6, “Brother goes to law against brother, and this before unbelievers.” That is, “And they do this even before unbelievers.” Or Philippians 1:28, “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and this from God.” “And this sign of your salvation is from God.”
So here’s the connection in Romans 13:11. “Owe no one anything except to love each other . . . and this,—do this—knowing the time . . .” (The NASB and NIV get it right here.) In other words, the phrase at the beginning of verse 11—“Besides this . . .” (in the ESV)—is probably meant to refer to the motivation in verses 8-10, not the command to love. If so, the sense would be: Besides the motivation that love fulfills the law, there is now another motivation, namely, you know the time.
I would put it like this: Paul is saying, “For two chapters now I have been telling you that you should owe no one anything but love. Everything else that you may owe someone—make the repayment an act of love. Let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14). Chapter 12:9, Let love be genuine. Verse 10, Love one another with brotherly affection. Verse 14, Bless those who persecute you. Verse 17, Repay no one evil for evil. Verse 19, Beloved, never avenge yourselves. Verse 20, If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Chapter 13:8, Owe no one anything, except to love each other. And now I say, And this—do all this, love like this—because you know the time.”
What Is It About This “Time” That Motivates Love?
So my main aim today is to answer the question: What is it about this “time” that motivates love? So make sure you see the word “time” in verse 11: “Besides this—besides the motivations for love that you have seen so far, here’s another one—you know the time. . . .” Owe no one anything but love because you know the time. So let’s first see the structure of this paragraph in verses 11-14. And then let’s ask, What time is he talking about? And then let’s focus on the question: How does knowing this time help us love each other and love our enemies?
The paragraph in verses 11-14 has two parts and I am going to deal with it in two sermons, Lord willing. The first part describes the time that motivates love and the second part describes more of what a loving life looks like. Here’s the first part, verses 11-12a: “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand.”
Then the rest of the verse is the practical, spiritual, moral implications of living in this kind of time. Verses 12b-14, “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” So today we will deal with the first part (verses 11-12a) and next time with the second part (verses 12b-14).
What Time Is Paul Talking About in Verse 11?
Now what time is he talking about in verse 11: “Besides this you know the time . . .”? Besides being motivated to love by knowing that love is the fulfillment of the law, be motivated also by knowing the time you live in. What time? The first step in answering this question is to link the end of Romans 12 and 13 with the beginning. Here we are at the end and Paul is telling us to let the time shape our behavior. Look back at the beginning to Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world [notice the footnote: the word is literally “age” not world—it’s a time word]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.” So Paul is saying that this present age is fallen and dark and sinful and dominated by the Satan—who is called “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4; John 12:31; Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19)—and we should not conform to it, but be transformed. So in Romans 12:2 the reality of this present time is evil and it should affect our behavior by prompting us to avoid conformity to it.
But it’s not that simple in verses 11 and 12 of chapter 13. Here the present time is not just as negative, but also as positive. Verse 11: “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.” It’s a time for waking up. And then in verse 12 he says, “The
night is far gone; the day is at hand.” That’s why we must wake up. The day has dawned. You don’t sleep in the day. You sleep at night. So he says in verse 12, “Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime.” So you can see that for Paul, the time is not just night. It is also day—at least it’s the dawn of the coming day.
So what is he talking about? He uses the same language in 1 Thessalonians 5 and helps us see what he’s referring to—what all of these early Christians were taught.
He has just said in verse 2: “You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” That’s the day of Christ’s second coming. So the Thessalonian Christians and the Roman Christians are “fully aware” of the time they live in. They have been taught this. That’s why Paul can say in Romans 13:11, “You know the time.” Every Christian was taught that Christ was coming back to earth from heaven, and that it could be soon. And he says in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 that it’s going to take people off guard the way a thief in the night takes people off guard.
But not you, he says—not you Christians. You will not be taken off guard like this. Why not: He goes on in verse 4 to explain:
“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all childrenof light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do [see the connections with Romans 13:11], but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night [another link with Romans 13:13]. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation [this is what Paul is referring to in Romans 13: as “the armor of light”]. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So when Paul talks about this time—the time we live in—he does not just think of negative terms, like night, and darkness, and evil, and death, and shot-through with demonic influence. That’s all true—sin and pain and death abound. But that is no longer the main truth. It is certainly not the main truth for Christians. In Paul’s mind the day has dawned. We are not of night or darkness. We belong to the new day. “You are not in darkness!” You live in a very dark age—a dark and sinful time. But that is not the main reality for you, if you are a Christian. The day has come. Light has come. Christ has come.
I’m so tempted here to jump to verse 14 where Paul takes his words from verse 12, “Put on the armor of light,” and transforms them into, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ is the light of the world. Christ is the long-awaited Messiah. Christ is the Savior from this evil age and the blazing center of the Age to come. He has come. He will come. We live in the time between these two comings. He has saved us, he is saving us, he will save us. We are not “destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So put on Christ. Clothe yourselves with Christ. Arm yourselves with Christ. Never be without the covering of Christ. Let your friendship with Christ be as close as the shirt you wear. That is what I said last week was the key to loving and fulfilling the law. And that is the same final answer this week: Receiving Christ daily and fully is the key to love.
What Is This Time We Are Now Living In?
But I am getting ahead of myself. That’s for next time. For now the question is: What is this time we live in? And how does it help us love? The key thing to say about the time in which we live is that we live in the overlap between the present sinful age and the coming age of righteousness. We live in the overlap between this age and the kingdom of God. We live in the overlap between this mortal life and eternal life. Right at the heart of Christianity is the truth that when Jesus Christ came the long-expected age to come arrived, and the kingdom of God arrived, and eternal life arrived. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:11 that the Old Testament events “were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” That is, the juncture between this age and the age to come arrived in Jesus. He said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” So the new creation has come. He said in Colossians 1:13, “[God] delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” So the Kingdom of the Messiah has come. Just as Jesus said: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15).
In other words, when Christ came “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), the age to come arrived, the kingdom of God arrived, the new creation arrived. Hebrews 9:16 says, “[Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” And so it says in Hebrews 6:5 that we can “taste the powers of the age to come.” They have arrived. The mystery of the kingdom of God is that the kingdom has arrived, and the age of sin and pain and death did not cease. The age to come, the reign of righteousness, the kingdom of God, the new creation, eternal life—all these will one day hold sway with no sin, no pain, and no death. But the mystery is that they are here and they are real, but they overlap with this fallen age of sin and pain and death.1
That is the time we live in. That is the time Paul is referring to in Romans 13:11—the time between the two comings of Christ. The time of the overlap between this age of sin and pain and death and the coming age of righteousness and joy and life; and the overlap between the dominion
of darkness and the kingdom of Christ.
What Is It About This Time That Motivates Love?
Now what is it about this time that motivates love? Paul said in verse 11: “Besides this—besides the motivation for love that it fulfills the law, you know the time. Let your knowledge of the time also move you to love each other and your enemies. Then he mentions at least three things about this time that will stir up our love if we understand them the way we should. Let’s take them in reverse order.
1. The Night Is Far Gone; The Day Is at Hand”
Verse 12a: “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” This is a word of hope to suffering Christians. It’s a word of hope to Christians who hate their own sin and long to be done with sinning. It’s a word of hope to Christians who long for the last enemy death to be overcome and thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). How is it a word of hope for all these?
“The night” stands for this age of darkness and all its sin and misery and death. And what does Paul say about it? “The night is far gone.” The age of sin and misery and death is almost spent. You might say that 2,000 years after Paul seems like a long dawn. From one standpoint it is. And we cry, How long, O Lord, how long will you let it go on? But the biblical way to think is different in two ways.
The key way it is different is that the day has dawned in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the end of this fallen age. He defeated sin and pain and death and Satan. The decisive battle is over. The kingdom has come. Eternal life has come.
The prophecy of Isaiah 60:1-3 has broken in upon the world: “The glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” And when dawn happens—as it did in the coming of Jesus—no one should doubt the coming of day. Not even if the dawn draws out 2,000 years. It is certain. The day has arrived. Nothing can stop the rising sun.
And the second way biblical thinking is different is that God’s reckoning of time and ours are not the same. Peter said, “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
If we did not have this hope—that the day of evil and misery and death is far gone and the day of righteousness and joy and life is at hand—where would we get the resources to love in the midst of all our losses?
2. Salvation Is Nearer to Us Now Than When We First Believed
The second thing Paul says about this time to help us love each other is found in verse 11b: “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” This is a word of hope to those of us who groan under the incompleteness of our salvation. Of course, our sins are already forgiven, our guilt is already removed, we are already justified (Romans 5:1), our condemnation is gone—“there is therefore NOW not condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). But oh, salvation is so much more than this. It is being done with sin. It is being done with disease. It is being done with discouragement and depression. It is being done with sinning. And most of all it is being done with seeing Christ only in a mirror dimly. Salvation is finally and fully to see him face to face. And Paul says, every day of your groaning life you are getting closer and closer to the greatest thing of all—Christ. Our final salvation is Christ. And he is nearer every day.
This hope in the midst of all our frustrations and all our losses and all our pain sustains the power to love each other and to love our enemies.
3. You Know the Time, That the House Has Come for You to Wake From Sleep
Finally, Paul says one more love-sustaining thing about the time we live in. He says in verse 11a: “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.” The night of sin and misery and death is far gone, and the day of love and joy and life is at hand. Now Paul says, This is an hour for being awake not asleep. Sleep is what the people lost in this age are doing. They are sleepwalking. All the glitz and flash and skin and swagger and muscle and brilliance and scientific achievement and art and military might and business and industry are sleepwalking compared to life in the day of glory of Christ.
Do you want to spend your life asleep in the dream world of this glitzy age? Or do you want to be awake in the dawning rays of the age to come where Christ and his people will lead lives so full of joy and love and justice and creativity that everything we thought was great in this age will look like the kindergarten of the universe?
And this too is a great incentive to love. In fact the apostle John says it with crystal clarity in 1 John 2:8, “It is a new commandment that I am writing to you [love], which is true in him and in you, becausethe darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” So both Paul and John say: Owe no one anything except to love, because you know the time.
If the darkness is passing away, and if the true light is already shining, and that true light is Jesus Christ, the very presence of the love of God, then those who wake up from the dreamworld of unbelief and walk in the light will love each other, and their enemies.
1 For more texts on the arrival of the age to come see Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:20; Acts 2:17; Ephesians 1:21; Matthew 12:32; 24:3; Mark 10:30; Luke 16:8; 18:35; 20:34-35.