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The Night Is Far Gone

The Night Is Far Gone

There are few things in life more shameful than sleeping when you ought to be working, or slacking off when you ought to be diligent. When your calling is to be active, it is inappropriate and even sinful to remain passive. This is especially true when it comes to contexts that are of the highest importance and the greatest urgency.

I sometimes wonder if the closing paragraph of Romans 13 is one of those sections we tend to overlook a little bit. It’s sandwiched between controversial passages that receive a great deal of attention—one explaining how Christians are to relate to civil government and one explaining how Christians are to behave when they disagree on the kind of freedom the gospel brings.

In the middle of these two passages we find Paul sounding a kind of alarm and urging Christians to understand and respond appropriately to the context we live in. “You know the time,” he says, “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.”

“You know the time,” he says. He means that we know the context we have been called to live in. It’s a context in which Christ has ascended but not yet returned. His Commission has been given but not yet been rescinded or completed. Hence it is a context in which we have sacred duties to fulfill. There is a certain kind of life God calls us to live here and now. The alarm bell rings to wake us, to stir us, to provoke us to consider whether we are living in the way God has commanded us.

To convey this sense of urgency, Paul offers a little illustration. “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” We are meant to imagine that we have endured a long night, but finally daytime is almost here. And when the day comes, so will the end, for when the sun breaks across the sky, Christ will return. And already the sky is beginning to brighten and the first birds are beginning to stir. This means that the time is short. There is a sense of urgency—a sense of “now or never.”

So what is this urgent task? What is it that God means for us to do? By looking at the immediate context we can see that the task is love—to love others in the way Christ has loved us. “Love one another with brotherly affection … Outdo one another in showing honor … Owe no one anything, except to love each other … Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” In other words, we are to believe and internalize all the glorious doctrine that has been taught in the book of Romans, and to apply it to loving other people. The gospel calls us to love with all the fervency with which Christ loved us. We are to make it the goal of our lives to bring glory to God by doing good to the people he has made in his image. A life committed to the doctrine of Romans is a life marked by love.

Is that the life you’re living? Are you committing your time, your talents, your energy, your enthusiasm, your creativity, your everything to loving others? Can you say that you are fully awake to this urgent, now-or-never task of loving your neighbor as yourself?

“Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed,” Paul says. It’s like he wants you to imagine a timeline with the day you came to Christ on one side and your own death or Christ’s return on the other. You may not know how much time remains before the end, but you do know how much time has elapsed since you became a Christian. And Paul prompts you to consider: What you have done with that time? How you have used it? How have you stewarded it?

There are few things in life more shameful than sleeping when you ought to be working, or slacking off when you ought to be diligent. And right now, he says, is the time for work, the time for diligence, the time for love. He asks you: Is that the way you’re living your life?

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