Week of June 7

A Right to Be Loved:
A Devotional Response to the George Floyd Tragedy

Read: Proverbs 19-21; Romans 13

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Romans 13:10, ESV

[Originally published June 1, 2020]


A long philosophical history has led our nation to attach theoretical moral rights, grounded in deity and nature’s laws, to actual statutes with the goal of securing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. How can it be that this most basic human right, a right to protect one’s own person, was violated before our eyes last week on a street in Minneapolis?

Our nation had already been writhing with anguish over the senseless and brutal killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, when another video, this time in Minneapolis, captured the killing of George Floyd while in police custody. Public outrage, in one circumstance, soon gave way to rioting, the setting of cars and businesses ablaze, and looting, as anger spilled over into the streets of Minneapolis.

These awful scenes play over and over again in our minds. Such incidents, and countless others that do not make the news, have exposed a moral cancer that threatens our nation’s being; one that Constitutional guarantees have seemingly been unable to secure. In this passage today, Paul provides Christians with sound counsel on how to put the righteousness of God to work in our daily lives in ways that will help to preserve lives in our churches and communities.

A Biblical Lens

We all have participated in numerous Bible studies and listened to many sermons on the proper response that Christians are to make toward those who govern us (13:1-7). Surely Christians know by now that our civil obligations stem from the higher responsibility to submit to God’s authority (13:1). Divinely instituted governance requires Christian respect. So, we should not claim that our allegiance to God frees us from our responsibility to secular authority (NAC). Hmm. My mind races to the world in Paul’s day. Roman rule, even though established upon law, could be extraordinarily brutal. Paul knew this to be true. He, himself, had been unfairly arrested and beaten! (e.g. Acts 16:16-40).

Nevertheless, he called for the unthinkable! Christians are to be good citizens by doing the right thing (13:2-3). Our ultimate allegiance is to God. Therefore, we will do the right thing, for example, by paying taxes (13:6-7). There is an important caveat. Keep in mind that civil disobedience by Christians will be needed, however, when governments overstep their bounds (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29). Thankfully, there are countless believers who are crying out for justice in our culture in this tumultuous time. Listen well. There is more to do.

A second obligation is the debt to love one another (13:8; cf. Mark 12:28-31). Notice that this duty has no limit! Paul means that we will love the family of faith and our fellow human beings (Matthew 5:44-45). In fact, he states that when we love our fellow man, then we have fulfilled the law. Hmm. Two words, “George. Floyd.”

A Moral Pathway

“I can’t breathe,” some of the final words of George Floyd, resound in my ears, but the lack of basic human response to those pleas is what screams in my soul. I do not know either Mr. Floyd, or the police officer who has been charged with murder and manslaughter, but the situation begs moral consideration. You see, for Christians, this event obliges “the love response.” How can this be so, when the man was treated so brutally? Good question! Let’s develop some background, then pursue an answer.

Paul warns that the anti-God state of mind also includes “murder,” and being “heartless.” (Romans 1:29, 31, “ἀστόργους”). The latter word means without natural affection for another life. Paul has included these words in a wide list of vices that Gentiles in Greek culture would recognize immediately as “dangers to the social fabric” (Romans 1:28-32; NAC).

When people reject God’s revelation of himself in nature, then He gives them over to the consequences that follow. Nations can do the same thing (e.g. Nazi Germany). It would certainly appear that the treatment that George Floyd received was “heartless." The full truth will emerge over time, but the scene indicates that something was terribly bad, horrifically wrong, about the way he was treated. It was an assault against the most basic core value; respect for and protection of human life.

Here is my spiritual segue. In Ashlock speak, “The righteousness of God will be evident in the way that we respect the rights of others; especially, the right to life.” (Romans 1:16-17; 12:2; 13:8). God, our ultimate authority calls us to love. Therefore, Christian life is a decidedly different life lived in community; a fellowship permeated by love (Romans 13:8-9; “love each other, has fulfilled the law”; the law that states, “do not murder”; cf. 1 Corinthians 13:7, “bears all things”).

Church! As the old hymn states, “Rise up” people of God, and “be done with lesser things.” Pursue the higher call to love! The Scripture states, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another” (13:8; cf. 12:9; Galatians 5:14; Leviticus 19:18). We need to respond as the Body of Christ to the maltreatment of this (and every) human life. Friends, love does not murder (Romans 13:9). What was absent on a street corner in Minneapolis must abide in the hearts and actions of Christians. Love for our neighbors obliges our responses, and we begin by saying, "No more heartless killings of African American men and women." We also need to behave lovingly in our own church relationships! There also is much disharmony and divide there. Love calls us to this response (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

For Your Journaling

1. Our reactions to the tragedies of recent days will begin with the proper use of our anger (cf. Ephesians 4:26-27). How may we “love out” rather than “lash out” at these injustices? Write down positive ways that you will live out Christ’s love in your own home, neighborhood, and community.

2. Church leaders, while social media outrage serves a purpose, our communities need you and your churches to practice what I will term a “personal community engagement.” We are doing well in the pandemic to hand out food, but we also must become creative in handing out love all the time. Write down several first steps.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock