Our Relationship to All People: Love Fulfills the Law – Romans 13:8-10
Pastor Mark Hardy December 8, 2013
In 1991 Dr. Robertson McQuilkin, who had been the president of Columbia Bible College for 22 years, stepped down from that position to care for his ailing wife, Muriel, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 10 years earlier. Although Dr. McQuilkin tried for several years to juggle the various challenges of having a caregiver watch over her during the day while he went to work at the college, he finally made the decision to walk away from a thriving ministry and many unfulfilled dreams to personally care for his wife full-time. In his mind the decision was resolved 42 years prior when he made the promise before God to love and cherish his wife “in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”
When asked by others about this courageous decision that involved so many personal sacrifices, Dr. McQuilkin humbly replied, “I don’t have to care for her, I get to. If I took care of her for the next 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.” What a beautiful example of the love that God calls each one of His children to in the passage we will be looking at this morning.
Paul has already revealed in Romans 12:9-21 that a believer’s total commitment to Christ is expressed in showing a sincere love to fellow believers and even to our unbelieving enemies. Now as we come to 13:8-10, he presents the thesis that love fulfills the law. These three verses stand as the apex, the ethical Mount Everest, of everything Paul has been saying in chapters 12-13. Turn with me in your Bible to Romans 13.
In Roman 13:8-10 we see three truths about love that we as believers must understand and apply, if we are going to genuinely live our Christian lives in the way God designed.
The first truth about love is this:
I. Love is a Debt that’s never Finished
A. Look at the first part of v. 8: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another;
1. Having shown in v. 7 every believer’s responsibility to regularly pay taxes and to show proper respect to civil authorities as a debt to be paid, Paul now uses the same terminology to easily shift onto another subject. The word “owe” () here has the same root as “due” in v. 7.
2. When Paul says “Owe nothing to anyone,” this is not a prohibition against ever borrowing and incurring debt, for Scripture never forbids this (Ex. 22:25; Ps. 15:5; 37:26; Matt. 5:42; 25:14-30; Lk. 6:35; 1923).
3. Certainly, staying out of debt as much as you can is a good idea. Proverbs 22:7 tells us that “the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”
4. What Scripture condemns is not paying our debts. For Psalm 37:21 states, “The wicked borrows and does not pay back…”
5. Therefore, what Paul is saying by “Owe nothing to anyone” is that we as believers are to always pay back our debts promptly and in accordance with the terms of the contract. Few things bring greater reproach upon a Christian’s testimony than the refusal to pay his or her debts.
6. But notice that Paul says here concerning the paying of our debts there is one significant exception, “…except to love one another.” The word “love” (agapan) is again “agape” or divine love as we saw in chapter 12, which is the highest form of love.
7. Agape love is the love God is (1 Jn. 4:8, 16) and which is manifested perfectly among each member of the Trinity (Jn. 15:10; 17:26). It is the selfless, sacrificial, “all give” kind of love for the highest benefit of others irrespective of their response or worthiness, even to the point of forfeiting one’s life if necessary.
8. Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love (i.e. agape) has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
9. And the supreme example of such sacrificial love is the Lord Jesus Himself, who, according to Philippians 2:6-8, “…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
10. In 1 John 3:16 we read, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us…”
11. Now notice again to whom we owe a debt of agape love? Paul says to “love one another.”
12. The one Greek word translated “one another” (allelous) almost always refers to fellow believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you (i.e. believers), that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Col. 3:12-14; 1 Jn. 2:10; 3:14, 23; 4:7, 11, 21; 1 Pet. 1:22; 4:8)
13. However, in this context “one another” also applies to unbelievers. Paul will explain this at the end of v. 8 in terms of our “neighbor,” which literally means the other person. A neighbor is anyone with whom we have contact, especially if they are in need, as Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan so vividly illustrates (Lk. 10:25-37).
14. Also, John Murray correctly observes, “If the love of which he speaks is the fulfillment of the law, then the love must be as broad as the law itself and the law has respect to our relations to all men.” (pg. 160)
15. Therefore, in this passage we see that our debt to love is universal, it includes all people—believers and unbelievers alike, whether they are family, friends, strangers, or even our enemies! (Gal. 6:10; 1 Thess. 3:12)
B. So we as believers are commanded to “Owe nothing to anyone,” in that, we are to pay off all of our debts. But Paul says “except,” all but one—we have a never-ending IOU to “love one another.”
1. Paul makes it very clear that our debt of selfless and sacrificial love for all people is a permanent and inexhaustible debt from which we are never finished. In other words, we can never rightly say, “I’ve loved enough, I’m done.”
2. We may often feel like it with certain difficult people in our lives, but it is never right to use our pain to justify our sinful violation of love. Love is the only debt a believer cannot ever be done with.
3. It is a permanent obligation that is impossible to pay in full. The early church theologian, Origen, described this well, “The debt of love remains with us permanently and never leaves us; this is a debt which we both discharge every day and forever owe.” (Barclay pg. 176)
4. And A.T. Robertson put it like this, “This debt can never be paid off, but we should keep the interest paid up.” (pg. 409)
5. Therefore, we as the “beloved” children of God, recipients of His saving grace and un-fathom-able love, are to be characterized by His same selfless and sacrificial love. For 1 John 4:19 says, “We love, because He first loved us.”
6. We have been originally designed by God to reflect His loving character to others. Although this was lost in the fall of man into sin and selfishness, it is restored in our salvation in Christ.
7. As Christian, Romans 5:5 tells us that “…the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Because of these and other New Covenant resources given us in Christ, this is a debt we will always be empowered to pay as we live in full dependence on the Spirit of God.
8. This is why God repeatedly calls us to love, knowing that His command is now His enabling in the believer’s life. For example, in 1 Corinthians 16:14 we read, “Let all that you do be done in love.”
9. Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us…”
10. To the Philippians who loved well, Paul said in Philippians 1:9, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.”
11. And 1 John 3:16 says, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (Col. 3:14)
12. So the first truth about love is that love is a debt that’s never finished. The second truth about love is this:
II. Love is the Essence of the Law
A. Look at the second part of v. 8: …for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
1. The word “for” (gar) indicates that Paul now gives the reason for or the explanation why love for all people is a debt that’s never finished. It is this: whenever we love our neighbor, who is anyone with whom we have contact, we have “fulfilled the law.”
2. The word “law” (nomon) here refers to the Mosaic Law. And the term “fulfilled” (pepleroken) refers to properly performing or doing the law.
3. In other words, when we truly love others we are ethically living out in our relationships what God, through the Mosaic Law, commands us to do.
4. Therefore, since it is true that “love fulfills the law,” it is also true that no law is fulfilled apart from love. Thus, love is the essence of the Law; its very heart and soul.
5. Thomas Schreiner said, “The very center of Pauline ethics is love; the affections of the heart, not the mere performance of outward actions, constitute the essence of the Christian life.” (pg. 692)
6. Here we see the preeminence that love is to take in every believer’s life. Although we must know the Word of God because we cannot live out what we do not know, mere head knowledge of God’s Law and external conformity to it is not enough.
7. Without love motivating our obedience to God’s commands we are not living as God designed. Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
B. Paul now goes on to prove that love fulfills the law in v. 9: For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
1. In this verse Paul quotes five specific Old Testament laws to support his thesis that love fulfills the law. The first four are from the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments.
2. The Ten Commandments is made up of two divisions, sometimes called the two tablets. The first division contains four commands that have to do with our vertical relationship to God.
3. The second division contains six commands that have to do with our horizontal relationship to others. Now since Paul is focusing on our never-ending love debt to all people, here he provides four commandments that apply to our relationship to others.
4. Since he is using these four commandments as merely samples to prove his point, they are not in the exact order. The order he presents them for his own purposes is this: the seventh, sixth, eighth, and tenth commandments (Ex. 20:13-17; Deut. 5:17-21).
5. Let’s look at each one:
• First, love will not commit adultery. Regardless of the fact that adulterers usually say they “truly love each other” in reality they love too little not too much; it is really sinful lust not love. True agape love preserves the purity of others and the sacredness of the marriage-bond.
• Concerning adultery, Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY;’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
• Second, love will not murder but instead helps a neighbor stay alive and well.
• Concerning murder, Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
• Third, love will not steal anything that belongs to a neighbor but instead helps to protect his possessions. Love is always more concerned with giving than with getting.
• Fourth, love will not covet what belongs to another person but instead rejoices in what God has blessed him or her with.
6. Therefore, in these four sample commandments love is seen in not doing what the law forbids. But in case someone is not convinced and thinks there is one of the 613 moral norms from the Mosaic Law that doesn’t fit what he is saying, Paul goes on to say in v. 9, “…and if there is any other commandment.”
7. Regardless of which commandment relating to others we may pick, Paul says, “…it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
8. This fifth law that Paul uses to support his thesis that love fulfills the law is a direct quote from Leviticus 19:18. All of the horizontal commandments in God’s Word are under the umbrella of this single commandment; this one summarizes all the rest.
9. Paul is following Jesus’ example of summarizing the commandments of the law into two great commandments in Matthew 22:37-40, where He said, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND’ (Deut. 6:5). This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ (Lev. 19:18). On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
10. We see a similar thing in Galatians 5:14, “For the whole Law (i.e. referring to the social section) is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
11. Therefore, all of the negative commands of the law “You shall not” are simply expressions of this positive command to love our neighbor. And as we do, we are “fulfilling the law” and doing what it requires.
12. Now it is important to understand that when Paul says to “love your neighbor as yourself” he doesn’t mean that we must learn to love ourselves before we can love others. As fallen human beings we already love ourselves, in the sense that we have a priority commitment to our own welfare and self-interest above others.
13. Blaise Pascal was right when he observed that even those who commit suicide do so to improve their lot, for they are convinced that they will be happier dead than alive. (Schreiner pg. 693)
14. Therefore, what Paul means by this is that we are to love others with the same commitment that we have for ourselves by putting their interests above our own. This other-centered, Christlike love is clearly described in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.” (Eph. 5:28-29)
15. The third truth about love is this:
III. Love does no Wrong to a Neighbor
A. Look at v. 10: Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
1. This is simply the negative expression of the positive command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Since love for our neighbor sums up all of the social commandments in God’s Word, when we truly love someone we will refrain from doing him or her “wrong” (kakon) or evil.
2. Therefore, if we are doing someone wrong in some way we cannot say that at that moment that we love him or her. Paul’s point is that all sin is a violation of love; first and foremost against God (Ps. 51:4) and second against others.
3. Paul then leads Paul to reaffirm his thesis at the end of v. 10, “…therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” The word “fulfillment” (pleroma) here is essentially synonymous with the term “fulfilled” in v. 8.
4. Showing love to a neighbor and doing good instead of bad to him or her fulfills the law, in that, it is puts the law into practice in our daily lives. Therefore, love complements and completes the law; it is not contradictory to it.
5. Since Jesus has inseparably connected loving God and others with fulfilling “the whole Law and the Prophets,” we can rightly say that the whole intent of the Word of God is to make us better lovers of God and others. Even 1 Timothy 1:5 says, “But the goal of our instruction is to love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
6. And since loving God and loving others are inseparably connected by God, our horizontal relationships to others always reveal our vertical relationship to God. In other words, we are always living out our true heart commitment and love to Jesus most clearly in how well we love other people.
7. For 1 John 4:20 states: If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
8. No wonder Francis Schaeffer wisely declared that “Love is the mark of true spirituality.”
9. We are truly reflecting Christ’s love to others when the positive and negative characteristics of agape love are evidenced in our daily lives, as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
10. Therefore, truth (or law) without love is nothing but legalism and not biblical truth. And love without truth (or law) is nothing but sentimentalism and not biblical love.
11. Both extremes are wrong! There needs to be the biblical balance of both love and law in our lives, for love fulfills the law.
In closing, since only love fulfills the law, we all need to ask ourselves, “How committed am I to love others well? How am I really doing?” For Paul has made it very clear in this passage that no matter how much of God’s Word we may know or how successful we may be in our external conformity to it, without love it profits us nothing. Loving others as an expression of our love for God is the way God designed us to live.
I like how a South African missionary paraphrased of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 about the importance of love: “If I have the language perfectly and speak like a native, and have not His love for them, I am nothing. If I have diplomas and degrees and know all the up-to-date methods, and have not His touch of understanding love, I am nothing. If I am able to argue successfully against the religions of the people and make fools of them, and have not His wooing note, I am nothing. If I have all faith and great ideals and magnificent plans, and not His love that sweats and bleeds and weeps and prays and pleads, I am nothing. If I give my clothes and money to them, and have not His love for them, I am nothing.
If I surrender all prospects, leave home and friends, make the sacrifices of a missionary career, and turn sour and selfish amid the daily annoyances and slights of a missionary life, and have not the love that yields its rights, its leisures, its pet plans, I am nothing. Virtue has ceased to go out of me. If I can heal all manner of sickness and disease, but wound hearts and hurt feelings for want of His love that is kind, I am nothing. If I can write articles or publish books that win applause, but fail to transcribe the Word of the Cross into the language of His love, I am nothing.”
Beloved, may we never forget that without love we are nothing because love fulfills the law. And may we moment-by-moment depend on the Holy Spirit and allow Him to control us, for only He can manifest His fruit of love (Gal. 5:22) in and through our lives to all our relationships to the glory of God!