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"God's Law of Love "
Romans 13:8-10

Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
January 26, 2005

In this section of Romans, Paul has been expanding on the implications of Romans 12:1-2. Among the things that it means to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to the Lord is that of submission to God-appointed governing authorities (13:1-7). We're told to "render to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor" (13:7). The simple principle involved is this: do not fail to render what is due to anyone we're obligated to. It may be money, it may be respect, it may be service, or it may be obedience; but what ever it is, do not be in debt with respect to what you owe. This is a crucial part of the presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices. Paul says, "Owe no one anything . . ."

But he mentions one exception: "Owe no one anything except to love one another . . ." (13:8). Here, Paul teaches us not only that we have an ongoing debt of love to pay; but that when we pay it faithfully, we fulfill His law. It is the new principle of lawkeeping that we are to operate under. It is God's law of love.

I. WE OWE AN ONGOING DEBT OF LOVE TO ONE ANOTHER (v. 8a).

A. We are to owe nothing to anyone.

1. In the original language, the first two words of verse 8 are different forms of the same noun. It literally reads, "To none, none . . ."

2. The form of the verb "to owe" is in the present tense imperative (the imperative mood indicates a command). It is a commandment that is to be continually fulfilled in an ongoing way.

3. Some take this verse as a prohibition against a Christian ever taking out a loan or a mortgage. But to say that would be to take this verse out of context. It certainly is prudent to avoid debt; and a Christian should never take out a loan thoughtlessly, or fail to pay the debt off as agreed. But it's best to see this in the light of verse 7 - that is, as a command to render to all what is due to them.

B. But the one exception is this: we are to continually owe the debt of love.

1. The infinitive "to love" is also in the present tense, indicating an ongoing, perpetual act. Some theologians have referred to this as a debitum immortale; that is, an unending debt. It's the kind of debt in which the more of it you pay off, the more of it you discover you owe.

2. This is a part of the commandment to "owe no one anything". Just as it is imperative that we owe no one anything else, it is imperative that we continually owe love to one another.

II. LOVING OTHERS IS DEFINED AS KEEPING GOD'S COMMANDMENTS (vv. 8b-9).

A. It's crucial that we define "love" in this case. The word used is agape - that is, a love that seeks the best of the objected loved even at the cost of one's own self. It's a love that loves another as one would love one's own self (Matthew 7:12).

B. Such love has objective definition in the keeping of God's commandments.

1. Joseph Fletcher, in his Situational Ethics: The New Morality, sought to separate the idea of love from law. He taught that the ruling norm for Christian ethics was now love - and nothing else. He taught that the principle of love now replaced the principle of God's commandments as the ruling ethic. He saw love and law as mutually exclusive. As a result, he taught that the end (love) justified the means (breaking God's commandments). In other words, if love so demanded it, there were certain situations in which love would demand stealing, or lying, or committing adultery, or even killing. How love would be defined depended on the situation - hence the name "situational ethics".

2. But here, we see that God's word doesn't leave us adrift on the waves of relativism. Paul objectively defines love as keeping His commandments toward others.

a. The commandments mentioned reflect the second table of the Law. The first table defines love toward God - with 'all of one's being' serving as the standard; but the second defines love toward one's neighbor - with one's love of one's own self serving as the standard (Matthew 22:34-40). In fact, He says that if there are any other commandments not mentioned, they are "summed up" (anakephalaio§ - brought together under a single head) in this commandment from the Old Testament: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18).

b. The object of such love is left undefined. It literally reads, "Owe to none nothing except to love one another, for the act of loving 'the other' the law fulfills." This means that this principle applies to all "others" we could encounter (see Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37).

c. The Greek word for "fulfill" (plŃro§) is in the perfect tense; indicating a complete satisfaction of the demands of love.

C. Not only is love the fulfillment of the law; but the law is the objective definition of love. An implication of this is that love must never be separated from God's law. It in fact cannot be separated from God's law. Love and law are not mutually exclusive concepts; but are two sides of the same coin. All efforts to understand "love" in some way that sets it in contradiction to Gods' law leaves us with something that, by definition, is no longer love. As Christians, we must always oppose the idea that those two concepts can be separated; and must always objectify love by pointing to God's good law.

III. WE THUS FULFILL THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW THROUGH ACTIVE LOVE (v. 10).

A. Walking in love keeps us from harming one another. Love does no "harm" or "evil" (kakon) to our neighbor. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul wonderfully described how harmless we are to one another when we walk in love toward one another.

B. But more than that; he makes the positive assertion that love is the actual fulfillment of the requirements of God's commandments with respect to other people. This principle - that love is the principle that does not set the law aside but rather fulfills it completely - is one that we can fully trust. It has nothing less than the authority of the Lawgiver Himself behind it; and is reinforced in such passages as John 14:15; 15:10; Gal. 5:13-14; and 1 John 5:2-3.

* * * * * * * * * *

A closing thought: There's a story told about the Apostle John that has survived throughout church history. When he was very old - so old and feeble, in fact, that he could no longer walk - he was carried before the assembly of believers in church, spread out his quaking, aged hands, and repeated again and again this simple admonition: "Love one another - Love one another - Love one another." When asked why he kept repeating that same word of exhortation over and over, he said, "Because there is nothing else: attain that, and you have enough."

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