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"God's Law of Love "
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
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
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
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.
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."