Halfway through chapter 12 Paul put this exhortation to us – “Let love be genuine” (vs. 9).
- At that time we understood Paul’s exhortation as a call to a:
Paul then went on to bombard us with numerous ethical exhortations.
- Abhor evil
- Hold fast to good
- Love your brother with affection
- Show honor – a lot
- Don’t skimp on enthusiasm but be fervent by the Spirit in service of God
- Rejoice in hope
- Be patient in tribulation
- Pray all the time
- Give to your fellow saints
- Show hospitality
- Rejoice with rejoicers
- Weep with weepers
- Live in harmony
- Do not be a snob, but be in relationship with “the lowly”
- Never be wise in your own sight
- Do all you can to live peaceably with everybody
All of these were to be enacted and understood through this kind of love…
- A sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.
Beginning in verse 13:8, Paul exhorts us to love…again.
- And he makes this curious statement:
- “Owe no one anything, except…love” (vs. 8).
This is fairly straightforward:
- “Believers are summoned to pay the debt of love to others, which in this case is a debt that never comes to an end” – Tom Schreiner.
With this never-ending debt of love in mind…
- Let’s unpack the rest of our text.
Love and Law:
Paul makes some interesting connections between love and the law.
- “…the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (vs. 8).
- A bunch of commandments “are summed up in this word…love your neighbor as yourself” (vs. 9).
- Because love “does no wrong to a neighbor…love is a fulfilling of the law” (vs. 10).
I want us to look at three features of our love debt.
(1) We need to recognize Paul is teaching Jesus here.
- Matthew 22:34–40 (ESV) — 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
- John 13:34–35 (ESV) — 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus’ words above take place in two different contexts.
- The Matthew text is outward facing – to our neighbor.
- See Good Samaritan parable for Christ’s expansion of neighbor.
- The John text is inward facing – to the body of Christ.
- They are not mutually exclusive.
- It appears Paul has both in view (though some argue just the Roman church is in view).
Given Jesus’ emphasis on love…
- It comes as no surprise, then, that Paul brings this up in Romans.
In fact, Paul is so “all in” on love he says in Colossians…
- Colossians 3:14 (ESV) — 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Additionally, Paul seems to see our capacity to love in this Romans/Jesus’ sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting way to be tied directly to our union with Christ.
- 1 Timothy 1:14 (ESV) — 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
- 2 Timothy 1:13 (ESV) — 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Going forward then…
- This love is possible for the Christian because of our relationship to Christ.
- We have Christ’s example, and the Spirit whom he sent to indwell us, on whom to rely.
- And our never-ending debt of love (no doubt rhetorical) is sustained by the inexhaustible supply of love from Christ.
(2) Image-Bearers have an obligation to fulfill the law.
Paul says a few peculiar things in our text.
- He says the one that loves, “has fulfilled the law” (vs. 8).
- He says, “love is a fulfilling of the law” (vs. 10).
Paul says the same thing in Galatians.
- Galatians 5:14 (ESV) — 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The idea behind “fulfilled” (pleroo) in these contexts is this:
- “to bring to a designed end…an obligation” – BDAG.
The implication, then, is that image-bearers, both Jew and Gentile (Christian and non-Christian)…
- Live a life in creaturely obligation to Creator.
- And this creaturely obligation is a purpose for which God created image-bearers.
Specifically, in our text, Paul is saying that the “designed end” of our obligation (the law) is love.
- The way we bring it to completion is love.
- “love is the fulfilling of the law” (vs. 10).
What is “the law” Paul is talking about?
Remember…Paul is talking to both Jew and Gentile Christians.
- So, in my opinion, our understanding of the law has to account for that.
But Paul seems to already have zeroed in on the Mosaic Law.
- Romans 13:9 (ESV) — 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- The last bit being a quote of Leviticus 19:18.
Yet, we know that Paul plainly teaches that Gentiles do not have the Mosaic law.
- He says, “…Gentiles, who do not have the law…” (Romans 2:14)
- The Mosaic Law is not their kind of obligation.
So my answer to our question about Paul’s use of law in our text is this:
- Although Paul gives us the example of the Mosaic Law in 13:9…
- He ultimately has in mind not the “the thing” called the Mosaic Law…
- But the more general obligation that ALL image-bearers have to God.
Now, it is true that this obligation is outlined for the Jew in the Mosaic Law.
- And this is the example Paul gives in our text.
- “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (vs. 9)
But, as we saw, all image-bearers are obligated to God – including the Gentile.
- And as Paul taught himself…
- Gentile obligation to God takes a different shape than that of the Mosaic Law.
And Paul is kind enough to tell us what shape their obligation takes:
- Romans 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
So in our text, Paul uses the Mosaic Law as example of obligation…
- But he knows that it isn’t the only example.
- His point is that, whatever our obligation to God looks like, it is fulfilled by love.
If this take is correct, we can paraphrase Paul this way in Romans 13:8 and 10.
- The one who loves “has fulfilled one’s obligation to God as exampled in the Mosaic Law” (vs. 8).
- “love is a fulfilling of the obligation to God as exampled in the Mosaic law” (vs. 10).
Why do all image-bearers have this obligation to God?
This is a topic worthy of study in itself, but we will leave it to the following:
- All image-bearers’ obligation to God “…is a consequence of God’s lordship attribute of authority. God has made us according to his plan and for his purpose. That purpose is to glorify him, to please him. The fundamental standard of human conduct is that we should reflect God’s own nature. As he has made us in his image (Gen. 1:27–28), so we should behave in a way that images him: ‘Be holy,’ he says, ‘for I the LORD your God am holy’ (Lev. 19:1; cf. 11:44; Matt. 5:48; 1 Peter 1:15–16)” – Michael Bird.
In other words, all image-bearers are under obligation to image God, their creator.
(3) Finally, the image-bearers expression of a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love is a fulfillment of our obligation to God.
- Paul says very clearly, “therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (vs. 10).
How can this be?
In Romans 8, Paul has given us some help in understanding how love fulfills this obligation.
- Romans 8:3–4 (ESV) — 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Here we run headlong into the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- The only possible way an image-bearer can even come close to fulfilling our obligation (Jew or Gentile) to our Creator God…
- Is by our participation, through the Spirit, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Those in Christ, by virtue of their union with Christ…
- Are empowered to walk according to the Spirit of God.
And from this power and love…
- We fulfill – “bring to a designed end” (BDAG) – our obligation to God.
Crucially, our fulfilling is not based on anything we have done…
- But based on the person and work of Christ.
- He did what we could not do.
So when we love with a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love we are fulfilling God’s purpose for us as image-bearers.
- We testify to our connection to Jesus Christ!
- We testify that we are insufficient, but he is sufficient.
- We magnify Christ’s power to sustain our love – our debt – to our neighbor.
This is why Paul would say this about love in 1 Corinthians 13.
- 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV) — 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.