Love Fulfills the Law! (Exposition of Romans 13:8-10)

According to a report from the Federal Reserve released this past Thursday, household debt increased at a faster pace than at any time in the past twenty years in 2005 to a record $52.1 trillion. Similarly, a story from last August’s U.S. News and World Report titled “Drowning in Debt” shows that the average amount of credit card debt per cardholder has increased from $3,900 to $9,9312 in the past ten years! If these statistics are accurate, many Americans can identify with the bumper sticker that I’ve seen which paraphrases the song of Snow White’s seven dwarves: “I owe, I owe, so it’s off to work I go!”

Christians, however, are told by the apostle Paul in this morning’s text to “owe no one anything”! I don’t believe that Paul’s intention in this text is to forbid a Christian ever borrowing money, but rather requires that all such debts should be repaid promptly per the terms of the contract. Christians should have no unpaid bills! Every debt that is owed must be paid in full! There is one exception, however. There is one debt that can never and should never be considered to be paid in full. That debt is our duty to love one another!

In this morning’s message we will seek to answer three questions about the text of Romans 13:8-10. First, Why is this Love our Duty? Second, How is this Love Described? And third, To Whom is this Love to be Demonstrated? Let’s look now at the text of Scripture in Romans 13:8-10.

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (10) Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (NKJV)

I. Why is this Love our Duty? v. 8a
Paul has just completed a description in verse 7 of our duty as citizens to the ruling authorities. Those duties include taxes, customs, honor and fear. Paul now makes a transition to the topic of love to our fellow man. He chooses to speak of our love for one another as a duty or debt that we owe. We are told to “owe no one anything” or which comes to the same thing: Don’t owe anyone anything! A Christian must pay his debts! But there is one exception to this command. In other words there is one area in which a Christian may consider himself free to be in debt. That one area is in our duty to love one another. What Paul means is that there will never be a point in time when that debt can or should be considered paid in full!

I’ve been blessed to be able to pay off a few loans in my lifetime and after the last payment has been made a copy of the loan along with the title deed is received in the mail. On the loan is stamped the words “Paid in Full” in red ink on the page. You know what that means? I don’t have to make any more payments toward that particular loan! But, do you know what Paul is saying here? He is saying that you will never receive such a letter in regard to our indebtedness to love our fellow man. Therefore, each of us have a continuing responsibility to love one another! But, what kind of love are we to show to one another?

II. How is this Love Described? vv. 8b and 9
Love is described by the apostle Paul as the fulfillment of our responsibility to our fellow man as contained in commandments 6-10. In verse nine, Paul lists the last five of the Ten Commandments that are recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. These five commandments are related specifically to man’s duty to his fellow man. Paul evidently understands the Ten Commandments to consist of two major obligations: the first to God and the second to man. This also seems to be the understanding of Jesus concerning the Ten Commandments as we hear his response to a lawyer who was trying to trip Jesus up with what he thought was a difficult question:

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Deut. 6:5) 38 “This is the first and great commandment. 39 “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Lev. 19:18) 40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40 (NKJV)

This love fulfills the law and is an adequate summary of the law. The Pharisees had taken the Ten Commandments and expanded them into a religious system of 613 laws (365 negative commands and 248 positive laws). By contrast Jesus was able to reduce all the law into the two commandments to love God and your neighbor. This, however, is not a license to sin. As Paul reminded the Galatians:

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14 (NKJV)

There is a law in the United States which states that a woman must take care of her child. Suppose a man comes to a new mother’s home who says “Are you taking care of your baby? The Law says you have to.” The new mother, tenderly holding her baby, replies, “I don’t need a law to make me take care of my baby.” Why? Because she loves her baby! She feeds him, holds him, changes him because she loves him.

Paul describes the character of this love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in the following words:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; (5) does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; (6) does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; (7) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (NKJV)

As verse 10 summarizes, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Not only does love not harm a neighbor, it also does good to our neighbor.

III. To Whom is this Love to be Demonstrated?
The object of this love is referred to in three different ways in this text. First, as the “one another” which speaks of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Second, as “another” which implies those different from us. Finally, as our “neighbor” in verses 9 and 10. In a word, we are to show this love to everyone!

In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells a story to answer this question. It is the story of the “Good Samaritan.” Interestingly, Jesus tells this parable immediately after answering the question from the lawyer about the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus’ answer was to quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 about our duty to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It comes in response to the lawyer’s follow-up question to Jesus’ answer: “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus’ response to this question is one of the most familiar stories in the New Testament. It is the story of the “Good Samaritan.” The term “Good Samaritan” is a part of our national vocabulary. There are “Good Samaritan” Clinics, Shelters and Hospitals. If someone says the word Samaritan to you, probably the first associated word that pops into your mind is probably “good”, not so with Jesus’ first century Jewish audience. To the Jew of Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were the hated half-breed group of people who had perverted the Jewish religion by mixing elements of other cultures. But this story told by Jesus, has forever changed the world’s perspective on the Samaritans. In response to this proud and prejudiced Jewish lawyer’s question, Jesus responds with a story demonstrating that one’s neighbor could be anyone who does good to another. We can read this exchange in Luke 10:25-37:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” 27 So he answered and said, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” 29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 “Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 “On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36 “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” 37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

After telling this story in which the Jewish heroes of the day were outdone by a hated Samaritan, Jesus now asks a question of the lawyer in verse 36, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” Remember, the lawyer had originally asked the question: “Who is my neighbor?” In other words, who do I have to love in order to fulfill this great commandment? But Jesus has now turned the tables on him and asks the question which shows that the question of real importance is not “Who do I have to love?”, but “Am I a neighbor to those in need?”

The lawyer saw the point of the story, but apparently he was still too prejudiced against the Samaritans to state that the Samaritan was the neighbor, so he merely answers in verse 37, “He who showed mercy on him.” Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” This is our debt that is never paid in full! Love is not harming our neighbor, but instead doing good to him!

This is the radical love to which Christ calls His disciples! It also the love which God showed to us! He loved us when we were “without strength”, “ungodly”, “sinners” and His “enemies” (see Romans 5:6-10). This is the love to which Paul says we are indebted to show our fellow man!

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