One Another Texts: Love
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” - Romans 13:8
As of late, the contents of Romans 13 are being slung around every which way like a Frisbee on a nice summer day. There is much discussion and division on what our relationship to the government means or looks like, or at what point submission may or may not be required, or whether we must always be yielding to governmental demands. While this is a good thing over which the church should dialogue, it seems, however, as if the first half of Romans 13 has gained outsized attention, while the second half has gone sorely neglected. What the church may need most in our desperate times is to bring into these discussions the reality of our obligation to love one-another and thereby fulfill God’s law.
Debt is a reality in the bible, but with this recognition we are told to be sure that we are on top of our payments (Romans 13:7), and we are a slave to our lender until we pay it off (Proverbs 22:7). But as Christians, we know that we were enslaved to sin - because of a debt we could not pay - and this past enslavement begs the question: what happened to the debt we owe?
All humanity is born indebted to God because of the sins we commit against him (Colossians 2:13-14) because we owe him perfection (Matthew 5:48), and this indebtedness makes us slaves of the sin. This is a fundamental truth. But, this debt was satisfied by Jesus Christ on the cross, by canceling our record of debt, in his body.
A Debt Unpayable
There is a feeling of hopelessness when we look at the mortgage or credit card bill. Like staring out at an expansive ocean which only ceases because of the Earth’s curvature, is looking at the ongoing amount owed due to increased interest rates, and taxes. One may say to themselves, “I’ll be paying this till’ I’m dead.” This scenario, however, is one that we experience as Christians, yet rather than bemoaning its validity, we greatly rejoice over it. Since our debt of sin was paid by Christ, we are now enslaved to God (Romans 6:22) and this enslavement leads to eternal life! Yet, this enslavement has with it new expectations.
Something interesting has happened now that our debt toward God has been paid in full. We have actually become perpetually indebted, yet again, permanently to our neighbor. We are commanded, “owe no one anything, except to love each other…” This passage come on the heels of Paul telling us to “pay to all what is owed” because being in debt is slavery. But notice that we are now being told that we do owe something: we owe our neighbor love. We owe to our neighbor the obedience of God's law - found in the last six commands of the decalogue - for our neighbor’s sake and for the sake of loving God (Romans 13:10). But this can never be paid in full. We can simply never say to our neighbor, “Ya know Jim, I showed you love last month, I’m free and clear of my debt to you.” Jim could rightly say, “does that mean you’ve finished obeying God’s law?” This is because I can no more stop loving my neighbor than I can stop obeying Christ. I would be reckoned a non-Christian in that event. The love I owe to my neighbor is precisely because I am commanded by God to obey the two greatest commandments: love God, love neighbor.
Now, unlike the Pharisee who believed that loving God fulfilled the law (Matthew 15:5-6), - which allowed them to neglect the second half of it - we see that those who love their neighbor as themselves fulfill the law. This is a true statement, because to love your neighbor is here seen as an effect of obedience to the first four commands of the decalogue, which are the cause. So the reason I can never satisfy my debt to love my neighbor, is because I can never stop loving God! As I continue to grow in my love for God, so too will my love for my neighbor grow!
This means then, that as we live amongst each other on the Lord’s day and throughout the week, and as we interact with our neighbors and our co-workers, we ought to be partaking in a silent competition, trying to outdo each other in showing honor (Romans 12:10). This means we must show deference, and be thoughtful, humble, and reasonable amongst one another (Philippians 2:3-4; James 3:17). This means when we disagree we must be careful with our words, and critique with love and unity in mind. We mustn't be seeking only to be right, but rather we must seek to gain our brother in love (Matthew 18:15). We must do this, because if we do not, then we cannot say that we love God (1 John 4:21).
Therefore, let us seek the power of God to sanctify our hearts and earnestly pray that we would with eagerness pay the debt we owe to our neighbor all our life long, with joy!
Nick Muyres is a USN veteran and now lives in Pittsburgh PA with his wife and 3 children. He owns and operates a handyman business and is a graduate of Liberty University with a Bachelors Degree in Christian Counseling. He is currently pursuing a certification in biblical counseling through RPTS with the ACBC.