8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one 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 covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV
Paul wrote the wonderful section in 1 Corinthians 13, and that has become the unofficial definition of love, and yet not many times do people flip to Romans 13 when they are searching out what love is. This section of scripture seems to be like Paul’s version of the Ten Commandments. Some direct commands to take action on. Paul starts out with “Owe no one anything, except love. Wow, owing love. If we did not think we as Americans were in debt already, now we get a new concept thrown our way.
The concept of owing some one love is a big challenge. When we have debt in this world, we pay what is owed and we move on. There is an amount that we know we need to pay, an obligation. We know the amount and we can understand there is an end. (Even though sometimes it seems like they are going to take eternity to pay, there is a date set). Other translations of this verse shed light on the meaning a bit more, such as the NIV translation:
8Let no debt remaining outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another – Romans 13:8 NIV
Paul goes on to explain that when we understand the loving part and the who we are to love the foundation is laid for of our behaviors. If you know someone that struggles with applying or understanding the 10 commandments given to Moses, you might want to attempt to share this section of scripture as an alternative.
Much like the second half of the commandments given to Moses, these are referring to a horizontal relationship, not specifically the the vertical. We face that manly challenge of loving our neighbor, and the hard part of loving our self. Many of us know so much about our self that we really can barely tolerate ourselves, let alone love ourselves. Our disappointment with ourselves often seeds the doubt of whether God love us or even can love us.
How much love do we owe others? Is there a limit of love you have for your parents? Or for your spouse or your kids? Is there a date out their in the future when we stop loving someone? Our debt to love our neighbor is never discharged until we cross into heaven. Love is a perpetual obligation, an indebtedness give to us by Jesus.
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. – Matthew 22:37-39 ESV
We know people or maybe we can ever reflect on the time when things were said like: “I will love them, but not them”. Or, “I don’t have to love them, I don’t even know them”. Those stir from the whole challenge of love your neighbor, love your enemies, love everybody. That just seems to get all messed up. Which might bring up the whole notion of who am I obligated to?
Have you ever thought of why men in the Christian faith are related to as brothers and women as sisters?
The Bible is clear that all people are God’s creation (Colossians 1:16), and that God loves the entire world (John 3:16), but only those who are born again are children of God (John 1:12; 11:52; Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1-10).
Scripture reserves a special reference to brotherhood. It is enjoyed by all who share the same elder brother, Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father. The idea that all mankind is a brotherhood and God is the Father of all dilutes the special character of redemption. By nature, Jesus told us, we are children of Satan, and therefore unbelievers are not our brothers. They are, however, our neighbors. The Bible does teach universal neighborhood of man. The law of the neighborhood, in which God is the supreme mayor, is the law of love, which is to be given to everybody. The question then arises, who is our neighbor?
Jesus answered that for us as well:
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” – Luke 10:30:37
Here is a crazy thought: the command “You shall not commit adultery” – If we love our neighbor, we will not commit adultery, because adultery is hatred of our neighbor. It is the destruction of our friends and family. If we steal from someone, we obviously do not love them. Why would you hurt someone you love?
If we truly love God, we will love others with a different approach than we did prior to being reborn and renewed. When we are still holding on to the idea of being our own god and just letting the Trinity in when we need assistance, we quickly judge others and make decisions to accept and love some, yet reject others. There is a separation of children of God and those that are not, but it is not a finite definition. A person that does not know Jesus as savior is not cast out, but seen as a possible relative in the future. We don’t know when they might get adopted into the family!
11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. – Romans 13:11-14 ESV
Paul, cries out in this section for an awakening. That we must come to our senses and not waste away our opportunities in this life. The term in many translations used as “night” is referring to these present times of evil, darkness, nighttime. We here many times about the full armor of God, but rarely do you hear about the armor of light. I think many of us can attest to the concept of works of darkness. There were times when we plotted and planned our sinful ways. Whether it was how we were going to get to a party or bar, what our options were to get home, or even how we were going to get the money we needed to buy our dope. If that was not enough, there are those plans and schemes to sin that consume us, how to get away with what we want to do and have it all work out. Whether that is pornography, food, or self-medication, it is of darkness with no intention to glorify God.
Don’t let this scripture slip away. Paul does not say walk and act one way during some parts of the day and then behave differently later. He says “let us walk properly as in the daytime”. It does not say “let us walk properly in the daytime and do whatever we want at night”. Like Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Paul considers attitude as important as actions. Just as hatred leads to murder, so jealousy leads to strife and lust to adultery. When Jesus returns, he wants to find his people clean on the inside as well as on the outside.
Our motivations are the first layer that is applied to the foundation of our lives. We have Christ as our cornerstone, but then we begin to build off that. Many layers can be constructed and we can do good for a while, then we get some bad layers in there. We get some wrong motivations in there and we begin to get a poorly constructed structure. Then we can work for a long, long time attempting to fix, adjust and straighten out what has been messed up. But sometimes we need to take on the mess with a better approach. Sometimes we need to invest the time to tear down the crap we have been struggling with and attempting to patch and paint to make it look better, but what we need is to take it down to the foundations and begin fresh.
This is also where having some other people in your life is so beneficial. They can help point out areas that we might be overlooking or pretending are not really an issue. They have to be people in our life that we care about. They have to be people that we are willing to hear the tough news from. If we don’t we go on pretending everything is just fine, but it is clear that our approach to managing our own life, playing god, has not been a good decision. The great thing is that we can stop and get the remodeling started at anytime with Jesus.
The closing line of this section is so powerful when we fully grasp it: do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Use discernment: “is the next thing I say or do going to glorify God?” – Then do the right thing!