(Please read Romans 13:8-10 in your favorite Bible. I use the NIV in my study.)
A man and his wife were driving home from church one Sunday morning. After a few moments of comfortable silence, the woman said, “Cindy is sure putting on weight. Do you think she’s pregnant?”
“I didn’t notice, dear,” the man replied.
“Well, did you see how short Diane’s skirt was? And at her age!”
“I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t notice.”
“Surely you noticed the way the Smiths let their kids crawl all over everything during fellowship?”
“No, I didn’t see that either.”
“Honestly!” the woman said, disgusted. “I don’t even know why you go to church anymore!”
Why ARE you here?
Let me suggest the best reason of all: to give and receive love. Church is where we learn about love; it is like a rehearsal and pep rally where we are reminded about the essential importance of love and given a chance to practice it before we return to the world and put it to work.
Love is what we have received from God. It is the reason we celebrate in worship and the object of our prayers.
Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.
- Love is a DEBT in the sense that we “owe” it to one another.
The first part of v. 8 is good financial advice. V. 8 relates back to v. 7, which is about keeping our monetary obligations, mentioning TAXES and REVENUE. The Gk word for OWE in v. 7 comes from the same root as the word DEBT in v. 8. This is a chain of thought in Paul’s mind.
LET NO DEBT REMAIN OUTSTANDING takes v. 7 and generalizes it into a principle which can guide many of our daily decisions. Financial counselors will tell you to avoid debt wherever possible. Debt has a way of crushing our finances and straining our relationships. It’s a kind of stress that should be avoided. When debt is unavoidable, the next best thing is to pay it off as soon as possible, to not let it REMAIN OUTSTANDING.
On the other hand, Jesus taught “Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” in Matthew 5:42. Money should be the same as ministry in the eyes of a believer.
Church Father Origen wrote, “The debt of love is permanent, and we never get out of it; for we pay it daily and yet always own it.”
God has commanded us to love, that’s why we owe it to one another. In the Old Testament we find the command to love evident in the following passages.
– Love God = Deuteronomy 6:5 = LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.
– Love your neighbor = Leviticus 19:18 = DO NOT SEEK REVENGE OR BEAR A GRUDGE AGAINST ONE OF YOUR PEOPLE, BUT LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. I AM THE LORD.
In the New Testament the command to love is affirmed by Jesus and the apostles.
– In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said, “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. THIS IS THE FIRST AND GREATEST COMMANDMENT. AND THE SECOND IS LIKE IT: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.”
– Peter wrote, ABOVE ALL LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY, BECAUSE LOVE COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS. (1 Peter 4:8)
- Love is the fulfillment of every point of God’s Law.
Paul sets forth the principle in vs. 8+10: LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW. This is true because LOVE is the highest, best, and most reliable motive for keeping the LAW.
One way we know whether or not any word or deed is loving is to subject it to the standard set forth in v. 10: LOVE DOES NO HARM TO A NEIGHBOR. Love is distinguished by always wanting more for the other person than for self. Love motivates us to avoid doing anything harmful. Of course this means causing physical, mental, or reputational pain – harm of any kind. Love takes a positive approach every time.
The literal meaning of NEIGHBOR is “one who is near.” This means that the application of this command is universal – all the people we meet.
Paul offers four specific examples of how we’re to treat our NEIGHBOR in verse nine.
First, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of committing ADULTERY. Our English word ADULTERY translates the Greek word porneia.
It is the Bible’s base word for all kinds of sexual sin. Whether a person is married or single, this one term covers all forms of this kind of sin.
ADULTERY is not restricted to the physical acts of disobedience, but encompasses all the attitudes of the heart that put satisfaction of self ahead of devotion to God. For example, in Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus condemned
LUST as an act that makes a person as guilty of ADULTERY as the physical relationship.
Those who love keep their eyes and heart devoted to their beloved, so they are never guilty of ADULTERY in an emotional or spiritual sense or a physical one. Marriage is the one relationship where sexuality is approved.
Second, everyone who truly loves will not commit MURDER. This word does not refer to capital punishment or acts of violence in defense of self or the innocent. Some Christians believe this command forbids all forms of violence, but that is not what the text says.
Of course, there are other kinds of violence. Jesus taught that whoever condemns his brother is in as much danger of hell as whoever commits murder (see Matthew 5:21-22). Once again, unloving attitudes are as much sin as unloving acts.
Third, everyone who truly loves will not STEAL. Stealing is an offense to God for many reasons, but at its base it is a refusal to respect others and their rights to private property. The idea of DOMINION or ownership goes back to Genesis 1+2. Those who steal disrespect the dominion God has given others over their property.
Of course, people routinely steal things other than property and are thereby as guilty of stealing as someone who pinches physical goods. For example, the sins of gossip, lying, backbiting, and slander are sins because they steal from another person’s reputation.
Fourth, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of coveting. To COVET is to be so materialistic that you desire things you do not own. It may be a prelude to stealing. It is a sin because it is a selfish irritation and dissatisfaction with what God has provided. It betrays a lack of faith & trust in God.
The truly loving person will not COVET because they will care more about the owner than the item. They will recognize that the owner and their treatment of him will continue into eternity, but the thing in question will not.
All of these examples are problems that would be solved if we loved our neighbor as ourselves, if we kept the Golden Rule. Notice how Jesus expressed this in Matthew 7:12: “IN EVERYTHING, DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU, FOR THIS SUMS UP THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.” Does that sound familiar? That’s exactly what Paul wrote! Imagine what kind of a home, church, community and world we would have if everyone abided by this foundational ethical principle. It is simple, portable, and it works.
Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.
“Almost a century ago, two young medical school graduates, along with their doctor father, tried an important experiment. They built a small sanitarium on a farm outside Topeka, Kansas (USA). Oftentimes patients were sent to impersonal institutions where they might remain their entire lives.
“The doctors were Charles Menninger and his sons Karl and William. The Menningers had a different idea. Their sanitarium would not be impersonal. They were determined to create a loving, family atmosphere among their patients and staff. Their vision was to grow a community of doctors, nurses and support staff that would cooperate to heal patients.
“To this end, nurses were given special training and were told, ‘Let each person know how much you value them. Shower these people with love.’ Many of the patients received more love and kindness at the Menninger Sanitarium than they had ever experienced before.
“The treatment worked – spectacularly. [At the end of the first six months, the time people spent in the institution was cut in half.] The experiment was a resounding success and the Menninger’s revolutionary approach to healing and their radical (for that time) methods became world famous.
“Karl Menninger later wrote numerous books and became a leading figure in American psychiatry. ‘Love cures people,’ Menninger wrote, ‘both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.’ His work demonstrated just how true that statement is.”
“Love cures people,” that’s a quote worth remembering, isn’t it? We’ve learned today that love helps us keep God’s commands: indeed, it is His greatest commandment. Love is the most important thing.
The flipside of love is holiness. To be genuine, you can’t have one without the other. Holiness is the practice of love in our relationships, the things we do that are in keeping with God’s commands.
One of the chief places where love shows up or is conspicuously absent is in our conversations. The words we say and the way in which we say them goes a long way in revealing whether we are truly in Christ or not and that’s why the NT spends so much time on them.
(If you’d like to see the video version of this message,