You may recall how the bulk of chapter 12 was a passionate plea from Paul that God’s children walk as those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and gave description of what that looks like.
This chapter ends in a similar fashion. Romans 13:8-10 (ESV) Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Recall last week how we were told to pay what owed, taxes, revenue, honor to whom it was owed? This section starts off confirming that – owe nothing to anyone, except love. Doug Moo points out that this is the one thing we cannot pay off, as we are to love one another as God in Christ has loved us. No matter how honestly and consistently we may truly love one another, we cannot love each other as He has loved us. So we will continually owe a debt of love – to Christ Jesus and His body – until we die or He returns. He presses this point as a lead-in to what is for some a controversial passage on the Mosaic Law.
If one rushes through this passage, it’s possible to see the familiar commandments that Paul quotes without grasping the message. Paul is making the same argument that Jesus did in Matt 22 when asked what was the greatest commandment. Matthew 22:34-40 (HCSB) When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
National Israel was commanded to love God with all heart, soul, strength, and mind – Jesus cites from their law found in Deut 5 and then from Lev 19 to love one another. We should know that even the most mature child of God is unable to love God completely as commanded; and that without His Spirit we cannot love one another rightly. And we cannot love God unless He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Biblical love, recall, is not the emotional reaction our culture calls love; it’s not something one falls into and out of. Biblical love is deliberate, informed, focused on the good (as God sees it) of another. Greater love than has no man, that he lays down his life for his friend. This is what Jesus did for us; this is biblical love. And so if we are loved by God and we actively seek to love one another, we fulfill the demands of the Old Covenant law.
Paul quotes 4 commandments from the Decalogue and refers to the several hundred others that national Israel had added, and he lines up with Jesus: that loving one’s neighbor as we love ourselves (quoting Lev 19:18 as Jesus did) fulfills the Law. Does everyone love himself, aren’t there some people who have “low self-esteem” and hate themselves? The Creator of all flesh said, through our apostle, Indeed, no one ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church (Eph 5:29). Just as there’s no such thing as an atheist (Romans 1), there’s no such thing as a person who hates himself. Lots of people hate their circumstances, based on their opinion that they deserve better. They have high self-esteem. So the ancient law, love your neighbor as yourself, recognizes what the Creator knows about us – we tend to love self above all! If we can love one another as much we as love ourselves, we are doing no wrong to our neighbor, Paul says, and we fulfill the law.