Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8 NLT
While this verse has been used as a proof text against indebtedness, that was not Paul's point. He is talking about a Christian's relationships with fellow believers and, in this case, with those outside the family of God. He has just addressed a believer's relationship with the civil authorities and now he deals with what is to be the overriding principle that is to control all our relationships: Love. It is the one thing we owe to all men that is never paid in full. We can never love enough. All our other debts should be paid when due and in full. But our indebtedness of love is to be ongoing and completely inexhaustible. Love is the ultimate expression of all the Law of Moses. To not commit adultery requires love. Love for the other person and their spouse. It is difficult, if not impossible, to murder another person if you love them the way Christ loved us. To steal something that belongs to someone else reveals a hatred and disdain for that person, but we are called to love them. Love sacrifices and gives, not takes. Love protects and defends, not hurts. Love is the driving force behind all of the law. Paul reminds us that all of the laws are summed up in this one commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does NO wrong to others. So one who loves as God intends, fulfills the law of God.
Paul is simply echoing the words of Jesus. "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other" (John 13:34 NLT). Jesus calls us to a life of love, but He also provides us with a clear example of the kind and degree of love He is talking about. We are to love other in the same way He has loved us – sacrificially, selflessly, completely, and never expecting any love in return. Jesus loved us to the point of death. His love for us resulted in His death for us. John recorded similar words from the lips of Jesus. "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15:12-13 NLT). Jesus would go on to live out the reality of His own words with His death on the cross. And Paul is calling us to live and love in that same way.
Why? Because the time is late. God's redemptive plan has an expiration date. He will not delay forever. We have been left on this planet to be the hands and feet of Christ. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). We are to express the love of Christ to all those we meet, especially those who don't know Him. Paul tells us, "The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living" (Romans 13:12 NLT). Paul lived with a sense of anticipation. He lived with a recognition that the coming of the Lord could be any day. He wanted all believers to live with urgency and not in complacency. The day of our future glorification, when our salvation will be complete, is nearer than we think. And with that thought in mind, we should live differently. We should love selflessly. Spiritual maturity should be our objective. Righteous living should be our obsession. Loving others, especially the lost, should be our passion. Time is running out. There is no time to waste. Spending however many days we have left, fulfilling our own selfish desires, or living like the world around us, would be a waste of time. It would be unloving. Right living and Christ-like loving go hand and hand. If we are to love like Christ, we must live like Christ. He was not distracted by the things of this world. He knew His days on earth were limited. He knew He had come to earth for a specific reason, and nothing would deter Him from accomplishing God's will for His life. What about us? Why are we here? What does God have for us to do? Jesus answers that question for us. "You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other" (John 15:16-17 NLT). He chose us, saved us, and appointed us that we would go and produce lasting fruit – changed lives – our own lives and the lives of others. We are to spread the Gospel and make disciples. We are to call the lost back to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And it all begins with love. We have to love the lost like Christ did. He came to save the lost. He endured the pain of the cross for the lost. And ultimately, He died for the lost, including you and me. All out of love. And we are to love others in that same way – regardless of how unloving and undeserving they may be.
Father, You have called and commanded us to love others. And that is so hard for so many of us to do. We can find all kinds of reasons to not love others. And as a result, we end up living selfish, self-centered lives that do not reflect who we really are and who it is we serve. Paul's call to live and love is hard to hear and even harder to obey. But You have given us Your Spirit to make it not only possible, but non-negotiable. There is no excuse for our lack of love. Give us a sense of urgency because time is running out. Your Son is going to return one day and there are still so many who have never experienced the love of Christ. May we be the flesh-and-blood expression of that love as we live out our days on this earth. Amen.