Summary: Agape love as the fulfillment of the law.


Romans 13:8-10.

The imperative, “To no one nothing owe you (all), but to love one another” (Romans 13:8a) follows on from the discussion of being subject to ‘the powers that be’ who - whether we voted for them or not - are ‘ordained of God’ (cf. Romans 13:1). This earlier argument is rounded off with ‘Render to all their dues’ (cf. Romans 13:7).

In fact, the Greek verb translated “Owe” in Romans 13:8 is from the same root as the noun translated ‘dues’ (cf. Romans 13:7). So, the Apostle is not suggesting that we should never be in debt, but rather encouraging us to pay our dues on time.

The noun translated ‘debtor’ is also from the same root, and occurred earlier when Paul announced: ‘Both to Greeks and barbarians, both to wise and unintelligent, a debtor I am’ (cf. Romans 1:14). In that case the debt did not arise because of anything any of those cultures had given him, but rather because God had laid upon him the solemn duty to preach the gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:16).

In the same sense there is a debt which we should forever be paying: the debt to “love one another”. Why? Because “he who loves the other, (the) law has fulfilled” (Romans 13:8b; cf. Matthew 7:12; John 13:34; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

At this point the Apostle quotes some negative commandments from the second table of the ten commandments (Romans 13:9). They are not in the order with which we might be familiar (cf. Exodus 20:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:16-21), but that is of no consequence: Jesus quotes a similar random list (cf. Matthew 19:16-19). The point here is that Paul is summing up the second table of the ten commandments with what Jesus calls ‘the second’ great commandment (cf. Matthew 22:36-40).

Now, how can we love our neighbour as ourselves (Romans 13:9) unless we first know ourselves? We must first recognise what we are outside of Christ: poor wretched sinners in need of salvation (cf. Romans 3:23).

We cannot love our neighbour as ourselves unless we are born again (cf. John 3:3), and God gives us a new heart (cf. Ezekiel 36:26), a heart to love Him (cf. 1 John 4:19), and writes His commandments upon our hearts (cf. Hebrews 10:16). Then we will see the neighbour as God sees them, poor wretched sinners as we once were, or as brethren if they too are Christians (cf. 1 John 3:14). Once we are saved, we even love our enemies (cf. Matthew 5:44).

“Love to the neighbour, evil does not work” (Romans 13:10a). This line could almost belong to the song of agape love in the previous chapter (cf. Romans 12:9-13). But there is a clear link with the negative commandments of the previous verse (Romans 13:9).

I would suggest from this that the keeping of these negatives arises from the love that is within us. We are not under law, but neither are we lawless. Love is the outworking of “the fulness of the law” (Romans 13:10b).

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