Summary: The marks of true Christian behavior

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.

In the previous section Paul outlined the marks of Christian behavior toward the various segments of society. Among themselves there ought to be genuine love. If there is to be any competitiveness among the saints, it ought to be exhibited in the manner that each one gives deference toward the other. Simply put, the church is to be characterized by its love for the brethren (Romans 12.9-13). Beyond that the true Christian returns good for evil. This is one of the main ways he disarms those who oppose the gospel (12.14-21). Regarding the governing authorities, every person should willingly be subject to those appointed over them, recognizing that God has sovereignly ordered the affairs of this world for his own purposes (13.1-7). What belongs to Caesar should be given to him, and what belongs to God should be rendered to him (Matthew 22.21). Following these points Paul gives a general guideline about how Christians should behave toward their neighbors. So he returns to the all inclusive command of love: the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.


Paul segues from the Christian’s obligation to pay his taxes (Romans 13.7) to an exhortation to full his obligation to love his neighbor. In pointing out that the debt one owes to love cannot be completely paid, Paul returns to the central theme begun in 12.9-21. “Love is an obligation as well; we owe it to one another, for where God’s word and Spirit are effective, love rules our mind and volition. And we are required to obey it; if we undo this obligation, it becomes our guilt. But love is distinct from all legal obligations because it has no boundaries. All other debts can be paid off; every legal obligation can be fulfilled, for each one requires only a limited effort. Love, on the other hand, does not desire the avoidance of individual evils, nor the production of particular goods; it is the will that desires community, and it enters us into the community with everything we are. Hence love cannot end; it lasts as long as life does. Hence it also accomplishes everything the law requires, for the community cannot endure if the other’s right is refused” (Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, p. 245).

The Levitical law prohibits retribution of one Hebrew against another; indeed, it requires that God’s people love one another: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19.18). There was considerable debate among Jesus’ contemporaries as how best to summarize the Mosaic law. Jesus did it by linking Deuteronomy 6.4 (Shema) and Leviticus 19.18 when he was confronted by a lawyer (at the prompting of the Pharisees) with the question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets” (Matthew 22.36-40). In the upper room he gave his disciples a “new commandment” that they should love one another as he loved them (John 13.34-35). Paul understands the law as being fulfilled in Christ. When he says the one who loves another has fulfilled the law, he is not saying there is no place for the ten commandments. Indeed, “he includes the prohibitions against adultery, murder, stealing and coveting as part of the law of love” (Thomas Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, p. 325). Elsewhere in Paul’s epistles he includes other commands and prohibitions of the Decalogue (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5.10-11; 6.9; Galatians 5.20; Ephesians 4.25; 6.2). That Paul intends that the few things he mentions here ought not to be construed as exhaustive is evident from his comment: … and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Other commands from the Mosaic law are included in the law of love as well. Similarly, in 1 Timothy 1:10 Paul says “if there is anything else opposed to sound teaching,” suggesting that other commands could be cited. Surely love receives the priority in both Romans and 1 Timothy (1 Tim 1:5). The affections of the heart are the essence of love, for what is in the heart will flow into one’s life. That is probably why Paul speaks of anger and bitterness more than murder. Still, love must not be separated from external commands, even commands that come from the Mosaic law. No one can claim to be “loving” and at the same time commit adultery, murder, steal, or covet. Commands give some texture to love so that it does not float in an airy-fairy sphere. People may feel very loving in their hearts, but their lives contradict their feelings. Paul believed that some elements of the law were still normative for believers since the prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, murder, stealing, lying and coveting are still in force, as is the injunction to honor one’s parents. (Schreiner, p. 326)

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