Through the Bible in One Year

Day 279

Romans 13:8-10

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  Romans 13:8-10

These verses are a helpful indication of how to use the Old Testament law.  Paul focuses on the half of the law that relates to our actions toward other people.  These commands, he says, can be summed up as a command to love.  The commandment to not commit adultery can be restated positively as paying the debt of love to the potential other adulterer and the spouse(s).  If we bear in mind these debts of love, we will not contemplate adultery.  The command not to murder will not necessary if we focus on how to lay down our life in the service of the person we want to kill.  We can apply the same to stealing and coveting and all the other Old Testament commands about relating to our neighbors.  Devoting our lives to love is more radical than fulfilling the prohibitions in the Ten Commandments (John 15:13).

We can really divide this section into two parts.  Part 1 being verse 8, and part 2 being verses 9-10.  However, before we deal with these two sections let’s deal with this concept that we have been discussing called love.  Paul throughout his writings only uses one Greek word when he talks about love: “agape.”  In Greek there are six ways of saying the English word “love.”

  1. “Eros”—Represents the idea of sexual passion and desire.
  2. “Philia”—Concerned the deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms who had fought side by side on the battlefield.  It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them.
  3. “Ludus”—Represents playful love, which concerns the playful affection between children or causal lovers.
  4. “Agape”—Love for everyone or selfless love.
  5. “Pragma”—Longstanding love commonly found amongst long-established couples.  “Pragma” is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance.
  6. “Philautia”—love of the self, or self-love.  Greeks such as Aristotle realized there were two types of this “love.”  One was an unhealthy variety associated with narcissism, where one becomes self-obsessed and focused on personal fame and fortune.  And a healthier version which enhanced ones wider capacity to love.

Of these six Greek words for love, only two of them ever used in the Bible: “agapao” and “phileo.”  In the Biblical sense “phileo” speaks of a warm, natural and more spontaneous sense of feeling and affection.  In other words “phileo” is love based on your emotions and/or feelings.  However, in the Biblical sense “agapao” speaks of an intelligent, thoughtful and purposeful love involving the entire personality, but is primarily a decision of the mind and will.  In other words, “agape-love” is not a love based only on you feel about a person, because your feelings towards a person or a group of people can change from day.  Rather, “agape-love” is based on your decision to love a person or group people regardless of how feel about them, or regardless of what they may or may not have done to you.  “Agape-love” is you choosing to love someone not because of some feeling, but because you have made a conscience and rational decision to love them.  Which is what you need to understand before we can go any further in this section of Paul’s letter to the Roman church.

Romans 13:8 says this, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”  Paul here is telling us that: Christians must avoid unnecessary debt, and that we should be responsible in paying our bills.  This does not mean that we are prohibited from borrowing from others in case of serious of need (Exodus 22:25; Psalm 37:26; Matthew 5:42 and Luke 6:35).  But it does speak against both going into debt for unnecessary things and showing an attitude of carelessness or unconcern in repaying debt (Psalm 37:21).  The only “debt” we are to remain under is that of love for one another.

Romans 13:9-10 says, “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  “Love” is fulfilled not only by positive commands (i.e., things we are to do), but also by “negative” ones (i.e., things we should not do).  All of the commands mentioned in this passage involve things that we as Christians should not do because they could bring harm or negative influence on others.  Love must always look to the good and best interest of others.

There are three important take aways that we can and that we should get from these three short verses.

  1. Love is positive; yet it must also be negative (i.e., placing restrictions on certain behaviors) in that it takes into account the overwhelming human tendency toward sin, selfishness and cruelty.  Eight of the Ten Commandments are restrictions (i.e., they address things God’s people must not do, see Exodus 20) because sin comes naturally, while goodness does not.  The first evidence of Christian love is turning from offenses and willingly giving up anything that brings harm and sorrow to others.
  2. The idea that Christian ethics (i.e., principles of moral conduct) must be only positive—dealing with all the things we can and should do—is a misleading notion.  It is based on selfish thinking that is more focused on individual rights and liberties than on what is best for others.  This type of thinking is common in an ungodly society, which typically rejects standards that would restrain or prohibit behavior stemming from sinful desires (Galatians 5:19-21).
  3. Christians who use their liberty and freedom of conscience to act in ways that might mislead, confuse or cause others to violate their consciences are not acting in love.  True Christian love concerns itself with what builds others up spiritually, whether that be in the things we do or the things we avoid.

That last point is where we will pick tomorrow as we move into Romans 14 where Paul admonishes those of us who are strong in the faith to show love to those who are weak in the faith.

Jeremiah 8:8-9:26, Colossians 3:1-17, Psalm 78:32-55 and Proverbs 24:27

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