Monday, April 15, 2024

2024.04.15 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 13:8–10

Read Romans 13:8–10

Questions from the Scripture text: Whom mustn’t we owe anything (Romans 13:8)? Except what? What has the one who loved done? What commandments are listed in Romans 13:9 (except in the critical text—ESV, NASB, etc.)? How does verse 9 cover all other commandments? What saying sums them all up? What doesn’t love do (Romans 13:10)? Therefore, what does (is) love?

What debt may a Christian conscientiously leave outstanding? Romans 13:8–10 prepares us for the sermon in the midweek prayer meeting. In these three verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the only debt that we should leave outstanding is the debt of love. 

The debt of loveRomans 13:8a. You owe God everything (cf. Romans 11:36). Since Christians are to be living sacrifices (cf. Romans 12:1), this is doubly true for them. We remember that this was part of the point of the language of “gift” in Romans 13:6-13: the Giver (Christ) has designated the recipient (His body) of the gift that is in you. Service unto the local church in the roles in which He has placed us is not optional; it is an obligation, a debt. You owe your brothers, your gifts. You owe your neighbor to do what is good before him and be at peace with him (cf. Romans 12:18–21). You owe your ruler to do what is good under him, treating him as one instituted by Christ for good (cf. Romans 13:1–7). We must fulfill of this obligations (Romans 13:8).

But even after you have paid all of these debts, still the debt of Love remains and will never run out. There is nothing that is more in the image of God than adoration of God and devotion to God. God is love—even from all eternity, even within Himself. And just as He is infinite and eternal, so also the adoration and devotion due to Him is inexhaustible and undiminishable. Whatever he loves for us to love, for His own sake, we must love to love for His sake.

Love and the lawRomans 13:8-10. As we consider Romans 13:9, we might notice that it lists only the last five commandments and the second great commandment. But we must not think that this is because the Christian may safely ignore or even deemphasize the first table of the law or the first great commandment. As we have seen by considering the context from Romans 12:1ff, all of the horizontal loves of the second great commandment are subordinate to the first great commandment. Rather than being in competition with the first great commandment, the second Great commandment is actually subsidiary of it and sustained by it. 

And notice how highly this speaks of God’s commandments! It is sad that many professing Christians come away from this passage thinking that somehow love has replaced the law. Even if the verses sounded like they said this, we must never understand Christ to be saying by one Scripture the opposite of what He has said by another Scripture (cf. Matthew 5:18). 

Love and law-keeping are not in tension with one another. Reading closely, this passage teaches that neither can be understood properly without the other. Love without the law is purposeless—an undefined nonsense of theoretical or emotional abstraction. And law without love is powerless; without love, the law cannot begin to be obeyed. Indeed, neither actually exists without the other.

One reason that we tend to set love and law over against each other is that our own lovelessness does not embrace the goodness of the law. Another reason is that we had to be vigilant against law-keeping in our justification. After learning this lesson, we may be silly and ignorant enough to export our vigilance against commandment-keeping from justification into sanctification and how we now live. If we think that living by love is in tension with commandment keeping, we end up putting asunder law and love—two things that God Himself has inseparably joined together.

Fulfilling the law. Love of God produces love of God's law (cf. Romans 7:22, Romans 7:12, Psalm 119, 2 John 5–6, 1 John 5:3), which produces love of neighbor. Each love fills up the previous one. There is no such thing as love of God without love of God's law. And there is no such thing as love of God's law without love of neighbor. 

To think that one has true love for God's law, without true love of God, is legalism; it obeys, but it does not adore. And to think that one has true love for one's neighbor, without true love for God's law, is antinomianism. It isn’t loving but actually harming, and therefore hating, all along. Love does no harm to a neighbor (Romans 13:10), and God’s commandments define harm to us (Romans 13:9). 

We love by keeping the law. This is very obvious in some places like the 5th and 6th and 8th commandments, but we really need to learn this lesson in connection with the 7th and the 9th commandments. In order to answer the perverse logic of the world, we must be clear that breaking the 7th commandment is never “love” and never “harmless.” In order to avoid the broken parenting and relationship-philosophy of the world, we must be clear that breaking the 9th commandment is never “love” and never “harmless.” 

Defining love. In addition to the relationship between love and God’s law, the debt-language in Romans 13:8 helps us correct wrong definitions of love. Since love is owed to all, all the time, it cannot be dependent on a feeling that we fall into or fall out of. Surely, without the feeling of love, there is not actual love. But loving feeling is just a part of what is owed—along with loving attitude, loving intention, and loving action.

Coming out of Romans 13:7, It is obvious that this love is different to each person, depending on that person’s particular relation to us in the Providence of God. Different things are owed to different people. Chapter 12 has given us different sets of obligations for brethren, neighbors, and enemies. Romans 13:1–6 gave us still another set of obligations to rulers. And Romans 13:7 teaches that different things are owed to different people. 

This has implication for nearness of relation within the home, within the congregation, within the broader church. We are finite and cannot love everyone with the same intensity or effort. So our first love is for the church over the world, but with more intensity and effort for those brethren the Lord has joined our lives to. Even within the congregation, we cannot love all equally, so responding well to God Himself and His providence to us, love to the congregation from within our household takes priority. Outside the church, and at a lower priority than love for believers, community involvement and nationalism are important because they  are appropriate responses to God’s providence.

This also speaks to a drastically different approach to romantic love than that taken by the world and indeed by much of the church. It means that until there is a betrothal, there is a duty to restrain romantic love; and after a betrothal, a duty to foster it as preparation for the marriage, and after the wedding, a duty to foster it continually for the rest of the life. Love is not something that we fall into or out of, but a right response of the whole man, under God, to the type and nearness of the connections that He has given us with others. It begins with adoration of Him and devotion to Him and proceeds to those thoughts, affections, intentions, and actions that are due to any other, out of this love for Him.

How has this passage improved your definition of love? How would you answer someone who says that people should be free to “love” whom they want and how they want? Whom has the Lord put in your family? In your congregation? How does His providence to you, concerning them, place you under obligation to love them? How is your love for them reflecting the level of your obligation to them? 

Sample prayer:  God, we thank You that You are love and that You have demonstrated Your love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Grant unto us to love You by keeping Your commandments. And grant that loving You with all our hearts would produce love for our neighbor, made in Your image, and especially love for our brother, renewed into Your image in Christ. Thank You for Your perfect providence in our lives. Grant that the varying levels of intensity and effort in our love for others would appropriately reflect how near to us Your good providence has placed them—all of which we ask in the Name of the Son of Your love, even Jesus, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP2  “Why Do Gentile Nations Rage?” or TPH424 “All Authority and Power”

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