At the root of all sin is an unloving attitude of the heart that may or may not express itself outwardly. Regardless of whether or not an unloving attitude is expressed outwardly, it is still sin (Matthew 5:27-29). The Law of God is actually an expression of love. It is designed to reveal just how unloving we sinners are. For instance, murder is a capital crime because it is a violation of the obligation to love one's fellow man or men. At the root of murder is an unloving attitude that turns into an unloving act. This expresses the truth that the violation of any of God's Laws is a violation of the moral obligation to love. Love therefore fulfills the Law. This is what Romans 13:8-10 is all about.
The debt of love (Romans 13:8)
Owe nothing to anyone – Paul has just been speaking of paying taxes so the focus is still on the Christian’s financial obligation. However, neither the Old nor New Testament categorically forbids borrowing money. There are verses throughout the Bible that deal with lending and borrowing. But the principle set forth in Scripture is that the borrower is a slave to the lender and that the debt must be repaid as agreed upon both promptly and fully. The Scripture does not justify borrowing for the purpose of purchasing unnecessary things, especially luxuries that cannot be afforded. The ideal however would to be completely out of debt and live within your means. So the financial principle here is to pay what you owe to whomever you owe so that you do not owe.
Except to love one another – is a constant obligation. It is a debt we are constantly paying and constantly owing. We are to pay this debt everyday and forever owe it because of the love given to us by God through Jesus Christ. Our love for God because of His love for us is to motivate our love for others whether they are brothers or sisters in Christ or unbelievers or government workers or enemies. Our ability to love one another only comes through our presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices because of His love for us. We can give ourselves to every humanitarian and social cause and still not love one another (see 1 Corinthians 13:3). To fulfill Romans 13:8 we must fulfill Romans 12:1-2. Stanza four of At the Cross says, “But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do” (157).
For he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law – will be further developed in the next two verses. Just before we move into these next two verses let me say that when we practice love, there is no need for any other laws. As believers, we do not live under the Law; we live under grace. Our motive for obeying God and helping others is the love of Christ in our hearts. As we love others because we love God we fulfill the law.
The discharge of love (Romans 13:9)
Love is discharged not only by what we do for others but also by what we don’t do. Love is discharged when we don’t commit adultery (this includes looking on another person with lust). Love is discharged when we don’t commit murder (this includes being angry with your brother). Love is discharged when you don’t steal (this includes not paying taxes or debts and being a free-loader). Love is discharged when you don’t covet. Love is discharged when we love our neighbor as ourselves.
There are many other ways to demonstrate godly love. Of supreme importance is to teach and live God’s truth (1 John 5:2). Godly love never turns its freedom into an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). Love never rejoices in anything that is false or unrighteous (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love refuses to do anything, even things that are not sinful in themselves, that might offend a brother’s conscience and cause him to stumble (Romans 14:21). Love is kind and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32). Love is patient, kind, not jealous, does not brag, is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
The definition of love (Romans 13:10)
Love does not wrong to a neighbor and therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. When Jesus was asked by a lawyer (one skilled in the interpretation of God’ Law) what commandment was the foremost of all He answered, “The foremost is Hear O Israel! The Lord Our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31).
The first and greatest law is to love God.