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Romans 13:8-10

What is your ultimate responsibility as a Christian toward other people? Answering this question simplifies and clarifies how you need to live in this world. In Romans 13:8-10, Paul gave us the answer to this question when he declared, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” These verses are incredibly simple yet profound and pivotal in this epistle. Why? Remember that from the beginning of Romans 12, the Apostle Paul has been explaining the response of believers to the great mercy and grace of God. He has commanded us to respond to the Lord by surrendering ourselves to Him, to live without hypocrisy toward other believers, to deal lovingly with those who will hate and persecute us, and to respond respectfully to the governing authorities. Paul now explains our ultimate responsibility to people. 

What is your ultimate responsibility?

The simple answer to this question of your ultimate responsibility toward others is to love them. He declared, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Your ultimate responsibility therefore is, to love others. This is what you owe every person, whether they are your neighbor or a government official, and whether or not they are loving in return.

Sometimes when people read this command, “Owe no one anything,” they immediately think that this command is against people getting into debt or borrowing money. But this is simply not true! This passage of Scripture has absolutely nothing to do with financial debt or borrowing in any way. If you consider the context, Paul said in verse 7, “Render therefore to all their due, taxes to whom taxes are due, custom to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” Paul moves from this issue of paying your taxes and the debt you owe the state, your debt to honor the king, and simplifies your debt in general to all people, which is to love them.

In addition, it is important to clarify the fact that the Scripture does not condemn debt and borrowing at all. God’s word does warn people about debt and borrowing, because Scripture teaches that it makes you a servant to the lender. But there is not a complete condemnation of this practice of borrowing (Prov. 22:7). What you will find in Scripture is the direction of what to do when you do borrow money or things from others. For example, in Exodus 22:14, God instructs, “If any man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it becomes injured or dies, the owner of it not being with it, he shall surely make it good.” Notice the statement, “If any man borrows anything.” This is an acknowledgement that men are going to borrow things from others. Clearly then, there is no condemnation for borrowing. God is simply saying, “If you borrow an animal and it dies or is injured while you have it, you own it, and must pay for it.” Also, in Second Kings 4:3, the Prophet Elisha told a widow who had lost her husband, “Go… borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors.” The prophet was about to do a miracle to help provide for this woman and her need. If Elisha is commanding her to go and borrow some vessels, there can’t be anything inherently wrong or sinful with borrowing. Just remember, if you borrow something and you break it, or lose it, you should replace it. If your habit is to live in debt to others, you will always be poor. You must learn to budget and save, and be ready for those unforeseen emergencies that inevitably come to all of us.

Now let’s look at the meaning and application of these passages. To love others as we have been loved is our greatest debt that we owe others. That is the bottom line for every one of us. Love answers every question you will ever have about how to treat others. Jesus taught this truth in John 15:12 when He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus was trying to reinforce His most basic teaching on that last night before His crucifixion. This reciprocating principle is used in many forms throughout the Word of God. I am to forgive as I have been forgiven (Matt. 6:12). I need to give to other people as the Lord has given to me (Luke 6:38; Rom. 11:35). Therefore, this is an essential rationale for why you should love others. You have been greatly loved! 

Consider this truth and let God apply His Word within your heart. How have you been loved by God? How greatly has God given to you? How often have you been forgiven by God? This is what you owe other people. This is why Paul says “owe no man anything,” except to love! Who do you need to forgive as you have been forgiven? Whom do you need to help and give to as you have been helped? Whom should you love like this? 

What does Paul mean when he declares that love fulfills the law?

The concept that love fulfills the law is a recurring message by the Apostle Paul. In Galatians 5:14 Paul said, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The simple meaning of this statement is that love satisfies every commandment that God has ever given. There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament that are simplified into the 10 Commandments, and each of them can be fulfilled by your love for God and your love for people. When people ask me, “How should I deal with this person over this or that issue? This is the way they treated me; how should I respond?” After all the words have been spoken to address the individual issue, it all comes down to simply loving in word and deed (1 John 3:18). Love is how you should deal with your family members when there is a conflict. Love is how you should deal with your friends, employers or employees, or with those with whom you attend church. The simple answer is to just love those around you.

Choose to love; that is what God is asking you to do! If you choose to love, then you will always do the right thing. Do you realize that when you choose not to love, that is sin? The Apostle James said, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Even the newest believer reading this knows that this is the right thing to do. All of us know what is good and what is right. You know what love looks like in practical terms. You know when you are being loved, and you know when you are not being loved. So, if we want to know what we should do in any given situation, just ask yourself, “how would I want to be loved right now?” But remember love is a perfect balance of mercy and justice. Therefore, sometimes you need to use tough love with people, and other times you need to use merciful love (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42). This is the way God deals with you (Rom. 11:22).

Love is what causes you to forgive, and not hold grudges against others. Moses taught in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”  Notice that Moses puts two issues together that are completely opposed to one another. He commands the people to not take vengeance or bear a grudge against anyone, then gives the positive command to love your neighbor. Love is also the reason you should seek to reconcile with others after a conflict. Love is why you choose to forgive. Love is why you choose to serve and give to others. Love is why you help others, and show kindness and mercy to people. Love is why you do any of the things that are commanded in Scripture. Love fulfills the law! Love will cause you to believe, hope, and endure all things (1 Cor. 13:7). God’s love in you will always be a sacrifice. God demonstrated His love toward you by His sacrificial giving, and this is how you are to demonstrate your love towards others. This is the righteous thing to do.

The Righteousness of the law

In addition, love fulfills the righteousness of the law. Paul explained this concept in chapter eight of this epistle. He stated, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:2-4). Paul is explaining the weakness of the law to change a person who believes in Jesus, and how if a person yields to the Holy Spirit, they can be made free from the power and control of their sin nature. What the law could not do, Jesus did by taking upon Himself not only our sins, but our sin nature, which constantly fights against us to keep us captive to our sinful behaviors. Paul then makes the most incredible statement about what Jesus has accomplished. Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law by His love for us, by dying in our place. This act of love fulfilled God’s righteousness that requires the death of all sinners.

Christ’s act also allows those who believe in Jesus to be made righteous, simply because they believe in what He did. Notice that the righteous requirement of God’s law is fulfilled in us, not by us. This is a very important distinction. People who think that they can fulfill the righteous requirement of the law in their own strength by doing good things for others are sadly mistaken. Why? Because it is impossible to ever do enough good deeds to achieve the righteous requirement of God’s law. To do so would require you to be sinless and perfect. The only person who is sinless and perfect is the Lord Jesus Christ. However, here is where the grace of God appears for those who believe in Jesus. God doesn’t want you striving to justify yourself, or try to obtain a righteous standing before Him; He wants to simply give His righteousness to anyone who believes in Him. Paul explained it this way: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 3:21-24). Once a person believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit begins to work within them to produce the fruit of the Spirit, which is love (Gal. 5:22). Then, notice at the end of verse four, Paul reveals one requirement for all this to take place. He says that this work only takes place in those, “who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” If you are going to walk according to the Spirit, then that means you must be under the control of the Holy Spirit. As a believer seeks to continually walk under the Spirit’s control, love continues to be produced in their lives. The fruit of the Spirit, which is love, then fulfills the righteous requirement of the law.

The best illustration of this truth is realized when you encounter someone that you don’t love. In fact, you may even feel hatred in your heart toward this person. If you are trying in your own strength to fulfill the law of God, you will realize that you are totally failing. What do you do at this point? You will either strive in your own power to obey the law of God, or you will yield and allow the Spirit to fulfill His righteous requirement in you. My encouragement is to simply admit, “God, I don’t like this person. Forgive me for my hatred and hard-heartedness, and please fill me with your Holy Spirit.” Once you take this step you will suddenly realize that He is God, and He is doing a real work inside you by fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law, which is love. To surrender to God in this manner, and to experience God changing you from within and filling you with love, is a supernatural work that only the Holy Spirit can do. Then you understand what it means to have the righteous requirement of the law fulfilled in you! Oh, beloved ones, yield and allow Him to fulfill His work in you!

The error of self-righteousness

However, if you try to fulfill God’s law in your own strength, all you will accomplish is external behavior modification. You will produce a superficial smile and external acts, but without a genuine work of God’s love within. In addition, you will also begin to think you are a pretty good person to be able to accomplish this. Self-effort will only generate self-righteousness and arrogance! You will look at other people who struggle in their lives, and you will think, What is their problem? They should get it together, and do what they are commanded to do! If you deceive yourself with self-righteousness, you will stumble yourself continually.

A true understanding of the law of God should not make you think that you can fulfill it, because you can’t! What you should realize is that you are constantly breaking God’s law, which should make you feel guilty before God. Any other thinking concerning the law is clearly not biblical. Notice how Paul viewed the law of God. He declared in Romans 3:19-20, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” So, why did God give the law? It was to help men realize what His requirements were, and to reveal that they were breaking those commandments. It was to cause men to feel guilty before God, not become self-righteous. Paul declared that the law was a tutor or schoolmaster to bring us to Jesus Christ. He wrote, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). Once you realize that you are guilty, because you cannot obey the law, then you cry out for a Savior! This is exactly where God wants you!

Can anyone keep the law?
There are many professed Christians who think they can keep the law. Is that really possible? No! In fact, the Scripture is emphatic that no one can keep the law. How can I be so sure? Paul said concerning the Jews, “For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh” (Gal. 6:13). Jesus said the same thing when referring to the religious leaders of His day. He said, “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?” (John 7:19). The reality is that there is no one who keeps the law, because we are all sinners by nature. The best illustration of this fact was given by Jesus to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. He was trying to help them realize their utter need before God, and keep them from the erroneous thinking of the Pharisees who thought that they were keeping the law. Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” Have you ever been very angry with someone, or called a person a fool? Then you have broken this commandment to not murder, and you are in danger of hell fire. Why is your anger considered the breaking of this commandment to not murder? Because anger and hatred toward another is the root cause of the act of murder. Jesus was showing the disciples the spiritual nature of the law, and that you don’t have to actually murder someone to break this commandment.  

Jesus also said in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Have you ever lusted in your heart after another person sexually? Have you played with the thoughts in your head? Then before God you have broken His commandment against adultery. Again, it is the attitude of the heart that Jesus was showing which brought forth the sin of adultery. Why does Jesus take these two commandments and emphasize them over the other eight? Because these are the easiest commandments for all of us to see that we have failed to keep God’s law. We have all been very angry with someone, or have had lustful thoughts toward another. To break one of His commandments is to be guilty of breaking them all (James 2:10). That means that every one of you reading this today is guilty before God, and in need of a Savior. You have offended God and have broken His law. This should cause you to humble yourself before the feet of Jesus. So, when you meet someone who is really self-righteous, what should you do? Take them to Matthew 5 and explain the purpose of the law. The law is much more than obeying an external command. The law reveals the internal attitude of the heart. Once a person realizes this fact, they will never be able to rationalize away the fact that they have not broken God’s law.

However, when you share your faith with people, many times people will say to you, “I’m a good person, I don’t need all this Jesus stuff you are sharing.” When this happens, just take this person directly to Matthew 5 and the Ten Commandments. Ask them, “Have you ever angered in your heart against anyone?” And they say, “Hmm, yes.” Then tell them, “That means you have broken God’s law. Ask them again, “Have you ever lusted in your heart after someone?” They again will say, “Yes.” Tell them again, “You have broken another one of God’s commandments.” Then continue, “Have you ever lied?” They will respond again, “Yes.” Tell them again, “Well then you have broken another one of God’s commandments.” I would suggest continuing to ask these questions until it brings the person to a place where they see they need a Savior. Explain to them that God wants to bestow His mercy and forgiveness on them, if they will simply ask for it. Then ask them if you can lead them in prayer to receive His mercy and forgiveness. 

How can the Ten Commandments be fulfilled with love?  Vs. 9

In verse 9, Paul gets very practical and quotes four of the Ten Commandments and explains that all of these commandments are fulfilled by love. He also explains that if there are any other commandments he hasn’t listed, they will also all be fulfilled in love. Paul is basically saying that if you love someone, then you won’t do these things to them.

Now, there are some people who say, “I don't like all of the negative commandments that God gives. I’m tired of ‘don’t do this, and don’t do that.’” My response to comments like this is simple. God uses negative and positive commands throughout the Scripture to clarify explicitly what He means by these commandments. Let me give you an example. When you hire a contractor to do work in your home, you do the same thing. You tell him, “This is what I’d like you to do, but I don’t want you to touch this part of the house.” You have given both negative and positive commands to give explicit instructions for what you want done. God does the same thing. He gives affirming and encouraging direction, but also negative and corrective instruction. For example, look back at Romans 12:19-21 and the practical instruction Paul gave. He told them to not avenge themselves or take vengeance on others, but then turned right around and encouraged them to feed their enemy and give him water to drink. Paul’s last word on the subject in verse 21 is a combination of both a negative command and a positive command. He said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Therefore, if you are truly going to understand a negative admonition in the Word of God, you must also see the positive admonition of what you should do instead. This will fully explain God’s direction. Within the Ten Commandments, you will find two positive commands and eight negative ones.   

One of the greatest examples of God’s positive commands is found in the well-known passage of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. There God spoke to the people and said, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” The primary command in these verses is not talking about an external behavior, but about a heart attitude that should love the Lord with all that it has. Without a heart to love God you will not be willing to obey any command. God knows this, which is why Jesus taught that this is the greatest commandment of all (Matt. 22:37-40). If you love God then His words will be in your heart, and you will want to teach this love for God to your children. 

The question naturally follows, are you teaching your children to love God, and why they should love Him? Are you diligently teaching them God’s Word, what it means, and how it applies to their lives? Do you talk about God’s truth when you sit in your house, when you walk with them or drive in the car? I have found that while eating dinner or driving in your car are two of the best times to do a devotional time with your children. They are captive, doing what you are doing, or going where you are going. My plan has been to take Scripture that addresses the issues with which they are struggling, and to find God’s promises that address these struggles. I print these verses on paper and ask them to read them to me. I then ask them what these verses mean, and how they could be applied in their lives. It produces some of the best discussions about the Lord that I have ever had with my children. Try it and see what I mean.

The Ten Commandments

What I would like to do is to take each of the Ten Commandments and show you how love will fulfill each of them. Remember, as I’ve already covered, all the law is fulfilled by one word, love. Even the negative commandments are fulfilled by love. So, let's look at the Ten Commandments briefly. 

Consider now the application of Paul’s teaching.

The most important thing to do now, is to end this study with some application of the things I have just taught. You must apply this truth that love fulfills the law, or this teaching is worthless. So, the first way you can apply this teaching is to ask yourself if are you trying to fulfill the commandments and the law of God in your own strength and effort? Or, is your primary goal to simply fall in love with God more today? Trying to fulfill God’s law by your own effort will only frustrate you, and ultimately cause you to give up. But if you ask God to draw you more completely into a love relationship with Jesus, you will find the success and victory in your walk that you desire. Remember, all Jesus wanted to know from Peter was, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:16). Loving God is the ultimate thing He wants from you. Why should you love Him? Because He first loved you (1 John 4:19). If you realize that He loves you, and you respond by loving Him in return, you will fulfill the great commandments and find the truest satisfaction in this world that can ever be found.

The second way you can apply this teaching is to ask yourself the question, who do you need to love? Who are those people closest to you that need your love and help? In addition, there may be people around you that you are not loving, because you hold a grievance or a grudge against them. Is this person a friend who has hurt you? Is it an employer who has fired you? Is it a family member who has lied to you, or stolen from you, or excluded you from the family? Are you loving them? If not, what is hindering you from loving? Is it that they are unwilling to reconcile, or is it that you are unwilling to deal with the issue? This brings me to the last application of this study.

The third way to apply this teaching is to make sure that you are not the impediment in loving another. When there is an unreconciled issue happening between you and someone else, you must examine yourself to make sure you are not the one who is hindering the reconciliation. Remember the encouragement in the immediate context of this passage. Paul said, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). This is what you owe others! Paul also commanded in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” If it is possible to reconcile with them, as much as depends on you, do it! Yes, there are circumstances where it is not possible, because the other person is unresponsive, but make sure you aren’t the unresponsive one. Please, examine yourself and make sure that you have forgiven “from the heart” (Matt. 18:35). If you have refused to forgive, then you are the problem! Once you have chosen to forgive, have you then gone to the person who has offended you and sought reconciliation with them (Matt. 18:15)? If the other person turns and asks for your forgiveness, did you verbally forgive them? If not, then you are the problem, because this is not loving. If you have done all these things and the person still refuses to reconcile, then what should you do? You pray for them. Jesus said in Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” But, if you think to yourself, I’m not praying for them, they hurt me and used me. Can you not see that the problem is in your heart at this moment? I can understand feeling like this, but if you want to fulfill God’s law of love, then you can’t remain in this attitude. The reason Jesus said to pray for those who use you and hurt you, is because you can’t pray for others and continue to hate them. The hypocrisy of your own heart will condemn you. So, do everything in your power to love and reconcile these issues.

Remember, to love someone also means that you sometimes have to use tough love with them. Tough love entails speaking the truth in love to people about whatever the issues are. Tough love does not mean that you whitewash over the problems to keep the peace. That is not love. Jesus spoke the truth to people in love throughout His ministry. Just look at how Jesus spoke to the churches of Asia in Revelation chapters 2-3. Jesus said to many of these churches, “I have this against you” (Rev. 2:4; 2:14; 2:20). Jesus then told them what they needed to do to get their lives right with Him. He told them exactly what needed to change. Therefore, this is a very important balance that needs to be kept in mind as you consider what real love looks like. May God give you this balance.