The debt of love – Romans 13:8-10

 

The Bible is full of very practical wisdom. The answer to all of life’s questions and issues are found within the pages of scripture. Here in our text, we find a simple life principle concerning the accumulation of debt. Paul mentions that we are to ‘owe no man anything.’ The idea here is that we are to not be in debt to someone in such a way that it causes him to be hurt or to suffer. There are several practical principles to consider concerning debt: (1) Avoid accumulating debt as much as possible. (2) If you must take on a debt, pay what you owe in a timely manner. (3) Treat those you are indebted to with dignity and respect, paying off your debt as soon as possible. Continuing with Paul’s thoughts concerning the believer’s response to human government, we are to pay what we owe and handle our finances in a God-honoring way.

There is one debt, however, that we as believers can never pay off. It is the debt of love. We owe a debt of love to our fellow man. Albert Barnes says, “Love is a debt which can never be discharged. We should feel that we owe this to all men, and though by acts of kindness we may be constantly discharging it, yet we should feel that it can never be fully met while there is opportunity to do good.”[1] Love knows no boundaries. “The obligation to love has no limit. We are to love not only those of the family of God but our “fellowman” as well. As God’s love extended to all, so must our concern reach out to believer and nonbeliever alike (cf. Matt 5:44–45).”[2]

Paul explains that ‘love is the fulfilling of the law.’ The point here is that when you practice true Biblical love, breaking the law is not going to be an issue for you. When the love of Christ permeates in your heart, you will naturally live a life of obedience to God’s Word. Why? Because your motivation for such obedience is love. “When we practice love, there is no need for any other laws, because love covers it all! If we love others, we will not sin against them.”[3]

As we mediate on this debt of love there are two things that we need to consider. The first thing to consider is the definition of love. The Greek word for love is ‘agape.’ In many passages of scripture, this term refers to the practice of benevolence or goodwill toward others. This tells us that Christian love is a verb. It is an action that comes from a heart that has been transformed. It is a sacrificial love, putting others ahead of ourselves.

A second thing to consider is the source of love. Because of our sin nature, it is unnatural for us to love everyone with real agape love. The only way to have such love is to go to the source of that love. The source of love is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus demonstrated to us what real love is all about when He laid down His life on the cross of Calvary. Jesus performed the greatest act of love that anyone can ever make. He literally gave His life for the salvation of the world. Jesus is the embodiment of love. To know how to love, you must know Jesus. This is why Christian love is mind boggling to the world. How do we love our enemies? How do we do good to those who abuse us? 1 Corinthians 5:14 says, “For the love of God constraineth us.” The word ‘constraineth comes from the Greek word ‘sunecho (soon-ekh-o).’ It means to hold together, to keep, or to compel. In other words, it is the love of Jesus that keeps us from sinning against others. It is the love of Jesus that compels us to do good to others even when they do evil toward us. Therefore, to live a life of love, to pay the debt  of love that we owe, we must be close to Jesus. The more we love Him, the more we will love others. The closer we are to Jesus, the less we will sin and the more love we will show to those around us.

You may have been trying to live a life pleasing to God by keeping the law. You may have worked hard to keep yourself from sin. Sadly, you find yourself continually failing in that endeavor. The reason you are having such a hard time is because your motivation is all wrong. Your motivation to do good comes from a desire to please God or to somehow find favor with God. Though your efforts are noble, they are in vain. You see, the motivation to do good comes from the love of Jesus that is within those who have truly come to faith in Him. When you come to know Jesus in a real and personal way, He will change your life in such a way that His love will constrain you or keep you from sin. His love will also compel you to perform acts of kindness and goodwill toward others. The deeper you go in your relationship with Jesus, the more loving you will be. Your motivation will no longer be to earn favor with God, for that is impossible, your motivation to good is now because you love Jesus so much. It is this kind of love, the love of Christ that is the fulfillment of the law.

 

[1] Albert Barnes. Barnes Notes on Romans. p. 291
[2] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, pp. 245–246). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 557). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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