Pastor David B. Curtis


The Debt of Love

Romans 13:8-10

Delivered 10/21/2012

In our study last week we looked at Romans 13:1-7, and I said that these verses are referring to the synagogue rulers in Rome. In Rome the church met in a synagogue. Both Jews and Gentiles met in the synagogue to worship Yahweh. Paul is specifically addressing the Gentile believers here. He wants them to treat the non-believing Jews in the synagogue with love that they may be won to Christ. Remember what Paul said in Romans 11:

But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. Romans 11:13-14 NASB

Paul is calling on the Gentiles to do all they can to promote unity in their assembly so that the Jews who do not know Yeshua (the broken off branches) will come to faith in Him.

When Paul finally arrived in Rome, he called together the leading men of the Jews:

When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Yeshua, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. Acts 28:23-24 NASB

Paul was seeking to show Israel that her promises have been fulfilled in Yeshua. How would his preaching of Yeshua be received if the Gentiles in the synagogue who had believed in Yeshua had treated the unsaved Jews arrogantly and unlovingly?

Someone may ask: Since God is sovereign over salvation, why does it matter how believers act toward unbelievers? God will save them no matter how we act, won't He?

Remember Yeshua Ha'Moshiach, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Moshiach Yeshua and with it eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:8-10 NASB

"For this reason"--that's a hina with a subjunctive, which is a direct purpose clause."I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen"--why, Paul? If they are elect, God will save them. Why does Paul want to reach the elect? In order that they may obtain what they've been elected to obtain. The point is this, God has chosen them to be saved, but God also gives us this incredible privilege of being the human agency by which the saving Gospel is brought to their hearts.

Paul wants to be able to win his fellow Jews in Rome to Yeshua when he arrives so he asks the Gentiles to live righteous lives, submitting to the authorities in the synagogue and loving the unsaved:

Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Romans 13:7 NASB

The synagogue leaders that they were to submit to were teaching and enforcing the Torah. Here Paul says that by walking in love you are submitting to the teaching of Torah. They are to love the "stumbling" so that they may be won to Christ. If Paul was talking about civil authorities in 1-7, how does this section on Torah and love fit the context?

Paul has told them to submit to the synagogue leaders, and now he tells them how. They are to walk in love toward the unsaved Jewish members in the synagogue that they may be open to the Gospel of Yeshua.

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8 NASB

"Owe nothing to anyone"--this verse has been misapplied to condemn the practice of borrowing money. Phillip's paraphrase of this verse states: "Keep out of debt altogether except that perpetual debt of love which we owe one another."

One of the very practical questions this raises is whether Christians should every borrow money? Does this mean that believers are not to have credit? Does that mean that we are not to borrow, that we are not to take money on interest, that we are to have no financial obligation at all? Does it mean that if we can't pay cash, we can't buy it? Is that what it means? Is there no basis for borrowing anything, anytime, for any reason?

Many Christians have taken the verse as a mandate not to go into debt. George Mueller, the founder of the Bristol Orphanages in England 150 years ago, repeatedly cited Romans 13:8 as the decisive verse for why Christians should never go into debt.

Does Mueller's interpretation of this verse fit with the Analogy of Faith, which is the primary rule of hermeneutics that says that Scripture is to interpret Scripture? Does Scripture forbid borrowing?

"If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. Exodus 22:25 NASB

The word "interest" here is the Hebrew word neshek (neh'-shek); it comes from the Hebrew word nashak (naw-shak'), which means: "to strike with a sting (as a serpent); figuratively, to oppress with interest on a loan; bite, lend upon usury. Nashak does not mean any interest. It means interest that is unfair.

So it was alright for Israel to lend money; and if it is alright to lend, it must be alright to borrow:

"If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 NASB

Again we see that Israel was to lend to those in need. Please understand that this borrowing was for a need, not a greed.

The Scripture characterizing a righteous man says:

All day long he is gracious and lends, And his descendants are a blessing. Psalms 37:26 NASB

The assumption is that if it's perfectly all right to lend it, it must be perfectly all right to borrow it. Yeshua said:

"Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42 NASB

If you have the means and someone needs to borrow, then lend to them. The Scripture does not recommend indebtedness, but neither does it condemn it. Very few of us could live in a home if it wasn't for the fact that we borrow money. Romans 13:8 is not a prohibition against a proper use of credit; Paul was not engaging in a money management course here, but is underscoring a Christian's obligation to express divine love in all interpersonal relationships.

"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another"--the word "owe" here is the verb of the noun "due" in verse 7. The word "owe" is opheilo, which means: "to be under obligation." So in verse 7 he says, "Render to all what you are obligated to give them: tax to whom tax; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." Then in verse 8 he says, "Be obligated to no one except to love." I think what he is saying is, "Your only real obligation is to love one another. If you are doing that, you will render to all what is due them, be it a tax or fear or honor."

So how did we get under obligation to love others?:

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16 NASB
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11 NASB

The word "ought" in both of these verses is opheilo (ah-fay-lo), which means: "to be under obligation, to be in debt." It is because God loved us that we are under obligation to love one another. It is a debt that we are to be paying.

Origin, the early church father, said, "The debt of love remains with us permanently and never leaves us. This is a debt which we pay every day and forever owe. The debt of love."

Then Paul goes on to say, "For he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law"--walking in love is actually fulfilling Torah's ultimate intentions for the people of God.

The word "loves" here is agape. Agape was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love), a self-sacrificial love. Agape love, is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave His Son for it--that was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were His enemies. That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interests. That is what love is.

The phrase "has fulfilled the Law" is the perfect of completed action. It means that the Law has received the full measure of that which it requires. So how does loving our neighbor fulfill the Torah? Certainly not in the way Yeshua did:

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Matthew 5:17 NASB

Christ fulfilled the Law by obeying it perfectly, by carrying out every one of the righteous demands of the Law. On one occasion He asked, "Which one of you convicts Me of sin?" (John 8:46), to which no one responded affirmatively. He was the sinless Lamb of God and was without spot or blemish. Therefore, He fulfilled the Law by perfectly meeting its righteous demands.

Christ also fulfilled the Law by fulfilling all the types and prophecies of the First Testament. All of the illustrations in the First Testament sacrificial system focus on and find their fulfillment in Him. All of the prophecies given regarding the coming Messiah, His kingdom, and His salvation find their fulfillment in Him.

The ultimate way that Christ fulfilled the First Testament Scriptures, the one which gets the greatest emphasis in the New Testament, is that He met the righteous demands of the Law in providing salvation through His death on the cross. Thus He has fulfilled the Law and brought it to completion by paying the penalty for our sins.

Let me remind you of what we learned in Romans 8:

so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:4 NASB

"So that"--is hina and expresses the divine purpose, which is, "the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us"--the righteous requirements of the Torah are fulfilled in us. Paul uses the passive voice to emphasize that Yeshua fulfilled this requirement so that nothing of God's justice, no more legal demand remains for us. Nothing is left for us to do in order to meet judicial satisfaction before God. There is no charge that can be made against us because the Law's righteous requirements have been met in our representative, the Lord Yeshua Ha' Moshiach.

"Who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit"-- doesn't have anything to do with how we act. It is about being under the Old Covenant, which is death; or being under the New Covenant, which is life. This verse doesn't say that we might fulfill the Law, but that it might be fulfilled in us. We are passive; God is the actor. The requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us by God. What is it the Law requires? Righteousness! Covenant faithfulness.

So how does loving our neighbor fulfill the Torah? I think that when you see people loving one another, what you are seeing is the visible expression of the Law and the Prophets. This behavior among people manifests openly and publicly and practically what the Torah is about. I think we could say we are fleshing out Christ.

The synagogue leaders were teaching Torah, and when the believing Gentiles in the synagogue were loving others, they were in a sense submitting to the teaching of Torah and doing what the Torah commanded. But they were doing it through abiding in Christ, not by obeying rules:

For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Romans 13:9 NASB

These laws would have been unquestionable measures of the validity of the Christian Gentiles claims to the synagogue. If they weren't doing these, they would have been kicked out of synagogue.

Paul is saying all of Torah is summed up in, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF"--this is a command of Torah in Lev 19:18:

'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18 NASB

The rabbis had gone through the Torah and codified all of the Scriptures so that they had their 613 laws. And then, to those they added literally hundreds of rules and regulations and traditions. But Paul says that the entire Law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

When Yeshua was asked, "What is the greatest command?" He said, "Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor." In Romans 13, Paul doesn't quote loving the Lord with all of your heart. He writes that the entire Law is summed up in loving your neighbor. John Calvin writes, "Why did Paul call the selfless love of neighbor the fulfilling of the whole Law? Not because it is superior to the worship and adoration of God, but rather because it is the proof of it. God is invisible; but He represents Himself to us in the brethren and in their persons demands what is due to Himself. Love to men springs only from the fear and love of God." (Calvin's New Testament Commentary. 11:101.)

God represents Himself to us in those around us. We are called to love, to serve, and to sacrifice what we want, so that we might be used to do what God wants in the lives of others.

The command to "love your neighbor" doesn't mean much if you don't know who your neighbor is. The lawyer that tested Yeshua questioned Him as to who His neighbor was:

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Luke 10:25-27 NASB

This is exactly what Yeshua said was the greatest commandment, this man must have heard Yeshua teach:

And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Yeshua, "And who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:28-29 NASB

Yeshua answered this lawyer's question, "And who is my neighbor?" with the parable about the good Samaritan. In that parable the neighbor was a Samaritan. The Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with each other. There were religious and racial animosities. The scribes and Pharisees considered the Samaritans as the most hated on earth. So when Yeshua said your neighbor is the Samaritan, He meant that the person you most despise is to be loved. We are to love everybody.

When Paul says to "love our neighbor as yourself," what does "as yourself" mean? Well, first of all, the biblical commandment assumes that all of us love ourselves already. Everybody loves themself. We all have a built in desire for happiness, and we are to make that the measure of our desire for the happiness of others:

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, Ephesians 5:28-29 NASB

Pau says, "No one every hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it." That is what Paul means by self love. We all love ourselves, we nourish and cherish ourselves.

Everybody wants food to eat and will do almost anything to get it rather than starve. Everybody wants drink when they are thirsty and will do almost anything to get it. Everybody wants to avoid serious injury and death and will do almost anything to avoid them. The person who commits suicide loves themself so much that they cannot stand the situation they are in, so they kill themself out of self love.

Everybody seeks happiness, however they define it. And that is what it means to have self-love. So we are to take that powerful desire to be happy and make it the measure and the means of making others happy. In other words, make the degree of your own self-seeking the measure of your self-giving. Measure your pursuit of the happiness of others by the pursuit of your own happiness.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10 NASB

"Love does no wrong to a neighbor"--this sounds easy to do, doesn't it? Just stay away from your neighbor, just ignore them, and you won't do them any wrong. By the way, this is the Greek word kakos (ka-ko), which is the same word translated: "evil" in 12:17 and 21. The phrase, "Love does no evil to a neighbor" is a figure of speech called a "litotes." This means that a negative expression of this type implies a strong affirmative. If someone says, "He's no fool," he means he's pretty wise. So Paul means here, "Love greatly benefits the neighbor."

So the question arises, If we love, do we still need the Scriptures? How do we know the ways that we are to show love to others apart from the clarity of the Scripture? Some tell us that love would never say anything harsh or a corrective word toward another person. Most objections to church discipline are done on the grounds that it is unloving to put another believer on the spot and even remove him from the church.

The Scriptures clarify, direct, and perfect our love. Love will not lead us to break the clear teaching of Scripture! I have known Christians who justified adultery because, "We love each other so God must want us to be together." But that is nothing more than cloaking your sin in the name of love.

So it is my opinion that Paul is addressing Gentile believers in these verses calling them to love the unsaved Jews that rule over them in the synagogue and the unsaved Jews that attend synagogue. He wants their love of the brethren to be evident so that it will be clear to the unsaved that they are fulfilling all the Torah demanded, and that they are doing so because they are in Christ. Paul wants them to be a loving witness to the power of the Gospel. He wants them to live like this for the sake of evangelism.

Believers, I believe that Yahweh still wants His children to be a loving witness to the world. The water of life is still flowing from the Temple, and believers are to be Christ's representatives to the world. And we are never more like Him than when we love those who do not love us, when we love those who are our enemies.

Let me ask you a question, "How is that power of God manifested in the Church today?" To answer that we must first understand "power." What comes to your mind when you think of the word "power"? You might think of a force of some kind, such as the power of nature in hurricanes or tornadoes or floods. You might think of the power of electricity. You may also think of explosive force, such as that which is unleashed in dynamite or nuclear weapons. You may also think of authority that comes from a certain position someone may hold. Or you may think of miraculous signs and wonders. And there may be other images that come to mind as well.

But let me ask you this, "Did love come to mind?" Although it may not have, it certainly should have. Power and love do go together. In fact, love is a powerful force in the world! I believe that this is not only what the Scriptures teach, it is born out in the experience of people everywhere.

Love is powerful. We all seek to have it. We all need it. Love is perhaps the basic human need. You have often heard me say that the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 can be summed up this way, "Life minus love equals zero." The psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, declared that "Love cures people--both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it." And throughout history people have written about, sung about, and thought about love more than perhaps any other single human need. And I want to submit to you today that LOVE is the Church's power:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 NASB

In this text we see that love is inextricably linked with God. Our text says that love is of (or comes from) God. And it also says that God is love.

What does it mean when it says that love comes from God? Well, it simply means that God is the source of real love. True love is based in the very life of God Himself. In other words, there can be no real love without God being behind it. Love has its basis in God.

The word John uses here for "love" is agape. This Greek word was rarely used in Greek literature prior to the New Testament. In the New Testament, the word agape took on a special meaning; it was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love. It seems as though the early Christian church took this word out of its obsoleteness and made it a characteristic word for love.

But how do we know that God is love? It's one thing to say it, and it's quite another to see it. In the play, My Fair Lady, Eliza is being courted by Freddie, who writes to her daily of his love for her. Eliza's response to his notes is to cry out in frustration, "Words! Words! I'm so sick of words! Don't talk of stars burning above, if you're in love, show me! Don't talk of love lasting through time. Make me no undying vow. Show me now!" We don't want to simply hear about love, we want to see love. And God showed us what real love is:

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 NASB

If you want to see love demonstrated, look at Yeshua. He is the evidence of God's love. He is the demonstration of God's love. God certainly has shown us what true love looks like. In Christ we see the depth of His love and compassion for us. Christ came because God loves us. Christ came because God is love. Christ came because God saw our need for love and did something about it.

We should never be able to say to God, "Show me your love!" He has shown us. Look at the Cross. Do you not see there the love of God? Consider Yeshua hanging there in agony and pain. Consider what He suffered. He did it all for love. He did it all for you. That is the love of God demonstrated.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11 NASB

As I said earlier the word "ought" here is opheilo (ah-fay-lo), which means: "to be under obligation, to be in debt." Christians, we are under obligation to love one another. We all have the capacity to love, but do we all love? No! Why? Because love is a product of a life lived in dependence on God. Agape love is divine love, God is its source, and God loves through us as we walk in fellowship with Him. Our obligation is to stay in fellowship with Him.

I cannot understand Christians who think they can live a Christian life, a life of dependence, a life of love, without spending time reading their Bibles. It is impossible. Our memories do not retain and maintain what we need to know. We are built in such a way that we need refreshment and reminder--again and again.

Because God is love, those of us who claim to know God should live lives characterized by that love, because love is the Church's power:

No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:12 NASB

God desires for His love to be manifested in us. As we love one another, our lives are reflecting the very love of God. And this is how others will see God's love--through us! You see, while God's demonstration of His love through the death of Yeshua is a bold fact of history, many people will never look at that historical fact until they see God's love manifested in our lives. Nietzsche said, "Show me that you are redeemed, and I will believe in your Redeemer." The world is looking at us for evidence that there is a God of love. People may not be able to see God, but they can and do see us. How's your love life? Is your life manifesting the love of God in word and deed? Even small acts of love can have a powerful affect. Love is powerful. Never underestimate the power of the smallest deed done in love.

Let me close this morning with a quote from N.T. Wright. He says, "The way Christianity spread over the first three centuries when the Romans were doing their best to stamp it out, was not simply by people going into the market place and saying, 'Jesus is Lord you must believe in Him,' they did that too, but by people seeing that here was a community of people who lived in a totally different way. The Christians were known for going and helping people who were not their kith and kin, who were not part of their ethnic group or part of their business interests. If somebody was sick, if somebody was poor, the Christians would go and look after them. They'd say, 'Why do you do that? You've got nothing to gain by it,' and they'd say, 'Well, its because we follow Jesus and this is the way that Jesus does stuff.'"

It is our love for one another that bears powerful witness to the world that we are the disciples of Christ. It's not our doctrine that does that, it's our love. Just think for a moment how attractive, how influential, how powerful a loving person is. Be that person! Think about how you long to be around people who truly love you. Love is power. If you really want to have a powerful effect on the world you live in, abide in Christ and walk in love.

Let me says it again, we are never more like Christ than when we love those who do not love us, when we even love those who are our enemies. The bottom line is this: Without love we are powerless and totally ineffectual. We have a debt to pay to the world, and that debt is love.

Media #625

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322