WALKING IN LOVE
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’.
Last week, we studied four arguments from the epistle of John that tell us how to love one another.
Today onwards, we are going to learn about loving one another from some other stalwart teachers of the Bible. I must say that this was not a new teaching coined by any of them. They were only reiterating what has been there from the beginning. God created us in His image and likeness to live by, thrive and walk in love. But when sin entered this world, man became a slave of the devil. There was no room for divine love anymore. It went to such a tragic state that Adam and Eve’s older son murdered his younger brother out of hatred and envy.
Therefore, God used His prophets and followers to urge us believers to walk in love with one another and to be careful of the murderous spirit of Cain.
10 COMMANDMENTS REDUCED TO 2
The best model and advocate of loving one another was God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. Once when Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment, He replied that the first and greatest commandment is to ‘love your Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength’. The second one is also quite similar – ‘love your neighbor as yourself’.
We may wonder what Jesus did with the other 8 commandments. Well, basically, He had summed up the first four commandments under ‘loving the Lord’ and the remaining six under ‘loving the neighbor’. And later in John 13, Jesus further narrows it done to one commandment where He said, ‘a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another even as I have loved you, so that the world may know that you are my disciples’.
That helps us understand one basic thing about our lives as Christians. Christianity is about getting back to the God of love and becoming the creatures of love that God always intended us to be.
Now, having studied both Jesus’ and John’s teaching about love, let us now move on to studying Apostle Paul’s perspective on love.
OWE NOTHING EXCEPT LOVE
Paul begins the chapter by teaching about how we must respect and honor the worldly authorities. Therefore, he encouraged the believers to render all dues that they needed to pay to their leaders. He says, ‘Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor’. Then in verse 8, he says, ‘Owe no man anything except to love one another for he loves another has fulfilled the law’.
Now does that mean we can’t borrow anything in this world? Not really. If we are in desperate need, it is perfectly fine to borrow what we need. However, we must be certain to pay it back at the earliest. If not, we will bring dishonor to God’s name. Paul might have been hinting at this careless attitude but he also seems to be pointing at something deeper.
Let’s see what that is.
In Romans 1:13, 14, Paul says, ‘I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek’.
Paul felt like a debtor because he had the wonderful Gospel with him that he wanted to preach to the Romans but hadn’t been able to do yet. We can understand this better with an illustration.
Over a hundred years ago, a papyrus was discovered in Egypt that explained the word ‘power’. The word for power that was used in those days meant ‘prescription’. So the above verse would read as ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for it is God’s (power) prescription for those who want to be saved’.
Now applying this in our illustration, it would be like a man who was dangerously ill for a long time. He suffered miserably and then one day found a doctor who wrote him a prescription. Those medicines worked beautifully. He was healed completely. Then sometimes later he met another person on the road who seemed to be suffering from the same malady that had struck him. He would be compelled to reach into his pocket and share the magic prescription with this other person. If he didn’t do it, then he would be doing something wrong.
Likewise, Paul says that he is compelled to go to Rome and preach the Gospel – not as a touring evangelist but as someone who has found the good news of hope in Jesus Christ. He feels indebted to preach it to the Jews, Greeks, barbarians and all kinds of people in the world.
DEBT OF LOVE
So it is in that context that Paul says in Romans 13:8 about owing no one any debt except that of love. It means that in the world we must pay off all our material debts. But God’s love is one debt that we can never pay off. It’s a debt that we owe all the time. And then Paul says, ‘for he who loves another has fulfilled the law’. In other words, he is saying that if we love our neighbor, we have fulfilled the law – the Ten Commandments! He then picks 5 of the 10 commandments, that prohibit committing adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, coveting and any other commandments and sums them up under ‘love one’s neighbor as oneself’.
Now, even before Paul, Jesus had clarified the commandments during His life on the earth. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus picked up numerous commandments and taught their correct meaning and application. For example – He said, ‘you have heard it said that you shall not murder. But I say unto you. If a man is angry with his brother and calls him a fool, he has already committed a murder’. Or here’s another one. He said, you have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery. But I say unto you. If a man looks at a woman with a lustful eye, he has already committed adultery’. The Pharisees’ went by the letter of the law but Jesus explained the spirit of the law.
Today, there are a lot of people who do not like the law because they feel it is stifling and imposing. Therefore when John says that we must love one another because it is God’s commandment, many people find it hard to accept. That is because they have the wrong understanding of the nature of the law. Let us take a quick view of the nature of the law.
NATURE OF LAW
The most important thing is that the law was never meant to be 10 isolated lists of to-dos. Rather it was the detailed expression of love. Often many of us distinguish between law and love. But God never intended them to be separated. Law and love not exclusive, they compliment each other. We can treat them that way when we appreciate the law by its spirit instead of by its letter. The Pharisees’ sadly taught the law by the letter. Their teaching was legalistic. Jesus however taught the law with love. He showed us that the commandments were meant to teach us to love and to live in love.
The Pharisees’ taught that keeping the law or performing the right works could grant them Salvation. Jesus taught that we could have Salvation only by faith. Without being saved, we cannot follow the law. Once you become a believer, we live by the law of love, and love covers all laws.
The law was never given in a negative manner as a list of you shall not’s, was given in a positive manner meant to promote love and to teach us how to live by love. The law in itself cannot save us or make us worthy before God. It is simply an expression of God’s love working in and through us.
Now having understood the relationship between law and love, we mustn’t turn our noses up against the 10 commandments. They are the detailed expression of what happens when we walk in love. It’s like how we would give umpteen instructions to our beloved child when he travels to a different place for the first time. It is not that we don’t love him or trust him but we are concerned for him and we love him. We want to protect him from all harm. God’s laws are such instructions to us. They are His love reaching down to us and helping us to navigate through life safely. That’s why the Psalmist says, ‘Your law is a delight to me. It’s like honey in my mouth. Oh they are so wonderful. Blessed is the man who meditates on the Word day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, whose leaves shall not wither. He will give his fruit in his season and whatever he does shall prosper’.
LAW v/s LOVE
So, on one hand we have people who uphold the law (only) and on the other hand we have people that nitpick the detailed law (only). That’s why the Pharisees’ were upset with and envious of Jesus. Jesus went to the houses of sinners like Zaccheus who turned over a new leaf immediately. Jesus didn’t condemn and chide them! Of course, He taught them the truth, but with much love and grace. No wonder Zaccheus was convicted and gave away half of his wealth to the poor. Another time, the Pharisees’ brought an adulterous woman to Jesus to see how he would respond. He calmly told them that the person who had never sinned could begin stoning her! Everybody sulked away because there was not a single ‘non-sinner’! Afterwards, Jesus the perfect and sinless man who had all authority to stone her told her – ‘neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more’! He demonstrated that the law must be applied not by the letter by its spirit.
As we lead our Christian lives, let us not try to insist that people follow every law to the T. We are not in the business of conforming people to a certain shape and way. Rather we must preach love to them so that they become people of love who live in obedience to God’s laws.
Let me conclude with a real life incident. A mother once worriedly told me that she was concerned that her daughter who was coming to our church would become like some of these other “Christians” that she knew. I think you know what I mean. I had to assure her that Christianity is a life of love, that Jesus is all about love and that her daughter would walk in and live by love. Because that’s what real Christian faith is all about.