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 about how God transforms us and makes us new creations. As a result we are able to love others as ourselves. No longer do we love people arbitrarily based on certain standards but now we love them intelligently.
Today, we are going to look at how love is the fulfillment of the law.
LOVE DOES NO HARM TO A NEIGHBOUR
Romans 13:10 says, ‘Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law’. Now, many people think that if we love somebody then that means we have fulfilled the law. But what this verse means to say is that only through love can we truly fulfill the law of God. Let us understand what this entails.
Earlier in verses 8 and 9, Paul states that if you love another then you have fulfilled the law. That’s a very positive statement. But then in verse 10 before stating that love is the fulfillment of the law, he makes a negative statement. He clarifies what love does not do. He says that if we truly love our neighbor then we will do no harm to that person.
That leads us to a few pertinent questions. Let’s examine them one by one.
1. WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
Now as we have already studied in the past, we know that the 10 commandments can be broadly summarized under two categories – relationship with God and relationship with others. So when Paul refers to the neighbor in this verse, he is addressing the second category – relationship with others.
So, when the Bible refers to our neighbor it is not limiting our relationships within the church. It refers to anybody and everybody around us.
PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
Let us look at a parable that Jesus said to answer the question of who our neighbor is.
Luke 10:25-29 says, ‘And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? So he answered and said – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then proceeded to tell him the parable of the Good Samaritan. He said that one day a man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was robbed, wounded and left to die. A priest and a Levite passed by and walked away not bothering to help this helpless man. They probably felt that it would be a burden to get caught in taking care of this wounded person when they had so many other ‘godly duties’ to finish. But then a Samaritan comes by, sees this wounded man and stops to help him. He takes him to an inn, tends to his wounds, stays with him and makes arrangement for his care. Jesus concluded his parable by asking the lawyer a pointed question. He said in verses 36 and 37, ‘So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him”. Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The irony in the story was that the Samaritans were a group of people despised and condemned by the super-religious Jews. Jesus’ parable sympathized with the Samaritan. Well, Jesus was trying to say that it doesn’t matter whether we have observed the commandments religiously. If we fail to exhibit love and compassion then we have not fulfilled the law. So, even if technically the priest and the Levite in the parable had not ‘murdered’ anyone, since they did not show compassion to a dying man they had not fulfilled the law. Therefore, it is only by loving and doing things that reflect love, can we truly fulfill the law. And we love like how God loved us by loving others as we love ourselves. We love ourselves and others unselfishly with acts that are motivated by mercy, kindness and compassion.
2. BELIEVER AND THE LAW
Many people are confused about how to live the Christian life. Some think that there is no room for the law in their lives and they can get by in life just by being good or kind and cultivating an attitude of love by meditation and other techniques. Sadly, it almost sounds like mysticism. Some others go to the other extreme. They think that if they carefully follow every law and commandment they are leading a good Christian life. They are the legalists – people who are rigorous in their application of the law.
Well, let’s look at what the Bible says. A plain reading of Romans 13:8-10 helps us understand that there is no extra emphasis given to either the law or to love. In fact both are given equal importance. Paul lists the commandments and then states that all of them are fulfilled in the one commandment that is ‘love your neighbor as yourself’.
BEING UNDER THE LAW
The Bible says that we are not under the law but under grace. Now when it says that we are not under the law, it means that until Jesus came we were all under the law. We were condemned and guilty. Romans 3:19 says that the law was given so that no one would or could justify themselves. Into that helpless condition of ours, Jesus came offering us redemption. We are now under grace through Christ Jesus. No one can condemn us anymore. We are not perfect of course, but we are in Christ and Christ’s righteousness and perfection has been accorded to us.
Additionally, at one point we were like moralists. We tried to live obeying as many laws as possible to keep ourselves from falling off the mark, at least on the outside. But deep inside we were battling with sin. So then again we were not able to fulfill the law perfectly.
BEING UNDER GRACE
Now on the other hand, some people think that being under grace implies that the law does not apply to them. But the thing is that the law is the most perfect expression of the way in which God would have us live today. The 10 commandments are the best life goals to have. However we sinners were unable to live by the law. Therefore, Romans 8:3-4 say, ‘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’. God sent His son Jesus to die on the Cross to justify us. We are therefore saved by grace through faith. And this can be fulfilled only by love.
Let us study this unique relationship of love and grace through a few Bible passages.
a. New creation
Ephesians 4:17-28 say, ‘This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus that you put off, concerning your former conductthe old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. “Be angry, and do not sin” nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer. But rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need’.
This passage talks about what happens to a person who becomes a new creation. Becoming a follower of Jesus does not mean that the law stops applying or that grace can be misused. For example – Paul lists some of the commandments and expounds on their application. He refers to the commandment of ‘thou shall not commit murder’ when he says that we should not sin in our anger. This is because angry reactions often lead to murders literally and figuratively. Of course, we must have legitimate and genuine anger over wickedness and injustice. But that doesn’t mean we should react in a way that causes us to sin. Instead, we must respond in the right way. That’s when the law is fulfilled.
Or consider another commandment that Paul refers to. He says don’t steal. But we don’t fulfill the commandment by abstaining from taking something from somebody. Instead, we fulfill it when we start working and give from our earning to someone who is in need.
b. United in Christ
Colossians 3:5-11 say, ‘Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. Now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all’. Here also, we see Paul listing the 10 commandments in a different way. He says that even though we had probably led sinful lifestyles and broken every commandment, but now that we are followers of Jesus he reminds us to live according to Christ. He doesn’t toss the law out of the picture. In fact he reminds them to not disobey the law now that they are Christians. But he emphasized that the focus is not on fleshly standards and criteria. Race, caste, status of freedom didn’t matter in the family of God anymore. As a new creation, we are exhorted to look at our brethren as in Christ.c.
c. Nitpicking of laws
Colossians 2:16, 20-23 say, ‘So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations. Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh’.
In this case, Paul is addressing people that were nitpicking about observing certain laws. Paul says that all such laws, including those of the eating, drinking and observing the Sabbath were all pointers towards Christ. They were not in themselves meant to be deal breakers but were meant to enable people to live in harmony with the law.
Let me conclude with two examples.
Imagine a person playing musical notes accurately. He hit the right chord, right note and technically was perfect. But, sometimes we don’t enjoy it much because it has no soul in it.
Let me give you another real life example. Once I was preaching in English. My Tamil translator had the best Tamil that I had ever heard. He knew the language really well. But he was very monotonous and boring. As a result he could not convey the essence of the sermon to the congregation.
The point of both these examples is that it is not sufficient to get just the letter of the law. We must get the spirit of the law. Paul says that as children of God we have now been given the Holy Spirit. We have the ability to do what the law says. And that is not through mechanical obedience, but through love.