5 May 2021Romans 13:8-10
Owe no one anything, except to love one another (v. 8)
In this Bible reading, Paul the Christian apostle is seeking common ground with his Jewish background. For almost a century some Jewish leaders had produced guidance like this. It is about how to behave in personal relationships. Rules, commandments and nuggets of wisdom about relationships were scattered over many sources. Within this reading there are two ‘rules of thumb’ and four illustrative commandments drawn from the Law of Moses (see Exodus 20:13-17). Hence:
- do not get into debt (verse 8)
- keep the written rules about relationships in the Jewish law (verse 9); and
- do no harm to another person (verse 10).
These and everything like them – notice the throwaway remark in verse 9, ‘and any other commandment’ (about personal relationships) – must be adhered to in every relationship. (For a similar list, see yesterday’s reading, Romans 12:9-16).
Would it not be helpful to pull these scattered fragments together or to identify some underlying principles? The notion of ‘love’ comes to the rescue. Love is expressed through each and every rule and regulation. Love is the sum of them all (verse 9). Love is their common purpose and goal – "the fulfilling of the law" (verses 8 and 10).
What, then, is ‘love’? It is not just an emotion or sentiment. It is behaviour that never harms or hurts another person, causes no damage to anyone, no offence and no pain. Love enables people and relationships to flourish without any threat or anxiety, and keeps everyone safe.
Love is necessary in all personal relationships. It is a permanent debt or obligation each person owes to every other person they encounter (verse 8).
So where is the authority for speaking of ‘love’ in this way? It is in the Jewish law itself, at Leviticus 19.18, "Love your neighbour as yourself" (cited in verse 9). And in much of this chapter in Romans there are further practical outworkings of this grand theme.
- So many of the traditional rules about behaviour have a negative tone – "Don’t do this or that". It shows how awfully we humans can treat each other. But ‘love’ carries many positive tones, perhaps best expressed in "Do all the good you can".
- If you had to formulate three pieces of guidance (negative or positive) for behaving well in the modern Church, and three for behaving well at work or in some community project, what would they be?