This morning I was reading in Romans 13 and was struck hard by verses 8-10 and Paul’s connection between love and the Law:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom 13.8-10, ESV)
If we read this passage (and its context) quickly or casually, as we tend to do, it is easy to let ourselves off the hook, gloss over the hard teaching of this passage, or even give ourselves a spiritual pat on the back and think, “Easy enough. I can do that.” As is often the case, however, if we stop and think for a few moments about the significance of what Paul is saying here, we can’t help but be driven to Christ for hope in recognition of our utter inability and sinfulness.
When reading this passage quickly, it almost seems as though Paul is lessening the demand or sting of the Law by reducing or distilling it to something more palatable. To quote another Paul, “All you need is love.” That condensation sounds great to our ears because it sounds easy, but even in its most basic form I can’t help but recognize that the Law is still something utterly beyond my ability to keep. As I read this passage today, I kept reading the first half of verse ten over and over, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” Though it sounds so simple in this passage, I can’t escape the fact that the Law (even in its most elementary form) is something I cannot fulfill. Again and again, I fail at doing no wrong to my neighbors for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes I am ignorant of what the loving response should be, doing wrong inadvertently. Sometimes I am complacent or lazy concerning a loving response, doing wrong selfishly. Sometimes I even deliberately choose a reponse I know will cause harm (for whatever sinful reason), doing wrong in total rebellion to God’s revealed will in the Law. For whatever reason, I cannot even live up to this most basic expression of the Law.
At these times, I most need to hear Jesus’ gracious absolution and be reminded of the forgiveness to be had in him. Despite the objective reality of my sinfulness, I have the objective reality of forgiveness in Christ. Despite the temptation to gloss over this passage and walk away feeling smug, I am stripped of my self-assurance and driven again to the cross to find my hope
“Love is the fulfilling of the Law.” Great, even a small child can understand its simplicity. At the same time, even a small child can understand his inability to keep the Law and the necessity of relying on the grace of Christ, revealed perfectly on Calvary. Praise be to God for his great mercy toward us in Christ Jesus!