Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one 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 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. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV
Paul had just finished encouraging his readers to, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7 ESV). And he was not alone in his thoughts on this topic. At one point in His earthly ministry, Jesus was approached by some Pharisees and supporters of King Herod, attempting to trick Jesus into saying something they could use against Him. Hypocritically addressing Him as “Teacher” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”(Mark 12:14-15 NLT). Jesus saw through their scheme and requested them to show Him a Roman coin. When He asked whose image was on the coin, they responded, “Caesar.” And Jesus matter-of-factly told them, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17 NLT). For Jesus, the issue had little to do with money, public policy, governmental authority or the rule of earthly law. It had to do with the Kingdom of God. And God’s Kingdom is not of this world. At his trial before Pilate, Jesus told him, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NLT).
Paul understood what Jesus meant. That is why he told his readers, “there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1 ESV) and “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed” (Romans 13:2 ESV). For Paul, it all had to do with the sovereignty and rule of God. As believers, we are to be far more concerned about what He would have us do. Unless those in authority over us are causing us to disobey God, we are to see them as placed over us by God. And we are to show them the honor and respect they deserve as God’s servants.
We are to be debt-free when it comes to our submission to earthly authorities. If fact, Paul says we are to owe no one anything except love. That debt is never paid off. We owe love to everyone because of the priceless gift of love that God showered on us. Paul has already reminded his readers, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). And now Paul says that when we love others we are fulfilling the law. For all the commandments, including not to commit adultery, not to murder, not to steal and not to covet, are really accomplished by love. When we truly love others the very idea of taking something from them that doesn’t belong to us would never cross our minds. That is why, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded:
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments. – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT
Paul writes, “Love does not wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10 ESV). In other words, the kind of love Jesus was talking about is incapable of harming or taking advantage of someone else. The law of God was designed to manage and legislate man’s relation with his fellow man and with God. But if we truly love God and love others, the requirements of the law will be naturally fulfilled. If we love God, we will not worship other gods. If we love God, we will honor His name with the way we live our lives. If we love others, we will treat them with dignity and respect, and never consider taking advantage of them for our own pleasure or benefit.
Earlier in his letter, Paul wrote, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV). We have the ability to live according to the law, in love. Love is the key to fulfilling the law of God. And not only have we experienced the love of God through the gift of His Son, we have the power and capacity to love selflessly because of the presence of the Spirit of God within us. Jesus told His disciples, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35 NLT). Our love for believers and non-believers is an indication of our relationship with Christ and His Spirit’s presence within us. In Paul’s way of thinking, we should worry less about what the government may be taking from us and concern ourselves with what God would require of us: Love.