Love Your Neighbor
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, April 15, 2012
Copyright © 2012, P. G. Mathew
Romans 13:8–10 speaks about our obligation, our debt, to our neighbor, which Paul says is the debt of love. In this passage, the idea of love (agapê) appears five times, used as both a noun and a verb. This Greek word speaks of self-sacrificing love. Jesus Christ loved the church and gave himself on the cross for us sinners, and we are to love one another just as Christ did by dying for us. True love sacrifices, and true love truly gives.
Love Pays Debts
Paul begins, "Owe no one anything” (v. 8). If, as Christians, we love our neighbors, we must pay our debts. We must pay all debts, not only to the state (see Rom. 13:7), but also to our neighbors, if we have borrowed anything from them. We are not to steal. If we do not pay back our debts, we are thieves.
It is not sinful to borrow, according to the Scriptures, if we pay back as agreed on time. Neither is it sinful to borrow for investment purposes. The Bible says, "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest” (Exod. 22:25). Jesus said, "Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). The psalmist says, "[The people of God] are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed” (Ps. 37:26). He also says, "Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice” (Ps. 112:5). Again, he says, "The wicked borrow and do not pay back” (Ps. 37:21). Though there is no prohibition on borrowing, "The borrower is a servant to the lender” (Prov. 22:7).
The Scripture does not say, "Blessed are those who borrow.” It says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The blessed man lends but he does not borrow. Deuteronomy 28 speaks of such a man: "You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none” (Deut. 28:12). It also says what will happen when God’s people do not walk in obedience: "[The pagan] will lend to you, but you will not lend to him. He will be the head, but you will be the tail” (Deut. 28:44). Elsewhere we read, "For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none” (Deut. 15:6).
Today we have many debtor churches and many debtor families in the United States. We have many debtor nations in the world. The national debt of the United States is about $16 trillion, which I am told exceeds our gross national product. This means we in the United States now owe more than we produce, and at least twelve percent of our national debt is owed to China. Our nation is no longer a lending nation, but an overspending and borrowing nation. It is a lustful nation with a huge stomach.
In the nineteenth century, George Müller of Bristol, England, inspired by Romans 13:8, refused to borrow money to do his orphanage work. He lived by faith in God to provide, and God met his every need. I learned from Müller, so we also refused to borrow when we started this church. God has provided exceedingly abundantly above all our expectations. We owe nothing to anyone. Praise be to God, our Jehovah Jireh!
What about credit cards? They can be convenient, but you can spend over thirty percent less if you pay cash.1To use credit cards, you need serious biblical discipline. You need to be led by the Holy Spirit who never counsels us to spend more than we earn. The Holy Spirit teaches us to spend less than we earn.
If you are living under the burden of debt, read a sermon by the late Dr. James Boice,2 in which he makes several of the following points:
1) You have to realize you have a serious spiritual problem. What is your problem? A big stomach, which stands for a lot of lust, a lot of desire (Phil. 3:19). Jesus said, "Life does not consist in the abundance of things” (Luke 12:15). Happiness is to know the Savior. Remember the rich young ruler? He was miserable, though he had many possessions. If you owe much, you are suffering from consumption. The more you watch television, the more you will consume. Achan saw, he lusted, and he took. David saw, he lusted, and he took.
2) Stop taking on more debt. Learn to do "plastic surgery” on your credit cards.
3) Reduce your expenditures. Happiness is not living beyond your means; it is living way within your means. In fact, we go beyond that and say that happiness is being able to give. But how can you give when you are in debt? You cannot fulfill the Lord’s charge: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down shaken together, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38).
4) Sell assets to reduce your debt.
5) Increase income by doing more work, especially more intelligent work.
6) Pay debts on time.
7) Grow in the grace and in the knowledge of the will of God, so that the word of God will restrain you from spending more money.
Remember what Paul says: "Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, their glory is in their shame, their mind is on earthly things” (Phil. 3:18– 19). Such people never lift up their eyes to heaven. But if you obey the Bible and work six days a week, you will not be in debt but will have sufficiency to give. And to get a better job and better pay, you must get better skills by studying harder subjects.
"Owe no man anything.” In the Greek, it is an imperative, a divine command. We must pay up all our debts.
1) We must pay our debt to God. The tithe belongs to the Lord: "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me” (Mal. 3:8). A tithe of everything from the land belongs to the Lord. It is holy to the Lord.
2) We must pay our Sabbath debt. One day out of seven is the Lord’s Day, not your day.
3) We must pay up our debt to share the gospel with all people. Paul says, "I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish” (Rom. 1:14). We are the light of the world. Unless we share the gospel, how can our neighbors or our parents or our children be saved? Faith comes by hearing the gospel.
4) Children, you owe a debt to your parents. The Bible says to honor and obey your parents in everything, for it is right and pleases the Lord. Disobedience displeases God.
5) Husbands, you have a debt to pay: you must provide for your family. If you do not, you are worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).
6) Married people, you must pay the debt to each other that you contracted when you married, according to 1 Corinthians 7:1–7 and Ephesians 5:22–33.
7) People of God, pay the debt you owe to your spiritual leaders. "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority” (Heb. 13:17). Paul writes, "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor… . ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:17–18). "Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard [huperekperrisou] in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:12–13).
8) We must pay our debt to the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, "Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the [flesh], to live according to it… . . But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:12–14). We pay the debt by being led by the Spirit of God.
The Remaining Debt to Love One Another
Yet there is one debt we cannot pay up fully as long as we live: It is the debt to love one another. This debt of love to God and to our neighbor always remains. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We are not to love God as ourselves, and we are not to love our neighbor, our wife, or our children with all our heart. That would be idolatry, and God will deal with us if we do. According to Leviticus 19:18, a neighbor is a fellow believer. But Jesus expanded the meaning of neighbor in Luke 10:25–37 in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He said a neighbor is anyone we come in contact with in our daily life, especially someone who is in desperate need. So we have an obligation to love God with all our heart, and we have an obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Jesus said, "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). The neighbors we are to love as ourselves consists of two groups of people: those who are of the household of faith—that is, fellow believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ—and the unbelievers of the world. Paul exhorts, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). He also admonishes, "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (1 Thess. 3:12). Love does not harm its neighbor. Love does good to the neighbor.
How do we pay this debt? We can start by loving the ones nearest to us, that is, our natural family—our spouse and our children. Then we also love our church family. Then we are to love unbelievers, our neighbors who need the medicine of the gospel for their spiritual healing. The cross of Jesus Christ heals the sinner: "By his stripes we are healed” (see Isa. 53:5 and 1 Pet. 2:24). But how can they trust in Jesus Christ? Faith comes by hearing. They must hear the gospel from us. You could take the printed sermon from Easter Sunday and give it to people and say, "Here is what we heard last Sunday,” and start a conversation. We must love our unbelieving neighbors by doing good to them and, above all, by speaking the good news to them. So do not ignore your neighbor. Your debt to him ever remains. It is a perpetual obligation.
So Paul exhorts us to owe no one anything except to love one another. Paul uses the word "allêlous” (one another). This speaks of mutuality. A loves B, and B, in turn, loves A.
Some people like to receive but never give anything to others. They believe this verse speaks about a one-way deal. But it is not one way; it is mutuality. They never learned their obligation to give. No, the debt that remains is the debt of mutual love, so there is mutual giving.
This love for our neighbor is not a work of supererogation; it is the responsibility of every believer.
Ability to Love
Only a true Christian can love in this way. A sinner cannot love the way God wants him to love because he is dead spiritually. He cannot fulfill God’s law. In fact, God’s law only condemns him. Such a person must be born again. He must become a new creation by a divine miracle. He must experience a spiritual resurrection and receive a new heart and a new spirit. His stony heart must be taken out and he must be given a heart of flesh, a heart of obedience. Then he will repent truly and trust savingly in Jesus Christ, who kept the law perfectly in behalf of us.
The law leads us to Christ. The law says, "I cannot save you, but Christ is the end of the law. He is able to save you.”
For those who believe in Christ, the law becomes their moral guide. This is what Calvin calls the third use of the law (tertius usus legis). Love does not negate or replace God’s law. The new morality says that if a person says he loves, then he can commit adultery, steal, kill, covet, lie, and cheat. But that is not love. It is sheer subjectivism. Love does not tell us what to do; the law of God tells us what we are to do to please God—his good, pleasing, and perfect will, which is revealed in the law of God in the Holy Scriptures. So the new morality is the old immorality. It is sheer lawlessness. (PGM) The devil is called the lawless one. Jesus came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law for our benefit. And in Christ we are justified that we may please God by fulfilling the will of God by the Holy Spirit power.
All lawless believers will be told to depart from Christ on the last day. Jesus himself said, "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you, away from me. You do anomia [lawlessness]’” (Matt. 7:21–23; author’s translation).
They who teach that one can receive Jesus as Savior without having to obey him are teachers of lawlessness. They reject the teaching of the Scripture that love fulfills God’s law. Such people also will be told by Christ to depart from him. Jesus said, "Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Truly saved believers evidence their salvation by fulfilling the law by the power of love. John Murray says, "Love is emotive, motive, and expulsive.”3 It is emotive because love "creates affinity with and affection for the object” of love. It is motive because love is power. This love impels and constrains us to obedience, as Paul says, "The love of Christ impels me [compels me] to do the will of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:14, author’s translation). And this love is expulsive (i.e., love casts out all obstacles). "Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Love Is Responsive
Our love to God and to our neighbor is responsive to the love with which God has loved us. We love God and our neighbor with the abundance of the love of God which floods our soul. Each person of the Godhead loves us. John exclaims, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!” (1 John 3:1). Paul says, "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out in abundance his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:5). He also says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). And Jesus said, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and you have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). God the Father loves us.
God the Son also loves us. Paul asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35). He writes, "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). He says, "I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). God the Holy Spirit also loves us. Paul uses a phrase, "I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit” (Rom. 15:30). And the love that we have for God and for our neighbor is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
We love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). John says, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7). He also says, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… . And he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:10–11, 21).
How do we love? We love by the grace God gives us. Paul says, "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:14). He also says, "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). Abounding grace leads to abounding works. Paul exhorts, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13).
So we love one another. We love the household of faith. We love unbelievers. We love even our enemies with this love God has poured out into us, and outpours into us daily by the Holy Spirit.
Listen to what Jesus says: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). He said elsewhere, "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise [God] your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). A Christian is rooted in love, founded in love, and learning love—the infinite love of God for us (see Eph. 3:16–19). So we can love, and not in a small way, but in a great way.
Love Fulfills the Law
Finally, this great love fulfills the law. Love does not abandon the law; it fulfills God’s standard, the law, which is God’s will. In this passage, Paul cites four laws as examples representing all of God’s law.
Love fulfills all of God’s law. For instance, Paul says, "He who has been stealing must steal no longer” (Eph. 4:28). That is negative. But as Jay Adams says, such a man is still a thief unless he starts working and giving to others. Then he is no longer a thief.4
Look at what the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches about the four commandments to which Paul refers. The sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill,” speaks about murder. It forbids suicide, killing a neighbor, abortion, euthanasia and similar crimes. Positively, it requires us to do everything to preserve life—both your life and the life of your neighbor. The seventh commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery,” forbids all unchaste thoughts, words, and deeds. Positively, this commandment requires us to preserve our own and our neighbor’s chastity in heart, speech, and behavior. The eighth commandment, "Thou shalt not steal,” forbids "whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbor’s wealth or outward estate.” Positively, it requires "the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.” Commandment number ten, "Thou shalt not covet,” forbids "all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.” Positively, it requires "full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.”5
Love fulfills the law. The love of God shed abroad in our hearts gives to the law the full measure of its demand. The law of God is the standard which love fulfills. Without God’s law (i.e., without the disclosure of his will), we sink ever deeply in the mire of our own sinful subjectivism of self-pleasing. This is the new morality. This is libertinism. This is the antinomianism of those who reject the lordship of Christ, those who are allergic to the divine command, "Be ye holy for I am holy.”
True believers embrace both the indicatives and the imperatives of the gospel. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto obedience. True love works and so true faith works. So Paul writes, "We continually remember before our God and Father your work [of] faith, your labor [of] love, and your endurance [of] hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3). Faith works; love works. Faith obeys; love obeys. Faith fulfills the law; love fulfills the law.
True believers bear the fruit of obedience to the law—more fruit and much fruit—for the glory of God our Father. But fruitless branches are cut off and burned up. Children of the devil are like the devil. The devil is called ho anomos, the lawless one. And the devil practices anomia, lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3, 8–9).
Jesus described the children of God in Mark 3:34–35: "He looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers … . Whoever does the will of my Father is my brother and sister and mother.’”
We must clearly understand that as far as our salvation is concerned, we are not under law. We cannot justify ourselves by keeping the law. Christ fulfilled the law perfectly for us; we therefore are not under law. We are in Christ and under grace. Christ is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. He is our justification, our sanctification and glorification. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. We can do all things through him who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13).
We fulfill God’s law because we delight in it. Our obedience expresses our gratitude to God. This idea of delighting in the law of God is not a new idea. It is revealed throughout the Old Testament. It was the life of God’s people. Seven times in Psalm 119 the psalmist says he delights in God’s law. So when the Bible says, "Husbands, love your wives,” do you delight in that decree? When you read, "Wives, be submissive to your own husbands,” do you delight in that? You say you want love, not law, but love has to have law to fulfill it. What about "Children, obey your parents”? That is God’s law. And if you love your parents, you will do that. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments.”
So the psalmist says, "I delight in your decrees”; Your statutes are my delight”; "In your commands I find delight”; "For I delight in your commands”; "I delight in your law”; "For your law is my delight”; "Your law is my delight” (Ps. 119:16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 174). Elsewhere he declares, "[The blessed man’s] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law does he meditate day and night” (Ps. 1:2). He meditates on God’s law to understand the will of God so that he can fulfill it by love. Such a man is a covenant man, a blessed man.
May God help us also to delight in God’s law so that we may be blessed, today and every day of our lives. Let us love our neighbor, for love fulfills the law.
1James M. Boice, Romans, Vol. 4: The New Humanity, Romans 12–16 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 1686.
2 Boice, Romans, Vol. 4: The New Humanity, Romans 12–16, 1681–1687.
3John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprinted 1979), 161.
4Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 178.
5The Westminster Shorter Catechism with Scripture Proofs (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2010).
Thank you for reading. If you found this content useful or encouraging, let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2012, P. G. Mathew
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™