When Christians talk about Romans 13 they’re almost always thinking about the God and government part in the first paragraph. It’s a good start to the chapter, about earthly authorities promoting the good, and the good of citizens submitting to do good. But there is more good in Romans 13, in two more paragraphs.
Romans 13:8-10 is maybe one of the most underrated three-verse summaries in Scripture. If you like profound truth in pithy form, if you like a paragraph that does the work of many pages, if you like rubber meets the road repetition, it’s all here for you.
We learned how to behave as citizens toward the people in charge in verses 1-7, and verses 8-10 show us how to behave toward our fellow citizens. There is certainly application for how we treat one another as Christians, but members of the body of Christ already got explicit instructions in chapter 12. While we would say only Christians have the capability to consistently treat others the way Romans 13:8-10 describes, the picture is what makes our civil lives together *civil*.
There’s a summary command, a summary of all the commandments, and a summary clarification.
# A Summary Command (verse 8)
Paul just commanded citizens: “pay to all what is owed to them” (verse 7). “Paying” had reference to taxes and to honor; we give dollars and deference. These things are “owed”; there is an obligation that some have to taxes, some to revenue, some to respect, some to honor. Their work and their offices/“high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2) are due a certain response.
In verse 8 a different group is owed something different.
> Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8 ESV)
If English allowed it, we could double the negatives and say “no one nothing owe” (μηδενὶ μηδὲν). The command **owe** connects with the concept of what is “owed” in verse 7. Be obliged to have no obligations.
I’ve heard Romans 13:8 used as an argument for not ever using credit or taking out a loan. There certainly are issues with borrowing; the borrower is slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). Depending which family member you borrow from, that can make reunion picnics testy. But the Bible doesn’t prohibit loans (for example, in Matthew 5:42 Jesus teaches His disciples, “do not refuse the one who would borrow from you”). Scripture does prohibit not paying the loan by the borrower (along with excessive interest gathering from the lender). “The wicked borrows but does not pay back” (Psalm 37:21). To borrow and not return is a form of theft. Do not have ongoing, unpaid (college. car, consumer) bills.
Instead, we do all have an ongoing, unfinished responsibility to **love one another** (not sure why the ESV used “each other” instead of the normal “one another”). Love toward one another is *outstanding* in the adjective’s second meaning, “remaining to be paid, done, or dealt with.” Let no debt remain outstanding except the other-loving debt.
“The one loving the other” is a substantival participle, stressing the *continuous* loving, and the reason why we keep paying on this debt is because that loving-one **has fulfilled the law**. An interesting switch to a past tense. This fulfillment matters in verse 9 and verse 10 as well.
I pointed out that Paul didn’t use the word **law** once in verses 1-7, but law bookends this paragraph, along with the word “commandments” in the middle. He even gives examples of the commandments in verse 9.
Since loving is law-fulfilling, then love and law are not opposites, or enemies. It also means love (casually applied as a term for sentiment or feeling or passion) is *not* love. Love is lawful, as in, genuine love loves within standards. So also, the point of law is love, not mere conformity to standards. Similar to Romans 12:9 and love being without hypocrisy, love must be without unrighteousness. How about new t-shirts: “Love is (NOT) love. Love is (God's) law."
# A Summary of All Commandments (verse 9)
What do we *owe one another in love*? We owe them recognition as separate persons, they are not us, they have their own stuff, and they do not owe us their stuff.
> 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.” (Romans 13:9 ESV)
The specifics: **adultery**, **murder**, **steal**, **covet**, are in the second table of the 10 Commandments. They are four of the five “thou shalt *not*”s. Adultery is the taking of another man’s spouse, murder is the taking of another man’s life, stealing is the taking of another man’s stuff, and coveting is a wishing that you could take another man’s life, wife, and/or stuff.
Not mentioned are honoring one’s mother and father (5th commandment) or bearing false witness (9th). Also not mentioned are the first table of the 10 Commandments (1st-4th), all those related to God and no other gods or disrespect to God.
These commandments relate to others and their households, to the sacredness of human life, the sanctity of the family, the recognition of the right to ownership of private property, and the need to control ones’ desires (against envy and it’s political outcome in Marxism/Communism). Covetousness is the way of selfish-love and selfish-love is opposed to neighbor-love.
But note that Paul adds **and any other commandment**. That doesn’t only mean the other six of Decalogue, it includes the other 609 of the 613 in the Mosaic Law.
In an amazing, preview/notification-sized text, he says, all the commandments **are summed up in this word**. He got this from Jesus, who also summed up the entire Old Testament in two commandments. Paul is focusing on one of them, the one that matters in the social sphere. **You shall love your neighbor as yourself.**
This is *Leviticus* 19:18. Did you realize that the most important thing you needed to know about getting along in local life would be in Leviticus? When you think Leviticus, do you think *love*? This law has been there since about 1444 BC, around for almost 3,500 years.
Jesus Himself summarized the 39 books of the Old Testament,
> “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40 ESV)
The **neighbor** means the *near*, the one *next* to you.
Does this mean that the 10 Commandments are still binding on us today? I don’t think that’s the best way to say it, but if someone asked me how to know what *lawful* love is, these would be first principles to measure by. In love all the commandments are summed up.
# A Summary Clarification (verse 10)
Here’s a review of the summary, saying what’s been said.
> Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10 ESV)
**Love** is what persons have/share/do, here love is like a person; love works no wrong, does no damage, carries out no evil against the locals. “Love hurteth not” (Tyndale).
Do no harm ("First do no harm" is a summary of the original Hippocratic oath, written by Hippocrates circa 400 BC - a vow for any physician in training and also applicable for political and economic philosophy).
Compare the “negative” commands in verse 9 to this “negative” summary in verse 10. It highlights the difference between Positive and Negative/liberty rights. A positive right means you have the right to have something given to you (which amounts to an obligation on the part of someone else to provide it, requiring their harm). A negative right means that you have the right to be left alone to have your stuff. In economic terms this is a major dividing basis between Socialism/Communism/“Woke Capitalism” and free-market Capitalism.
There are all kinds of ways to *wrong* a neighbor. No lies; so, for example in our day, no so-called Pronoun Hospitality, calling a he a “she” and so forth. There’s no permitted stealing, through sneaking into their house or sneaking into their taxes.
Love is not lawless. Specific commands are mentioned in verse 9 so that we will see what love looks like in action. For example, one cannot commit adultery, murder, steal, and covet and claim to be loving.
Love is not lawless, but “following” the law is not necessarily love. One can be unloving while giving everything away to the poor as in 1 Corinthians 13:3.
So we must love our neighbor, who and how? Great questions! They've been asked before.
As verses 8-10 relate to verses 1-7, our system of government depends on a moral people, and fine, but it really depends on a *loving* people. John Adams said,
> “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. **Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.** It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
This is true between neighbors, in the don’t bother one another sense, as well as in the blessing through business sense. Consider George Gilder’s argument that in (good) Capitalism giving comes first, considering how to love others in product or services, rather than other approaches which start with taking/redistributing.
In all our interactions we must “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Outstanding love is the way to a fulfilling life.
If you can't afford the hospital bill for your hurt neighbor in the ditch like the Good Samaritan, at least don't vote for universal healthcare and let the government steal from other neighbors to cover the cost. If you can't say something nice to your transgender neighbor, at least don't harm them by lying to them with false pronouns. If you can't stand the idea of spending time with your Christian neighbor, at least don't slander them, and also ask God to get your heart right in love. Love one another.
> [M]ay the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13, ESV)