Romans 13:9–10 —Love sums up the law that guides love.
10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Paul restates in verse 10 what he said in verse 8: love fulfills the law. And in verse 9 he quotes four of the Ten Commandments, along with “any other commandment” (meaning all other laws that govern our relationships with other people). Love sums up them all, Paul says. Now we go deeper into the relationship between love and the law.
Unity of law and love
I pointed out in the previous message that Jesus’ death did away with the law as a legal requirement for those who believe in him. But the law did more than serve as an instrument of God’s justice, condemning everyone who violates it. One of its functions was and still is to guide people toward moral and ethical behavior, and love sums up that behavior. That is why I phrased the heading for this message as I did. The law is a guide for love.
In the New Covenant, Jesus Christ has set us free to love (Galatians 5:13). Our new self with its transformed heart can by the power of the Holy Spirit love others. Although our love is not perfect, we can love well enough that Jesus and the New Testament writers set high expectations. To see how high, check out the Sermon on the Mount where, for example, Jesus moved the goal post from adultery to lust. Also see the standard for love set by Paul in Ephesians 5:1–2.
Jesus teamed up law and love. By changing the function of law from judge to guide and by perfectly modeling sacrificial, self-giving love, Jesus transformed their relationship. Everett Harrison comments:
Since Harrison mentioned John 14:15, let’s look at it more closely. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This is not a command but rather a prediction. If our behavior is controlled by love, we can well anticipate that we will obey all the other words of Jesus. Paul wrote much the same thing in Galatians 5:23. After listing the fruit of the Spirit, chief of which is love, Paul said, “against such things there is no law.”
Because our ability to love remains incomplete, we do need to be guided and constrained by the law of Christ, as Harrison noted above. Love is not a sentiment that excuses fleshly indulgence. Contrary to our culture’s sexual ethics, love cannot express itself through promiscuity and adultery. We need reminders of the commandments Paul cited in verse 9, and we will see in the verses ahead that he is not done with pointed commands.
For those of us who are redeemed, we need to remember that these commands come after our encounter with “the mercies of God,” as Paul said at the beginning of chapter 12. We no longer live under law, but under grace. We enjoy the Father’s smile of acceptance as his children and the embrace of his lovingkindness. God’s word no longer condemns but instructs and motivates.
In presenting these commands, Paul wanted it known that his gospel of grace does not open the door to libertinism—license to sin in disregard of God’s moral law. This was the charge brought against Paul by his opponents the Judaizers. Paul has already said in 12:2 that our renewed minds know what the will of God is, and this renewal continues as we fill our minds with the word of God. Scriptures, not human-made rules, form our guardrails.
Love for our neighbor
The four commandments Paul cited all relate to our relationship with our neighbor (literally “one who is near”). He left out honoring our mother and father and not bearing false witness. On verse 10, Colin Kruse quotes N. T. Wright: “If love seeks the highest good of the neighbor, it will certainly do no wrong to him or her.”