You Owe me!

Romans 13:8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

Or do I owe you? Perhaps you have heard this verse taught before. If so, great! Most of the teaching I have heard on it focuses on being debt free, i.e. owing no one. Except we do owe and the debt we owe is love. Paul really wrote a blockbuster statement at the end, but I think it may have slipped by us. He said that all the obligation of the law is met if we love our neighbor. Does that even make sense? Can we really fulfill the law by loving one another? Seems crazy to me.

Let’s look at the Passion Translation, “Don’t owe anything to anyone, except your outstanding debt to continually love one another, for the one who learns to love has fulfilled every requirement of the law.” Wow! We have a continuing debt to one another. Ooops, that means I owe you, doesn’t it? Watch out though, you owe me too. This translation points out that love can be learned. It must be a skill then because you cannot learn emotions or characteristic traits. That is encouraging. Even if you are not a person naturally given to loving others, you can learn to be like God in this respect.

I want you to see the amplified version of this verse too, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love and seek the best for one another; for he who [unselfishly] loves his neighbor has fulfilled the [essence of the] law [relating to one’s fellowman].” Embedded within this expanded view of the Greek words, we see a definition of love arising. It is the significant piece which has run through these several days of “love” focus. Here is where we learn, specifically, what God has in mind when He tells us to love others. God only deals in agape love (see yesterday’s Word of the Day). Jesus’ actions gave practical meaning to the word love and he told us, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you,” (John 15: 12). In other words, we are supposed to emulate Jesus and his love the same way he copied the Father. The question arises, however, “How did Jesus love us?” The answer is in the Amplified version where it reads, “seek the best for one another.” That means putting the other person’s needs in first place, ahead of your own. Love is not selfish. Jesus loves us sacrificially. He gave what we needed rather than what he needed. Most of us love as is convenient to us. We love enough to get what we want or need. As long as the other person is supplying our needs, we love them. Jesus showed us a different way. Even when no one stood with him, when his closest friends denied him and betrayed him, when the people he came to save stood in the marketplace and cried out for his crucifixion, even then, Jesus put himself on a cross. Jesus prayed for the people who strung him up, prayed for their eternal souls. That is what love is. Love is not selfish or self-seeking.

We have an eternal debt to each other. It is never filled, never satisfied. I owe you a debt of love and I want what you owe me. The Father is the source of love, so we only need to take from Him and spread it around. It sounds easy enough, but it is a challenge. I believe, though, if we will take our minds off of ourselves and put them on Father, Jesus and the sacrifice they made for us, the love they have poured out to us, then we too will be able to spread His love. It sounds gooey. It sounds a bit weird, but we need to get used to this idea that you are supposed to love me. I am supposed to love you. God said that is the only debt we are to have between us. It is an ongoing one, though. If we will learn to love one another we will not need to fear the condemnation of the law.  Love will also give us the power to evangelize the world.

Debt Free

Romans 13: 8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

This verse has often been used to teach people about financial debt. One substantial reading of this verse would say that we are not supposed to borrow money. That seems to be a fair reading but I think we can read it in a broader context as well. In order to see where I want us to go we need to read the verse which immediately precedes this one: “Render to all what is due them; tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (v. 7). We see immediately that Paul is not discussing money alone, nor is he writing about just repaying what has been borrowed or refraining from borrowing at all. He teaches us to give people what they are due whether that be money, honor, respect or even love. This is to say, then, that you could be debt free in the sense that you have borrowed no money and yet still guilty of withholding something that should have been paid to another. The only debt we are to carry forward is the daily obligation to love our fellow human beings. Look at today’s verse from the God’s Word translation, “Pay your debts as they come due. However, one debt you can never finish paying is the debt of love that you owe each other. The one who loves another person has fulfilled Moses’ Teachings.” We can never completely satisfy our obligation to love all people because it is new each day but interestingly, Paul writes that even the Law of Moses is fulfilled in loving one another.

I do not want to lose track of the bigger picture though. There are debts we owe people beyond the love requirement. Surely Paul is telling us that if we have borrowed money or things from others we should be hasty in paying back or returning. And when we have borrowed an item love and kindness both require us to return that item in a condition which at least equals if not surpasses the condition it was in when we borrowed it. For goodness sake, wash the item, if a car, then fill the gas tank. If money was what was borrowed then deny yourself if need be and repay the money with appropriate interest. If you haven’t paid your tithes then be quick to pay that debt. Don’t allow yourself to owe a debt to God. He calls that stealing (Malachi 3: 8) and we don’t want to steal from God. That surely would reflect a scarcity of wisdom. 

If you have a mentor, pastor, teacher or even a friend who is constantly giving into your life, then make sure you render unto them that which is due them. A gift wouldn’t go amiss. Let us not lose sight of the intangibles either. We are meant to support and encourage each other. We are called to edify one another. Give honor and thanksgiving. Let people know you appreciate them and give them their due.