“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
If believers fulfill their constant debt of love, they will have a continual attitude of sacrificial humility.
Origen, the early church father, wisely said, “The debt of love remains with us permanently and never leaves us. This is a debt which we pay every day and forever owe.” The primary reason you and I can pay that debt is that “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). God’s own love to us and every other believer is the bottomless well from which we can draw and then share with others.
If we have this wonderful, supernatural resource of love through the Holy Spirit, it only follows that we must submit to the Spirit. When we do so, all the enemies and impediments to humility—pride, unjustified power–grabbing, selfish ambition, partisanship, hatred—will melt away. What an overwhelming thought to consider that such humility can be ours because God Himself, through His Spirit, is teaching us to love as we yield to Him (1 Thess. 4:9).
At every turn we see humility going hand in hand with godly love. Genuine love never turns its “freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). It will not do anything to cause another Christian to fall into sin or even be offended in his conscience (Rom. 14:21). Love that is from God will “be kind to one another, tender–hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven [us]” (Eph. 4:32).
The greatest test of love and humility is the willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. As we have already seen in our study of humility, Jesus was the ultimate example of this (Phil. 2:5–8). Our supreme demonstration of humility is when we imitate Him: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
Suggestions for Prayer: Pray for an occasion today to show some facet of biblical love to another person. ✧ If nothing develops today, keep praying that the Lord would make you alert for future opportunities.
For Further Study: First John 4 is a wonderful chapter on God’s love and its meaning for believers. According to the apostle, how can we know truth from error? ✧ What benefits derive from God’s love?
The Debt of Love
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. (13:8)
Paul has just been speaking of paying taxes (vv. 6–7), and the admonition to owe nothing to anyone continues his focus on the Christian’s financial obligations.
That phrase is sometimes interpreted to mean that a Christian is never justified in going into debt of any sort. But neither the Old nor New Testament categorically forbids borrowing or lending.
The Mosaic law did require that, “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest” (Ex. 22:25; cf. Ps. 15:5). It is obvious from this verse that if lending was permitted, so was borrowing. The moral issue involved charging interest (or “usury” KJV) to the poor. The principle of charging interest is stated more explicitly in Leviticus: “Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you” (Lev. 25:35–36, emphasis added; cf. Neh. 5:7; Ezek. 22:12).
God also warned His people against refusing to give a loan to a fellow countryman because a sabbatical year was near, when all debts were canceled (Deut. 15:7–9). The Lord promised the unselfish and generous lender that “for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings” (v. 10). He declared that “the righteous is gracious and gives.… All day long he is gracious and lends; and his descendants are a blessing” (Ps. 37:21, 26), and that “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17). Whether or not a gracious lender is repaid by the borrower, he unquestionably will be repaid by the Lord.
From those passages and many others, it is obvious that lending, and therefore borrowing, were common and legitimate practices in ancient Israel. The Law carefully regulated lending by prohibiting charging interest to those who were destitute, but it did not forbid lending with honest and reasonable interest.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives tacit approval of borrowing and commands potential lenders: “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matt. 5:42). Augmenting the truth mentioned above regarding divine blessing of those who give graciously and generously, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35). Again we are promised that, when we give out of genuine kindness to those in need, the Lord Himself will reward us in His own gracious way.
Both the old and new testaments, therefore, justify borrowing by those who are in serious need and have no other recourse, and both testaments command believers who are able to do so to lend to their needy brethren without taking advantage.
In the realm of business, apart from the needy, Jesus approved of financial borrowing for the purpose of investment. In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30), the master highly commended the two servants who had wisely invested his money, but he strongly rebuked the unfaithful servant who merely buried the money entrusted to him: “You ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest” (v. 27).
Many businesses could not operate without borrowing money to invest in such things as buildings, equipment, and raw materials. Many farmers could not plant new crops without borrowing money for seed and fertilizer. Most families could never afford to buy a home without taking out a mortgage.
When borrowing is truly necessary, the money should be repaid as agreed upon with the lender, promptly and fully. But Scripture nowhere justifies borrowing for the purpose of buying unnecessary things, especially luxuries, that cannot be afforded. And whatever is owed must be paid on time and in full. Those financial principles are the essence of Paul’s admonition to owe nothing to anyone.
The apostle then makes what appears at first glance to be a radical transition, declaring that all Christians have a type of perpetual indebtedness. Completely apart from financial considerations or situations, all believers have the constant obligation to love one another. It is a debt we are constantly to pay against but can never pay off. The early church Father, Origen said, “The debt of love remains with us permanently and never leaves us. This is a debt which we pay every day and forever owe.” And by our Lord’s gracious provision, it is a debt we will always have the resources to pay and which, the more we pay toward it, the more willing and joyous the payment will be.
Our love toward one another applies first of all to fellow believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ. “A new commandment I give to you,” Jesus said, “that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). To serve other Christians is to serve Christ. “I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat,” He said; “I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.… Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:35–36, 40). “Ministering to the saints” not only demonstrates our love for them but also our love for God (Heb. 6:10).
Love is the theme of John’s first letter. He tells us that “the one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him” (1 John 2:10). He reminds us that God commands “that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (3:23). He admonishes us, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7), and that “this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (4:21).
Paul also has much to say about loving fellow Christians. In his letter to Colossae, he wrote, “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:12–14). He counseled the often factious and worldly Corinthian believers to “pursue love” (1 Cor. 14:1), and he advised Timothy to encourage the godly women to “continue in faith and love and sanctity” (1 Tim. 2:15). He prayed that the love of believers in Philippi might “abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9).
The apostle Peter, who had found it so difficult to love in the way his Lord desired (see, e.g., John 21:15–22; Acts 10), wrote, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22).
But one another also applies to unbelievers—all unbelievers, not just those who are likeable and friendly. Our Lord tells us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). As we have seen in the previous chapter of Romans, Paul commands: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not” (12:14), and, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink” (v. 20). In his letter to the Galatian churches he admonishes, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10, emphasis added).
Righteous love is so immeasurably important that he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law, a truth that Paul reiterates in verse 10 and that will be discussed in detail in the study of that verse.
It is clear that righteous, godly love is much more than emotion or feeling. As seen in the Galatians passage just quoted, love begins with “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” But it also and always finds ways to “do good” to those whom we love, whether they seem to deserve it or not. Because of distance or other circumstances beyond our control, sometimes the only good we can do is to pray for them or forgive them. There are, of course, no greater things to do for anyone than to pray for them and forgive them, especially if we are praying for their salvation and if our forgiveness of them might lead them to seek God’s. But, as noted above, “while we have opportunity,” we are also commanded to demonstrate our love in direct and practical ways. Godly love includes ministering to the physical and financial needs of others, unbelievers as well as believers. That truth is the central point of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).
There are many other ways to demonstrate godly love. Of supreme importance is to teach and to live God’s truth. For unbelievers, by far the most important truth to convey is the gospel of salvation. Believers teach God’s truth by living faithfully “in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God” (2 Cor. 6:6–7). Even when we find it necessary to warn or rebuke others, we are to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
Godly love never turns its “freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13) and never rejoices in anything that is false or unrighteous (1 Cor. 13:6). Love refuses to do anything, even things that are not sinful in themselves, that might offend a brother’s conscience and cause him to stumble morally or spiritually (Rom. 14:21). “Above all,” Peter reminds us, “keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).
Godly love is forgiving. We are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven [us]” (Eph. 4:32). The Lord’s promise that “if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” is followed by the sober warning, “But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14–15; cf. Luke 6:36–37).
Godly love is characterized by humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance (Eph. 4:2). In his beautiful entreaty to the Corinthian church, which was not characterized by love, Paul said, “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4–8).
The greatest test of godly love is its willingness to sacrifice its own needs and welfare for the needs and welfare of others, even to the point of forfeiting life if necessary. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The supreme example of such love was the Lord Jesus Himself, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8). We are to be “imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved [us], and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:1–2). As John reminds us, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
But how, we ask, can we love in such a righteous and selfless way? First, we must keep in mind that our gracious heavenly Father provides His children every resource they need to obey His commands and to follow His example. We are divinely enabled to pay our great debt of love “because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). God’s own love is the inexhaustible well from which, as it were, we can draw the supernatural love He commands us to live by. Paul prayed for the Ephesians that, “being rooted and grounded in love, [you] may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:17–19).
In order to love as God commands, Christians must submit to the Holy Spirit. In doing so, we must surrender all hatred, animosity, bitterness, revenge, or pride that stands between us and those we are called to love. “Now as to the love of the brethren,” Paul says, “you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9). Through His own Holy Spirit, God Himself teaches us to love! And because God Himself is love (1 John 4:16), it is hardly surprising that the first “fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22).
The love that God commands must be pure and genuine, because love cannot coexist with hypocrisy. Peter therefore admonishes, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). Later in that same letter the apostle pleads for love with a sense of urgency: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (4:7–8).
Godly love is a matter of choice, and nothing less than willing, voluntary love is pleasing to God or can energize and unify His people. “Beyond all these things put on love,” Paul says, “which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:14). Our own godly love encourages other believers to love, and for that reason the writer of Hebrews calls us to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). The best opportunity we have for inspiring love in others, the writer goes on to say, is by “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (v. 25). “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ,” Paul entreated the Philippians, “if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:1–2).
And amazingly, in our Lord’s infinite grace, righteous love is reciprocal love. We know that we are able to love God only “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And yet our Lord promises that “he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.… And We will come to him, and make Our abode with him” (John 14:21, 23).
8 The NASB’s “owe nothing to anyone” (NIV, “let no debt remain outstanding”) should not be taken as meaning that it is wrong to borrow. If incurring any indebtedness whatever is contrary to God’s will, Jesus would not have said, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Mt 5:42). Of course, to be perpetually in debt is not a good testimony for a believer, and to refuse to fulfill one’s obligations is unacceptable (v. 7). Now comes the remarkable exception to the rule. There is one debt owed to all: “to love one another.” One can never say that one has completely discharged it. Ordinarily, “one another” in the Epistles refers to relationships within the Christian community. But such is not the case here, for the expression is explained in terms of one’s “fellow man” (lit., “the other [person]”). Since the passage goes on to refer to one’s “neighbor” (vv. 9, 10), we may be reasonably sure that the sweep of the obligation set forth here is intended to be universal. It is, therefore, a mistake to accuse the early church of turning its eyes inward on itself and to a large extent neglecting the outside world. Granted that the usual emphasis is on one’s duties to fellow believers, yet the wider reference is not lacking (Gal 6:10; 1 Th 3:12).
In saying that the one who loves “has fulfilled the law,” Paul presents a truth that parallels his statement in 8:4 about the righteous requirement of the law being fulfilled in those who live according to the Spirit. The connecting link between these two passages is provided by Galatians 5:22–23, where first place in the enumeration of the fruit of the Spirit is given to “love” and the list is followed by the observation that “against such [fruit] there is no law.” So the Spirit produces in the believer a love to which the law can offer no objection, since love fulfills what the law requires—something the law itself cannot do. Paul again follows the teaching of Jesus that love is the fulfilling of the law (cf. Mt 22:39–40; see also Mt 7:12; Jas 2:8).
13:8 Verses 8–10 focus on the Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic law. Owe no one anything links back to v. 7, and thus the command does not prohibit all borrowing but means that one should always “pay what is owed” (see v. 7), fulfilling whatever repayment agreements have been made. The debt one never ceases paying is the call to love one another. Indeed, love fulfills what the Mosaic law demands.
13:8 has fulfilled the law. See theological note “Antinomianism” on p. 2272. Since the law of God is the law of love (Matt. 22:38–40) and love of God and love of neighbor summarize our moral obligation, then truly loving one’s neighbor (vv. 8, 9), or keeping the second table of the law, “fulfills” God’s requirements (v. 10). Those who do not rely on their own law-keeping but on God’s work in Christ are now empowered by His Spirit to progressively fulfill the law’s righteous requirement (8:1–4).
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Ro 13:8). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 199–200). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2180). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2005). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.