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 Owe nothing to anyone. Not a prohibition against borrowing money, which Scripture permits and regulates (cf. Ex 22:25; Lv 25:35–37; Dt 15:7–9; Ne 5:7; Pss 15:5; 37:21, 26; Eze 22:12; Mt 5:42; Lk 6:34). Paul’s point is that all our financial obligations must be paid when they are due. See notes on Dt 23:19, 20; 24:10–13. love one another. Believers are commanded to love not only other Christians (Jn 13:34, 35; 1Co 14:1; Php 1:9; Col 3:14; 1Th 4:9; 1Ti 2:15; Heb 6:10; 1Pe 1:22; 4:8; 1Jn 2:10; 3:23; 4:7, 21), but also non-Christians (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27, 35; cf. Lk 6:28, 34; Ro 12:14, 20; Gal 6:10; 1Th 5:15). fulfilled the law. See note on 13:10.
13:8 In the present context, owe no one anything primarily means respect and honor (v. 7). No doubt money is also included, but this passage does not prohibit borrowing (Ps. 37:21; Matt. 5:42). except to love: Love is a debt that is never paid in full.
13:8 Basically, the first part of this verse means “Pay your bills on time.” It is not a prohibition against any form of debt. Some kinds of debt are inevitable in our society: most of us face monthly bills for telephone, gas, light, water, etc. And it is impossible to manage a business without contracting some debts. The admonition here is not to get into arrears (overdue accounts).
But in addition there are certain principles which should guide us in this area. We should not contract debts for nonessentials. We should not go into debt when there is no hope of repaying. We should avoid buying on the installment plan, incurring exorbitant interest charges. We should avoid borrowing to buy a product that depreciates in value. In general, we should practice financial responsibility by living modestly and within our means, always remembering that the borrower is slave to the lender (see Prov. 22:7).
The one debt that is always outstanding is the obligation to love. The word used for love in Romans, with only one exception (12:10), is agapē, which signifies a deep, unselfish, superhuman affection which one person has for another. This otherworldly love is not activated by any virtue in the person loved; rather, it is completely undeserved. It is unlike any other love in that it goes out not only to the lovable but to one’s enemies as well.
This love manifests itself in giving, and generally in sacrificial giving. Thus, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.
It is primarily a matter of the will rather than the emotions. The fact that we are commanded to love indicates that it is something we can choose to do. If it were an uncontrollable emotion that swept over us at unexpected moments, we could scarcely be held accountable. This does not deny, however, that the emotions can be involved.
It is impossible for an unconverted person to manifest this divine love. In fact, it is impossible even for a believer to demonstrate it in his own strength. It can only be exhibited by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Love found its perfect expression on earth in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our love to God manifests itself in obedience to His commandments.
The man who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law, or at least that section of the law which teaches love for our fellowmen.
13:8. Paul’s words in this section are not as much an exhortation to life within the body of Christ (he touched this in Rom. 12:9–13) as they are a balance to what he has just commanded the church in 13:1–7. Paul’s overall emphasis in this chapter is to live submissively as living sacrifices in light of the coming end of the age—“The trip is almost over; this is no time to rock the boat.” Living respectfully toward the king and loving one’s fellowman are the two dimensions of every person’s public life. If there is a key word in verses 1–7 it is “submit” (vv. 1, 5), which contains within it the range of words such as “honor,” “respect,” and “obey.” When it comes to one’s fellowman. Paul draws upon a range of words found in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments given by God to Israel through Moses. He summarizes all those words in the operative word love.
Love (and its attendant synonyms) is the one sanctioned unpaid debt. Indeed, it is a debt that cannot be paid; it is a continuing debt. While it appears that Paul’s words are church-related, his use of fellowman seems to broaden the intent of his instruction. In light of the previous verses dealing with society and governance at large, it would seem his focus is still on the wider scope of Christian responsibility. It is not Christian to love fellow church members while hating a pagan neighbor.
No, Paul is saying something larger to the believers in Rome: “The way to open doors for the gospel in Rome is to avoid entanglements. We are on a kingdom mission of spreading the gospel, not morally rehabilitating the Roman Empire or its citizens. Obey the emperor and love your neighbors. If you do this you will live at peace and have greater opportunity to focus on the mission of the church in light of the coming end of the age.”
There is a certain paradox in Paul’s words: in order to get out of debt to the law we have to go into debt to love—we fulfill the law when we love. The difference is a liberating one. Instead of focusing on what we could never do (perfectly meet the demands of the law), we are freed to focus on what we can always do (love one another).
13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone” This is a PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE with a NEGATIVE PARTICIPLE which usually means stop an act already in process. This emphatic phrase has two NEGATIVES. This may have related to taxation issues (vv. 6–7). Financial debt is always an emotional and potentially spiritual drain. Be careful of worldliness. It robs believers of their ability to support Christian causes and personal charity. However, this verse cannot be used as a proof-text for “no consumer credit.” The Bible must be interpreted in light of its own day. It is not an American morning newspaper! Verses 8–10 are emphasizing the priority of our loving one another (1) as covenant brothers (Matt. 13:34–35; 22:39–40); and (2) as fellow human beings (cf. Matt. 5:42; Gal. 6:10).
© “except to love one another” This is the key thought of vv. 8–10 (cf. John 13:34; 15:12; Rom. 12:10; 1 Cor. 13; Phil. 2:3–4; 1 Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13:1; 2 Pet. 1:7; 1 John 3:11; 4:7, 11–12).
© “he who loves his neighbor” This VERB is a PRESENT ACTIVE PARTICIPLE. This does not refer to isolated or seasonal acts of love, but to a lifestyle of Christlike love.
The term “neighbor” is literally, “another of a different kind” (heteros), although the distinction between heteros and allos (another of the same kind) was breaking down in Koine Greek. In context this may refer to one’s neighbor, in the widest possible terms, believer or not (cf. 12:14–21; Luke 10:25–37). However, the quote from Lev. 19:18, in context, refers to another covenant partner (a fellow Israelite).
Christians should love other Christians as brothers and lost people as potential brothers. Christianity is a family. Each member lives and serves for the health and growth of the whole (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7).
|NASB, NKJV, NRSV
|“has fulfilled the Law”
|“has obeyed the Law”
|“have carried out your obligations”
This common Greek verb (pleroō) can be translated in several ways. It is a PERFECT ACTIVE INDICATIVE, which can be translated as “it has been and continues to be fulfilled.” Robert Hanna, A Grammatical Aid to The Greek New Testament, quotes A. T. Robertson and calls it “a gnomic perfect (referring to a customary truth, well known by the recipients)” (p. 28). It is repeated in v. 10 (cf. Gal. 5:14; 6:2).
8. Do not keep on owing anyone anything except to love one another …
- “You owe no man anything …” Although grammatically this translation is indeed possible, it would be out of line with the context, for Paul has just now been telling those addressed that they should pay to all whatever they owed them; hence, all their debts (verse 7). So not the indicative but the imperative mood must be meant here in verse 8.
- “Owe no man anything …” This rendering would create the impression that Paul calls all borrowing wrong, a position that is clearly contrary to Scripture. See Exod. 22:25; Ps. 37:26; Matt. 5:42; Luke 6:35.
- “Owe no man anything; only do love one another.” This is perhaps even worse. It changes the one beautiful thought of the original into two separate ideas: not only are the readers-hearers told never to owe anything to anybody, but in addition they are exhorted to love one another! The original clause of eight words cannot be made to convey all this.
- “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another …,” N.I.V., and somewhat similar: N.E.B., Weymouth. I can find no fault whatever with this excellent rendering. It is completely true to the original. On the other hand, if one wishes to show most clearly the close connection between verses 7 and 8, where the original uses words based on the same stem, the rendering “Pay to all whatever you owe …” (verse 7), followed by “Do not keep on owing anyone anything except to love one another …” (verse 8) would seem to be required.
Three thoughts are clearly implied here:
First of all, this is a condemnation of the practice of some, who are ever ready to borrow but very slow to repay the borrowed sum. In this connection see Ps. 37:21, “The wicked person borrows but does not repay …”
Secondly, this is clearly a eulogy of love, composed by an author who, somewhat earlier, had written 1 Cor. 13. He is saying that among all the debts a person may have incurred there is one that can never be repaid in full, namely, the debt of love. Moreover, in the present connection Paul is thinking not, first of all, of the debt we owe to God, but, as the context indicates, of the debt we owe to our fellowmen. So,
Thirdly, it is a love “for one another.” But this “one another,” does not, in this instance, merely mean “for all fellow-believers.” These, to be sure, are included. One can even say, they are included in a special way (see 12:10, 13; Gal. 6:10), but by adding “for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” it is made clear that all those with whom the believer comes into contact—and of course particularly those with special needs—are included. In fact, in a sense no one is excluded from this all-embracing love.
God’s holy law, to be sure, does not save anyone. See Rom. 8:3. Nevertheless, once a person has been justified by faith, he, out of gratitude, motivated and enabled by the Holy Spirit, desires to do what God wants him to do. And this is found in the law of the Ten Commandments, as summarized in Lev 19:18, and later in the words of Jesus as recorded in Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27b.
Ver. 8. Owe no man anything.
Owe no man anything:—This precept may signify either to leave not our debts unpaid, or never get into debt. It may be looked to as a repetition of “Render unto all their dues” (debitum, debt). Be in no man’s books. If he be an individual with whom you are dealing, pay when you buy. Or if it be the government, pay the tax when it becomes due. The injunction in this latter or more rigorous meaning of it is far from being generally adhered to. Perhaps it may not at all times suit the conveniences or even the possibilities of business, that each single transaction should be a ready-money transaction. Perhaps even in the matters of family expenditure it might save trouble to pay at certain terms. There can be no doubt, however, that in the first interpretation of it, it is a matter of absolute and universal obligation. Though we cannot just say that a man should never get into debt, we can feel no hesitation in saying that, once in, he should labour most strenuously to get out of it. For—1. In the world of trade one cannot be insensible to the dire mischief that ensues from the spirit of unwarrantable speculation. The adventurer who trades beyond his means is often actuated by a passion as intense and as criminal as the gamester. But it is not the injury alone which is done to his own character that is to be deprecated, nor the ruin that bankruptcy brings upon his own family. Over and above these evils there is a far heavier disaster to the working classes, gathered in hundreds around the mushroom establishment, and then thrown adrift in utter destitution on society. This frenzy of men hasting to be rich, like fever in the body natural, is a truly sore distemper in the body politic. 2. If they who trade beyond their means thus fall to be denounced, they who spend beyond their means, and so run themselves into debt, merit the same condemnation. We can imagine nothing more glaringly unprincipled and selfish than the conduct of those who, to uphold their place in the fashionable world, build or adorn or entertain at the expense of tradesmen, whom they hurry on to beggary with themselves. 3. But there is another and more interesting application of this precept, one which, if fully carried out, would tell more beneficially than any other on the greatest happiness of the greatest number, viz., that men in humble life should learn to find their way from the pawn office to the savings bank—so that, instead of debtors to the one, they should become depositors in the other. That it is not so is far more due to the want of management than to the want of means; and it needs but the kindness and trouble of a few benevolent attentions to put many on the way of it. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)
- Is a common and serious evil. 1. It robs the creditor of his right, and often involves him in serious perplexity and trouble. 2. It robs the debtor of his independence, and not unfrequently of his moral principle.
- Is, when voluntarily incurred, a breach of Christian consistency. It implies—1. A defective morality. 2. A want of love to our neighbour. 3. A blinded conscience.
III. Should be carefully avoided. 1. By living within our income. 2. By cutting off all unnecessary expenses. 3. By incurring no liabilities which we have not a reasonable prospect of meeting. 4. By the utmost economy. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The guilt and folly of being in debt:—
- The propriety of the direction in the text. To be in debt will expose us to defraud others of their just due. 2. Is injurious to the general interests of society. 3. Involves whole families in suffering. 4. Subjects us to great sacrifices. 5. Is prejudicial to our improvement in useful knowledge. 6. Is unfavourable to religion. 7. Is in direct opposition to God’s command.
- Some considerations to aid a strict compliance with it. 1. Debt, however long foreborne, will one day be required. 2. Remember the worth of time. 3. Avoid luxury. 4. Never exceed your income. 5. Never despise honest labour. 6. Avoid depending on speculation and artifice. 7. Never neglect the duties of religion. (J. W. Cannon, M.A.)
Owe no man anything:—
- The most likely means of paying what we owe. 1. The first mean is diligence in business. Make no unnecessary delay, nor set about it with a slack or unskilful hand. 2. The second mean is frugality, or the avoiding of expense whenever it can properly be avoided. 3. A third mean is exactness. “Put all in writing,” says the son of Sirac, “that thou givest out or receivest in.” Punctual payment is material. The last effect of exactness is to ensure the payment of what we owe at death. It is the concluding evidence of an honest man to leave his affairs in order.
- The sacrifices which must sometimes be made to justice. 1. One must sometimes bear the reproach of selfishness in order to pay debt or keep out of it. 2. Fashion must often be quitted for the sake of justice. In order to perceive and obey this call, consult your own understanding. What is the consequence of being unfashionable? I am censured, and ridiculed, and despised. But what is the consequence of being unjust? My own heart condemns me. 3. Vainglory must be checked for the sake of justice. The pleasure in sumptuous possessions is slight, “beholding them with the eye.” If they be unpaid, looking at them calls up the painful remembrance. 4. Generosity must be checked when it would encroach on justice. The parting with money inconsiderately, so far from being approved, is become a proverbial folly. Some make a flash of affected generosity who are not very scrupulous in paying what they owe, nor about fraudulent courses provided they be gainful. 5. Compassion must be bounded by justice. We are required to do justly and to love mercy. Let the love of mercy be cherished, and, when justice permits, let its dictates be obeyed. Still it is the part of a wise man to examine the claims that are made on his compassion. By rejecting false ones he can indulge compassion with more effect, and it partakes more of the nature of virtue. 6. Friendship may prompt a man to involve himself by loan or suretyship. 7. The dictates of natural affection must be checked when they encroach on justice. Let a man reveal to his family his real circumstances, and establish an order conformed to them. 8. Pleasures innocent in themselves may prove too costly. From that moment they cease to be innocent. 9. An immoderate desire of wealth leads to injustice. What is the consequence, for example, of adventuring in trade beyond what your capital admits of and justifies? 10. Sloth must be conquered. It is fatal to justice as well as to every other virtue. “The slothful is brother to him that is a great waster.” He is equally exposed to poverty, and to all the temptations the poor are under, to be unjust. 11. False shame must be combated. 12. Restitution is the last sacrifice to be made to justice. There are two cases, the case of things found, and of things acquired unjustly. III. Such are the sacrifices to be made to justice. They are costly; but the blessings are in proportion great. 1. To be out of debt is accounted a part of happiness. 2. Peace at the latter end is the portion of the upright. The pleasures of iniquity are but for a moment. The splendour of extravagance fades. To live and die an honest man is a worthy object of ambition. (S. Charters.)
Avoidance of debt:—Owe no man anything. Keep out of debt. Avoid it as you would avoid war, pestilence, and famine. Hate it with a perfect hatred. Dig potatoes, break stones, peddle in tinwares, do anything that is honest and useful, rather than run into debt. As you value comfort, quiet, and independence, keep out of debt. As you value good digestion, a healthy appetite, a placid temper, a smooth pillow, pleasant dreams, and happy wakings, keep out of debt. Debt is the hardest of all taskmasters; the most cruel of all oppressors. It is as a millstone about the neck. It is an incumbus on the heart. It spreads a cloud over the whole firmament of man’s being. It eclipses the sun; it blots out the stars; it dims and defaces the beautiful blue sky. It breaks the harmony of nature, and turns to dissonance all the voices of its melody. It furrows the forehead with premature wrinkles; it plucks the eye of its light. It drags the nobleness and kindness out of the port and bearing of a man; it takes the soul out of his laugh, and all stateliness and freedom from his walk. Come not, then, under its crushing dominion. But to love one another.—Honesty and love:—
- Honesty gives every one his due.
- Love does more, it gives itself, and thus fulfils the whole law. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Honest dealing and mutual love:—These two things are closer together than we are wont to imagine. Said a foremost physician not long ago, when asked how far the facility with which American constitutions break down was occasioned by overwork, “It is not overwork either on the part of the people who work with their brains, or with their hands. The most fruitful source of physical derangement and mental and nervous disorders are pecuniary embarrassments and family dissensions.” The two things lie close together. The father, crowded beyond endurance by the strain to maintain a scale of living long ago pitched too high, the mother consciously degraded by the domestic dishonesty that draws money for marketing and spends it for dress; the sons and daughters taught prodigality by example, and upbraided for it in speech—what can come to such a home but embittered feeling? How can love reign in a household where mutual confidence and sacrifices, where the traits that inspire respect and kindle affection are wanting? Not to pay one’s debts is as sure and as short a road as can be found to the extinction of confidence, the destruction of respect, and the death of love. Where now shall we look for a corrective? I answer, in a higher ideal of the true wealth and welfare of the nation, and so of the individuals who severally compose it. It was Epictetus who said, long ago, “You will confer the greatest benefit upon your city, not by raising the roofs, but by exalting the souls of your fellow-citizens, for it is better that great souls should live in small habitations than that abject slaves should burrow in great houses.” Let us then pay every debt but the debt which we can never wholly pay, whether to God or our neighbour, which is the debt of love. But let us gladly own that debt, and be busy every day of our lives in making at least some small payment in account. As we gather about the family board let us remember the homeless and unbefriended, and be sure that we have done something to make sunshine in their hearts, no matter what gloom may reign without. (Bp. H. C. Potter.)
The debt of Christian love:—
- The affectionate exhortation. This calls upon us to endeavour to be always out of debt, while always in debt. Some, indeed, read the text as a doctrinal statement. “Ye owe no man anything but to love one another”; all that I would inculcate is reducible to this: obey the law of love to others, in all its branches, and then you will “render to all their dues.” But there is sufficient reason to interpret our text according to our present translation. Thus interpreted—1. It does not mean—Ye sin if ye ever contract debt, or do not discharge it the moment it is contracted. On this principle, commerce would be almost annihilated; many a conscience would be continually fettered; and the precept itself would be found impracticable. But it insists on the punctual and conscientious payment of all lawful debts, which indeed is required by common honesty. “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again.” “Woe unto him, … that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work.” 2. But it means more. Ye owe duties to every one, and these you are to fulfil. In every relationship of life you have dues to render, and all your various duties to man result from your supreme duty to God. You are a debtor first and above all to God Himself, owing Him ten thousand talents and more, and having nothing wherewith to pay. That debt Christ has paid for you. Believe ye this? Then God, for Christ’s sake, has freely forgiven you. From being His debtors as to guilt, ye become His debtors as to gratitude, and this debt He would have you pay in charity to all mankind. Would ye, then, be honest in the full Christian sense? “Owe no man anything.” Be ever discharging the obligations under which God has graciously laid you, to love Him, and to love your brother also. 3. And yet ye must ever be in debt. We can never do enough in serving God and benefiting man. When all pecuniary debts are paid, this debt of love to one another remains, and is still binding. 4. But whence our means of paying this great debt of love? By having the love of God continually shed abroad in the heart. The more we receive, the more we are in debt to God; and hence the more we do, the more we may do in carrying out love to God and man, in all the relationships of life.
- The comprehensive motive. “For he that loveth another, hath fulfilled the law.” “But we are not under the law, but under grace.” True, but for what object? “That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Thus is the believer not without law to God, but under the law to Christ. All whom the Spirit leads to Christ for pardon, He forgives freely, and then consigns them back to the training of the Holy Spirit, who writes the law of God upon the heart, and enables them to write it out in the life. And that law is love; “love is the fulfilling of the law.” None obey the law of God as those who look to Christ as “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (J. Hambleton, M.A.)
The debt of love to our neighbour:—
- This is a debt which every man owes. There are relations in which men seem slow to recognise dues and obligations. They recognise the relation between the ordinary creditor and debtor, master and servant, as well as the obligations founded upon it. They forget that the very existence of certain relations involves a corresponding obligation, whether we have voluntarily assumed them or not. The child enters into relations with its parents without any act of its own; and yet the child is bound to render filial honour, obedience, and love. The highest relation man can have is to God. This exists before the act of any recognition on the part of the creature; but it imposes certain obligations which the creature is bound to meet. In the preceding verses Paul speaks of the relation of the subject to the ruler; the citizen to the state. Our birth introduces us to the rights of citizenship, but we are born to duties just as much as to rights; and as long as we remain under the protection of the State, we are bound to render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, just as we are bound to render unto God the things that are God’s; and that, as Paul informs us, “for conscience’ sake.” The debts we owe the State are just as binding as any debts we voluntarily contract. And these dues (ver. 7) lead Paul to speak of that greatest debt, loving one another. Although you may say with a feeling of independence and superiority, “I do not owe a dollar to any man,” here is a debt you owe to every man. “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God”; and the same spirit spoke through Cain—“Am I my brother’s keeper?” The atheist denies his relation to God and the obligation which it involves; the spirit of selfishness refuses to recognise its relation to its neighbour; but the Spirit of Christ teaches a different lesson. It is not left to my choice or caprices—it is a debt. I owe it not to a select number of men, but to every man, for every man is my neighbour. According to Paul this debt is love (Matt. 22:36–38).
- What are we to do with this debt? 1. We must pay this debt as every other. The Lord is not satisfied with our recognition of the duty, for He says, “Thou shalt love.” We must pay it—(1) By scrupulously abstaining from doing any evil to our neighbour, for “love worketh no ill to his neighbour.” (2) By doing all the positive good to him we can. 2. And yet this is the one great debt which we are always to owe. Love is the inexhaustible fountain out of which all words and deeds of kindness flow. That fountain must ever remain open and full. Without such a fountain all the streamlets would fail. Let a man love, and he will strive to render unto all their dues, and to owe no man anything. The absence of love makes cruel creditors and unprincipled debtors. Love is indeed “the fulfilment of the law,” and the unfulfilled law everywhere reveals the absence of love. By the law is the knowledge of sin, and of this great sin, too, that we owe this great debt of love, and have become great debtors by not paying it. But the law is also “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” We shall never be able to pay this greatest of all debts until we have become the pardoned debtors of our Heavenly Father. The love of God begets our love. He alone can enable us to be diligent in paying a debt that can never be entirely paid off. (G. F. Krotel, D.D.)
The debt of love:—1. As private persons, in your mutual traffic with one another, it will necessarily happen that, whatever your stations in life are, you must incur debts, and stand accountable to one another for certain goods and commodities received, for labour done, or for money borrowed. When St. Paul therefore directs you to owe no man anything, he only means that you are not to incur debts wantonly, nor keep in debt needlessly. But there is one debt which, he says, you can never discharge. This debt is the debt of Christian love. 2. Examine into the reasons on which it is founded, and why this exertion of Christian love is a debt of that kind, which can never be paid so fully as to absolve us from any further payment of it. (1) The first reason is founded on the relation in which we stand to Almighty God. The innumerable benefits which we daily and hourly receive at His hands demand the constant tribute of love and gratitude; but we have no way of expressing this affection so effectually as by acts of kindness to our fellow-creatures. (2) The force of the next reason depends on the frame and constitution of human nature, which is so replete with wants and weaknesses, consisting indeed of various kinds, yet distributed in pretty equal proportion among the species, that it is, morally speaking, impossible for us to be independent one of another. (3) The last reason consists in the very nature of the principle itself, and of those intrinsic properties, without which it ceases to be the thing which we mean by the terms we use to define it. Now, were benevolence a passive principle that contented itself with being, what the word imports, only a well-wishing, not a well-doing quality, it might not be required to be in constant use and exertion. But when used to denote Christian love and charity, and to have the same meaning with these terms, it implies a strenuous and unwearied exercise of one of the most active faculties of the human soul, which is better, perhaps, expressed by the term beneficence. Our charity must therefore be commensurate with our life; it must act so long as we act, for if it ever faileth it ceaseth to be charity, because we see that the apostle tells us it is one of its essential properties never to fail or cease from acting. 3. On these three reasons we build this conclusion that the debt of charity or benevolence to our neighbour is a debt which we must take all opportunities of paying him, and of which we must only close the payment when death closes our eyes. May we not assure ourselves that a soul actuated by so Divine a principle here on earth, must, of all other things, be best prepared to participate the joys of heaven? (W. Mason, M.A.)
Heaven’s cure for the plagues of sin:—
- The nature of love. There are two kinds of affection that have this title. One is an approbation and affection for a character that pleases us; the other is an ardent good-will towards beings capable of happiness. Both of these affections are exercises of the Divine mind. And both of them are enjoined upon man. God and angels and all holy beings we are obligated to look upon with complacency, and towards all men we are bound to exercise good-will. We may wish well to all men, and still be willing to see the convict imprisoned and executed. This the good of the civil community demands, and this benevolence assents to, nay, even requires.
- How this affection will operate. Here the path of our thoughts is plain. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour. It will neither kill, nor steal, nor covet, nor defraud, nor witness falsely. It will lead to the discharge of every debt but one, and that one the debt of love; it will delight to owe and pay, and still owe for ever. Those whom we love we wish happy; and in proportion to the strength of that affection will be the energy exerted to accomplish that object. If to be calm and content will render them happy, we shall be reluctant to ruffle their temper or move their envy. If to be rich, and respected, and wise will make them happy, we shall wish their success in business, their increased respectability, and their advance in knowledge. If health, and ease, and long life, and domestic friendship will add to their enjoyments, we shall wish them all these; and what we wish for them we shall be willing, if in our power, to do for them. But if only the grace of God can make them blessed, it will be our strongest wish and our most ardent prayer that God would sanctify them.
III. The duty of benevolence. And here I would premise that the good-will which I urge is to be exercised toward friend and foe. It is a pure and disinterested affection, hence is the offspring of a heavenly temper. I would urge it upon myself and my fellow-men—1. By the example of God. How constant and how varied are the operations of the Divine benevolence! Life and health, and food and raiment are His gifts, and are bestowed on His friends and His foes. Now the whole Bible just urges upon every man this same expanded benevolence. You are required to be a worker together with God. 2. We are urged to the same duty by the command of God. God does not exhibit His example before us, and leave it to our option whether we will do like Him. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” And the Scriptures teach us what the effect of this love will be. It will lead to an affectionate deportment and a readiness to serve each other. It begets a spirit of forbearance, of truth, of unanimity, of self-denial, of meekness, and forgiveness. 3. Benevolence affords its possessor a permanent and high enjoyment. It is, in its nature, a sweet and calm affection, has its origin in heaven, and exerts a sanctifying influence upon every other exercise of the soul. If I know that I love my fellow-men, I am conscious that I feel as God does, and as He commands me to feel. I see, in that case, the image of my Creator in my heart. Hence it begets joy and hope. But this is not all; a benevolent heart makes all the happiness it sees its own, and thus widens, indefinitely, the sphere of its enjoyment. It has a real pleasure in another’s joy, and still does not diminish the good on which it feeds and thrives.
- The happiness it communicates to others. I would then urge all the believers and the unbelievers to love their fellow-men, from the fact that by putting forth this affection you can create a world of happiness. In the first place, look about you and see what need there is of more happiness than at present exists, what abundant opportunity there is for your exertion. You cannot be ignorant that you live in a ruined world, where, if you are disposed to be kind, you can find abundant employment. You can find misery in almost every shape and shade. Would it not be desirable to apply a remedy if you might to this complicated malady? Be willing, then, to practise the benevolence required, and the remedy is applied and the cure effected. Can you quit the world peaceably till what you can do has been done, to fertilise the moral waste over which you expect so soon to cast a lingering, dying look? V. The dying love of Christ. It was in the cure of this very same distress that He came in the flesh and died on the tree. Enter, then, upon the work of making your fellow-men happy, and you are in the very vineyard where the Lord Jesus laboured. He has already rescued from the ruins of the apostasy a great multitude that no man can number. The work is going on, and He invites your co-operation. Remarks: 1. In the want of this benevolence, how strong is the proof we have that men are wholly depraved! 2. We see the necessity that men should be renewed. Place selfish hearts in heaven and they would there be as fruitful as elsewhere in misery. 3. How pleasant is the prospect of a millennium! Then the benevolence we contemplate will become general. Men will be employed in rendering each other happy. (D. A. Clark.)
Love a debt to our neighbour:—
- Exceedingly great. Because—1. The creditors are so many. 2. Its liabilities are so numerous. 3. It can never be fully discharged.
- Unspeakably sweet. Because—1. Not lightly incurred. 2. It helps us to discharge all others. 3. It harmonises with God’s love. 4. Every attempt to discharge it is a source of pleasure. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Love a debt due to all men:—
- A great debt. 1. As due to so many—all men. 2. Requiring so much to pay it—sometimes our life (1 John 3:16).
- A lasting debt. Though always being paid, yet never discharged. The more that is paid the more is felt to be due. The principle is deepened and made more active by the practice.
III. A pleasant debt (Phil. 2:1). Every payment of it gladdens and enlarges the heart.
- An honourable debt. 1. Necessary to our moral nature. 2. It makes us Godlike and Christlike (Eph. 4:32; 5:1, 2; 1 John 4:8). (T. Robinson, D.D.)
8. He who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. ‘His neighbour’ is literally ‘the other’. It is just possible to translate ‘he who loves has fulfilled the other law’—i.e. the ‘second’ commandment of Mark 12:31 or else ‘the law of Christ’ (cf. Gal. 6:2) over and above the law of the state to which obedience has been enjoined in verses 1–7. But the translation in the text is far preferable.
8 The need for Christians to discharge their obligations forms the transition between vv. 1–7 and vv. 8–10. In v. 7a, Paul urged Christians to “pay back” their “debts” (opheilas) to everyone, especially (in that context) to the governing authorities. In v. 8a, Paul repeats this demand: “Owe [opheilete] nothing to anyone.” This command does not forbid a Christian from ever incurring a debt (e.g., to buy a house or a car); it rather demands that Christians repay any debts they do incur promptly and in accordance with the terms of the contract. Prompt payment of debts, however, is simply a transitional point in these verses. Paul’s real interest emerges in the next clause: that Christians “love one another.” What is the relationship between this demand for love and the preceding demand that Christians “owe nothing to anyone”? The words that connect these two commands could be adversative; we would then translate v. 8a, “Owe nothing to anyone; but you ought to love one another.” However, the words can also denote an exception; and, from early times, commentators have generally preferred this explanation, translating, as in the NRSV, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” I also prefer this interpretation, since it gives the debated words the meaning they usually have in Paul and creates a transition between the two commands that is both natural and striking. As Origen put it, “Let your only debt that is unpaid be that of love—a debt which you should always be attempting to discharge in full, but will never succeed in discharging.”373
Pauline use of “one another” in similar contexts shows that the command to love is restricted to love for fellow Christians.375 Nevertheless, the universalistic language that both precedes—“no one”—and follows—“the other”—this command demands that the love Paul is exhorting Christians to display is ultimately not to be restricted to fellow Christians. We are called to love “the other”; and, as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan so vividly illustrates, this “other” may be someone quite unknown to us or even hostile toward us (Luke 10:25–37). As Paul has already made clear, “sincere love” (12:9) means that we are to “bless our persecutors” (12:14) and seek to do good to all people (12:17).
In the second part of the verse, Paul explains why love for one another is the Christian’s one outstanding debt: “the one who loves the other person has fulfilled the law.”378 By using the phrase “the other” to specify the object of our love, Paul emphasizes that we are called to love specific individuals with whom we come into contact. At the same time, he hints that these individuals may be people who are different from us.380 As the repetition of the point in v. 10 makes clear, Paul’s claim that the one who loves the other “has fulfilled” the (Mosaic) law introduces a central point in this paragraph.382
Two interpretations of this claim are possible. On the one hand, Paul may simply be highlighting the centrality of love within the law. On this view, Paul is teaching that loving other people is necessary if we are to claim truly to have “done” what the law demands. Paul’s purpose is not to minimize the importance and continuing relevance of the other commandments but to insist that love must be the guiding principle in our obedience to these other commandments. However, it is not clear that this view does justice to the word “has fulfilled.” Paul reserves the word “fulfill” for Christian experience; only Christians, as a result of the work of Christ and through the Spirit, can “fulfill” the law. A more likely interpretation, then, is that Paul refers here to a complete and final accomplishment of the law’s demands that is possible only in the new age of eschatological accomplishment.385 Christians who love others have satisfied the demands of the law en toto; and they need therefore not worry about any other commandment.387
Paul reveals here again his concern to maintain a careful balance in his teaching about the law in Romans. On the one hand, believers are no longer “under the law” (6:14, 15); they have “been put to death to it” (7:4). On the other hand, Paul teaches that faith “establishes the law” (3:31) and that believers filled with the Spirit find that “the just decree of the law has been fulfilled” (8:4). This passage helps put these perspectives together: the commandments of the old covenant do not provide direct guidance for new covenant believers. But this does not mean that the law was a bad thing; nor does it mean even that the law has no more relevance. It has been “fulfilled”: brought to its intended eschatological climax by Jesus and his apostles. Their teaching—“the law of Christ” (see Gal. 6:2)—is now the source of ethical guidance. Central to that new covenant law is love for the other. When, therefore, believers love others as they should, they “fulfill the law”: they bring to expression in actual life circumstances what the law was all along aiming at. We must emphasize, however, that such complete and consistent loving of others remains an impossibility, even for the Spirit-filled believer: we will never, short of glory, truly love “the other” as we should. This means that it would be premature to claim that love “replaces” the law for the Christian, as if the only commandment we ever needed to worry about was the command of love. For as long as our love remains incomplete, we may very well require other commandments both to chastise and to guide us. What the source of those commandments may be is, of course, another question; and this Paul touches on in the next verse.
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).
Debt and How to Get Out of It
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:8 begins a new section of Paul’s letter in which Paul turns from the way believers are to relate to the governing authorities to how they are to treat other people in general. Our text is an effective transition, because it picks up on verse 7 (“Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor”) and bridges to the ongoing Christian responsibility to love other people.
Verse 8 says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”
Borrowing or Failing to Repay?
The King James Version began this verse a bit differently: “Owe no man any thing” (“Owe no one anything,” RSV). This is a literal translation of the Greek. But the New International Version is closer to the actual meaning when it says, “Let no debt remain outstanding,” because the Bible does not forbid borrowing. Jesus assumed the right to borrow in Matthew 5:42, when he said, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Other texts assume this also (see Exod. 22:25; Ps. 37:26; Luke 6:35). The point of Romans 13:8 is not that Christians should never borrow, but that they should never leave their debts unpaid. As Leon Morris points out, being a present imperative, the verb even has a continuous force: “Don’t continue owing. Pay your debts.”
John Murray says, “This cannot be taken to mean that we may never incur financial obligations.… But it does condemn the looseness with which we contract debts and particularly the indifference so often displayed in the discharging of them.”
The difference between borrowing under certain circumstances and failure to repay what is borrowed can be illustrated as follows. Suppose you are renting a house. You do not own the house. You are only benefiting from it through the willingness of the owner to rent it to you. All you owe is the rent. In this case, the words of our text, “Let no debt remain outstanding,” mean that you are to pay the rent on time. Suppose now that you need to borrow capital for a business. The situation is exactly the same. You do not own the capital. All you are doing is renting it through the willingness of the owner to loan it to you. What you owe is the interest—plus the repayment of the capital on whatever schedule has been agreed upon between you and the lender. There is no sin in borrowing the money as long as you are able to pay the interest and premiums according to that schedule.
America: A Debtor Nation
But the problem for many Americans, including our government, is that debt financing has become a way of life, and those who borrow are frequently enticed, misled, or trapped into borrowing more than they are able to repay. Then they default on their payments and often escape the weight of their financial obligations by declaring personal bankruptcy. Bankruptcy means cheating the person or company that has lent the money, and it is an unjust and impermissible course of action for a Christian. It is at this point that Romans 13:8 speaks most forcefully to people today when it says, “Let no debt remain outstanding.”
The United States began to go into serious debt only after World War II. Before that we were living within our means. Income paid for the debt on bonds, inflation was negligible, and the country had a positive balance of trade. Today our national debt has passed $4 trillion. None of us really knows how much $1 million is, let alone $1 billion or $1 trillion. Breaking it down may help: $4 trillion dollars is $16,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States ($4 trillion divided by 250 million). If we wanted to pay this debt off, we would first have to stop going into debt, which our leaders are unwilling or unable to do. (They are actually increasing the debt at an accelerating rate, rather than decreasing it.) Then we would have to repay what we have borrowed. At what rate? And for how long? Well, at 6 percent the interest alone is $657 million per day ($240 billion divided by 365). If we started a repayment plan of, say, $1 billion per day ($343 million per day on top of the interest payments), it would take us more than eleven thousand years to pay off $4 trillion.
People think it does not really matter that our government owes money since, as they say, we owe it to ourselves. But that is unsound reasoning. Money borrowed by government always has to be repaid by someone. It can be repaid literally by future taxes or deceitfully by future inflation, in which the dollars are simply made to be worth less. Or it can be repudiated during a period of political upheaval. In other words, it can be stolen from the lenders, who are the people. There are no other possibilities. Debt simply does not go away.
We can’t do anything about the government’s debt, of course, except perhaps trying to elect representatives with enough courage to fight it. But we can do something about our own debt, which for many people today is a serious problem.
The difficulty is that our consumer-oriented culture has deceived many people into living beyond their means on the assumption that they will have more money in the future so they can buy on credit now, enjoy their possessions, and pay later. That is a dangerous assumption, of course. We cannot count on earning more in the future than the present. But even if we could count on this, to live by debt financing is still foolish.
The problem is that you not only have to repay the amount borrowed plus interest, you also have to repay interest on the interest still owed. This is known as compounding, and it is the exact opposite of the way money invested early and regularly grows into substantial amounts over a lifetime. This is why if you buy a $100,000 house with a thirty-year mortgage at 10 percent interest, you will have made total payments of over $315,000 by the end of the thirty years. If you live within your means and save, compounding works for you. A person who saves can actually become wealthy by the time of retirement, even if his or her salary is small. On the other hand, if you live beyond your means by borrowing, compounding works against you and can trap you before you are even aware of what is happening.
The biggest trap is credit cards. Almost all creditworthy adults have at least one credit card, and the average cardholder has seven. If you have credit cards and use them only for convenience, paying the full amount due each month so that you never have to pay interest, you are in fine shape. But if you use them to borrow on time, you are headed for trouble. Unfortunately, most people use them as a revolving line of credit.
In 1988 Money magazine reported that the average balance on these cards per person was $1,450 and that millions of Americans had outstanding debts of $2,500 or more. In their judgment, more than twenty million households were living beyond their means. Today, of course, the problem is even worse, and the inability of these millions of people to repay their debts is contributing to our current sluggish economy.
Yet consumer credit companies continue to bombard us with appeals to add just one more credit card. This is not because our credit is so good they just cannot resist wanting us as clients, but that they get 18 to 21 percent interest on whatever we fail to pay monthly, and that is much more than they can get by lending their money at today’s competitive bank rates. If you fall for their seductive appeals and end up buying anything on credit, you are foolish.
Ron Blue is a Christian financial planning expert who has written a good book on biblical principles for personal finance called Master Your Money. In it he tells an interesting story. When the Sears company introduced its Discover Card they used Atlanta as a test market, and the Atlanta papers reported that Sears officials expected credit card usage to go up by thirty-five billion dollars as a result of introducing the new card. Their studies showed that the new card would be used for incremental borrowing. That is, it would not be a case of people borrowing on the Discover card rather than on some other card, like American Express, Visa, or MasterCard, for instance. It would be additional borrowing, because the new card would be an additional credit line for those who had it.
Blue talked to a banking friend about the way banks view people who pay credit card bills on time, thus avoiding the high interest. The banker told him that in the banking industry a person who pays his bills right away is known as a “deadbeat,” because the company is unable to make much money from him. A decade or so ago a deadbeat was someone who failed to pay his bills. Now he is someone who pays his bills promptly.
Climbing Out of the Debt Pit
There are few ministers today who are not frequently called upon to counsel persons who have been trapped by debt. In fact, the problem has become so serious, even among otherwise solid evangelical people, that many churches have developed financial counseling classes to help parishioners with their debt problems.
Suppose you have been trapped by debt. You cannot pay your bills each month, and the problem is getting worse rather than better. What are you going to do about it? Our text says, “Let no debt remain outstanding.” How are you going to obey this vital biblical command? Let me suggest the following practical steps.
- Recognize that you have a spiritual problem. If you are a Christian, this is the place you need to start, because it will place the responsibility for your condition on you and not on God or adverse circumstances, and assuming responsibility for your own life is the healthiest and most important course for anyone.
Sometimes when Christians get trapped by debt they go to their ministers and ask why God hasn’t fulfilled his promise. Hasn’t he said that he will “meet all [our] needs” (cf. Phil. 4:19)? Does God break his promises? Does he fail to keep his word? You know the answer to that. God never breaks his word. Therefore, God has not failed you. Rather it is you who have failed him.
Instead of being spiritual, you have become secular in your thinking. You have listened to the siren song of the secular culture surrounding you, and you have adopted a consumptive lifestyle on the world’s recommendation and urging. You have been adopting the world’s hedonistic philosophy: “Do it now.” “Live it up.” “You only go around once.” “You’re worth it.”
Earlier in this volume I addressed the harmful effects of television. Ron Blue makes this observation:
The more television a person watches, the higher lifestyle the person is apt to desire. Television advertising is extremely sophisticated and effective. In a similar way, the more time you spend in shopping malls, the higher lifestyle you are apt to want because you are surrounding yourself with temptation. It is much like going to the grocery store just before mealtime to do your weekly shopping. Chances are that you will spend substantially more than if you went after a meal and with a specific list in mind.
- Stop buying on time. Simply stop taking on more debt, in any way or for any reason. There are reasons why debt is sometimes a right strategy—to buy a house, for example, assuming that you are able to afford it and still meet your other financial obligations. But if you are trapped by debt, as many are, it is essential that you absolutely stop adding to it. How? Well, one way would be to cut up your credit cards or lock them away.
Money magazine is not in the business of discouraging borrowing. But in the 1988 issue I cited earlier the editors wrote, “If willpower alone cannot stop your borrowing, try plastic surgery: cut up your cards, cancel your credit lines, and close your overdraft accounts.”
- Reduce your expenditures to below your current income. Live within your means. Blue says it like this: “Spend less than you earn and do it for a long time, and you will be financially successful.”
Do you remember Charles Dickens’s touching character Mr. Micawber from David Copperfield? Micawber was always living a bit beyond his means, which led to the loss of everything he owned, eventually even to his being put in prison. Micawber understood his problem, as many today do not, and he gave Copperfield this warning: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the God of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and—in short you are for ever floored. As I am!”
If you have trouble reducing your expenditures, you need to prepare a budget and stick to it. If you cannot do that, you need to seek help from a professional counselor about where cuts in your spending should be made.
And this might be helpful. Blue says that at one point in his career he read that using credit cards will cause a family to spend 34 percent more than they would if they were to pay for everything they purchased with cash. That was supposed to be true even if they always paid their credit card bills immediately. Blue found this hard to believe. But he decided to try it. He had always paid his credit card bills at once, because he resented having to pay interest on the money. Nevertheless, he and his wife talked it over, put their credit cards away, and for a year lived strictly on cash.
Were they inconvenienced? Yes. It meant carrying a lot of cash around, and it took a lot to pay for such high-priced items as household appliances, car repairs, and airplane tickets. But having to pay with cash changed Blue’s thinking. Paying cash at the drugstore caused him to think carefully about what he was buying and in some cases to eliminate impulsive purchases. Paying cash for clothes caused him to ask whether he really needed them or whether something cheaper might be equally as good.
The bottom line is that at the end of his experimental year, when he added up what he had spent, Blue found that his living expenses had decreased 33 percent from what they had been the year before when he had been using his credit cards. And he had thought that he was living on a bare-bones budget even then! That might be a good strategy for you, if you are having trouble living within your current income.
- Sell assets to reduce your current debt. There are only two ways to get out of debt after you have decided to do it: (1) sell off unnecessary assets in order to repay the debt and (2) begin a repayment schedule and stick to it. Neither of these is easy, which is one reason why getting into debt is so bad. But of the two, the easiest is to sell off assets. You will not be able to do this with everything. But there are probably some things you can sell—a high-priced or second car perhaps, a recreational vehicle, a boat, stereo equipment, or other such items.
- Pay something on each debt each month. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to sell off assets to repay debt. In fact, 80 percent of Americans owe more than they own, which means that selling assets is not much of an option in their cases, though they may be able to reduce their debt by selling some items. Therefore, for most people the only remaining way to get out of the debt trap is by carefully preparing and rigidly following a debt repayment schedule.
Blue has two additional suggestions at this point. First, concentrate on eliminating the smallest debts first. This will make the repayment project simpler, and it will be good for you to have some reward for what may be a long and difficult effort. When you have eliminated the smallest debts, you can apply what you would have been spending on those debts to the other, greater liabilities. Thus, you will be building momentum that will itself be encouraging.
Second, precommit any unexpected income to your debt repayment. If you are a Christian, this will alert you to God’s providential oversight of your financial life. If you are seriously trying to obey God in respect to the text we are studying—“Let no debt remain outstanding”—God will most likely provide funds you have not been expecting, and you will be able to thank him for it. When that happens, you will have come far from the attitude that asks, “Why did God let me get into this mess?” or “Why hasn’t God kept his promises?” And you will be thinking instead, “What is God trying to teach me through this bad situation?”
He Never Earned More Than $8,000
I want to end with this story, again from the book by Ron Blue. On one occasion a retired pastor came to him for some financial advice. He had never earned more than $8,000 in any one year, and he wanted to know if he would have enough money to live out his life in retirement. At this point the man was eighty years old, and he had been retired for twenty years.
Blue began to ask about his finances. Did he have any debts? No. Why not? Because he knew he would have to repay them someday, and he wasn’t earning enough money to pay off debt, feed his family, and give his tithe. Did he have any assets? Yes. He had $250,000 in cash and money market funds in his wife’s name and an additional $350,000 in his own name, a total of $600,000. Oh and, yes, he had also invested $10,000 in a new company some years ago, and the value of the stock had by this time grown to $1,063,000. Total assets $1,663,000! And he had never earned more than $8,000 a year! Blue sent him away with no advice at all and told him not to listen to anybody else, either. What he was doing was just fine.
That is a remarkable story, of course. Not everyone will invest in a company that can grow assets from $10,000 to $1,000,000 in a lifetime. But it is a striking illustration of what can happen if a person handles his or her finances as a Christian should.
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).
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2180). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ro 13:8). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1451). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1733–1734). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Romans (Vol. 6, p. 398). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Utley, R. J. (1998). The Gospel according to Paul: Romans (Vol. Volume 5, Ro 13:8). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, pp. 438–439). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Romans (Vol. 2, pp. 571–576). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.
 Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, pp. 239–240). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Moo, D. J. (2018). The Letter to the Romans. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Second Edition, pp. 828–832). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 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.
 Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: The New Humanity (Vol. 4, pp. 1681–1687). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 2, pp. 245–250). Chicago: Moody Press.