Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thoughts on Romans 13:9

I have always found it interesting that when Paul speaks of us keeping God’s law, he never completes the list of the 10 Commandments.  Such is the case in this verse, For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."   A case could be made that he follows Jesus’ lead in this; Mat 19:18-19  He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,  Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Jesus lists only the second table which the man quickly states he has kept from his youth.  But when Jesus adds for him to sell all he has and follow him, which sums up the first table, the man as much as admits he has failed completely to love and honor God at all.  In both of these passages it is clear why love as God defines it is the equivalent of keeping any and all law.
I think there are a couple of reasons why these lists deliberately are never completed.  When Paul finishes the partial list of commands he adds the phrase, “if there be any other commandment”; he is saying that once you define love as God defines it then that is all you need to know.  Every command is an act of serving another in some way. Every principle in the Bible either helps us glorify God, help our neighbor or is good for our own souls. Every restriction keeps us from dishonoring God or hurting ourselves or our neighbor.  One does not even need to know the 10 Commandments or any other specific law to have a basic idea  of what God expects of us.
Another reason I think Paul never lists them all is because we, as many do, would make those 10 the entirety of our obligation instead of looking for every way we can to love both God and man. Living by the principle of love is much harder than living by rules written in black and white. So it isn’t enough that I not steal or kill but I must not want to because I love God and my neighbor and so I must do them service, not just do them no harm. And so by never finishing a list he saves us from the error that Peter wanted to fall into. He asked Jesus how many times do I have to forgive. Jesus’ answer is as many times as is needed.  It is never a matter of this much and no more; “we will always owe a debt to our neighbor”.  So by always leaving the list open, he saves us from the idea that we can define what serving the Lord is and once we check off these activities we have completed our obligation to the Lord.  The fact is that every living moment is to be lived with love to the Lord and our neighbor as the goal and the list of ways to love cannot be exhausted.  Verse 8 seems to be saying this; there is one debt that we can never repay and that is love or what we owe God.
This goes a long way in explaining sanctification. It is not just cleaning up the outward man. Is there anyone that is thinking that since you and your family are basically good people, you pay your bills and don’t participate in your list of vices that you are fulfilling your duty to Christ? If your heart isn’t given over to the Lord and he isn’t the love of your life then you are not practicing holiness.
So Paul is by no means denying that Christians are to live in obligation to the commandments of our Lord but he is showing how to accomplish this. Just like there are only 7 notes that compose a scale but even the greatest composers cannot exhaust their combinations, so love is a simple concept that we can never fully utilize and live out in this life but as we try to, our lives will play out different melodies unto the Lord because no two of our lives even begin to look alike.

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