“Whoever Loves Has Fulfilled the Law” ~ Romans 13:8b

Last week I spend some time with my German brothers and sisters at the Freakstock festival, a gathering of sub-culture Christians from across Europe and Asia. The band and I played three shows, and I also had the opportunity to teach a few workshops, one on what it means to be called The Image of God, and the other on how to recognize Christlike healthy leadership in the church (based upon The Good Shepherd teaching of Jesus in John 10). After each workshop, I would inevitably hang around for at least an hour having one on one conversations about Christian ethics, politics, and how to respond to evil in the world with the goodness of Christ.

The conversation was beautiful, and there were all kinds of wise ideas put out by those who gathered there.

Fast forward to this morning, the Apostle Paul spoke to me across the chasm of time and brought many of the conversations that I had last week into perspective and summed them up with a simple small passage.

I have been reading and re-reading the book of Romans in preparation for teaching through the book in the coming months, and I was struck by the second half of Romans 13:
Verses 8-10 contains a simple way of understanding something the moral focus of the Christ follower, lets walk through it for a few minutes.

Verse 8b: “whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

Paul says that the entire law, in the mind of Paul, is after a single thing: love others.

Then in verse 9, he follows it up with some examples of the typical focus of most systems that make laws so as to bring about order. These laws are both contained in the Torah (the Jewish law-code) and are also typically found in almost every law book of society around the world and across time.

V9 – The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Laws tend to focus on the end points of a relationship; they are written to address the things that we do to each other. We punish evil deeds towards each other, and we reward good deeds towards each other (usually with tax incentives).

These types of law codes and commands focus on the end result of the relationship between two people; they seek to put limits on what we can or cannot do to others, and they ignore the source of these actions. Laws allow the hatred and anger to flourish, they merely seek to control the expressions of these emotions and feelings. They attack the fruit, not the root.

This is where Christianity is intended to step in because it is focused on the heart, the birthplace of these undesirable actions, where we find and uproot the seeds of indifference that grow into stealing; the seeds of hatred that grow and produce murder; the seeds of identity and self-centered-ness that cause us to covet and commit sexual offenses.

The crimes that ravage our neighborhoods and tear at the fabric of our society stem from the lack of love that we share for each other. As we allow selfishness to be cultivated in our hearts, unevenness arises giving birth to evil actions against those we deem lower than us. As indifference towards others takes root and grows in us, the desire to steal and murder and take advantage of others starts to become a viable option. There are only two things that keep us from committing sinful and unjust acts against one another: (1) fear of retributive violence (which is what Babylon, Rome, and every empire after them have relied upon), or (2) our love for God and others (which is what Christianity is focused on).

Paul wants the community to see that it is not the law that can fix the breakdown of society, it is love, divine love. If we can learn to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (v9b), the law will become redundant.

The application, then, is to understand that making laws from the top is of no use to healing communities riddled with crime. The solution is for the people of God to give up that type of coercive power over others, and to set the table of fellowship; building relationships that transform both parties by close proximity to each other. Intimacy brings about love; the more you know about someone, the more you will naturally grow in love for them. Therefore, the more you know your neighbor, the more you love them and are more prone to give to them rather than steal from them… to help them flourish instead of commodifying their body, or taking their life.

The church that gathers in neighborhoods from house to house setting the table and inviting a fellowship of different kinds of people together into one space is doing more than any lawmaker ever could for that neighborhood, and I believe that this is what it will take to bring true healing… bigger tables will always trump bigger laws.

V10: “Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

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