Owe no one anything, except to love each other, . . .
– Romans 13:8a –
Proverbs repeatedly instructs us to reject financial commitments that make us slave to the lender (Prov 22:7). It is good stewardship to buy what we can pay for and not to spend more than we have. But what would happen if you received an infinite inheritance? What kind of moral obligation would you have “spread the wealth”?
Imagine that the unbeknownst to you an oil baron died and left you all of his fortune. Though never communicated to you, your father had saved this man’s life by sacrificing his own. Indebted to your father, this tycoon had promised to one day repay his kindness. With no children of his own, he decided on his death bed to give his “saviors” children his entire estate.
What would you think? Surely, this windfall would provide you an endless supply—more than you could ever exhaust. If such a boon came your way, how would you employ this vast treasure? Would you live a life of unfettered hedonism? Or would you strive to follow in the footsteps of your father and improve the lives of others?
We Are Indebted One to Another
In his understanding of the gospel, Paul describes our salvation in terms akin to this oil-fed patronage. In Christ, we have been given inestimable riches—not silver and gold (see Acts 3:6), but eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 8:9, Jesus became poor, “so that [we] by his poverty might become rich.”
To be sure, this verse sounds ostensibly like a prosperity advertisement, but that is to misunderstand Paul’s point. The riches Paul has in mind is the grace of God (“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” v. 9). We who were spiritually dead (Eph 2:1), cut off from God (Eph 2:12), impoverished in the worst way, have been given forgiveness, spiritual life (i.e., the Holy Spirit), and all the riches of God’s grace (Eph 2:7).
Accordingly, the hungriest beggar has a claim on God himself and the wealthiest Christian must confess his portfolio is nothing compared to the riches of Christ. This spiritual truth comforts us immensely, but it also confronts us.
Like the four men dying of hunger who found rations enough for their whole city (2 Kings 7), we cannot feast on the riches of God’s grace without sharing its largesse. The extremity of God’s kindness compels us to share our wealth. And as Paul puts it in Romans 13:8, we are also commanded to do so. We owe others a debt of love, not because we are indebted to them by their works or by our crimes. We are indebted to them, because we have received such a large inheritance that we are commanded to share it with others.
A Debt of Love
When we receive the grace of God it both clears all our debts toward God and makes us debtors to everyone else. Because we have been given so much grace in Christ, we are obligated to share those resources. To some this command might seem burdensome, but that’s only if you forget why God lavished his love on us. Christ loved us and gave himself for us, so that we might freely love him and others. With the gift of his love, the command to love one another, expressed in terms of a financial debt, is not a wearisome burden. It is a commission of joy.
The son who loves his generous father makes no complaint going around the company handing out bonuses. The daughter who is like her industrious mother doesn’t consider it a sacrifice to work long hours to take care of others. For children who have received a lifetime of love and care, it is their dutiful delight to imitate their parents and to share what they have received.
So it is for Christians who have an infinitely loving father in heaven. We are to be free from all debts and obligations to others, save the debt of love. A debt created by the super-abundant grace God has given us in Christ.
Indeed, it is this happy burden that tests the measure of our love. To refuse to love and serve and do good to others is to deny the grace that we have received. It is like the beneficiary of the oil baron spending all their money on themselves. Just as Christ threatens judgment to those forgiven but who won’t forgive (Matt 18:32–35), so those who have been loved without loving others invites discipline or worse.
Paul’s command in Romans 13:8 rebukes in us this deep-seated lethargy to love. Instead of looking at others as our servants who owe us; we are to do good to others with the resources God has given us. If Proverbs 3:27 can say to a people who have the law but not the Spirit, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” How much more should we do good to one another with the power of the Holy Spirit raising us from the dead.
In truth, Paul’s command in Romans 13:8 is not burdensome. It is brimming with possibilities. The one who has been given the love of God needs only a direction to extend the love of God which has been poured in his heart (Rom 5:5). Fortunately, God has given that direction in his law, the very thing Paul turns to next in Romans 13.
Friday, we’ll consider what the law has to say to us about truly loving others. Until then may we linger over the grace of God lavished on us in Christ and labor to meet the needs of others with boundless resources God hasa given us in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds