(For an explanation of the meaning of “Ordinary Time,” please see “Introducing Ordinary Time” under the tab “Ordinary Time, Year II: Acts & The Letters.”)
Owe No One Anything but Love
Paul begins this section with a line which is almost humorous: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” Now this sounds like an easy thing to do until one thinks it over. This is why I say that it is almost humorous; after all, to owe love to other people is actually a heavy debt to pay, unless one is filled with the Holy Spirit. And this becomes even more obvious when Paul defines this love according to the Ten Commandments, which commandments we could not fulfill in the first place, which is why we needed a Savior. Our nature just doesn’t do this naturally; we require a new birth. Paul is again reminding us that justification by faith does not leave us with nothing to do. Granted, the law does not and cannot save us, but it is still relevant as a useful guide to the life we should live, especially when it is driven to the motivations of the heart as Jesus both showed and demanded that we do (Matthew 5:21-6:18).
But Paul, following his Lord (Matthew 22:34-40), can still sum up all the law in the one word, “love.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; indeed, seeks the neighbor’s well-being, and so fulfills the law. Most people have heard that the Greek language has multiple words for “love,” and, yes, the Greek word here is agape (αγαπη), otherwise known as God’s love. But do understand that love in the Bible is not a warm feeling for someone else or a sentiment. Love is understood in the Bible as an action; it is something we do for someone else—which is why both Jesus and Paul point to the fulfilling of the law (Ten Commandments) as love’s test. As we read the other day, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him…” (12:20-21).
Unfortunately in our day, “love” has fallen on hard times in that it is so often conflated with sex or romance. And even worse, it is prostituted in the service of sexual immorality. We hear, “Love not hate,” which is a slogan used by those who demand that we condone their immorality. If doing no wrong to one’s neighbor means anything, surely it means that we do not encourage our neighbor to continue in a behavior which our Lord condemns, be it sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, drunkenness, gluttony, swearing, a hateful attitude, and so on. This isn’t “tough love” as some like to call it; it is “genuine love,” which we read about the other day (12:9). Love that is genuine is not wholesale acceptance of the sinful behaviors of other people; it may overlook those sins, but never condone. Ultimately, love is laying down our lives for God and others in hopes of their conversion. God’s word must define love for the Christian, not the world.