In chapter 13 of Romans, the Apostle Paul shares his view of getting along with the government and neighbors: obey laws and pay taxes, to keep yourself debt free from the government. Then Paul says a strange thing. He tells us there is the area of our lives where we will never be debt free. We have a continuous debt to one another (verse 8). This responsibility comes from a royal law to love your neighbor as yourself. (James 2:8)
Jesus includes this love as the greatest commandment in relationship to one another (Mark 12:31). The law of love for each other is found in a listing of other laws (Leviticus 19:18). To love your neighbor is to go beyond the list of “do not” found in the last six of the Ten Commandments. Jesus moved it into the arena in responding to need in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Since there will always be need coming before us, there will always be the debt of response to need. It is more than meeting need; it is developing a relationship that helps us encourage each other along life’s journey.
If we relate to each other by meeting needs, it is possible to do so out of a sense of obligation. Love goes beyond obligation. Love responds to the person more than the need. Love does not keep score; it develops a relationship.
Jesus went so far as to tell His disciples that He gave them a new commandment, that they “love one another”. Jesus said “This is how all men will know that you are My disciples.” (John 13:34)
I am struck with the words in verse 8: “the continuing debt to love one another”. It is a continuing debt because we are always receiving God’s love. In light of having received, we are to pass it on. As God’s love flows to us, the divine design is for it to flow through us.
Jesus said, “Freely you have received. Freely give.” (Matthew 10:8b)
- Dale Clemens