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The Fulfillment of the Law (13:8-14)

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Most human activities tend to become more complex over time. For example, think of a sport or a game. In the beginning the rules were quite simple: Move the ball forward until you can pass it through the goalposts. But as situations arose which the inventors did not anticipate, they added more rules. Each circumstance called for another regulation until the rules became quite complex. Now it is not enough to move the ball forward, you are forbidden to carry it and you can touch it with only certain parts of your body. The more rules there are, the more skill is required to play the game.

The same holds true in religion. The covenant which God made with the Israelites is summed up in only ten rules, which we call the Ten Commandments. To help define how these rules apply in different situations, God added over 600 more. Unfortunately, because of our sinful natures and because the Law is so complex, only Christ could fully keep it. But man was not content to leave it there. Over the years, the Israelites added many more rules to define and refine what God said. The rules and regulations men added to the Law transformed it from something almost impossible to keep into a crushing burden.

In his inspired letter to the followers of Christ at Rome, the Apostle Paul points out that Christ removes the burden and complexity of the Law from our backs. The Law hemmed us in with external rules. Christ transforms us from the inside so that we naturally want to do what is right and good in God’s sight. In fact, he replaces the complex rules with one principle which covers all circumstances.

In chapter 13 of his letter, verses 8 through 14, Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not give false testimony,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. Do this, knowing the time, that it is already time for you to awaken out of sleep, for salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far gone, and the day is near. Let’s therefore throw off the works of darkness, and let’s put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day; not in reveling and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and lustful acts, and not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, for its lusts.”

What Paul writes in these verses is in agreement with what Christ, Himself, said. A lawyer once asked Him what the greatest commandment is. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)

Paul gives four specific examples of how love fulfills the commandments of the Law. If we love, we will not take another person’s spouse for ourselves because, as he writes in another place, love is “not self seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). Similarly, if we love we will not murder because love “is not easily angered” and “it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). If we love we will not steal because “love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV). If we love we will not covet because love “does not envy” (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV).

The purpose of law is to protect us from one another so that we do no harm to anyone. Since love does not do harm it, by definition, accomplishes the purpose of law.

Not only does love fulfill the Law, a second reason Paul says to love is that “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11 NIV). This is a reference to the return of Christ when He will gather those who are saved to Himself and judge the world. Earlier in his letter Paul made it very clear that the followers of Christ have already been saved. “...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1 NIV). This is something which took place in the past. However, Paul also makes it clear that salvation is an ongoing and continuous process. The followers of Christ are being transformed into His image. This transformation is taking place in the present. In this passage Paul indicates that there is also a future component to salvation. Our salvation will not be complete until Christ returns.

We do not know when Christ will return. All we know is that each day brings it closer. Because salvation is a continuous process and we do not know when Christ will return, we dare not be complacent. We cannot use our accepting Christ at some point in the past as an excuse to fold our hands in sleep – doing nothing further to live according to God’s will. As Paul has already said, we must continue to love one another.

Part of love is putting aside “the deeds of darkness” (Romans 13:12 NIV). Since “love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6 NIV) we cannot say that we love while continuing to participate in evil. If we follow Christ we must uproot all unrighteousness from our lives. As examples, Paul lists such things as orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, debauchery, dissension and jealousy. If we have these things in our lives we are not acting in love.

In place of deeds of darkness Paul writes that we must “put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12 NIV). What is the armor of light? In another place Paul describes this armor as “the belt of truth... the breastplate of righteousness... feet fitted with readiness... the shield of faith... the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:14-17 NIV) Here, however, Paul simply says that we are to clothe ourselves with Christ. In other words, we can say that the armor of light is the characteristics of Christ. We all need to ask ourselves whether we are becoming more like Christ, or whether we are still trying to gratify our sinful desires.

Paul writes that one of the deeds of darkness is dissension. How, then, should we treat fellow believers with whom we do not agree? How can we disagree while still being like Christ? If you would like to know, listen to our next program.