Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10
Romans 13 is broken into two sections, and this is the beginning of Section 2. It is excellent for Christian living within our community of work, church and recreation, and how we demonstrate love in real terms. We might wonder why the writer Paul is preaching commandments and love in the same message. Aren't they opposed to each other? Harsh commandments and mushy love? Keeping commandments through the Spirit is the pinnacle of community love, as true love does no wrong to others. (1 Corinthians 13).
When we look at commandments, we generally think of how they apply to us—how relevant they are to our personal relationship with God. Rarely do we think of how important our following them is to others. Let's see what Paul suggested to the Church in Rome.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another. This comment seems strange at the front of a few commandments. Owe no person anything? What can we possibly owe someone other than money or something we've borrowed? Christian's borrow many books and DVDs, and only half get returned, but is that what Paul meant? What if we get given a book and don't read it, or a DVD and don't watch it? Do we owe that person a simple apology, or is our debt more significant than that? Let's explore it more and see if we can get further clarity between owing and love.
Deuteronomy 24:6 says, "No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man's life (living) to pledge." Farmers used two millstones for crushing grain to make bread to eat or sell. One millstone remains stationary, while the other rotates horizontally above it. Taking millstones would be like taking a farmer's tractor today and still expecting him to provide food for his table as well as pay back what he owes. It's like making bricks without straw, and is virtually impossible, falling far short of the Lord's mercy and love in the Law. When we judge harshly by taking out what God leaves in, we fail to exercise the love God would have applied. We, therefore, owe them the love missing from the judgment, as well as their wage for that timeframe. In God's eyes, we've stolen from them. That's also why God commanded Israelites not to charge interest to their brethren on money, food or anything else on loan. (Deuteronomy 23:19)Those who did were considered thieves. (Nehemiah 5:7).
Deuteronomy 24:15 states, "At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee." Withholding or owing wages beyond the agreed timeframe becomes a sin. I know sometimes money is short in business, and a one-off agreement might be needed for a day or two, but not as a means to hold power over workers. Remember, God has power over us and can bless or withhold our blessing. In addition to their wages, we owe them justice. Keeping this law helps our relationship with the Lord and our workers, who are also considered our neighbours.
Matthew 5:24 tells us that if our brother or sister has anything against us, we hold off giving our tithes and offerings into the plate and first try earnestly to reconcile ourselves to them. Only after that, we come and offer our gifts. Otherwise, we remain in debt to the Lord and them, as we haven't discharged Jesus' commandment. Often our pride prevents us from many community repairs. This is why Jesus said to the Pharisees, "But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice:"
Even with these few verses, we see we can owe others much in the Lord's sight, besides money or time, just by not doing what the Lord says.
The accompanying five commandments continue to show us the Lord's desire for peaceful and righteous communities, and govern how we behave within them.
Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet;
Think about the ramifications of poor conduct to our neighbourhood. Broken homes, suicides, psychologists, childhood and adult trauma, colossal debt, police presence and prison sentences. I doubt there would be a family on earth that hasn't been a victim of broken commandments.
Anguish and confusion are removed when we remain watchful guardians over our habits and practices, and particularly the thoughts that start them off. We can also see the demolition of society when its members don't follow them. This is why our attentive Christian living is so essential to the foundation of the world.
Today's prayer:Dear Lord, I didn't realise your commandments were so intimately enjoined with neighbourly love. Please illuminate to me where I falter in any love towards my neighbour, and give me the strength and determination to fix it if I can.
Photo by Mark Duffel