A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 13:8-10. Our relationship to the law: c). Love does no harm to its neighbour.
Paul now explains how it is that neighbour-love fulfils the law. He quotes the prohibitions of the second table of the law: ‘*Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder’, ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness*’ (AV; only a few manuscripts include this, and it is clearly a later insertion, although there seems no reason other than oversight why Paul should have left it out), and ‘*Do not covert*’ (9a). To these he adds *and whatever other commandment there may be*, and then declares that all of them *are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself*,’ as Jesus had said before him (9b; Mt.22:39f.; Gal.5:14). Why does love sum up all the commandments? Because *love does no harm to its neighbour* (10a). Certainly the last five sins forbidden in the Ten Commandments harm people. Murder robs them of their life, adultery of their home and honour, theft of their property, and false witness of their good name, while covetousness robs society of the ideals of simplicity and contentment. All these do *harm (kakos*, evil) to the neighbour, whereas it is the essence of love to seek and to serve our neighbour’s highest good. That is why *love is the fulfilment of the law* (10b).
It is sometimes claimed that the command to love our neighbours as ourselves is implicitly a requirement to love ourselves as well as our neighbours. But this is not so. One can say this with assurance, partly because Jesus spoke of the first and second commandment, without mentioning a third; partly because *agape* is selfless love which cannot be turned in on the self; and partly because according to Scripture self-love is the essence of sin. Instead, we are to affirm all of ourselves which stems from the creation, while denying all of ourselves which stems from the fall. What the second commandment requires is that we love our neighbours as much as we do in fact (sinners as we are) love ourselves. This means that we will love them with a love ‘as real and sincere as our sinful self-love, about the reality and sincerity of which there is no shadow of doubt’. If then we truly love our neighbours, we will seek their good, not their harm, and we will thereby fulfil the law, even though we will never completely discharge our debt.
Tomorrow: Romans 13:11-14. Our relationship to the day: living in the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.