A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 13:8-10. Our relationship to the law: 2). Love is the fulfilment of the law.
Paul continues: *for he who loves his fellow-man (sc. neighbour) has fulfilled the law* (8b). The two sentences of verse 8 thus present a striking contrast. If we love our neighbour, at least in the sense of not doing him or her any harm, we may be said to have fulfilled the law even though we have not fully paid our debt.
We need to read Paul’s statement about having fulfilled the law against the background of chapter 7, in which he argued that we are incapable of fulfilling it by ourselves, on account of our fallen, self-centred nature. He went on to write, however, that God has done for us what the law (weakened by our sinful nature) was unable to do. He has rescued us both from the condemnation of the law through the death of his Son, and from the bondage of the law by the power of his indwelling Spirit. For what God did was ‘in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met [‘fulfilled’ as in 13:8] in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit’ (8:3f.).
Now that Paul repeats in chapter 13 his statement about our fulfilling the law, he changes his emphasis from the means of the fulfilment (the Holy Spirit) to the nature of it (love). Law and love are often thought to be incompatible. And there are significant differences between them, law being often negative (‘you shall not’) and love positive, law relating to particular sins and love being a comprehensive principle.
But the advocates of the ‘new morality’ or ‘situation ethics’ go considerably further than this. They insist that now ‘nothing is prescribed but love’. In fact ‘love is the end of the law’ because love is no longer needed. Love has its own ‘built-in moral compass’ which discerns intuitively what a true respect for persons will demand in each situation. But this expresses a naive confidence in love’s infallibility. The truth is that love cannot manage on its own without an objective moral standard. That is why Paul wrote not that ‘love is the end of law’ but that ‘love is the fulfilment of the law’. For love and law need each other. Love needs law for its direction, while law needs love for its inspiration.
Tomorrow: Romans 13:8-10. Our relationship to the law: 3). Love does no harm to its neighbour.