Love & The Law: Which Way?

#ThinkingTuesday – Change your thinking; Change your life

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 (KJV)

When we consider Paul’s teaching about the relationship between love and the law, it is interesting how we seem naturally inclined to reverse it. We seem to find ourselves more comfortable with the idea of the law fulfilling love than we are with the idea of love fulfilling the law.

The statement, “love is the fulfillment of the law,” does not mean the same thing as the statement, “the law is the fulfillment of love.” The first statement makes love the principal thing and the law the secondary thing. The second statement makes the law the principal thing and love the secondary thing.

In the first statement, the law is subsumed within love. In other words, love is bigger, wider, broader, deeper and richer than the law. When one loves, one has fulfilled the law, but one has also done more than that—one has loved.

Let’s see how that works with the second statement, “the law is the fulfillment of love.” In this case, we would be saying that love is subsumed within the law. We would be saying that the law is wider, broader, deeper and richer than love. We would be saying that when one has kept the law, one has not only loved, but one has done more than love — one has kept the law.

Fortunately, that is not what Paul is saying. He says love fulfills the law. A person can keep the law without loving but one cannot love without the law being fulfilled in them! The primary difference between the law and love is that love works from the inside while the law works from the outside. A person motivated by love does not need to be told to behave in a loving way but a person motivated by law does.

Because of this, many of us tend to get uncomfortable with the idea that faith in Christ has superseded the law. We fear that unless there is an outside agent, the law, compelling us to behave rightly, we probably won’t. We know our love is weak, so we don’t trust ourselves to behave with love without a threat of unpleasant consequences as motivation.

The problem with this is clear:

Love cannot be compelled, forced, coerced or threatened into being. Love must be freely given and freely received, or it isn’t anything at all. Love is unconditional; anything short of unconditional is something other than love. It might be acceptance, it might be approval, it might be pleasure, it might be happiness, but it is not love, because love has no conditions.

When love is unconditional, then iron can truly sharpen iron (Proverbs 27:17) without the accusations, resentments and recriminations that usually go hand in hand with our typical selfish efforts to “correct” one another using the law. We do this forgetting that Love is not based on whether the one being loved measures up. Love travels in a different universe from that, and its chariot is forgiveness.

The law, contrary to what many well-intentioned Christians believe, does not define love. The law and love may intersect at many points, but they are definitely not the same thing. The law is rooted in love, but love is not rooted in the law. Just as the law does not define love, so love does not define law. It transcends the law. The law exists only because God loves and nobody could say that God loves only because he first had a law. Even though the law is a product of love, the law can be misused and turned into something that harms, rather than helps, when it is administered by cruel and pitiless people. But love, from which law springs, cannot be misused.

When we love, we are behaving like God. Jesus said, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Psychologists often say that at the most fundamental level, what all human beings want is to be loved. Therefore, if we want to be loved, Jesus says we need to love, and that, sums up the Law and Prophets.

When we say the law is superseded by faith in Christ, we are not saying something has been lost. Instead what we mean is that something has been gained and that something so transcends the law as to make it obsolete.

For example, the telegraph communication system was a wonderful boon to communication. But today, it makes much more sense to give your mom a phone call on Mother’s Day than to have someone tap her out a message at the telegraph office. The telegraph network as a delivery system, as great as it was at the time, is obsolete because newer communication technology has transcended it. (Lol, this is only an analogy. If it helps, use it. If not, toss it.)

Therefore, Christ’s command that we walk in love (2 John 4-6; John 13:34) transcends the Ten Commandments. Those who walk in love fulfill the law. One transcends the other, and they are not the same thing. As John wrote in John 1:17, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

All of the commandments hinge on how we treat others. If we love then we will not murder, steal and covet our neighbor’s things. Therefore, love fulfills the intention of the law and love is the way to go.

When questioned about the Law Jesus recited the exact same observation. “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  ( Mark 12:28-31 ). By loving God with everything we are, we fulfill the law because we are looking to him for grace and mercy. This love equips and enables us to love one another in a deep and genuine way, showing that we are walking in His truth. This is the only debt that we should owe anyone, the debt to love one another.

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” — I John 4:7 

Selah!


Links

Grace Communion International — Fulfilling The Law

John Piper, Desiring God — Love is A Fulfilling Of The Law

Juli Camarin — Love is A Fulfilment of The Law 

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