Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8
“Paul opens with the counsel that readers should owe nothing to anyone. In what ways he intends readers to apply this directive is not explicit. It can plausibly be taken as a warning against racking up unnecessary financial debts. Christians (and others) are unwise to borrow and spend beyond their means, as this is poor stewardship of the resources that God has entrusted to each. Paul’s teaching is a call to avoid the burdens of debt insofar as possible and to make every reasonable effort to climb out of debt when it is incurred.
The Apostle does make one exception to this rule, however, since the debt we have to love one another always remains outstanding and is never paid in full. Everyone we encounter, inside or outside the family of faith, is entitled to our charity. And, of course, for Paul love has everything to do with practical service and bearing one another’s burdens; it has nothing at all to do with sappy sentimentalism. Readers can get a sense of what he means by reading the lyrical description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-13.
Paul adds that the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. This is remarkable. The verb “fulfill” means “to satisfy what is required” or “to accomplish in full.” But to appreciate the significance of Paul’s statement, remember that the Torah presents 613 prescriptive and prohibitive commandments touching on all aspects of Israel’s life, worship, and social organization. Underlying this great diversity of precepts an essential unity of purpose: to teach God’s people how to love. Consequently, Paul can say that love for another meets and exceeds the requirements of them all.”
Scott W. Hahn in Romans (CCSS; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017) 234-235.
The Apostle Paul states plainly that the ideal pattern for us as Christians to follow is to live within our means and owe nothing to anyone but a perpetual debt of love. When we do this, we fulfill the whole law of Christ, or in plain terms, we walk according to His design for us as those He redeemed or literally purchased with His blood.
The availability of credit in antiquity was nothing like we have today in modern settings with credit cards, consumer debts, and other forms of debt instruments. Back then families lived in multigenerational units on land families often owned for many generations. The notion that everyone took out a 30-year mortgage to buy a home was non-existent.
So how do we avoid debt and aim at love today? We are asking ourselves that in real-time. While our son graduated from college debt-free and daughter has one more year toward that goal, might their future spouses bring debt into their marriages? If so, we’ve already talked as a family that our plan will be to help them eliminate it as soon as possible.
Early in our marriage, we rented and saved for nine years. Then we made the mistake of following the cultural pattern of having a mortgage which made presumptions about the future and limited our freedom to serve. So instead, we chose to sell the house and buy a simple townhouse to have bandwidth to live, give, serve, and love richly.
Speaking of loving richly, I want to honor my wife, Jenni, as today marks our 26th wedding anniversary. I blessed to have a wife willing to live simply, give generously, and love richly rather than hoarding for false security on the one hand or overspending beyond our means on the other. We avoid debt and talk often about ways to love others well.
This way of living is not something we figured out overnight. Why? It’s both countercultural, which means few people live this way, and radically biblical. Our greatest joy is watching our grown son and daughter, Sammy and Sophie, avoiding debt and aiming at love in everything they do. Join us. We often say, “It’s the only way to live!”Read more