Paul focused on love in Romans 12:9-16, but since love is the core of the Christian life, he returns to it in 13:8-10. Reading 13:8-10 slowly, we notice that “love” appears five times, three times as a verb, twice as a noun. The passage has a sandwich structure. 13:8 and 13:10 both say love fulfills the law and 13:9 cites five laws, four from Exodus, one from Leviticus. So the law explains how believers love one another. Romans 13:11-14 then say the church must show love today, for the time is short.
An advice column dedicated to gift-giving in December accidentally explored a very biblical topic – the relationship between love and the law. Question one: What shall I do about a boyfriend who buys expensive but inappropriate gifts? The mind wanders: Did he buy her a chain saw last year? Hang-gliding lessons? Question two: My family members have requested gift cards in prescribed amounts, from specific stores. Is this really gift-giving or a sanctioned way for people to lift money from each other’s wallets? Both questions want rules for gift-giving, that is, the right way to show affection through gifts.
Love and law in Romans
On that theme, Paul says “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). Paul describes God’s love for his people in Romans 1-8, then explains the way believers love each other in Romans 12-13. Romans 13:8-10 essentially says, “If you love someone, keep the law.” Romans 12-13 never denies that love is a feeling, but it stresses that love is also law-governed behavior.
Paul focused on love in Romans 12:9-16, but since love is the core of the Christian life, he returns to it in 13:8-10. In this paragraph, “love” appears five times, three times as a verb, twice as a noun. The section begins with a command to love, followed by a reason: love fulfills the law (13:8). Next, because law explains how love fulfills the law, Paul restates several commands from Exodus and Leviticus (13:9). Paul repeats that love fulfills the law; it is also the way to love our neighbors (13:10). Paul concludes by exhorting the church to show love and obedience today, for the time is short. It is time to lay down deeds of darkness and to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (13:11-14).
Romans 13 affirms this connection between law and love. But we should begin where Paul does, with God’s redeeming love, for that provides the basis and motivation for adherence to every command. The indicatives drive the imperatives.
Therefore, when Paul commands disciples to love everyone in Romans 12:9-10, we recall that God poured his love into our hearts by his Spirit (5:5).