The Debt of Love – Romans 13:8

Owe no one any thing, but to love one another…” Romans 13:8 (a)


We are to avoid indebtedness; we must pay or render whatever we owe. Debt is an obligation, not an option.

Love is a debt. Debt is an obligation, not an option. We are therefore obligated to love one another; we may not choose to decline.

Paul’s instructions are written to the Christians in Rome in response to questions arising about the relationship between Christ’s saints – a new reality for that generation – and the civil government of a pagan kingdom. But those instructions are applicable to everyone who falls into the definition of “every soul” in verse one.

In 13:1, Paul says that “every soul” should subject themselves those in superior jurisdictions, which jurisdictions are determined and assigned by God. Every soul is obligated to God’s will; that obligation does not change based on whether a person accepts God’s will as supreme.

In verse 2, Paul says, “therefore”, “whoever” resists the jurisdiction resists God’s arrangements, bringing condemnation upon him or herself. We know that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Rom 8:1), so this warning isn’t specifically indicative of saints, though it is written to saints. “Whoever resists” is condemned, but what is the obligation of the saint?

Paul then lays out the rationale for the saints’ submission to those assigned earthly jurisdiction by God: that earthly rulers or leaders are to be God’s servants for good and His servants for retribution for wicked actions. Because he is God’s appointed servant to administer earthly justice for good or evil actions, people are responsible to respect those God-appointed positions out of respect for God’s sovereign assignment.

Because these are God’s appointed servants for a particular set of responsibilities, they are entitled to be recompensed for their service, and God’s people have a responsibility to fulfill that obligation by paying what is necessary for the wages of those servants; this is the only means by which they may be paid.

Therefore, as these taxes and “customs” are the means by which the servants of God’s earthly jurisdictions are remunerated, they are owed those amounts for their means. The provision of their livelihood is a debt; an obligation for which God’s people, Christ’s church, is equally liable. We are not exempt; we are required to contribute our portion of that provision, being guilty if we fail to do so.

Moreover, any who fill a position of honour, are also owed honour and fear. Anything owed is a debt, and any debt is an obligation. Again, Paul affirms that the saints of Christ are obligated to honour and “fear” those fulfilling a God-ordained role for which honour is owed. There is no choice; that honour is a debt which we must fulfill or be guilty of opposing God.

Then Paul sums up these instructions with the instruction to “owe no one anything, except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Now we see that love is also an obligation. Love is a debt we owe one another, which Paul says is the only debt that may remain owing.

We now see that the debt of love is a continual obligation. We can never fully pay that debt; it will always be outstanding. If we love for 10 years, we will still owe love to others at the end of those years. No matter how much or how long we love, love will remain on the ledger in the “amounts due” column. We are bound to the debt of love for eternity.