NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THIRTEEN (Lesson XI)
Martin Luther comments on this verse by saying that humans (by nature) prefer themselves in a selfish way. This negative disposition cannot be corrected unless they put themselves in their fellowman’s shoes.1 However, fellow reformer John Calvin sees nothing more in what Paul is saying in this verse than that he wanted to prove his point about love being the cornerstone of our obedience to the law by putting |God first, our fellowman second, and ourselves last. Since God intended nothing else by all His commandments than to teach us that our first duty is to love, that’s the priority list He gave us. So it is incumbent upon us to try and do our best to show our love in that order. So it only makes sense that by putting others second, that we show our love toward those in authority, some of whom may be our neighbors. By so doing, we will nourish peace to preserve brotherly love.2
Robert Haldane shares that Paul cites several of the precepts of the second tablet of the Law (Commandments 6-10),3 and observes with respect to each of them, that they are understood in the Law as something that tells us to love our fellowman as ourselves. Nothing can be more evident than that if we loved our fellowman as we should we would not commit those things that hurt or harm them. The Law of the Lord is admirable, both in its simplicity and comprehensives. It is also very reasonable and fair. It requires nothing but what is implied in love. Its prohibitions, then, are not unreasonable restraints upon our liberty, but requests to use our liberty for what’s good concerning those around us.4
Douglas Moo makes these points: (1) Paul may mean that love for others is the essential ingredient that must accompany obedience to all the other commandments. We must still obey these commandments, but they cannot truly be obeyed without a loving spirit. (2) Paul may also mean that the demand of love for others replaces the other commandments. When we truly love each other, we automatically do what the other commandments of the Law required. As Paul puts it in verse 10, “love does no harm to its fellowman.” No one who truly loves another person will murder, commit adultery, steal, commit perjury or covet things they possess. Paul has proclaimed that believers are released from the binding authority of the Mosaic Law.5 But here in verses 8 and 10, he justifies that by using the term “fulfillment,” which suggests that he views the love command as the prophetic replacement for the other commandments of the Mosaic Law6.7
Verse 10: Love does not hurt others. So loving is the same as obeying all the Law.
Paul reiterates the maxim that Jesus certainly established,8 you don’t need so many Laws if you simply follow one, and that is to treat and love others in the same way you want to be treated and loved. When the Apostle wrote the Corinthian believers, he defined love in such a way that when expressed to others it would eliminate any need for moral platitudes.9 Bible scholar John Gill tells us that in the Jewish Book of Enlightenment’s (Zohar) commentary on Deuteronomy, it says that the person who loves God has fulfilled all Ten Commandments.10 Also, “There is no service like the love of God. In fact, Rabbi Abba says it is the sum of the Law.” In other words, obey this and you have obeyed the entire law11.12
Speaking of love as seen demonstrated in their early church period, several scholars had this to share. Ambrosiaster believes that Paul is using the words of the Law to arrive at the meaning of the Gospel. Therefore, when he records the fulfilling of the Law he ties it to the Gospel, demonstrating that both have a single author. Yet, during the time of Christ physical presence here on earth, it was necessary to add something else, that is, that we should love our enemies as well as our neighbors. What does it mean to love an enemy, except to choose not to hate them any longer and to seek to do them no harm? For the Lord on the cross prayed for His enemies to demonstrate what the fullness of righteousness, which he had taught, actually was.13 We must keep in mind that when Jesus or Paul speaks of loving and not hating our enemies, they are excluding those who come against us in combat to do violence.
Then Augustine implies that what Paul is saying can be understood like this: The rule of love is that one should wish their fellowman to have all the good things they themselves would like to have. Nor should they wish that some misfortune or harm would befall their fellowman that they themselves would hate to have happened to them. They should show compassion and be generous to all mankind. Believers should not rejoice when an accident or tragedy happens to their fellowman. Loving one’s fellowman has no room for harmful or mischievous deeds. So Paul says that by having this attitude it will help us to show kindness even to those who do not like us, This is the best way to avoid becoming abused or misused.14 Another early church scholar remarks that the Apostle Paul clearly said that we must render to each person what they are due as the best way to show that we love one another. Therefore, if we always give our brethren the love which we owe them, we shall always be linked together in mutual love.15
Later on, Pelagius goes so far as to say that even if we have an opportunity to do good but don’t take the time to do it, we have done wrong. For if one sees that one’s fellowman has no food, wouldn’t it be the same as trying to kill them if we had all we needed and more but we refuse to share and end up throwing away what we can’t eat ourselves? For anyone who is able to help someone avoid dying no matter what the situation becomes liable for their death because they do not come to their aid.16 Then one hundred years later Caesarius adds that whatever we do, do it for the love of Christ, and let the intention or end of all our actions be the same as if we were doing it for Him. Do nothing for the sake of human praise but everything for the love of God and the desire for eternal life.17
Martin Luther shares his view. For him truly loving someone does much more than just what is needed, it even includes going beyond as a form of adding a blessing. This is the nature of a loving attitude that continues to show kindness even when it must endure thanklessness and a total lake of gratitude.18 And fellow reformer John Calvin adds that the person who is blessed with a gracious disposition will never entertain the thought of injuring others. What else does the whole Law forbid, but that we do no harm to our fellowman? This, however, ought to be applied to the present subject of how we treat government officials who are the guardians of peace and justice. Everyone who desires that their own rights are respected so that everyone may live freely in safety should be willing to defend, as far as they can, the rights of others and the power of those in charge to guarantee such respect. But those who see the government as their enemy do everything they can to be a nuisance. So when Paul repeats that the fulfilling of the Law is love, we must understand, as before, that this pertains to the second part of the Ten Commandments, because the first part pertains to what we owe to God.19
John Bengel points out that all acts of love are by design positive and not negative in character. Such positive duties are pleasantly and spontaneously performed. And where true love exists, we do not find adultery, theft, lying, or greed. In other words, love does not extinguish itself. That’s because doing what’s right goes on without interruption unless some obstruction is erected or it is interrupted by evil. Therefore, simply by avoiding evil the Law is fulfilled without anything really being done. At the same time, doing what is good flows from living a Lawful life.20 Adam Clarke echoes what Bengel says here and adds that love can never wish ill towards another person. Therefore, love in and of itself is the fulfilling of the Law.21
In fact, Robert Haldane says that love will prevent everything which the Law forbids.22 Charles Hodge agrees. Since love delights in the happiness of its object, it effectually prevents injuring those that are loved, and, consequently, leads to fulfilling all that the Law requires because the Law requires nothing which is not conducive to the best interests of our fellowman. Therefore, the person who loves those around them with the same sincerity that they love themselves, will not only treat them the way they would want to be treated but will thereby fulfill all that the Law requires. That’s why the whole Law can be fully appreciated in this one command, You should love your fellowman as yourself.23
Albert Barnes also notes the value of love in relationship to the Law. It sounds simple but is so profound. Since love only seeks to do that which is good, it is incapable of doing any wrong, especially toward others. It will promote justice, truth, and kindness. If this Law were engraved on every person‘s heart, and practiced in their lives, what a change that would make in our society! Everyone would immediately stop doing anything that would hurt others. How many plans of fraud and dishonesty would instantly come to a stop? How many voices of the slanderer and gossiper fade into silence? If would put an end to cheating, lying, and back-stabbing. No longer would a neighbor plan to steal what their fellowman had; it would be perfectly satisfied with what they already had. It would fulfill the wish of the angels who sang on the night of our Lord’s birth, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to all those want to please Him.24”25
1 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 184
2 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 What Haldane is referring to here is that the breastplate of the high priest show two tablets side by side, much like what Moses carried down from Mount Sinai. See Exodus 32:19
4 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 588
5 See Romans 6:14–15; 7:4–6
6 See Galatians 5:13-15
7 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Matthew 22:37-40
9 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
10 Zohar in Deuteronomy, folio 111.3
11 Zohar, ibid, folio 113.1
12 John Gill, Exposition of the Whole Bible, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Augustine: Of True Religion 87
15 [Pseudo-]Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Caesarius of Arles: Sermon 137.1
18 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 184
19 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 348
21 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 260
22 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 589
23 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 636
24 Luke 2:14
25 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.