Owe Nothing to Anyone
"Will that be cash or charge?"
"Oh, that will be cash. The Bible says 'Owe nothing to anyone."
Well, it does say that, doesn't it (Romans 13:8)? But, of course the context is not talking about buying things on credit. It is not telling us that we must pay for our meal at a restaurant before we eat and not after. In fact, it is not talking about mere financial obligations at all, although it could include that.
Instead, it is a prohibition from incurring moral indebtedness. We are not to mistreat others in any way, but always do what is right and honorable. While this would include financial aspects of our lives, it would include other aspects as well. Just as we are not to cheat someone financially, neither are we to deceive them in other ways, or gossip about them, or seek their harm in any way. Consider the passage in context:
"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor, love therefore is a fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10).
So the Scripture is not talking about the legitimate, lawful incurring of financial debt, but the illegitimate, unlawful incurring of moral debt.
Fulfilling The Law
"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13:8). The law had much to say about interpersonal relationships. To sum it all up, all these commandments would fall under the single command, "Love your neighbor". If one truly loves his neighbor, then he would treat his neighbor according to the many commandments of the law.
This is certainly still true today. Under the law of Christ our relationships with others could be summed up the same way, to love our neighbors as ourselves. For example, we are to "bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). We are told to "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you..." (Ephesians 4:31-5:2a). Also, Jesus told His disciples that the greatest commandment after loving God is to "love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 19:19). Paul quotes these words of Jesus later in the context (Romans 13:9b). We fulfill the law of Christ with respect to our relationships with others only when we have this unselfish, active goodwill toward them.
The Commandments and Our Neighbors
"For this, 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in the saying, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong toward a neighbor, love therefore is a fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:9,10).There were both Jews and Gentiles at the church in Rome. The Jews knew the Law of Moses well. Paul points out to them that loving people the way Jesus said we should is not an entirely new concept. The Law of Moses had taught pretty much the same thing.
Something else; it is suggested that we owe it to others to treat them this way. We are to consider love as a debt we owe to others. I should never place myself in the position of owing someone something because I have mistreated them and justice demands I make it up to them. There is no circumstance which allows me to be dishonest or hateful. We are told to "respect what is right in the sight of all men" and never to take "your own revenge" (Romans 12:17-21).
With reference to the commandments of the Law of Moses, the Law of Christ certainly elaborates upon them. For example, Jesus not only condemned adultery, but also lust. He taught that his disciples were not only to refrain from murder, but also from hate (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28). Jesus taught us to be perfect, or complete in our love for others. He said if we only love those who love us in return, we are no different than unbelievers. Instead, we are to be perfect, loving the just and the unjust, just like our Father (Matthew 5:43-48).
Motivation to Treat Others Righteously
"And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." (Romans 13:11,12).
It is time to wake up to the spiritual realities of our positions as it relates to eternity. It is not the time to go through life in a spiritual stupor as many seem so intent to do. It is time to wake up because the gospel of light is entering into a dark world shedding its light everywhere. Its promise of eternal salvation is closer to being realized by men and women of faith today than it was yesterday, and each day moves us closer to eternity. God now commands men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30) as the gospel of grace finds its way through the world.
Christians should always live with the awareness that discipleship is serious business. Sadly, many still sleep, ignoring the approaching eternal darkness that awaits them if they do not seek the light today. Our motivation to obey God, including those commands to love others, is that salvation is now closer than when we first believed.
We are to live righteously with respect to others, never placing ourselves into moral indebtedness to others because we have sinned against them. In this sense, we are "owe nothing to anyone" with but this exception: we owe them our love.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 9.6; June 2002