Imagine how you would feel if you were told that you had only a few months to live. You might try to cram a lifetime into those last days. You might travel to places you have always wanted to see. You might do things for which you had never found the time before. It would not be difficult to understand why you would want to spend your last days indulging yourself.
In Romans 13:8-14, Paul proposes a radically different response to a similar type of deadline—one every Christian must face. He reminds the Christian that his time is limited because the day of the Lord’s return is daily drawing nearer. In the light of this reality, he calls upon him to deny his fleshly lusts and to live for God. He challenges the Christian not to indulge himself, but to give himself sacrificially in serving others and in seeking their good. In this way, the Christian fulfills the Old Testament Law and its standards for godly conduct.
Our text in Romans is particularly significant in that, at the moment, our future is dominated by a deadline—January 15, 1991. This is the date which the United Nations has set for Iraq to retreat from Kuwait or face the threat of attack. The Middle East crisis draws our attention to the deadlines in life. This crisis could play a significant role in the final events which pave the way for the coming of our Lord to judge the earth and to establish His kingdom.
But even though our text in Romans draws attention to life’s ultimate deadline—the coming of our Lord—it challenges us to do more than be preoccupied with it. The important thing is to be found faithful when our Lord returns. We are to watch, wait, and work until He comes, whenever that might be.
We can accomplish this by adopting the mindset which Paul explains in our text. It is a mindset that denies fleshly lusts and refuses to make provision for them. It casts off the evil attitudes and actions which characterized us before our salvation and which are typical of the unbelieving world in which we live.
In this text of Scripture, Paul calls attention to a lifestyle appropriate for the Christian living in the light of Christ’s approaching return and reign. It applies to us all and demands the careful attention of each of us.
In Romans 12, Paul turns from laying a doctrinal foundation (in chapters 1-11) to challenging the saints to action based on the truth he has been teaching. Romans 12:1-2 set forth the primary theme of chapters 12-15: Out of gratitude for the grace of God in our salvation, we should present our bodies as living sacrifices in worshipful service. This will entail a whole new way of thinking and acting—a transformed life—which is the outflow of a constantly renewed mind.
Our obligation to God as expressed in 12:1-2 is simply a reiteration of the primary theme of the Old Testament as emphasized by our Lord Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37, etc.). It is not new, but it is easily forgotten, and so the need for another reminder.
The verses which follow Romans 12:1-2 articulate and apply the second great theme of the Bible—our obligation to love God by loving others. In Old Testament terms, once again reiterated and confirmed in the New, this obligation is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:9, etc.). Love for our neighbor is a dominant and cohesive theme in Romans 12:3–15:13. Love must inspire and govern our ministry to one another within the body of Christ as we exercise our spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-8).81
In Romans 12:9-21, Paul shows how love is to govern our relationships, not only with our fellow-believers, but also with our neighbors and even our enemies. In these verses, Paul speaks of the good which love inspires—even if the recipients persecute the Christians who practice such love.
Beginning in our current passage, Romans 13:8-14, Paul looks at the flip side of love. He directs our attention to what love will not do.82 Specifically, love does no wrong to our neighbor (13:10). Verses 11-14 again turn our attention God-ward, providing both the motivation and the means for living in love. Paul directs us to think both of our initial salvation and of our final salvation, and of the limited time which we have to offer to Him our service of worship in this life.
Later when Paul turns to the strong and the weak in Romans 14 and 15 (14:1–15:13), he is still applying the principle of love. This can be seen by his words in Romans 14:15: “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.”
Love is not only the motivation which inspires our actions, it is the principle by which our actions are governed. Loving God and loving men is therefore to be the outgrowth of salvation and of sound doctrine. These themes give unity to the entire section which we are studying.
But how, you may wonder, does Romans 13:1-7 fit into this picture? How does our obligation to obey government relate to the themes which Paul has been developing in this section? Let me suggest three ways in which verses 1-7 fit into the overall argument so as to pave the way for the words we are about to consider in this study.
First, Romans 13:1-7 explains why we can return good for evil to our enemies rather than seeking to retaliate (see 12:17-21). Judgment should be left to God rather than taken into our own hands. God’s judgment has several forms. One is His future day of judgment when all injustices will be rectified, all evildoers will be punished, and the righteous will be rewarded (see Romans 2:5-10). There is also a present form of divine wrath in which men are turned over to their sin (see Romans 1:18-32). But in addition to this, government has been instituted to serve as a “minister of God” to reward those who do good and to punish those who do evil (13:1-4).
Second, verses 1-7 remind us that all those in power have been ordained of God, and thus carry out their tasks as God’s ministers with His authority. To resist governmental officials (except in those times when they require us to disobey God’s Word) is to resist God (13:2). Romans 12:1-2 is a general call to obedience toward God. Romans 13:1-7 is a specific call to obey God through our obedience to the government which He has ordained.
Third, verses 1-7 directly relate to the theme of loving others which precedes and follows Paul’s teaching about human government. In Romans 12:9 he has instructed that love pursues that which is good and avoids what is evil. In Romans 13:1-7 he reminds us that government’s role is consistent with our own calling. Just as we are to abhor evil and cling to what is good, government is to reward those who do good and to punish those who do evil.
If for no other reason, men ought to obey the government out of fear, knowing the power which it has to punish evil-doers (Romans 13:3-4). But obedience based on fear is the “low road.” Love is the “high road,” and it is the relationship of love to law which Paul discusses in Romans 13:8-10.
Of course, we can refrain from doing harm to our neighbor because we will get in trouble with the law. But those who love their neighbor need not fear the law. Much more than this, love inspires us to do good to our neighbor, thus both fulfilling and surpassing the minimum standards set by the law. It is love, therefore, and not law which should motivate and guide us in our dealings with our neighbor. When we walk in love, we also keep the law.
8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 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.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.
The expression, “owe nothing to anyone,” can be easily misunderstood. J. B. Phillips, in his usually excellent paraphrase of the New Testament, renders this phrase: “Keep out of debt altogether.” I feel that his paraphrase misses the mark in this passage. The term which is rendered “owe” is used a number of times in the New Testament in several forms. Most often, it is not employed in the sense of a financial debt or obligation. Usually it is used in a broader sense of obligation or duty, which would best be conveyed by the word “ought.”83
Although Paul is speaking about the Christian’s sense of obligation to others, it would be a mistake to conclude that any obligation other than love is evil and therefore forbidden. As Paul has stated previously, because of God’s mercy and grace we are obligated to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). Paul was obligated to preach the gospel “to Greeks and to barbarians” (Romans 1:14). We are obligated not to live according to the flesh (Romans 8:12), but to serve others and seek their good—even our enemies (12:3ff.). We are obligated to honor those in authority (13:7).84 And we will see in future lessons that the strong are obliged to bear the weaknesses of those who are weak (15:1).
As I understand Paul’s words in Romans 13:8, he is teaching us that our highest obligation toward men is our obligation to love them. There are other obligations which we will always have toward men, but these obligations are to be subordinate to our obligation of love. Paul doesn’t exclude all other obligations, but rather subordinates them to our highest obligation. Loving God is our first level of priority. Loving others is second. All other obligations (in their own levels of priority) are subordinate.
Let me play out the implications of this truth for just a moment. If I understand Paul correctly, my obligation to government is subordinate to my obligation to love others. But when I love others, I fulfill the law (not only God’s Law, as seen in the Old Testament, but government’s laws as well—see Galatians 5:23). If, however, the government orders me to do to others that which is contrary to love, I would have to disobey government. For example, a German citizen who was ordered to betray known Jews so that they could be exterminated would have had difficulty doing so in a way that could be viewed as loving his neighbor.
Romans 13:8-10 not only gives my obligation to love others a higher priority than by other obligations (such as to obey government and its laws), but it explains why this can be true: When I love others, I fulfill the law. Fulfilling my higher duty assures that I will obey my other duties. Loving God will not hinder me from loving others, and loving others will not keep me from my obligation to obey the law.85
Love fulfills the law, Paul tells us. This is no new revelation. Paul’s proof comes from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus taught the same thing (see Matthew 22:34-40). Love would never permit the things the Old Testament Law forbade. Love would not commit adultery or murder, nor would it steal or covet.
Why is the emphasis of these verses so negative? Why does Paul speak of what love will not do, rather than of what it will do? In the first place, Paul has already spoken a great deal about the positive outworking of love in Romans 12:3-21. Paul is now speaking of love in its relationship to the law. Whether this “law” be the Old Testament Law or the laws of the land in which we live, law tends to be more negative in nature. The law tends to prohibit men from those actions which would harm their fellowman. The law focuses more on the prevention of evil than it does on the promotion of good.86
The four evils which Paul names are all found in the Old Testament Law of Moses in exactly the order Paul has listed them.87 Adultery, murder, theft, and coveting are all categorized as actions which would harm others.88 Few would debate that murder and stealing wrong our neighbor.89 But the two sins of adultery and coveting are less universally condemned.
Today in America, adultery is hardly considered immoral, let alone illegal. In fact, adultery is often justified by asserting that there was not love in the marital union but there is love in the extra-marital one. Our world accepts (and sometimes commends) adultery because it believes it is the expression of love. The Bible condemns adultery as a violation of love. How do we explain the difference?
We must begin by affirming that adultery is sin simply because God says so, forbidding it in His Holy Law. We must also agree with Paul that some sins (he specifically names coveting) would never be recognized as sin unless God divinely forbade them as such (see Romans 7:7).
But adultery is considered sin in our text because it harms our neighbor. Adultery involves our neighbor in sin, which carries with it divine condemnation (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). It does great damage to the individuals and families involved. It destroys the intimacy of the marital union. It ultimately produces no good and brings much evil. Because of this, adultery is condemned as sin and contrary to love. You do not commit adultery because you are in love; you commit adultery as a sin against love.
Coveting is also harmful to my neighbor. The Old Testament Law says we are not to covet our neighbor’s house, wife, property, cattle, possessions, and servants. But how can coveting the possessions of my neighbor harm him in any way? In the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:21-48), Jesus taught that those attitudes which lead to sinful actions are just as sinful as the actions themselves. Anger is forbidden because it leads to murder. Lust is forbidden because it leads to adultery. Coveting, too, is evil because it leads me to wish that my neighbor were deprived of something he owns so that I could possess it.
Coveting anything which belongs to my neighbor is wishing he did not possess what God has given him. Coveting his possessions is desiring my good and my gain at my neighbor’s expense. This attitude is that which will hinder me from seeking or contributing to his good.
To illustrate this, suppose my neighbor has an antique which I want badly. I covet this antique and wish I had it rather than my neighbor. I learn that he has suffered some serious setbacks and is likely to go bankrupt. I could give or loan my neighbor enough money to prevent his bankruptcy or even offer to buy the antique at fair market price. But if I covet it, I will be tempted to do nothing good to help my neighbor to escape financial disaster—then buy the antique at a liquidation auction at a fraction of its value. Coveting predisposes me against doing good to my neighbor in order to gain at his expense. Coveting, even though only an inner attitude and motivation at first, is harmful to my neighbor.90
Paul’s teaching in verses 8-10 may be summed up in this way: We are to view our neighbor from the perspective of love. When we do, we will seek his good, avoid doing what is harmful to him, and thus fulfill the law.
Even more, the Christian should look beyond himself to others with a spirit of obligation, an obligation rooted in gratitude toward God and in love toward others. Unfortunately in our culture, we look to others with a very different attitude. We might be able to capture the essence of this attitude with the term “expectation.” In our sinful, self-seeking flesh, we do not look upon others with an obligation to serve them at our expense, but to be served by them at their expense. We live in a day of expectation, not obligation.
We just celebrated Christmas, supposedly a joyous season and a time of giving. Why is it, then, that Christmas is almost always followed by an upsurge in mental depressions? I think it is because we all come to the Christmas holidays with a spirit of expectation. We hope that others will give us those things which will make us happy. We expect our times of gathering to be personally enriching. We desire and expect to gain more than we give, and then it does not happen. Our expectations are unfulfilled, and we are frustrated and depressed.
If our outlook were one of Christian love, we would approach Christmas (and every other day) as a time of obligation—when we can give of ourselves to others and set aside selfish desires. If our attitude were one of obligation to others, there would be no time for us to be frustrated or depressed, for there will always be more than enough opportunities to serve others at our expense.
Sadly, Christians have taken on the attitude of the world rather than being renewed in their minds to think and act like our Lord. We look around to see if others are affirming us and meeting our needs. We look back at the past, not so much to consider the obligation and debt which we owe to our parents, but to see how “dysfunctional” our family was and to contemplate how family members failed us. We look back with expectation, not with obligation. We look around, not with obligation, but with expectation. This is not the way of love.
Love subordinates self-interest in order to serve others. It seeks others’ gain at our expense. Emotionally and personally speaking, we are not producers; we are consumers. And, I fear, we are on the verge of relational bankruptcy. God’s way is the higher way. His way is the better way; His way is the way of love. When we choose this path, we will more than fulfill the requirements of the law—both God’s law and man’s.
11 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. 12 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. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
Let’s begin by considering the connection between verses 8-10 and verses 11-14. I see three links between these two paragraphs. First, the one text immediately follows the other. Proximity alone tells us these two paragraphs are logically related. Second, the first words of verse 11 point back to the previous verses. Paul begins verses 11-14 with these introductory words, “And this do …” Thus, loving others (verses 8-10) has much to do with “knowing the time” (verse 11). Finally, when we consult parallel texts we see that loving others is linked with considering the time of Christ’s return and with forsaking our former lifestyle.91
Paul speaks about walking in love in chapters 12 and 13. Verses 11-14 are written, I believe, to bring us back to the bedrock basis for walking in love. Paul’s words turn our attention both to the motivations which inspire love and the means which help it function.
Paul’s teaching in these verses is predicated upon that which he has already taught us in chapters 1-11. There are two principle themes dealt with in Romans 13:11-14 whose foundations have been laid in the earlier chapters of Romans. These two themes are salvation and love. Let us briefly review what Paul loads into these words, for their meanings will be assumed in our present passage.
Salvation has two dimensions in Romans 1-11. The first dimension is that of our initial salvation, the point in time when we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light—when we who were God’s enemies became His sons. In Romans 1-3 Paul taught that we are all in need of salvation and under the sentence of divine condemnation because we have rejected the revelation we have received about God. By our deeds we have shown ourselves to be unrighteous, unworthy of His favor, and deserving only of His wrath.
The Lord Jesus Christ made salvation possible for those who were chosen (see Romans 8:28-30; chapter 9), for He died in our place and suffered the penalty for our sins (Romans 3:21-26). When we believed in Him by faith, His righteousness was imputed to us and we became His children. That salvation changes not only our future, but also our present conduct. We must no longer live in sin, but rather live righteously (Romans 6).
Our salvation also has a future dimension. While we presently have the forgiveness of God and are declared to be righteous in Him, we have a future hope. We now look forward to His blessings rather than His wrath (see Romans 2:5-10). This is our hope of glory in which we presently exult (Romans 5:2). While we presently groan because of our own imperfection and that of the fallen world in which we live, we look forward to that day when our full “sonship” will be realized, when our bodies will be redeemed, and when God’s kingdom is established on the earth (Romans 8:14-25). This future day of full and final salvation will come not only for the Gentiles, but also for the Jews (Romans 11:25-32).
Paul speaks also of love, which originates from God and finds expression as it reflects in the saints. God manifested His love in the death of Christ by which He drew many to Himself and to salvation (Romans 5:5-11). The love of God is that certainty which gives the Christian joy, hope, and assurance, even in the midst of present trials and adversity (Romans 8:31-39).
The love of God, so evident and so secure for the saint, should also be reflected by the saints. Thus in Romans 12, Paul turns from God’s love for us to His love expressed through us to others. It is this love which we must have for our fellow Christians, our neighbors, and even our enemies (Romans 12:3-21). It is this love which prevents us from doing harm to our neighbor (Romans 13:8-10). This love, however, must be motivated and sustained. The motivations and means for Christian love are described in verses 11-14, based upon the previous teachings of Paul.
Our motivation for love is presented in the context of time. We are to love others “knowing the time.” Paul uses the well-known symbols of “night and day,” “darkness and light,” and “sleep and waking up.” We usually go to bed at night when it is dark. The coming of light indicates the passing of night and the beginning of a new day. The coming of the dawn is an indication that it is time to wake up, get up, and get about the deeds of the new day.
What Paul describes in verses 11-14 has happened to me all too often. I go to bed at night. Then in my first waking moments I become increasingly aware of the light. Suddenly it dawns upon me. It is morning! Good grief, what time is it? I grab the clock. Oh no! I have overslept. The day has begun, but I have not. I shed my bed clothes and hastily dress, running from my bedroom to get to the day’s duties.
I think this is the picture Paul is painting. We have been oversleeping. We need to wake up. The night has passed. The new day is dawning—the day of our Lord’s return. We must get about doing those things which remain to be done. We must put off our night clothes and put on clothes appropriate for the work our Lord calls us to do.
Here Paul is looking at time from two perspectives. In the first place, he is looking at that time which has elapsed between our initial salvation and the present. The time which has passed should have produced growth and maturity and greater sensitivity to both good and evil. Another passage, Hebrews 5:11-14, describes the danger of stunted spiritual growth:
Concerning him [Melchizedek, see 5:1-10] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for some one to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For every one who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (emphasis mine).
The Hebrew saints had been saved for some time. Time should have meant growth and progress, greater sensitivity to good and evil, and greater ability to assimilate truth. But the reverse seems to have been true, and for this the writer rebukes his readers.
In our text in Romans, Paul is saying something similar. He is indicating that these Roman saints have been saved for some time now. They should be growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. But they still seem to be “sleepy Christians,” not fully awake and alert. It is high time they wake up and grow up!
Time is also viewed in a second way. If, on the one hand, Paul says that too much unprofitable time has passed by, then the time they have left is slowly eroding away. The Roman saints must hasten to demonstrate their love. Paul does not say here that the day of salvation, the day of the Lord’s return, is imminent. What he does say is that the time left between the day of their initial salvation and the day of their final salvation is diminishing. And for us too, there is less time to serve the Lord now than there was when we were first saved. There is no time to waste!
Paul reminds us of our initial salvation and of the coming day of our full salvation to stir us up to love and good deeds. Our focus is not only to be upon others, but upon God, His grace, our salvation, and the rapidly approaching day of His return. This will mean glory for us and rewards for faithfulness. It will also mean condemnation for the lost. Let us not waste this time, but rather serve God faithfully and so be found faithful when He returns.
Two things are stressed in verses 11-14. The first is why we are to increase in our worship of service through loving others—the day of Christ’s return draws closer every day. The second is how we are to do so. Given the proper motivation to serve God by loving others, how do we do it? We know from Romans 7 that while Paul was properly motivated to serve God, he was not able to do so in his own strength. The problem was not the law, but Paul’s weak, sinful nature, and sin, which took advantage of his flesh.
If one is to walk in love, putting service to others above his own interests, how does he do it? It cannot be done in the flesh. In fact, the flesh must be crucified—put to death. Paul describes the means for walking in love in both its positive and its negative dimensions:
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Romans 13:14).
Positively, we must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Negatively, we must “make no provision for the flesh.”
When we put on the Lord Jesus Christ we will manifest Him through our lives. When we do so, we will manifest His love, a love for those who had offended Him and who were His enemies. Putting on Christ means depending on Christ to live His life, His grace, and His love through us by means of His Spirit. There is no human means for Christ-like living. God has provided for us that which we lack. We must simply walk in the Spirit, by faith.
On the negative side, we must make no provision for the lusts of the flesh. Love and lust are opposites. They are incompatible with each other. The world equates the two, so “making love” is satisfying the lusts of the flesh. But in a biblical sense, “making love” is living in love, as described in Romans 12 and 13. Satisfying our lusts is the opposite of living in love. Living in love requires that we present our bodies, with their lustful desires, as living sacrifices to God.
Paul instructs us to “make no provision for the flesh.” The term which is rendered “make provision for” here is found only one other time in the New Testament, in the Book of Acts. Tertullus, an attorney who was the spokesman for the Jews who opposed Paul, spoke these flattering words to Felix:
“Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for the nation, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness” (Acts 24:2b-3, emphasis mine).
The term “providence” above is the same one used by Paul in our text in Romans. It implies forethought, planning, and activity. In Greek literature outside the New Testament, the term is used of a premeditated crime.
Sin seldom just happens; most of the time it is premeditated. Sin is a link in a chain of events.92 When we surrender to the lusts of our flesh, it is often not a sudden collapse, but rather the culmination of a process. The sins of our flesh are those sins about which we have given much thought (here we see the role coveting can play), and for which we have made provision. If we would be victorious over sin and the flesh, we must cease to make provision for it.
I am reminded of the story of an alcoholic who was bemoaning his sin to an evangelist. He explained his frequent downfalls by saying, “When I pass by that tavern on my way home from work, I go in, and then I later find myself with a hangover.” When questioned by the evangelist, the alcoholic admitted that the tavern was not on his way home from work at all. He had to go several miles out of his way to pass by it. This man, like us, made provision for the lusts of his flesh, and so he fell.
If we are to live in love, we must be motivated by our love for God and our gratitude for His grace. We must do so out of a sense of obligation toward others, and not expectation from others. We must do so knowing that more than enough time has passed for us to have grown and to have changed and that less time than ever is available to faithfully serve the Lord.
Rightly motivated, we must also be rightly enabled to serve God by loving others. We must positively “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and we must negatively cease to “make provision for the lusts of our flesh.” Only by His grace can these be done, but they can be done. Let us by His grace seek to do them—for His glory and for the good of others—until He returns for us.
81 Granted, love is not yet mentioned specifically in verses 3-8, but it is immediately introduced in verses 9 and following. Verses 9-21 spell out the way love enhances our ministry, just as Paul elsewhere emphasizes love (1 Corinthians 13) in the context of spiritual gifts and the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12-14). Thus, while love is not yet mentioned in verses 3-8, it is implied and assumed.
82 This two-sided dimension of love is consistent with, and the outworking of, Paul’s statement in Romans 12:9: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Love acts both positively and negatively.
83 As the term is translated in the King James Version, out of 34 occurrences, it is translated in the following ways: ought 15 x; be a debtor 1 x misc.; renderings 7 x; owe 7 x; be guilty1 x; be bound 2 x; be indebted 1 x. When the idea of monetary debt is involved, the reference most frequently occurs in the gospels. Paul frequently uses this term (in several forms). He employs it 19 times in his epistles (Romans 1:14; 4:4; 8:12; 13:7, 8; 15:1, 27 twice; 1 Corinthians 5:10; 7:36; 9:10; 11:7, 10; 2 Corinthians 12:11, 14; Ephesians 5:28; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:13; Philemon 18). The term is seldom used of a financial obligation (see Philemon 18), but of a higher, more general, obligation or duty. To use this passage as a proof text against borrowing money would be a failure to understand the broader connotations of this term (here rendered “owe”) in its occurrences, and in its specific use here in Romans 13:8.
86 The Old Testament Law had a great deal to say about the good which we should be willing to do for others, and it had commandments with specific applications. Even here, however, the Law sought to prevent harm to others, while looking to love as the incentive for doing good.
Under most human governments, the law is concerned more with prohibiting evil than with promoting good deeds. One exception might be socialism, which seems skeptical about love and human kindness. It does not expect men to voluntarily do good toward others. Consequently, socialism somewhat forcefully causes men to do good to others. For example it takes (taxes) money from some and distributes it to others.
87 The King James Version includes a fifth prohibition: love will not bear false witness. The reference to bearing false witness occurs between the prohibitions of stealing and coveting, just where it occurs in the Old Testament Law (see Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20).
88 As a friend of mine pointed out, all of these offenses deprive others of something (coveting wishes so) in such a way that we gain at the expense of others. In this sense, we are under an illicit obligation to them. Some of these debts can be paid back in some form of restitution. Others (like adultery) cannot.
89 Some do, however. I have seen, in prison ministry and elsewhere, that some excuse murder as doing society a favor. For example, a “hit man” might excuse his murder by contending that he is a social garbage collector, removing those people from society who are detrimental to it. There are those who rob from the rich, justifying their actions by accusing their victims of having wrongly acquired their wealth or of wrongly using it. Sin is often logical to the sinner. The mind has a way of excusing what the wicked heart desires and the hand performs.