Service to Neighbors: Love
Owe nothing but love (Romans 13:8)
After discussing paying our obligations to the government, both monetary and in respect, Paul generalizes an important principle of avoiding owing other people. A Christian should strive to operate independently in the world and not have obligations to people. The idea is not to necessarily have no debt, but not to incur debt that you cannot pay.
Debt can cause harm. If you take on a loan and don’t repay it, you are harming the lender. It becomes a form of stealing and a form of lying (Psalms 37:21). Because debt restricts you as far as what you can do with your money, it technically becomes a form of slavery (Proverbs 22:7). The lender can end up controlling your choices (Deuteronomy 28:44). Much of the time debt is making payments to the wrong sort of people (Proverbs 22:16).
The best rule is to only purchase what you can pay for (Proverbs 22:27). Do not put necessities up as collateral. If you can’t afford to lose it, don’t use it for a loan. Under the Old Law, an Israelite was not allowed to promise (borrow) what he was not able to pay (Ecclesiastes 5:5). Remember that a Christian’s word is his bond (Matthew 5:34-37).
Michelle Singletary, quoting her grandmother as she was about to leave for college, said, “At your age, a credit card ain’t nothing but trouble. All you’re doing is promising to pay later what you don’t have today, and what makes you think if you don’t have it today, you’ll have it tomorrow?” In reality, borrowing is a means of lowering your future standard of living.
Even borrowing with the ability to repay can be dangerous. Usually, we borrow figuring that at our present income level, we can make the payments. But that is assuming you know your future income will be steady or will rise. The problem is that the future is not guaranteed (James 4:13-14). What happens if you get laid off? All risks may not be covered, but you should make reasonable attempts. After all, you gave your word.
What you do owe the people around you is love (James 2:8).
“Love your neighbor” sums up much of the law (Romans 13:9-10)
Listing out some of the ten commandments, Paul notes that you can view the law as a series of actions not to do, or you can summarize much of the law in one command that you should do: Love your neighbor. Some of the manuscripts leave out “You shall not bear false witness,” but whether it is supposed to be present or not, it doesn’t change Paul’s point. What is fascinating is that “Love your neighbor” is not a part of the Ten Commandments. It is an obscure passage in Leviticus 19:18 and is only mentioned once in the Law. Yet it sums up all the laws dealing with our relationship with other people (Galatians 5:14; Matthew 22:39).
All the “you shall not” exist to explain that love doesn’t harm others (Matthew 7:12). While we often use I Corinthians 13:4-8 as a definition of marital love, it actually covers the love brethren should have for each other, and technically it is the definition of what all love between people encompasses. Paul also emphasizes a lack of harm in I Corinthians 13:5-6.