Today’s Reading: Romans 13
In No Bad Dogs, British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse claims that dogs understand love better than we do. She writes,
“In a dog’s mind, a master or a mistress to love . . . is an absolute necessity. . . . Thousands of dogs appear to love their owners, they welcome them home with enthusiastic wagging of the tail and jumping up, they follow them about their houses happily and, to the normal person seeing the dog, the affection is true and deep. But to the experienced dog trainer this outward show is not enough. The true test of love takes place when the dog has got the opportunity to go out on its own as soon as the door is left open by mistake and it goes off and often doesn’t return home for hours. That dog loves only its home comforts. . . . True love in dogs is apparent when a door is left open and the dog still stays happily within earshot of its owner.”
The real test of our love for God isn’t seen in our activity or even in our theological purity. It’s found when we have an opportunity to wander away, to leave His presence, and we choose instead to stay close to Him.
This is what makes our chapter today so powerful. It’s about love. That when we love, we do the right thing. Let’s read it together:
“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; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
Verse 9 is the “You shall not” commandments. And then Paul gives the groundbreaking thought that Jesus talked about: you shall love your neighbor. Paul is saying that you won’t do the “you shall nots” when you love your neighbor. Love makes you do what’s right.
This is so powerful. Paul starts with four negative commands:
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not murder.
You shall not steal.
You shall not covet.
And then Paul says to love your neighbor. He says when you love your neighbor, you will not steal, covet, commit adultery, or murder. That is not only powerful, it makes sense.
Religion wants to legislate the “you shall nots.” Jesus wants to empower you to love. Remember in the gospels, Jesus condensed the 613 Old Testament commands into two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. It’s so much easier to remember.
But He had a reason for doing this. He was speaking to motive. When the motive is love, it automatically takes care of the things we should not do.
Think about this in the relationship between a husband and a wife. The greatest protection against adultery in a marriage is “you shall not commit adultery” or there will be consequences. The greatest motivation to not commit adultery is by pursuing the first command husbands have for their wives: husbands love your wife as Christ loves the church. Not “don’t commit adultery.” So the best way to start making a healthy marriage is for husbands to pray each day, “Lord, help me to love my wife as Christ loves the church.”
If you start with a “don’t” in any relationship, then you have to give the consequence to prevent the behavior—for a spouse who commits adultery, the consequences are hell with God and divorce with a spouse. But that is such a poor motivation to do what’s right. When you have a disobedience problem, it’s a love problem. If you say, “I can’t stop sinning,” then start loving God. When you love God, you are fighting sin. How do you fix the love issue? The best way to love God is to know God. And the best way to know God is by reading His Word. And love will grow.