Connections 08.28.2016: The Command to Love

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Romans 12:1-2; 13:8-10

My daughters are eleven and nine. From the time they were old enough to understand, my husband and I have established rules for them. These parameters help them learn everything from necessary safety precautions to appropriate social behaviors. Thus far for our girls, the safety rules are relatively simple for them to comprehend and follow. They haven’t quite reached the age where they wish to engage in risky behaviors—though I’m sure the time is coming.

What they struggle with more are the expectations pertaining to respect, compassion, kindness, patience, and self-control when relating to other people. Especially to each other and to their parents! I remember vividly my time as an older elementary school student and then as a middle schooler. Physical development, hormonal changes, and emotional confusion all combined to make life terribly tricky. I sympathize with my girls, but at the same time I must work to hold them accountable for their words and actions toward others.

At some point, I have realized that the many small rules (be truthful, share your belongings, empathize with others, be satisfied with what you have, choose your words carefully, take care of your own possessions, etc.) can be summarized in one: “Treat others as you want to be treated.” This is the so-called Golden Rule that we find in our Bibles in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. It takes time and experience to develop empathy, but this quality is essential for living a life of compassion and kindness. The ability to put ourselves into the position of other people and try to feel what they feel is also essential to living the life of a Christian.

To me, one of the most beautiful things Jesus said was “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:37-40).

Paul echoes Jesus’ words in our text: “The commandments…are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:9-10). I find it refreshing that we don’t need to recite every single rule ever devised to protect relationships between people. Jesus gives us one command that covers them all. If we love others as we love ourselves, if we love God and love people, then we will naturally follow all the other rules that may exist to protect our relationships.

So the next time I’m talking to Samantha and Natalie about their behavior toward others, I’ll simply say, “Please treat her or him the way you want to be treated.” In time, as they learn and grow, it may just be enough.

Discussion

1. What are some of the rules you were expected to follow as you grew up? How easily did you follow them?
2. How well did you understand the reasons for various rules in your childhood and teenage years?
3. What makes it so difficult to relate to other people?
4. Why are our interactions with others so important to God?
5. What does Jesus’ command about loving God and loving others (and Paul’s reminder of it) mean to you?

Reference Shelf

Romans 13:8-10…returns to the theme of love for one another. It is linked to 13:1-7 through a key word (“what is due” [opheilas], v. 7; “owe” [opheilete], v. 8).So if 13:1-7 spoke of what was owed to rulers, 13:8-10 speaks about what is owed to all. These verses are in the form of an injunction (v. 8a) followed by its basis (vv. 8b-10).

Injunction (13:8a):
Negative—Owe no one anything
Positive—except to love one another.

Basis (13:8b-10):
General principle—for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (v. 8b).
Explanation—The commandments against adultery, murder, stealing, and coveting are summed up in “Love your neighbor as yourself ” (v. 9).
Restatement of the principle—Love does not wrong a neighbor, that is why it fulfills the law (v. 10).

When Paul spoke about loving one another, he usually referred to other believers (1 Thess 5:15 where a distinction is drawn between one another and all). But when he said “owe no one,” he seemed to refer to all. So Paul here was likely addressing believers’ relations with both other believers and nonbelievers. What is owed is love. The content of this love is spelled out. It does not do wrong to a neighbor (v. 10). Wrong is spelled out as well. It involves adultery, murder, stealing, coveting, and any other commandment. Love, then, is not a sentimental feeling for another; it is action that does not harm the other!

Charles H. Talbert, Romans, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002) 298–99.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters, and watching television shows on Netflix.

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