All You Need is Love
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
A Meditation upon Romans 13:8-10
Brethren: Owe no man anything except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law. For You shall not commit adultery. You shall not kill. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. 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 evil to a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law.
The Beatles wrote a popular song titled, “All You Need Is Love.” On the surface, this seems to be the same thing that the Apostle St. Paul is saying in Romans 13 when he says:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
What we need to do in each situation of life, then, is to ask ourselves: what is the most loving thing to do in this circumstance? How can I show love to my neighbors?
These questions are certainly the right ones to ask, but we could be misled into thinking that the most loving thing for neighbors is obvious and apparent to all. Most secular people would agree with the Beatles that “all we need is love,” and they would salute St. Paul for the same opinion.
But neither the Beatles nor secular people really agree with St. Paul on what love is. St. Paul would say that the most loving thing you could do for neighbors is persuade them to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ, to exhort them to practice the Christian virtues, to live according to the precepts of the Church and God’s commandments.
Love, as St. Paul described it, is an enterprise in sacrifice. Modern society thinks that love is living according to our gut feelings. The problem with gut feelings, or the kind of love the pop artists tend to sing about, is that gut feelings are unreliable and ever changing. It strikes me that if the Beatles were singing about love as sacrifice, they would have been dead-on. Rather, St. Paul’s writing in Romans 13 suggests that there are two mistakes that we may fall into in defining what love is. Now let us examine them one at a time.
What is the first blunder in judgment? The first mistake is to say that since love fulfills the law, we no longer have any need for God’s commandments. Some people understand these verses to say that the only moral guideline Christians need is “love.” After all, the Apostle to the Gentiles teaches that the only thing we owe one another is love, and that “the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Furthermore, he teaches in the next verse that the different commands of the law are summed up in love.
Those who interpret St. Paul this way argues, therefore, that we do not actually need the commandments anymore. They believe that the commandments are old-fashioned and out-of-date; thus, they have conveniently been put into a plastic box and placed upon the top shelf. Such modern interpreters of the Scripture tell us that we need not think about them anymore.
Those who believe this way are always displeased if they encounter anyone of authority calling them to adhere to the commandments and to the moral teaching of Christ and His Church. They condemn as legalism any commands which say ‘thou shalt do this’ or ‘thou shalt not do that.’ They insist that believers are not under any “commands,” except the command to “love one another.”
In most errors there is a grain of truth, and I will return later to the element of truth present in this view. At this point I want to put the spotlight on the massive error which is found in this view. When Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the law, he does not say that we have no need for God’s commandments. To say that love is the fulfillment of the law does not imply that we can dispense with God’s commands. Instead, specific commandments are given by the Apostle, so that we will see how love looks in action:
“For thou shalt not commit adultery: thou shalt not kill: thou shalt not steal: thou shalt not bear false witness: thou shalt not covet: and if there be any other commandment, it is comprised in this word, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Thus, one cannot commit adultery, murder, steal, and covet and claim to be loving. Specific commandments are given so that we will see in a concrete and practical way how love manifests itself in everyday life. Remember Christ fulfilled every “jot and tittle of the law” to show us how to live in perfect obedience to God.
In this passage, St. Paul only lists four of the God’s commandments here, but we should not conclude from this that these are the only four commandments we need to keep to be loving. Notice that he adds the words “if there is any other commandment.” In other words, St. Paul did not list all the commandments for his readers. He did not need to do so, as they were fully conversant with them. Seen in this context, his intention is clear. All the moral norms and absolutes of God’s holy law describe what is involved in being loving. No one can claim to be loving, while at the same time he or she is violating God’s commandments.
Why is it so important to have commandments to love one another? Because love without commandments so easily descends into something vague or something rather sentimental. We can so easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we are loving because we have warm feelings towards other people. Love is easily confused in our society with being “nice.” But “Minnesota nice” does not necessarily mean that one is acting in a loving manner. A person can be “nice” and at the same time be guilty of blatantly violating God’s commands.
The word love without commandments is a plastic word which can be twisted and shaped in myriad ways to defend a course of action which is in fact contrary to God’s law. For instance, a married man may justify an adulterous affair with another woman because of “love.” He has taken love and twisted it and distorted it.
The principle here is easy to see: we cannot let lust, selfishness, or any kind of sin shape our definition of love. We must let God’s Word define for us what true love is. We must listen to the authority of Christ if we wished our minds to be formed in truth and our hearts shaped in love. Otherwise, we will fall prey to the deception of the devil.
Love involves more than the keeping of commandments, but it never involves anything less than keeping them. Love goes beyond the keeping of God’s law, but it never goes around the keeping of God’s law. God’s commandments guard us from inadequate definitions of love and provide us with an objective standard by which we can test our lives. If we claim to be walking in love but fail to keep God’s commandments, then our profession is contradicted by our practice.
Another common error is the opposite of the first one. Thus, it is also a mistake to say that keeping commandments is the sum and totality of love. After all, St. Paul does emphasize in this text that what we owe our neighbor is love, that love fulfills the law, that love sums up the commandments of the law, and that love does no wrong to the neighbor.
Love certainly involves the keeping of commandments, but love is more than the keeping of rules and regulations. Love also involves the affections and motivations of the heart. One can never claim to be loving while transgressing commandments. On the other hand, one can keep commandments but do so in an unloving way, for love involves the affections and motivations of the heart.
We see this truth where St. Paul says, “If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” Certainly there is no external violation of God’s law in giving one’s money to the poor and in giving up one’s life for another. Indeed, doing these things seems to be a profound obedience to God’s law. And yet St. Paul explicitly says here that one may be exceedingly generous to the poor and give up his life for another person and still be unloving.
How can one be unloving and give all of one’s possessions to the poor or sacrifice one’s life so that others may live? Most of us would be inclined to say that anyone who gave us all his money or gave up his life for our children must be acting in love. Not necessarily. Why? These actions are unloving if the motivation is to gain glory, honor, and praise for ourselves, and if they lack affection for the people helped. As Scripture records, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Be generous in love, in sacrifice. and in charity, but be discreet about it and humble.
If love does not retain primacy over commandments, then we are also in danger of falling into the same problem as the Pharisees which is the attempt to make a rule for every conceivable situation. God was simple and clear. He gave us only ten rules to follow – ten commandments to guide every situation. But we can fall into the terrible tendency of making rules on top of rules to try to address every situation, and this just will never work. Besides, who could remember them all?
Yet this is exactly the problem the Pharisees fell into. They compiled the Mishnah, which described in detail how to keep God’s commandments. This book contains hundreds of pages of detailed regulations. In later Jewish history the Talmud was written to explain the Mishnah. And theTalmud is 20 volumes long. Life is too complex to write down what should be done in every specific situation. Rather than being motivated by fear, as Christians we are motivated by the Holy Spirit and by the love of Christ which impels us to act in a loving way.
As Christians we are to learn to listen to God’s voice and to exercise spiritual discernment. We must learn to pray. We must find stillness and quiet and listen. St. Paul writes:
“And this I pray that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ, having been filled with fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
My dear friends in Christ, in the complexity of life when you are confronted with a big decision, something that is not clear, the way to find the answer is this: 1) Do not do anything that violates God’s commandments or the teachings of Christ and His Church and then 2) Do what requires the highest sacrifice of yourself so that you can imitate the perfect sacrificial love of Jesus Christ and then like St. Paul you will teach others that,
“Love is the fulfillment of the Law.”