On June 25, 1967 the Beatles sang “All You Need is Love” in front of a worldwide audience. This broadcast was, in fact, the first worldwide satellite broadcast. With a multitude of nations singing along and a lengthy list of celebrities joining in, John Lennon and the Beatles desired to spread a very specific message. On one hand they were protesting the Vietnam War, while on the other hand they were attempting to provide a remedy to all war, evil, and injustice…with love. As the song says, love is everything, love can do anything, and love should be the focus of all things. Love, in the song, will solve all the problems of humanity. We should ask a question about this. Were they right? Is love all we need? We could say yes to the Beatles, for love is central for Christians. Our whole salvation from sin was accomplished because of God’s great love (John 3:16), and Jesus said it’s by our love for one another that the world will know we follow Him (John 13:35). But we could also say no to the Beatles, for the love they sang about it is most certainly not the love of God clothed in the gospel, nor is it the love Christians are to show to others.
What then did the Beatles miss? What is Christian love all about? Well, how curious, that after speaking to us about submitting to our governing authorities, Paul turns to love in the rest of Romans 13, v8-14 to be exact. This passage easily divides into two parts. See first…
Love and Law (v8-10)
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Isn’t it surprising that Paul would go here after dealing with how we ought to submit to the state? I mean, don’t you easily and without any trouble at all find all manner of love rising in your heart and soul when you think about how we ought to submit to the government? I found this turn surprising. But while this might surprise us, on further thought, it seems quite natural for Paul to go here next. How so? Think of it. In v1-7 Paul dealt with what Christians owe to the state, right? Christians owe the state submission. In v8 Paul transitions from what Christians owe the state to what Christians owe society. While Christians owe submission to people in positions of authority, what do Christians owe all people in society? Love.
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other…” It’s the same word that repeatedly pops up in v7 that begins v8, owe, that’s the clear link between this new section and the previous one. Many have taught a kind of financial lesson from this verse. That Christians should never be in any kind of debt, ever, and this is the verse to prove it. If this were the only verse in the Bible to teach on debt I would agree. But it’s not. There are many guidelines in the Bible about borrowing, about lending, and about debt. Paul’s language here in v8 is not so much getting at financial debt, but aiming at the debt all Christians owe to all people in all the world. The debt of love. And the unique thing about this debt is that it never ends. We’ll never find ourselves in a position of having loved others enough to satisfy this debt. Which means, we’re always in a position of owing this debt to others. And the more we pay the debt of love to others the richer we’ll grow in love ourselves.
This isn’t new in Romans. Anyone remember 1:14? Back in the very beginning of this letter Paul laid out his own heart for these Roman Christians. Because God had shown such grace to him in the gospel, Paul viewed himself, not as better than all men, but as a debtor to all men. And as a debtor to all men, Paul believed he owed all men the gospel. Now all these chapters later after a detailed description of that gospel, Paul is calling these Roman Christians, and us today, to view ourselves in the same way, in debt to all men.
Say you borrow $300 from a friend. No harm, no foul. You need it, you asked for it, they gave it, you spent it, and now you’re in debt to your friend $300. What if it takes time to earn the $300 to pay your friend back? If your friend is alright with this you have a kind friend for sure. But each time you see them isn’t it true that the first thing you’ll think of is your debt to them, until you pay them back? Now, think of this in terms of our passage here. What Paul is laboring to teach us is that as we go throughout life, anytime we see another person the first thing we should think of is our debt of love we owe to them.
But how do we show this love to others and what happens when we love others in this way? Both of these questions are answered in what Paul says about the law.
This goes against the grain. Because normally, we think love can only be true love if it’s totally free. Normally we think love can’t have anything to do with any kind of command or law. Yet see v8b-9, “…for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What does all this law language mean about our debt of love? These verses teach us how we love others in pointing us to the Ten Commandments as the guide for how to love. And these verses teach us what happens when we love others in this way; this kind of love fulfills the law. So, put it all together now. By not committing adultery, by not committing murder, by not stealing, and by not coveting…and not doing any other things like this, we’re loving others in very tangible ways. Paul sums all this up in v10 saying, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
There’s an irony to see here in Paul’s use of the Law. Before someone believes in Jesus God’s Law and God’s commandments are only a threat. All the law does is call out sin, reveal where we fall short, and leave us despairing. But when one looks to Jesus, the great Law Keeper, in faith and is saved, God’s Law is no longer a threat, it becomes a delight and joy, so much so that it becomes a guide to the believer for how to live. And by the Holy Spirit’s power in us we come to live in line with the law. Paul’s saying here in v10, when we love others in these ways, we’re living in line with spirit of what God’s Law is all about and in this way we’re fulfilling the Law.
Back to the Beatles. Were they right? Is love really all we need? Of course not! We need Jesus, the One who loved us by taking our sin on Himself and willingly bearing the wrath of God in our place, as our substitute, on the cross. His love transforms us, and His love leads us to love others in His name. And we not only need Jesus we need God’s Law, that shows us, defines for us, and fills out the picture of what it looks like to love others. This kind of Christlike love is our ever-present debt we owe all in society.
Love and Eschatology (v11-14)
“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
Paul has already spoken to us about love and the law, now he turns to speak to us about love and eschatology. But notice it, Paul’s using figurative language here, so in order to understand these verses you need to engage the imagination.
v11 begins with a reminder that we know what time it is. Do you know what time it is? This isn’t referring to actual literal clock time, but time in terms of our salvation time and the history of redemption and even the history of the world. Paul often uses different tenses when it comes to our salvation. In certain places he speaks of us having been saved by Jesus. In other places he speaks of us being saved by Jesus. Here he speaks of us as those who are going to be saved. See it in v11. When Paul speaks of our salvation being nearer to us now than when we first believed, he’s speaking of the Second Coming of Christ, the time when our salvation will be complete, when we’ll enter into the joy of our Master forever. He goes on to explain this more, that our current life in this fallen world is like the night. But, what a statement, he says this night is almost gone, and dawn is nearing. So, in a large sweeping sense, life in a sinful, broken, fallen world is like life in the night. It’s dark, it’s scary, it’s dangerous. But, the second coming of Jesus will be like the dawn, like the brightest sunrise to ever occur, where all the shadows of sin and death and fear will be done away with for good. And where we stand in awe as we see the Lord Jesus descend from the clouds surrounded by the heavenly hosts. I love how one commentator put it. He said the Second Coming of Christ is the one, grand event that always looms on the horizon of our faith.
So Church, yes of course we’ve been saved by Jesus in this life if we’ve trusted in Him. But at the moment He returns, our salvation will truly be finished. This moment, Paul says, is nearer to us now than when we first believed. And he wrote this over 1900 years ago! How much nearer are we today than they were back then? This is eschatology, it’s about us knowing the time in which we live; that we live between the two comings of Jesus. He came once lowly and humbly to live, to die, to rise, and to ascend. He will come again kingly and exalted to establish his Kingdom and rule and reign over all things. Jesus only comes twice, and we live in the time between His first and second coming. That’s what time it is.
But, why does knowing the time matter for us? See where he goes. Because Jesus’ return is nearing, what are we to do? How are we to live? v12-14 describes the kind of life we’re to live. And all throughout it calls us to a life marked by things belonging to the day rather than things belonging to the night. v12 calls us to cast off works of darkness and put on the armor of light. v13 calls us to walk properly, as we ought to, not in sinful dreadful deeds done in the dark of night like sexual immorality and drunkenness and jealousy. And v14 calls us to put on Jesus Christ, and to not make room for any sinful desires or deeds. In other words, the lives of love we live here in this dark world should look like the light of day.
Did you notice how the language used here in v12-14 is like clothing? You ever thought about it like this? When we get up in the morning we put on clothes. And when we cloth ourselves we intend those clothes to cover us all day, wherever we go, whatever we might do. This is the purpose of clothes. Right? Paul’s point is that life as a Christian is the same. We’re to be those who ‘put on’ Jesus Christ, intending that He covers us all day, intending that He fill our life, desires, actions, and words all day. Jesus isn’t just supposed to be ‘put on’ by us on Sundays, but all our days. This is the image of the Christian life.
If I could boil all of these things in v8-14 down to one simple idea this is what I’d say. We learn in v8 that we owe a debt of love to all people. In v8-10 we learn this love looks like law keeping. And in v11-14 we learn this love looks like the dawn.
But I can add two more implications from this.
First, an anticipation. Loving others in this dark world is hard. It’s hard because they don’t always recognize our love as love. Why? Because all those in this world outside of Christ are people filled with darkness, they are darkness, and they have only walked in darkness all their days, and so they don’t like the light. But what also makes it hard to love others in this dark world is there’s darkness remaining in us as well, and so we don’t always feel like loving others. Our ‘ought to’ and ‘want to’ don’t always match in this world. But we press on nonetheless. We take heart. We find courage to live as light in the dark. Why? Because though it’s dark, dawn is near. And with the dawn comes rest, and an end to our labors forever.
Second, an urgency. Because we know the dawn is nearing, it should remind us that we don’t have all the time in the world to love others in this way. Our time is short. Jesus is really returning. And when He returns, that’s it. This world will be done. People will really be ushered into heaven or cast into hell forever. Paul, in his own day, said the time was short and that they were nearer to the Second Coming than when they first believed. Church, we must know the time. It’s never been later than right now. The nearness of the Second Coming should change much for us. It’s time for the Church to wake up, to shake off the sleep from our eyes, to rise from lethargy and be willing to spend and be spent for the cause of the gospel moving ahead in this darkness.
Church, from knowing how we were loved in the gospel, may we embrace our debt of love, may we see how to love others in God’s Law, and may we ever be eager to pay out this debt to all others.
Church, from knowing the time, may we realize that we belong to the day. And from knowing that, may we realize how inconsistent and out of bounds it is for us to still live in the darkness ourselves. We must put off deeds of darkness and cloth ourselves with Christ! May we be stirred up to obey this passage because of the shortness of time we have left.
 J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 375–376.
 John Murray, Romans – vol. 2, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 158.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 827.
 Fesko, Romans, 377.
 Daniel M. Doriani, Romans – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2021), 467.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – Life in Two Kingdoms (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 221.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2015), 142.
 Murray, Romans, 168.
 Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 245–246.