Love is the Fulfilling of the Law.

by Rev. Kevin Daugherty

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

First Reading:  Ezekiel 33:7-11 
Psalm: Psalm 119:33-40
Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14 
Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

Unfailing Love’s name comes from Psalm 33:5, which says, “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love” (NIV). Our ministry is all about God’s unfailing love. This divine love is the key to everything in the Bible, so I want to bring attention to today’s passage from Romans:

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, 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 briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10 KJV)

For the Apostle Paul, love is absolutely everything. All divine commands are not only summarized in loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is also the fulfillment of the law.

Paul expresses this same sentiment elsewhere in his letters. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul says the following:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8 KJV)

I am quoting the KJV here to make a point. The KJV uses “charity”, which refers to the ancient Christian virtue of caritas (Latin), self-sacrificial love, or agape in Greek. Many people inaccurately cite this passage at weddings, but it is not talking about romantic love. For Paul, self-sacrificial love is at the core of everything it means to be a Christian. In addition, in his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).

Paul is not the only apostle to emphasize this point. John says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God” (1 John 4:7). In addition, James says, “However, if you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well” (James 2:8).

Where do the apostles get this teaching from? They certainly did not pull it out of thin air. It comes directly from Jesus Christ. He taught his disciples that love is to be honored far above any other commandment, and the love is in fact the fulfillment of these commandments:

One of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together. Knowing that [Jesus] had answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?” Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18). There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, cf. Matthew 22:34-40, Luke 10:25-28)

Jesus summarizes the entire Hebrew Scriptures as being to love God and love your neighbors. In Matthew’s version of this teaching, Jesus says, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”. This teaching is repeated elsewhere. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus summarizes the Law and the Prophets as “do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”. It’s rephrased, but the prime directive of love remains clearly visible.

The phrase “Law and the Prophets” is a way of talking about the Scriptures, in this context, the Old Testament. It refers to the first two portions of the Tanakh, the Torah and Nevi’im.

The testimony of Jesus and his apostles is clear as day on this point. It is all about love — not all kinds of love, but self-sacrificial, brotherly love. All Christian morality must hinge upon loving others, and all Christian spirituality must hinge upon loving God.

As you go about this week, think to yourself: How can I be more loving? Am I loving God and my neighbors? Am I making all decisions with love in mind? 

Love is the prime directive of the church. We must love others as Christ first loved us, and we must “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).