Romans 13

–from Zach Gleason

The New, Royal, Greatest, First, and All-inclusive Law of Love

The New Testament has a variety of authors and differing contextual considerations. Different parts are written by different people, for different people, for different reasons, making different points. And yet somehow the Law of Love runs throughout. With very few arguable exceptions, all New Testament authors drive it home. It must be central.

But for the present purposes let’s look at every pacifist’s favorite chapter of the Bible, Romans 13. I think we focus so much attention on the first half of that chapter that has to do with “the governing authorities” that we (understandably?) overlook what surrounds it.

Most of us have heard about what precedes it: that conclusion to chapter twelve which makes participation in worldly government all but impossible. But what comes after is interesting too.

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he 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 bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Any particular command we might hold to be authoritative, say a command about sexuality, can only survive as addendum to the love command. So we can say of abusive sexual activity that it is opposed to the love of neighbors and is therefore bindingly prohibited. But the same cannot be said of same-sex marriage for instance.

And yet again, this is not just a negative, defensive passage. It does not simply provide a glimmer of hope for inclusion. It is inclusion’s resounding biblical affirmation. “For the commandments… are all summed up in this saying.” The command to love your neighbor is not simply new, royal, greatest, or first as is said elsewhere in scripture. The command to love is the all-inclusive commandment. There simply is no other commandment which is binding upon us.

Again we are called back to a salvation which is inextricably ethical. Superfluous ritual purity is excluded. Law for law’s sake, for the sake of tradition, for the sake of not rocking the boat… all excluded. Loving your neighbor is commanded. Nothing else.

And now finally we come back to that first issue. In those moments when it rises to the surface, this is the form it usually takes. The emotional question. The fear and anger. The decentering of space we thought belonged to us. When we admit it we usually trace it back to someone else. Someone who is delicate and cherished. For their sake let’s not rock the boat.

We all generally agree to that first look at loving our neighbors – it’s a good thing that ought to be done. But then there is the second look – it is the only thing that is binding upon us. And finally we have the third look – remember it is binding – not optional.

Care, of course, must be taken. We are to be family, and we are not to cause needless pain for each other. But when finally balancing traditional sensibilities of cherished brothers and sisters against the command of Christ to expand our neighborhood, we must do as Christ commands. Not asks. Commands.

It’s helpful to remember that inclusion is an issue of justice. We don’t remain segregated because granddad would be uncomfortable. Go ahead and be sensitive to granddad, consider his comfort, but don’t let it become an excuse for rebelling against the command of God. Those who advocate inclusion are often accused of discarding God’s command in the name of cultural accommodation. That is precisely what inclusion avoids and that to which exclusion succumbs.