As the End Comes, Love by His Spirit and Fulfill the Law

27 Nov
Sermon preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Waseca, MN, 11/27/2022.


“Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”[1]


Love, Paul proclaims, goes hand in hand with the Ten commandments – at least it seems the second table given the sampling he shared – and says that these are summed up in the one command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Some of you might be thinking:

Why though, is Paul talking about love as a debt here?! After all, as Christians, haven’t all our debts been paid? Is there not a sense in which we really and truly are free from the law?”

Good catch! Your instincts are sound.

For instance, in the book of Galatians, Paul also talks about how Christ has set us free for freedom and that anyone who tries to be justified by following the law has fallen away from grace![2]

At the same time though, note also what he says there in Galatians about the origin of this love that also fulfills the law:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

So when Paul is saying that there is a sense in which we are free from the law, he is certainly not saying that we are free from love.

Rather, in Christ who fulfills the law on our behalf, we really know love, and we are free to love…

And to love, is indeed freedom, liberty.

For if you remain in Christ’s love you continue to love… and, paradoxically, you owe nothing… for love is the fulfilling of the law…[3]

So when Paul speaks of a debt here, he is speaking of a metaphorical debt of sorts…. :

“Realize, my friends, how God is love and you are now found in that love.





So, in the end, we can’t and won’t say, with one famous 20th century philosopher, that “hell is other people”.

For we love.

True freedom — true peace and paradise! — and being able to really express one’s self in love… go hand in hand.

And even if some in the world twist this lovely truth…. they nevertheless have some inkling of this, some understanding of this, to some degree…

This is why, for example, in the book of Galatians when discussing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul says regarding these fruits – that is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – that there is no law against such things.

There is no law against love!

And yet, just what is love?

Famously, when the Bible talks about love, it associates it closely with God Himself, it being at the core of Who He is.

We do not only say that God is loving, but that the One Who Loved the World by Sending His Only Son (that we might believe in Him) IS LOVE.

And, why shouldn’t I Corinthians 13, often read at weddings, be our go-to passage here?:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails…”

And later, Paul closes: “these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”[4]


So here in Romans 13, Paul is primarily saying this:

Let this love flow! Live in it!

One might think here about how earlier in the book of Romans he speaks about the Holy Spirit’s working in the hearts of Christian people:

“…hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5).

That is quite the picture, isn’t it?

As the love of God has been poured out into our hearts, brothers and sisters, let it flow — let it overflow[!] — to others…

At the same time, even as this love comes to us spontaneously — erupting forth from the faith in Jesus that God creates in our hearts! — that doesn’t mean that we won’t sometimes still need some guidance, encouragement, and reflection on how to best direct our activity.

That is also why in Romans 12:1-2, Paul begins this section of the book where he teaches and exhorts the Romans regarding all the ways they can show love by saying:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

And so here we are directed once again to the importance of the consistent presence and use of the Word of God in our lives….

So that our souls, our minds, might ever be transformed… renewed… and able to test in an informed way what God’s will is – and how it can best be applied by us in our individual circumstances…


As you, my friends, have been baptized into God’s family and have the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit written upon your heads…

…this topic should attract a significant amount of your attention.

God’s will will always be for us to love, and to increase in love for one another…

I think that this is why here in our reading he addresses these commandments that are so familiar to us so quickly.

In a sense, it seems like they are almost like an afterthought for him, as if they are obvious…

Again, we recall that Paul says:

“The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law…”

Here is how I read this: the Apostle is saying that of course love follows these commandments!

And love is not doing any harm — or better, evil or ill to the neighbor[5] because it – motivated by faith in Christ and thankful for His gifts to us – is so busy doing good… that is, always operating in a I Corinthians 13-fashion![6]

After all, do those who always hope and who fail to envy think coveting is good?

Do those who are patient – and who are always looking to protect – think that stealing is acceptable?

Do those who are humble, kind and not easily angered think that murder is permissible?

Do those who always persevere, who honor others, and who are not self-seeking commit adultery?

Of course not![7]


Fair enough. Love fulfills the law, we can agree.

That said, perhaps you, like me, have wondered this though: Where is love and praise to God in our Epistle reading today?

When Paul talks about fulfilling the law in love, why does he only talk about some of the second table of the commandments?

We might think, for example, about how when Jesus explains to a Pharisee what the greatest commandment is, He first speaks of loving God with all one’s heart, soul and mind, before only then mentioning loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.[8]

So here, when we think of love – that I Corinthians 13-kind of love – we might ask,

“Doesn’t the Lord first and ultimately want us to never be self-seeking… and to always trust, hope, and persevere… to always be be patient and not easily angered… when it comes to Him?When it comes to our relationship with Him?”

Certainly! – and here one thinks about the importance of things like spending time in His Word, worshiping with His people, receiving His gifts, and being constant in prayer – something He invites us to do, and to be confident that He hears and answers….

At the same time, we might also remember Jesus’ hard-hitting Sermon on the Mount from the same book.

There He says:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

So here, perhaps a bit on the contrary… it appears that Jesus is summing up the law (and the prophets) in much the same way that Paul is doing so… giving the impression that it is simply the second table of the commandments that fulfills the law!

So, what is happening here?


A couple key points.

First of all, there is a very significant sense that even when the Christian does something like regularly hear God’s word, has worship, and receives God’s gifts, God does not intend that this would be something we imagine we do simply for our own sake, but for our neighbor as well!

On the contrary, it is good that we externally and publicly proclaim God’s word in prayer and song, showing loyalty, commitment, and love to God before our neighbor!

Though we should do none of this in order to be seen and praised by men, it does us well to remember that we certainly are unable to not be seen by men either!

We can’t not be seen!

And so all of this helps to put our neighbor on notice or to remind them that the proclamation that we make — and God we bear witness to — is a highly significant and important thing indeed, the most Significant and Important Thing!

There may well come a day when we will have to meet secretly, for example, and not in this large and beautiful sanctuary. That however, is not ever something we should seek!

The second point though, is that while all of this first table stuff is also for our neighbor, it will nevertheless not be as immediately relevant to them as the good deeds that we do for them in the vocations that God has given us (as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, teachers, students, employers, employees, rules, citizens, pastors, laypersons, etc).

This is, again, why Paul so confidently states that the fruits of the Spirit – love being the foremost – have no law against them.

God truly calls us to love all of our neighbors in the Name of Jesus, and He means for us to increasingly do this from the heart, as it is truly to His glory.

For it is to the glory of God to be known in the creation as the God who is love, the One who sent His Son into the world to sacrifice Himself for it that the world would be saved and not condemned!

We are His messengers, and we show this love by living as His people, following our Shepherd, in thought, word and deed…

And this is all by God’s design.

He also knows that our neighbor is not wrong to expect, at some level, that we are called to love them…

Hence, to them it will make sense that God is concerned to emphasize the second table of the commandments here too…[9]


This, however, can go very, very wrong as well… and it has.[10]

We need to remember, after all, that even if Satan does not trust God, He still knows God’s word well — and will exploit it.

For the last three hundred and fifty years in particular, sinful man, fooled by the devil, has made two very significant moves we should be aware of. 

First of all, using a passage like Romans 13 or Jesus’ statement about the Golden Rule, the first table of the commandments has increasingly been chased out of public life.

Don’t ever focus on that first table stuff about loyalty to God! We like the second table commandments where it talks about people being good persons! That, Christian, is what religion is for! Not loyalty to any particular God or church!

That is the first step. The second step is like it.

Using passages like I Corinthians 13, where Paul says something like “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast… but do not have love, I gain nothing”, one might wrongly promote the idea that good internal intentions – and never what one ultimately does with their body – is what really matters.

So… in history, as we have seen, what eventually didn’t matter that much was whether one really followed things like the second table of the ten commandments either!

As long as one was a loving and good person on the inside, they should do what they wanted to do… following their heart.

So much for Jesus’ observation that our hearts are evil!

Of course now we are seeing the fruit of this in a myriad of ways…

Just recently, some 60 United States Senators voted to make Gay Marriage legal in all 50 states, just in case the Supreme Court decision Obergafell, were to fall like Roe v. Wade.

Why did they do this?

Because, as people say today, “love is love”. Many of those involved in promoting their homosexual “lifestyle” believe they are being themselves… being truly authentic.[11] How dare anyone suggest – or worse, assert – that their actions are somehow intrinsically, that is by nature, disordered or harmful.

How dare anyone decry or even just challenge their assertions that “love is love” and that “if the hearts fit, the parts fit”!

Nevermind that homosexual activity harms both the individuals participating in them and the society that they are a part of.

We must, they tell us, not even suggest this as a possibility.

So, now, because of the rise of this thing we call “authenticity”, the “authenticity” of a “Sovereign Self” and individual, things are seen as love which are in fact, not love…[12]

Where will things go from here?

Well, we are seeing that become clearer, day after day, aren’t we?…[13]

Garbage is increasingly shoved into our faces and we are asked to eat it and say we like it.

And even though I, as a vicar, might say all this, you may want to think twice about what you say at your job, for example!


In any case, all of this naturally leads us into the end of the Epistle text today…

…where Paul guides, encourages, and helps us see clearly what God’s will is for us again as regards walking within His law, walking in love….

As we read it, more recent generations of Christian believers may have found it jarring that Paul would bring up the sins that he does [!] as potential temptations for Christians…

We should not be so shocked. Insofar as we are in this world, the Christian is continually both saint and sinner.

Though we are genuinely new creatures in Christ who have truly begun to desire the good gifts and will of God, we also will have our “old nature” or “old Adam” around our neck until we die.

So, what does Paul say to us? What kind of timeless guidance does the Holy Spirit think we Christians need?:

“…the hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day has drawn near. So let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

Make no provision for the desires of the flesh”.

What Paul is saying here is this:

You are a Christian, you have known and know God’s mercy and peace. You are a member of His household, so put your body to good use.

No plan B! Put on Christ and kill old Adam! Cut off your evil desires in their tracks!

And by the Holy Spirit that lives within you… love always the Ten Commandments!

You — follow them, both externally and internally.

In other words, run in the way of love more and more, and love one another ever more deeply!

In this way, you will honor your Father in heaven, and glorify His Name.

the One who died for you, so that even now, this morning, you might know He forgives you for all your sins and be at peace with Him…

For He is the One who died for all — and desires that all persons know Him… and be saved to the uttermost… be fully glorified in Him!

God grant this conviction… and corresponding love – this corresponding action – to each one of us!


[1] Started this way:

 “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed…”

– Romans 13:1


Do what, more specifically, understanding the present time?

When we wake from our slumber… because our [final] salvation is nearer now then when we first believed… what is the Apostle Paul expecting us to do?

Well, he does go on to say more here, but we will be most helped if we first go back to the previous few verses…:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another…

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

And love, Paul also proclaims, goes hand

Love, Paul proclaims, goes hand in hand with the Ten commandments – at least it seems the second table

[2] Let me, for instance, read you a portion from Galatians 5:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?…”

He goes on to say: “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!””

As the Apostle Paul talks so much about freedom from the law here – certainly with the focus on things like circumcision and other ceremonial practices the “Judaizers” were attempting to force on the Galatian Christians – note what what he says here about the origin of this love that also fulfils the law: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

[3] More from the Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary:

[hath fulfilled] The perfect tense conveys the thou C ght that such “love” at once attains the fulfilment (as regards principle and will) of the precepts of the “Second Table.” It does not move from one to another by laborious steps, but leaps, as it were, to entire obedience. By its very nature “it has obeyed,” ipso facto, all the demands.

It is obvious that St Paul is not concerned here with the fact of the actual incompleteness of the obedience of even the holiest Christian. He has to state the principle; he takes the ideal, at which all sincere effort will aim.”

Bengel’s Gnomen:

Romans 13:8. Μηδενὶ, to no man) From our duties to magistrates, he proceeds to general duties, such as we owe to one another.—ὀφείλετε, owe) a new part of the exhortation begins here.—ἀγαπᾷν, to love) a never-ending debt. Song of Solomon 8:7, at end of ver. If you will continue to love, you will owe nothing, for love is the fulfilling of the law. To love is liberty (italics mien). The Lutheran commentator Lenski concurs, speaking of this paradox.

[4] The full quote: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

[5] Just any neighbor? More from the Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary:

They were, indeed, quite as truly bound to “love their enemies;” but the love in the two cases was not exactly of the same quality. The love of benevolence is not to be confused with the love of endearment.—For such special entreaties to Christian love see e.g. John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 John 3:14; and particularly, as a strictly parallel passage here, Galatians 5:13-14.

[6] Expositor’s Greek Testament:

Romans 13:10. ἡ ἀγάπη … κακὸν οὐκ ἐργάζεται. This is all that is formally required by the law as quoted above (οὐ μοιχεύσεις, etc.): therefore love is πλήρωμα νόμου, law’s fulfilment. Of course love is an inspiration rather than a restraint, and transcends law as embodied in merely negative commandments; but the form in which the law actually existed determines the form in which the Apostle expresses himself. It is apparent once more that νόμος is the Mosaic law, and not law in general; it is from it the prohibitions are derived on the ground of which the Apostle argues, and to it therefore we must apply his conclusion, πλήρωμα οὖν νόμου ἡ….

[7] One recalls what Martin Luther said about how the faith that God gives us in Jesus Christ naturally flows into love! In his preface to the book of Romans, he said the following:

“Faith is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.

Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.

He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.

And thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools.

Therefore, pray to God to work faith in you. Else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), xvii.)

So far Martin Luther. But notice what he also says here also about love and praise to God: “Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.

[8]Yes, we might recall events like those recorded in Matthew 22 where a Pharisee, an expert in the law, tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

How does Jesus reply?

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

[9] Again, from the Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary:

They were, indeed, quite as truly bound to “love their enemies;” but the love in the two cases was not exactly of the same quality. The love of benevolence is not to be confused with the love of endearment.—For such special entreaties to Christian love see e.g. John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 John 3:14; and particularly, as a strictly parallel passage here, Galatians 5:13-14.

[10] One way this happens is when we rightly know others should love us but we are wrong in what we expect from others. See the footnotes here: ; and here:

[11] “So how did all of that happen? I think the author Meic Pearse gives us a nice summary.

First, he tells us why obedience is the cardinal virtue among “premodern” societies:

“The codes of morality which, throughout history, have upheld social order and fended off primal chaos from Cathay to the Congo and from Cuzco to Catalonia, have all emphasized external acts: those that are to be done, and those that are not to be done. In most religious codes, salvation (or a better karma next time around) was accorded to those who did well, damnation (or perhaps reincarnation as a slug) to those who did not” (52, Why the Rest Hates the West, 2003).

Next, we hear about how the Western world and beyond has, in fact, come to be under Christian influence:

“….what the [Lutheran and then Protestant] Reformation did achieve was a long-term stress on the idea of integrity and inwardness that has become a leading feature of Western culture and which remains long after the religious motives which thrust it into prominence have been discarded by an ever-more-secular society. Its diffused, secularized form has become the inheritance even of the historically Catholic regions of the West so that it is today a key differentiation between “the West and the rest.” (54)

As early as the beginnings of the 1600s, he says we detect the shift to the secularized form he mentions: “The first shift had[, in the wider society,] radicalized traditional morality by internalizing it; the second shift radicalizes interiority and discards traditional morality…”: “The psalmist’s ‘truth in the inner parts / …wisdom in the inmost place’ (Ps 51:6) gave way to Shakespeare’s ‘To thine own self be true.’” (57)

One last shocking paragraph:

“Because stress on interiority had long been part and parcel of moral discourse under the first shift[, popularized by the Reformation], it was possible for advocates of the second shift to borrow its language and to sound more ‘moral’ than those who opposed them (because they were [the ones who] were more ‘honest,’ less ‘hypocritical’ and so on)—even as they cut loose from morality as traditionally understood. In the Romantic worldview of Rousseau, the individual is intrinsically good, while society is evil. For him, there is no question of people needing to put ‘chains on their own appetites’ but rather to break the shackles that society imposes on individuals: ‘Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.’ It is society that drags people down into badness; so the way to a better individual is by freeing them from the ‘chains’ of social constraints—and letting them be ‘true to themselves.’ By the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such thinking had spread beyond the narrow circle of intellectuals and been absorbed by the wider middle classes; it was beginning to affect popular thinking about morality….” (58)

Now, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day – people like Nicodemus – believed in traditional moral codes in their full rigor.

And so, when Jesus talked to him about coming into the light and not hiding in darkness: the idea was twofold:

Not only will God’s children embrace me, God’s Gospel incarnate in human flesh, but they will embrace me as I fully am, as the One who fulfills God’s Perfect Law, that is, who is the embodiment and fulfillment of traditional morality

…living life as it is meant to be lived to the full…”


[12] See footnote above.

[13] Well, a couple weeks back I heard about a woman named Aella. She is at once a political scientist (she is a libertarian), an amazing numbers-cruncher/data scientist, and a prostitute.

She recently did a survey to find out who is interested in bestiality, and a surprising amount of people responded positivity. Of those who were into it, the largest group was the male-to-female transgenders. Strong interest also correlated with sexual assault as a child. 

“Love is love”, they say, but soon, if not already, you will be said to be unloving because of your beliefs. And new laws will be made.

And Libertarians like Aella might well say to you “Doesn’t God say we fulfill the law if we just don’t harm folks?”, as they fail to see that we don’t harm folks not so much because it is in our own interests to not do this (with what we consent to and legal contracts and the like), but because true love – a love that goes hand in hand with the 10 commandments an that they have rejected – is at the core.

The man who shared the bit about Aella, also recently had the following to say about some of the Chritian events he had attended in Europe:

“One Christian leader said yesterday, “We all know what the problems are. We should stop talking about them, and only focus on solutions.” She’s right. Again: nobody has all the answers, so we have to work them out together. For me, though, it was so, so upbuilding just to know that I am not alone, that I have brothers and sisters in the faith who see themselves as on the same path, and who are eager to collaborate. Jan Simulčik, a Slovak historian of the underground church, who served it as a college student in the 1980s, told me that it was only when he was with the young men in his underground church activist cell that he truly felt free. I got a glimpse of that this week in Vienna. To be clear, I don’t mean to compare what we Christians today are dealing with to the grim situation that believers struggled with under Communism. Still, to share a couple of days with a highly diverse group of Christians from all over the continent, and trade stories — including miracle stories of conversion (on my Substack last night, I wrote about a young Austrian woman to whom Christ appeared, leading her to convert — helped me, personally, to feel free in a way I have not for a while…”

And what are some of the things that they might talk about in those meetings?

Well, everything that we have been talking about so far this morning would be a great topic…..

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Posted by on November 27, 2022 in Uncategorized


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