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Paying Every Debt Except One

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 13:8–10

Love for others is not just a good and wise activity; it is a divine obligation. Love is a debt we owe, and as we are paying it daily, we are establishing a lasting legacy and testimony to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


As we set sail, back into the ocean truths of Romans 13, we find Paul has just finished telling the Christian to pay his taxes. And beloved, if Paul could tell his generation to pay taxes to Nero and his immoral, corrupt Roman government, I don’t think we have any excuse to withhold paying our taxes.

With that, Paul moves on to tell us about something else we need to be paying. He writes here in verse 8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” Now there are some well-meaning churches and Christians out there who take this verse to mean you should not borrow money to build a church building or use a personal credit card or even buy a house with a mortgage.

Paul is not speaking here against lending or borrowing money. In fact, back in Exodus 22:25, Moses instructed the Israelites to allow their needy neighbors to borrow money from them, but not to take advantage of them by charging interest. On the other hand, David tells us in Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back.” It is not a sin to borrow; it is a sin to borrow and not pay it back. Failure to repay a loan is, in fact, a mark of an unbeliever.

When Paul writes this here in Romans 13:8, he uses the present tense; you could render it, “Be continually owing no man.”[1] In other words, do not refuse to pay back a debt that you owe.  

Most of you have electricity in your homes today. Well, you happen to be borrowing that from the power company, and they want you to pay them back on a monthly basis.

Did you ever think about the fact that God has loaned everything to us? God owns everything, and we merely manage what we have borrowed from Him—it is His property, it is His money, it is His world. So, if we are not supposed to borrow or lend, God becomes a great offender.

Paul is not condemning loaning or borrowing here; he is effectively saying, “Make sure you have a reputation for paying what you owe and when you owe it.”

There is a spiritual reality to this point. Paul says that there is a debt we should never pay off: “Owe no one anything except to love each other.” This is a debt to everyone, and you cannot stop paying on it. Think about it: where would we be if God said He was not going to make any more payments of love to us?

So, to put Paul’s opening phrase into contemporary language, he is saying something like this: “As a believer, do not max out your debt limit and refuse to pay it back; instead, max out your love limit, and never stop paying that back.” You are always going to owe someone another gift of love.

Paul then goes on to say that this kind of attitude toward loving others fulfills the law. That is, what the law demands, love accomplishes. Paul illustrates this by bringing up four of the Ten Commandments.

He says here in verse 9, “You shall not commit adultery.” Now you might ask what this commandment has to do with love. Well, everything! If you love your spouse, you will not violate your marriage covenant. And if you love other people, you won’t want them to violate the covenant they have made with their spouses.

Adultery is not an act of love toward another. It is an act of self-love—you become more important than your spouse and your partner’s spouse. In fact, you prove you love yourself—that you think more highly of yourself than you do of God. So, true love fulfills the law that prohibits adultery.

Next, Paul refers to the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder.” That is easy enough to understand—murder is not loving. Love does not seek to destroy; it seeks to protect.

Paul goes on to write, “You shall not steal.” Again, this eighth commandment is fulfilled by loving your neighbor. If you love your neighbor, you are not going to slip into his garage and steal his automobile. You might ask if you can borrow it, but love keeps you from taking it.

And love, by the way, might cause you to see that your neighbor has a need and move you to fulfill it!

I can remember in the early years of pastoring we did not own a reliable family car. It was usually a day or so away from having another breakdown. We wanted to travel home one year to Atlanta, Georgia, and to my wife’s family for a visit, but we could not risk a road trip and getting stranded with our children. I will never forget one couple in our church saying, “Listen, we want you to borrow our vehicle when you make out-of-town trips from now on.” They had a beautiful new minivan. I said, “Are you serious? What if something happens to it? What if we get into an accident? We could never afford to get it fixed. What if somebody steals it?” I will never forget the man’s response when he said, “Stephen, we would not loan it to you and your family if we were not willing to never get it back.”

Talk about paying us a gift of love!

Paul goes on here in Romans 13:9 to mention the last of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not covet.” This strikes at the very heart of our materialistic nature, which always wants something more. And more than that, covetousness makes us insensitive to the needs of others around us. Instead of seeing what they might need, it makes us want what they might have.[2]

A coveting heart turns us into takers; love turns us into givers. Again, love fulfills the law.

So, max out your love limit, and never stop paying on it. Live like that in front of your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends, and even your enemies. Your loving actions and loving spirit toward them build a bridge for the gospel. After all, what is the gospel? It is the love of God through Jesus Christ that will keep on paying for all of eternity. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

I remember reading, several years ago, about twelve miners who died in a West Virginia mine disaster. They were trapped underground amid toxic gases. Their final hours were not spent in physical torture, fortunately, but they slowly succumbed to the deadly gases. Knowing they were dying, and there was nothing that could be done to rescue them, they all wrote notes to their families. One of the miners, a man named Martin Toler, a section foreman, wrote a note that simply read, “Tell everyone I’ll see them on the other side … it wasn’t bad. I just went to sleep.” Then he ended his note by writing these words: “I love you.”[3]

Can you imagine what this message meant to his family and friends? His final words were, “I love you.”

I must tell you, I never end a telephone conversation with my wife or children without those words, “I love you.” Who knows? It might be the last words we say to one another before the Lord takes us to the other side.

What about the world around us today? Will they hear from us a message of love? Paul says that we owe the people around us a debt we should never stop paying on—a debt of love. And do not forget, we are actually in the process of leaving this world behind; we just do not know when.

So, let’s live so that our love for people and the gospel we communicate about the love of God through Jesus Christ will be the message we leave behind.

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Augsburg, 1936), 797.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 1 (Baker, 1991), 1693.

[3] Daniel Tyson, “Sago Anniversary: No Miracle for Trapped Miners,” The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia, January 2, 2016,

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