Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 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, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
In this passage the apostle Paul makes an important statement about “love” as the fulfillment of “the law”. The law of which Paul speaks is the set of rules given by God to Moses starting with the Ten Commandments (the ones written on stone tablets) and extrapolated later to include hundreds of rules governing everyday life for the Jewish people. The idea was that people would follow the rules and stay in right relationship with God and with other people.
Both the apostle Paul and Jesus himself teach that “love” fulfills the law of Moses because it represents what the law itself was intended to produce, but never really did. At Rejoice Lutheran Church, the church I lead in suburban Dallas, we understand our mission to be to “love God, love neighbor, love the world”. There’s that word “love” again. But what does it really mean to “love” someone?
The Greek word used by the apostle Paul in Romans is “agape”. I looked up this word in one of my books on Greek and found this definition of agape as it is to be understood in this verse from Romans:
“Agape – to have a strong, non-sexual affection and love for a person and their well-being as understood by God’s moral character; especially characterized by a willing forfeiture of rights or privileges on another person’s behalf.”
Agape love is a self-sacrificing love or the sort Jesus modeled for us in his own life. Jesus didn’t pull rank on others (he was the Son of God, after all) but served them instead. We are called to do the same. But here’s the trouble:
We’re not just called to “agape” the people we like and/or love already. We are called to “agape” all people – even people who are not particularly loveable. ESPECIALLY those who are not particularly loveable. Jesus said it this way, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Yikes!
Right now I’m thinking of some difficult people in my life. I expect you too have some difficult people in your life. That’s just… life. If you’re like me, you may often wonder, “What do I do with this difficult person? How do I respond to them?” If I’m honest, I often want to avoid difficult people if possible. But this morning I’m challenged by this passage from Romans.
In our passage for today, the apostle Paul is teaching, as Jesus taught, that the appropriate response to difficult people is to “agape” them, love them, serve them, sacrifice for them. Is this teaching messing with you like it’s messing with me?
Lord Jesus, give us grace to love on all people – especially those we may find difficult, prickly, or otherwise unpleasant. We cannot do this in our own strength. Empower us by your Spirit to live more like you each day. Amen.