Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.
This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. (Romans 13:8-12)
Why is love for others called a debt? We are permanently in debt to Christ for the lavish love he has poured out on us. The only way we can even begin to repay this debt is by loving others in turn. Because Christ’s love will always be infinitely greater than ours, we will always have the obligation to love our neighbors.
In Romans 13:9-10, Paul explains what he means by self-love. Even if you have low self-esteem, you probably don’t willingly let yourself go hungry. You clothe yourself reasonably well. You make sure there’s a roof over your head if you can. You try not to let yourself be cheated or injured. And you get angry if someone tries to ruin your marriage. This is the kind of love we need to have for our neighbors. Interestingly, people who focus on others rather than on themselves rarely suffer from low self-esteem.
Christians must obey the law of love, which supersedes both religious and civil laws. How easy it is to excuse our indifference to others merely because we have no legal obligation to help them and even to justify harming them if our actions are technically legal! But Jesus does not leave loopholes in the law of love. Whenever love demands it, we are to go beyond human legal requirements and imitate the God of love. See James 2:8-9; 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:16-17 for more about this law of love.
Loving others as ourselves means to be actively working to see that their needs are met. How can you be proactive about clothing or housing people or other matters of social justice?