Sun, Sep 06, 2020
The Law of love
Romans 13:8-14 by Craig de Vos
Series: Sermons

On Friday…

a Victorian man, who had allegedly 

encouraged people to gather… 

to protest against Victoria’s stringent lockdown laws…

was arrested.

Police came to his front door with a search warrant…

and he argued with them–– 

refusing to let them in… 

claiming that they had no authority and were trespassing.

They broke down the door and apprehended him––

charging him with “incitement”…

“resisting arrest”…

and “possession of prohibited weapons”.

Released on bail, he posted a video urging people not to attend protests…

claiming that they were a ploy by the Premier to extend lockdown laws.

Several others have also been arrested and charged with incitement…

including a pregnant woman in Ballarat…

who claimed that she had tried to organise a protest because she was a “passionate person”… 

who was “sick of the lockdown”… 

and that she was “fighting for human rights”.

After being arrested, and charged, she was shocked to discover that her actions were illegal.


It’s sad that there are misguided people who believe that this pandemic is a hoax…

or some sort of weird conspiracy.

But believing that––

and even voicing that on social media––

is one thing.

Actively encouraging others to resist laws is another––

especially laws that have been implemented to protect the community.

Encouraging people to gather without social distancing…

or masks…

or other preventative measures…

at a time when the Victorian infection rate and death toll is alarming…

and only beginning to show signs of abating…

is not just misguided.

It is, and ought to be, criminal.

Granted, the response of police was heavy-handed…

but rules and regulations concerning public health and safety are vital––

especially at a time like this.

Without laws for the common good we cannot be a ‘society’.

Imagine if we didn’t have any road rules…

or if they weren’t enforced.

So, too, if there weren’t regulations concerning building safety and standards;

or no laws constraining violent behaviour.

As a society, we need rules and regulations to protect us and keep us safe…

and to manage how we interact with each other…

and our world.

Of course, there are times when those rules and regulations are inconvenient.

They can also become twisted or abused…

and end up being detrimental, even damaging.

But we can’t do without them.


As heirs of the Reformation, we have all been weaned on Luther’s distinction between Law and Grace…

and that Law, in a sense, is a bad thing.

Following Luther, we have understood the Hebrew Law to have been an attempt to earn God’s approval…

by doing what was mandated––

or else.

The Law––

we have been told––

was what the Israelites thought that you did to become God’s people.

It was a way to earn God’s approval––

to be ‘justified’ in God’s eyes.

But, in reality, they never understood it that way.

The Law was not a way to earn God’s approval––

that approval was freely given.

It came simply by being a part of the covenant people.

Rather, keeping the Law was meant to be their response to God’s graciousness.

People who were converts to the Hebrew religion––

like, it would seem, some in the Roman church…

and the imaginary character with whom Paul debates in Romans––

didn’t understand the nuances. 

They saw the Law as something of a ‘boundary marker’––

defining who was ‘in’ and who was not.

And, by expecting converts to Christianity to be circumcised…

and keep the Law…

they were, in effect, distorting the intent and function of the Law.

That’s what Paul has been arguing against in his letter to the Romans.

And, while Luther misunderstood what was going on there…

his primary theological insight––

that we do not earn God’s approval––

is justified and legitimate.

Unfortunately, despite that insight and that assertion…

generations of Christians––

generations of Protestant Christians––

have similarly distorted the nature of grace and our response to it.

Despite all of our talk about grace––

that we cannot earn God’s love and approval––

we have, sometimes subtly, instituted a whole set of rules and regulations…

that effectively function as a boundary marker––

defining who is “in” and who is not…

who is “saved” and who is not…

who is a “genuine” Christian and who is not.

Sometimes, it’s belief-based:

unless you believe in the “full divinity” of Christ;

unless you believe in the historical formulation of the Trinity;

unless you believe in the literal, physical resurrection;

unless you believe in heaven and hell;

unless you believe in the Virginal conception––

then you’re not truly a Christian.

Just as often, that ‘law as boundary marker’ attitude has centred on morality or practice:

if you mow the lawn or go to the cinema on a Sunday;

if you practice yoga;

if you drink alcohol;

if you have sex outside of marriage;

if you’re not-heterosexual or cis-gendered;

if you support marriage equality, abortion, assisted dying, or the full equality of women––

then you’re not truly a Christian.


And it’s precisely that sort of attitude that Paul is challenging…

in this morning’s reading from his letter to the Romans––

notwithstanding his injunctions against

“drunkenness… debauchery and licentiousness”;

because those injunctions are not central to what he’s saying here.

Rather, Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

He states it twice, just to ram home the point…

love is the fulfilling of the law.

And there are nuances to the Greek of that phrase that make it even stronger.

It could also be translated:

“love is the full or perfect nature of the Law”;

or, even, “love is the sum-total of the Law”.

The rest of what he says in this reading––

the specific vices that he lists––

are intended to be examples or demonstrations––

within the context of the Roman church––

of what not-loving might look like.

But the point, for Paul, is unmistakeable.

Morality does not comprise a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts”…

“shoulds” and “should-nots”…

“oughts” and “ought-nots”.

Morality is not about obeying––

nor subscribing to––

a set of rules and regulations.

Morality cannot be reduced to following a set of rules and regulations that must––

by their very nature––

be anachronistic…


culturally contingent…

and politically motivated.

Rather, morality––

as the situational ethicists argue––

is something internal and integral;

something that flows from the heart and the will.

Morality, at its core, is about love.

Morality is about finding a loving response to another person…

in any particular situation.

It’s ensuring that we act and behave in such a way that people are not harmed––

and that we are not harmed––

through love.

Rather than obeying some set of rules––

which will, inevitably, reflect historical, cultural, religious, or political biases…

in varying degrees…

and which can actually result in negative or harmful consequences––

acting morally is about seeking to do what is most loving.

It forces us, at all times, to discern loving ways and means… 

and loving consequences.

Morality is about reflecting the nature of God––

and especially God’s love––

in everything that we say and do that impinges upon other people.

That, in the end, is the only rule that we’re called to obey.