Don't run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don't sleep with another person's spouse, don't take someone's life, don't take what isn't yours, don't always be wanting what you don't have, and any other "don't" you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can't go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. (Romans 13:8-10 The Message)
For many of us, the "debt" of love goes something like this: I will give a little love to you, you give me some in return. Sound familiar? You scratch my back and I will scratch yours. We use love as a "bargaining chip". It is withheld when things aren't going as we'd desire and then it is extended when we want something from another. What a silly roller-coaster ride this is!
Jesus turned the idea of "keeping the letter of the Law" around when he walked this earth. His example was one of loving without looking for a return on the investment. If the one who extended us the credit card limit would have been so gracious, we'd have all bought more, right? Love which is given unconditionally is something to be desired by all.
Looking at our passage today, we find Paul explaining the "keeping of the Law" as one simple step - love other people as well as you do yourself. I think he used this term because we really don't have to be taught to love ourselves. We come out of the womb just squirming and crying for the attention we all want. We have needs and we want them met - no one has to teach us the "desire" to have them met!
Yet, as we look in the mirror today, I wonder how many of us have learned some lessons which have turned us against ourselves. We see an image of someone "not worthy" of love. Guess what? When we see ourselves as unworthy of love, it is almost impossible for us to accept love - even God's! We just don't connect with the lack of "conditions" attached to his free gift of love because we don't understand this kind of sacrifice and "no strings attached" kind of love - we have learned to distrust even our own desire for love.
Paul hit the nail on the head. We "connect" with God's love at the point of salvation - what we do with this love determines the rest of the course we run in life. When we begin to open up to the possibility of "love without strings attached" (some of us call this grace),we have an opportunity to change our image of ourselves. We can see the mirror image begin to take on new facets of beauty and glory. It is not until we "connect" with love that we can truly begin to counteract the lies we have come to believe.
We have an inward desire to be loved - to experience love. What leads a young woman to purging in order to lose weight? Could it be she desires to present an "image" worthy of love? What leads an addict to pursue the next fix? Could it be to fill the "void" someone's "strings-attached" love has left? What opens a young man to being taken in by a gang? Could it be his intense desire to "belong"?
We have just described three character traits of God's love. His love GIVES value - declaring whatever it touches as valuable. His love CREATES a new image - each being made a new creation in Christ Jesus. His love ENVELOPES us in his presence - giving us a great sense of belonging just where we need to be.
I don't like to think of our loving another as a "debt" - it somehow cheapens what love is. Love is a gift - freely given, freely embraced. I'd like us to think of love as a "supernatural" outflow of being loved unconditionally. No one has to teach us to love ourselves - yet what a tough lesson it is to truly love others as God loves us!