Fulfiling the Law

Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10).

- Romans 13:8–10

Getting a grasp of Paul’s view of the Law is critical if we are to understand how the Law is fulfilled in the new covenant. Today’s passage, which tells us “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10), is especially relevant to our study.

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul says Christians “are not under law but under grace” (6:14), though not being under the Law is not lawlessness (v. 15). In fact, the apostle expects all believers to conform to the ethical demands of the Torah in gratitude to God for our great salvation. This is plain in 13:8–10 where we see how Christian love reflects the portion of the Ten Commandments that emphasizes our treatment of others (see Ex. 20:12–17).

So fulfilling the Law by love cannot mean that the Christian life endorses behaviors contrary to what we often call the moral law of God. Jesus’ own teaching on the Law in Matthew 5:17–20 confirms this truth. The Lord came not to “abolish” the commandments but to “fulfill them.” To fulfill means to complete or to bring to full expression the Law’s intention, not to cast it aside or abolish it.

Thus, even the commands we think of as abrogated have not been cancelled entirely. For example, the Law’s intent was to constitute the nation of Israel as a holy people (Deut. 28:9), which ultimately requires full atonement, not the temporary, imperfect atonement available through the blood of bulls and goats. Jesus fulfills the intent of the Law’s sacrifices with His once-for-all death (Heb. 10:1–10), so we no longer offer up animals. But today we do offer to God the sacrifice of praise as we approach him through the shed blood of our Savior (13:15).

God also gave the Law to lead His people to keep it inwardly, from the heart (Deut. 10:12–22; 30:6). Christ also fulfills this intent as the only one who has ever loved the Father perfectly; in doing this He ushers in through His resurrection and the sending of His Holy Spirit the state wherein we too will love God perfectly (1 Cor. 15:45). Since this time has yet to come fully, we participate in the ongoing fulfillment of the Law’s intent as we love one another, using the Law to help us define true love. When Jesus returns we will no longer need the Law, for then we will be able to do naught but love Him and our neighbor perfectly (1 John 3:2).

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry comments on love, saying “more is implied than is expressed; it not only does no harm, but it does all the good that may be.” The kind of love that fulfills the Law is active and not just reactive; it looks for ways to do good to people before they have need. Take a moment today to consider your coworkers or other friends and family members. What can you do to show love to them in a concrete way this day (for example, 1 John 3:17)?

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 19:17–18
Proverbs 25:21–22
Luke 10:25–37
Galatians 5:13–14

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