Many people today see love merely as a feeling or as a sentiment that lacks objective content. In other words, there is a widespread belief that love consists mainly in a feeling of warm affection and, essentially, means whatever one wants it to mean. Many people believe it is OK to divorce their spouses merely because they do not feel in love anymore. Others justify all manner of illicit relationships by their understanding that love has no true definitive boundaries. We often hear, “Why shouldn’t two men or two women be able to get married if they love each other?” Or, “Bob and Sue are living together for a while before they get married. They love each other, but they aren’t ready for marriage.” More than one currently running U.S. television program depicts polygamous families as “good” people who just want to be left alone to love God and each other.
We do not deny that love has an emotional component; however, as Paul teaches us in Romans 13:9–10, we may not define love according to whatever feels right to us at the moment. Love, the Apostle tells us, consists in the fulfillment of the commandments against murder, adultery, theft, covetousness, and “any other commandment” (v. 9). Given the context, Paul has in mind primarily the commandments that regulate our relationships with other people. Christians must follow the law of love, but the concrete guidance as to what the law of love demands is the moral law of God revealed in Scripture.
As we saw in our last study, Paul does not specifically mention love for the Lord in these verses, but he certainly does not exclude it. In fact, by citing the commandments of God specifically, the Apostle inextricably ties love of neighbor to love of our Creator. If we love the Lord our God, we will keep His commandments, striving to do what pleases Him (Deut. 7:9; John 14:15). Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Romans, “If you really love [God], you will be pleased by what pleases him, and what pleases him is revealed to us in his law.”
God’s law, therefore, remains relevant to the believer. It is opposed to faith in the matter of justification—we cannot be declared righteous in the Lord’s sight by keeping His commandments. Only through faith does this occur. Yet God’s law guides our sanctification, our walk as living sacrifices according to the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1–2). This guide says true love—as defined in the commandments—does no wrong to our neighbors. John Calvin comments, “He who is endued with true love will never entertain the thought of injuring others.”