The idea that loving our neighbour is law and therefore not a gospel principle is not borne out by scripture, especially the writings of Paul, who makes it clear that the law, prophets and gospel are fulfilled in the commandment given by Christ to love our neighbour.
Love is far higher than the law. It fulfills, or completes the law.
Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.
So we are to owe no one anything except love. This is a huge concept. Many times this verse is used to teach that we should be debt free financially, and it could, at a pinch, be applied accordingly, but the real understanding is qualified by the following sentences, which discuss loving our neighbour as ourselves.
Paul goes on to say that the person who loves another has fulfilled the law. Now it is clear that he brings the saying ‘owe no one anything but to love them’ firmly into the New Testament, backing up Christ’s new commandments to love God with all our heart, strength, soul and being, and, to love our neighbour as ourselves. Paul is not just describing law, but the new nature of the Spirit-filled, Spirit-led believer.
He tells us that love does no harm to his neighbour, therefore love fulfils the law. This is another way of saying that it completes the law. The Greek word telios has the idea of completion, completing, ending, or fulfilling. Thus, Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to those who believe. Faith in Christ brings us into righteousness. This faith comes through love. You cannot separate God’s love from faith.
Love for our neighbour, then is not law. It fulfils law. It makes law unnecessary. It takes the need for law out of the equation. If we love we are above the law.
Walking in the Spirit
As Paul tells the Galatians, when we walk in the Spirit, we walk in love, and the fruit of the Spirit come into operation, and there is no law against this. The law is superseded by love. That is why Jesus said that he was introducing the new commandments of love. If we love we overcome the need for the law.
If we do not love we come under law because the law was introduced to accommodate the actions that would have naturally come from a spirit of love, so that, whether a person loved or not, they were held to the principles that love would naturally produce, which, in turn would have removed the necessity for law.
The law was given until grace came in the form of the Word made flesh—Jesus. The law was a schoolmaster holding Israel in place until faith came, and, we are told, that faith works by love. Jesus fulfilled the law because he lived the love commandments before us. He lived love because the Father so loved. He showed us how love worked, and how the law was fulfilled in love.
He did not have to follow the law by rote, because love allowed him to make the law work regardless of its content. He knew the law, could recite the law, and teach the law, but, by living and acting in love he made the law work, fulfilling it through love. His was a labour of love that made the law work because love is always greater than the law.
As Jesus said, the law is still viable, and not one jot nor tittle is removed from it, but, when we live, speak and act in love we are doing everything that the law was introduced to accomplish, yet without the need for a line upon line, precept upon precept understanding of the law. Love accomplishes all that the law sets out to achieve.
1 Timothy 1:5-11 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.
But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.
The law is not made for the righteous person. It is for those who are lawless. It is for those who are unable to live by love. Paul tells us that ‘the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.’ The commandment to love leads us to do all we can to discover what this love is and how this love is worked in our lives, because we know that the commandment to love is not merely to be obeyed, but to be lived.
How we do we demonstrate this love? Through our interaction with our neighbour. The passage in Romans makes it abundantly clear that it is love for our neighbour that defines whether we love by the law or live by love.
Therefore, love for our neighbour is not law. Love is above law. The law articulates love but it can never replace love. You cannot legislate for love, any more than you can make faith a legal requirement. You either love or you do not. You either believe or you do not. Love is the defining condition of the person of faith.