First of all then, love is a fulfilling of the law. The crucial text here is here:
Owe no one anything except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8–10 (See also Galatians 5:14.)
Paul was not taking a big risk when he boiled the whole law down into one command. He had the authority of Jesus for doing so. Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” James said it a bit differently (2:8), “If you really fulfill the royal law according to scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.” So we have three testimonies in the New Testament that what God is trying to do through the law is make loving people out of us. Every single commandment, says Romans 13:9, has love as its aim. So the first point in our nutshell theology of the law is that the law is fulfilled in us when we love our neighbor.
Love Is the Fruit of Faith
The second point is this: love is not a work that we do on our own to show ourselves meritorious to God; it is the fruit of faith in the promises of God. To be sure, genuine love will lead to great labor. But it is not synonymous with labor. It is deeper than labor and prior to labor and enables labor. There are many people laboring for God and neighbor who are not doing it out of love. Love is more than religious practices and humanitarian services. That’s why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give away all I have and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Someone may ask, “Well, if you can die for someone and not have love, what in the world is love?” The answer is that love is not in the world. “Love is from God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7). Where there is no faith uniting the heart to God, there is no true love. Love is the out-working of genuine, saving faith. Here are the key passages: Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.”
The origin of love is the heart of faith. Further down in Galatians 5:22, love is called the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, it is something we cannot produce without God’s enablement. So how do we become loving people? Galatians 3:5 answers, “The one who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you does so not by works of the law but by the hearing of faith.” The path on which the Spirit comes to us is faith in God’s promises; and when he comes, the fruit he produces is love. Therefore, love is the fruit of the Spirit and the outworking of faith. In 1 Timothy 1:5 Paul puts it like this, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” Only genuine faith is going to issue into love.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not seek to avoid a brother who differs, it does not wear a scowl, it does not spread rumors or speak evil of a neighbor, it does not close its ears to the evidences. Instead, love rejoices in the truth and is peaceable, gentle, open to reason. Love looks people in the eye and communicates goodwill. Love does not pout, is not self-pitying, does not use ultimatums to get its own way. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
If love is what the law aimed at, and only faith can love, then the law must teach faith. This is what has been overlooked so often. But it can be shown from Paul’s teaching and from the law itself. Paul explains why Israel has not fulfilled the law even though she pursued it for centuries. He says:
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, the righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law (or: who pursued the law of righteousness) did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it (i.e., the law) through faith, but as if it were based on works. Romans 9:30–32
That little phrase “as if” or “as though” is tremendously important. It shows clearly that Paul did not believe that God ever intended the law to be obeyed by “works.” That is, if you try to use the law as a job description of how to earn God’s favor you are doing something that the law itself opposes. The law itself is against “the works of the law.” The law never commanded anyone to try to merit his salvation. The law is based on faith in God’s promises, not on legalistic strivings. The mistake of Israel was not in pursuing the law, but in pursuing it by works instead of by faith. (See Romans 3:31; Matthew 23:23.) What the law intends is that we embrace the law by faith, by faith in the One the law points to and the One who has fulfilled the law.