Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. (NIV Romans 13:8).
I have heard, many times and from many people, that everyone deserves to be loved. I’m quite sure I’ve even said it myself. So, with great care, I want to ask a question that I think some are afraid to ask: “Why does anyone deserve to be loved?” I think this question is important today, because far too many people talk a great deal about “love” but have not actually considered the implications of their words.
To say that a person deserves something, is to say that he or she earned something that others should pay them regardless of how it affects them. For example, an umpire makes a great call at a game and someone might say, “He deserves a pat on the back”. They are saying that the umpire did a work that causes him to have earned something that others should give him, regardless of whether they want to or not. The umpire should expect that this obligation be met.
When we say that everyone deserves to be loved, we are saying that everyone has done some work that demands that others love them, regardless of anyone else’s feeling about it. This mentality is very common, and it has caused many people to believe that they are entitled to this affection by others. Demanding the love of others is very common in our world today. The inherit problem with this demand is that it cannot exist with real love because real love is not self-serving. When we demand something for ourselves, from others, regardless of whether they want to give it or not, we are not really demanding love, we are seeking to fulfill lust. Lust is self-serving, love is not.
If you doubt this, consider how often we pair love with acceptance. “I/they deserve to feel love and acceptance.” Acceptance is only about the self. It is so common to try and make love self-serving and self-gratifying that we don’t even consider how existentially repugnant the concept really is. Love is never self-serving. When we demand something for ourselves, we are seeking lust. When we demand that others do something for us we are actually forcing our own lusts upon them. Under no circumstance is this really about love--it is more similar to rape.
What Paul says to the church in Rome, also contradicts the misperception that we all deserve to be loved. Paul says, instead, that we are to have but one debt—we are to love others. Owing something is opposite of deserving something. When I owe something, it means that someone else has done something for me that demands payment. By grace, we can receive forgiveness for our sins. Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead so that we might have eternal life. Our acceptance of this gift leaves us in an eternal debt—we are to love others. He did the work, ours is to respond with the demands of salvation.
When I owe love, love is no longer about me, it is about others. This shift in focus is where we primarily lose sight of real love. It is not about the self, it is about everyone else. If I deserve love, then everyone exists for my sake, but if I owe love, then I exist for the sake of others. When we teach that everyone deserves to be loved, we teach that the world should be full of selfish people. When we teach that everyone owes love, we teach that the world should be full of people loving others.
To say that “everyone deserves to be loved” sounds great and makes for wonderful posters and memes, but it causes us to become a selfish people with no regard for others—this is not love. When we realize, that, by the grace of God, we can owe love as our act of obedience, it causes us to become sources of light into the world. It causes us to grow in empathy, and compassion. It takes our self-serving nature and transforms it into a Christ-like nature that seeks to build up and encourage others with truth.
Spend your life repaying that debt and it will fulfill every command God has for us.