Though the Ten Commandments are an essential expression of God’s moral nature, they are not the pinnacle of morality. The highest expression of morality isn’t found in what we don’t do. Instead, it is found in what we do. A corpse can’t violate the Ten Commandments. A dead man can’t commit adultery, kill, bear false witness, or covet. The dead can’t worship false gods, bow down to idols, misuse God’s name, or break the Sabbath. If our standard of morality is limited to the Ten Commandments, then our standard is low enough for a corpse to meet.
The Ten Commandments are a necessary moral minimum. Christians are not satisfied with the minimum. They pursue the moral maximum, which is love. The one who loves has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8).
Love fulfills the law, but doing the law doesn’t necessarily fulfill love. For example, someone may avoid killing, stealing, or adultery out of fear of punishment. In this way, they have carried out the demands of the law but haven’t met the higher standard of love. Love always fulfills the law. If we love, we certainly won’t commit adultery, murder, steal, bear false witness, or covet. More than that, love fulfills the law because love will lead us to care for our neighbors in heartfelt ways. Do they need food? Love will feed them. Do they need clothing and shelter? Love will seek to meet the need. Do they need comfort in sorrow? Love will empathize.
Rather than seeking only to avoid certain behaviors, love actively seeks the good of those around us. Love is our ongoing responsibility. According to Paul, it is as though we are in debt, and the only way we can discharge it is by extending love (Romans 13:8).
As Christians, through love we will meet the minimum standard of the law by avoiding gross violations of the Ten Commandments. More than that, we will passionately pursue love by genuinely caring for our neighbors and community.
Paul’s exhortation to pursue love is in the context of being good citizens (Romans 13:1–10). This is why Paul only mentions the last five of the Ten Commandments (Romans 13:9; Exodus 20:1–17). The civil government’s authority only extends to the commandments that govern our relationships with one another. Civil governments have no jurisdiction over the worship behavior outlined in the first four commandments. Believers have no responsibility to civil governments if they require obedience in matters of worship.