Biblical Accounting

For the past year, I’ve had the privilege of teaching a small class of high school students the basics of accounting. It was a fun class that I’m going to miss (until a new class starts up next fall). The basic principle of accounting boils down to one formula, assets = liabilities + owner equity. With every entry on one side of the equation, there is a balancing entry on the other side. I see that same math in something Paul wrote to the Romans.

Paul said, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8–10, NASB95) In this case, according to the Greek lexicon I use, the term “summed up” is an accounting term like summing up the tally of a ledger entry.

So, consider this, all of the “shall not” of the law are summed up in “you shall.”  I see debit and credits and entries on both sides of the equation. In other words, a balanced account. The negatives of “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment” is summed up by the singular positive of love your neighbor.

Here’s the thing we can spend enormous amounts of time and energy defining the shall nots. Is a first fleeting lustful glance adultery, is a second? Is murder more than ending someone’s physical life, and does it not also cover murdering their reputation? Is borrowing without asking stealing? And where does coveting what someone else has start and end? And that is the just the first snowflake at the tip of an iceberg.

The iceberg is summed up, balanced, on the other side of the ledger with a positive “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That “love” by the way is a form of the Greek word agape. I like to define that as God’s kind of love. The same love we see demonstrated in Christ and received from Him.

This doesn’t take away the law or the ten commandments, it fulfills them. Loving our neighbor as ourselves prevents us from violating all the law on the other side of the ledger. We don’t need to ask if such and such is a sin or define every boundary. We can instead consider if someone did or said that to us, would we consider it as agape love?

Now, we must also recognize that our sense of love can be twisted and skewed. But as we grow in Christ, as we experience more of His love, as the Holy Spirit confronts us, our love becomes more agape-like. This is, in part, why we still need to be aware of the “shall nots” on the other side of the ledger. For if our love violates any of them, then it is not really God’s kind of love.

The bottom line (another accounting term) is this – there is joy in loving others even though it is hard at times. Not only the joy that comes from giving love but also the joy of knowing that by loving others, we are keeping the law without having to define or worry about every jot and tittle. This is the answer to the question I often read in my emails, “how can I live a sinless life?” The answer is here, “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”  I think I like this kind of accounting.

Dale Heinold
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