The text of this verse is: "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law."
This is a unique commandment, for the teaching in all the Bible concerns the behaviour of creditors with regard to the mercy they ought to show towards their debtors.
It involves the fulfilment of all the believer's obligations as a debtor, whether they are civil, moral, financial or of any other type, in harmony with the preceding verses (civil obligations), and the rest of the verse (moral obligation).
We shall go on to analyse the debts which a believer is subject to having here in the world, and which must be promptly paid in conformity with this commandment. No doubt there will be various others depending on our circumstances but I hope that these will serve as an example:
A) Civil obligations: every citizen is subject to civil obligations, which vary between the countries. The verse in question comes immediately after an exhortation that these obligations be complied with: "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgement on themselves." (Romans 13:1-2 - NKJV)". Obedience of the laws of the country he lives in is an obligation of every believer (so long as they do not trespass the commandments of God). "Render fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour" (Romans 13:7). Keeping documents in order, carrying out services like the military, jury, voting in elections, and others are civil obligations in most countries.
B) Financial obligations: financial obligations require much attention, for their compliance is generally one of the main measures to evaluate the honesty and integrity of a person. The believer must excel in fulfilling these obligations and it is sad to hear the number of cases where the witness of believers who appear to have good maturity has been jeopardised by unpaid debts. Credit is obtained in the form of credit cards, loans are part of the domestic economy, generally necessary to purchase a home, and for business in commerce, agriculture, industry and so on.
Curiously some people have interpreted 13:8 as forbidding the engagement in loans, and only that. We do not find any directive condemning the act of obtaining credit or a loan, as if it were a sin. The law given through Moses, which is "is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12), normally regulates lending, which would not be the case if it were a sin (for example, Exodus 22:25, Deuteronomy 24:6, 10-13). A loan consists in the exchange of a pledge for a benefit. This interchange is normal and legitimate, and the creditor is rewarded for the time between the loan and repayment. For centuries a third party has voluntarily intervened, such as banks, to give more guarantee to the creditor and to assume the risk of non-payment itself. The believer will be at fault if after assuming a compromise by borrowing, he isn't able to pay on due date. It is the lack of payment on the date agreed that will make him a "debtor" in the sense of this commandment.
In the same sense he will become a "debtor" if he doesn't pay other financial obligations, such as rent, utilities, school fees, etc. when they are due. Other usual obligations are taxes - federal, state, municipal. The authorities do not always dispose of all the data required to calculate a tax and in this case they require the taxpayer to provide some information. The temptation then arises to lie, a practice far too common in the world. The believer must resist this temptation, not only because it is sinful - lying and stealing - but also to be coherent with the teaching of the Lord Jesus, when asked if it was lawful to pay tribute to the Roman Emperor and He answered: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Sometimes the civil authorities exceed what they are allowed by law, and in this case it is right to take pertinent legal measures for protection. Once the correct amount has been established, this should be paid in order not to be in debt.
In the majority of cases the debt results from imprudence or carelessness of the debtor who spends more than his income. A believer should look after his financial affairs as a good steward of that which God has trusted him with. And a good administration consists in balancing income and expenditure, leaving a margin for the unexpected. But there can be other causes, over which he has no control. It is therefore not fair to make a bad judgement of a person who has become insolvent, without knowing the cause well.
The believer, however, sins if he stays in financial debt. His duty is to solve it, in this way complying with the commandment in Romans 13:8, using all the means he can dispose of, such as to agree on refinancing, to obtain a loan (so long as he can pay it on expiry), to sell his property, to mortgage his home, to reduce his costs, and so on. If he is still insolvent, he ought to report his condition to the overseers of his assembly. It is better to confess his state soon so that the matter may be sorted out in the best manner possible. If he remains silent, the matter will eventually become public knowledge when he suffers legal sanctions, to the detriment of his personal testimony and also that of the assembly because of their connection.
C) Moral obligations: These are debts which arise in view of our personal relationship with other people. Promises, for example, are obligations which must be fulfilled, otherwise they count as lies. We do not swear with oaths, so as not to be condemned for perjury, but we limit ourselves to "Yes" and "No" (James 5:12). How many children learn to distrust their parents and other adults because of the empty promises made to them! It is a popular saying that "a promise is a debt", and it is an easy debt to acquire but often difficult to pay! Moral integrity requires us not to make any promise we have no means to pay or do not intend to keep. Once made, let it be fulfilled without hesitation.
"If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" 1 Corinthians 9:16. This was also an obligation declared by the apostle Paul. We are under obligation to proclaim the Gospel to the lost world, as lights in the darkness. There are many ways of doing it: personally, together with other brethren, in assembly work, in support of evangelists, radio programmes, printed matter, and so on.
The only debt allowed is "to love one another". This is the debt we incur when receive Christ as our Saviour and Lord, for it is His great commandment to us and a constant obligation. We must be always paying this debt, but it will never be paid up.