Summary: Paul, like Jesus, tells us to love everyone, even those who irritate us. We should practice love in action because 1) God tells us to do so, and 2) Jesus is coming soon.
A Good Kind of Debt
Tomorrow is Patriot’s Day, the 16th anniversary of the deadliest single attack on U.S. soil, even eclipsing Pearl Harbor in casualties. Thousands of courageous people risked their lives to save others. Firefighters rushed against the crowds to enter the doomed towers. Police officers helped survivors while buildings crashed down around them. Citizens donated blood and worked shelters. Volunteers led prayer vigils and helped with searches.
Sixteen years later, thousands of volunteers again are at work right here in Texas, this time with a natural disaster. With one devastating hurricane behind us and another hitting the west coast of Florida today, Americans have been cooking food, passing out water bottles, staffing shelters, and assisting in clean-up. Our realtor took his barbeque trailer to Rockport this weekend to give away some meals and supplies to the workers and citizens there.
When disasters strike—whether through the work of terrorists or the destructive forces of nature—people rise up and help. Americans in particular lead the way in charitable giving of time, energy, and money. And behind it all is love.
Today’s scripture defines love as the “good kind of debt.” Earlier in Romans chapter 8, Paul had described the government as God’s tool for good. He had encouraged us to obey our government authorities and pay our taxes. Then, he shifted to a debt we can never fully pay, and that is the debt of love. You may have paid off your mortgage (hopefully you have by now; I have about 29 years to go!). You may even have bought your last car with cash. (That’s my favorite way!) Hopefully, you pay off your credit cards every month, although a lot of Americans don’t. But Paul says, one debt you will never finish paying is the debt of love.
Jesus talked a lot about love. When asked what was the greatest commandment, he replied without hesitation, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And then he said the second is like it, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). He even told a story to define the word “neighbor” (Luke 10:25-37). Back in Jesus’ time, people thought of a neighbor as someone like them, someone they liked and got along with. But the actual Greek word meant anyone in physical proximity. Thus, in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus described two church leaders who were NOT good neighbors; when they were in close proximity with someone in need, they passed by quickly. The hero of the story was someone very different in ethnicity, someone any self-respecting Jew would look down their nose at. Yet, when the Good Samaritan saw a Jewish fellow in need, he immediately interrupted his schedule to help out. He even paid out of his own pocket to provide the man shelter for recuperation. This was love in action. Jesus’ story suggests that your neighbor is anyone with whom you cross paths. Who are we supposed to love? Love your neighbor as yourself. Love ... anyone! Love ... everyone!