Summary: As a nation, state, and people, we know debt. In Romans 13, Paul calls us to have one more debt: love one another.
Being in debt is never fun, nor is it easy. As a country, we know what it is like to be in debt. Our national debt is astronomical. It is roughly 19 trillion dollars. If you were to break that down, that would be $61,000 per citizen, or $165,000 per tax payer. This debt is also not going down either, but is rather, increasing. As a state, we know debt, too. The state of Minnesota’s debt is 51 billion dollars, which equates to $9,000 per person. Like our country, our state’s debt is increasing too. As a people, individually, we can know debt, too. The average American has roughly $4,700 of credit card debt at an interest rate of 15%. This is not including what we may owe on our homes, cars, education, medical expenses, or payment plans that we are on for past services and purchases. These debts can take months, years, and perhaps decades to repay.
When we have debt, or are in these situations, we can feel overwhelmed. We can feel anxious, ashamed, defeated, at wits-end, or a mess trying to figure out how to pay back such an amount. Every payment can be a reminder of what we owe, and the slow progress that we are making. But we have to pay back these debts, because otherwise, there are consequences. We can lose our property or possessions. We might not be able to get credit, or have to pay a higher rate or fees. In some extreme cases, we might face legal action.
So, what do we do? We might work extra hours, get another job, penny pinch, sell some valuables, or do odd jobs. The popular one that many people did at Seminary was to sell plasma, which would give you $150 a session. Other times, we might just give up!
Paul tells us to add another debt. What is one more when we can have so much already? He writes: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Love one another. Paul tells us to owe one another in love. This is an imagery that we can relate to. We know what it is like to owe others. In our lives, when we have debt, we want to do whatever we can to settle it, or to get rid of it. We want to come up with a way or plan to settle that debt, whether it is by making payments or offering services. If it is a person that we owe, we often want to serve, help, and be nice to that person. We at least want to be on their good side. We also want to make good on our word, and try to settle that debt.
This imagery of owing one another in love builds on Paul’s encouragements from last week, especially the theme of showing a self-sacrificial love. He makes the same point here but uses a different image to do so. The idea of owing encourages us to show love not just regularly or often, but always, until that “debt” is paid off. The reality, though, is that it won’t ever be! This imagery of owing also encourages us to look out and act on our neighbor’s behalf and interest since we are “indebted” to them. His point carries the idea of an ongoing action for them. The love stems from the mercy and love shown to us in Jesus.
Paul also notes another reason that we should owe one another in love. It fulfills the Law, too. Love brings the commandments to fulfillment. It brings them about to their divinely intended outcome or result. Listen to what the apostle says in verse 10: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” The commandments and love help to give shape and guidance to each other. Let’s look at the examples that Paul used.
“You shall not commit adultery,” the Sixth Commandment. Love drives us to honor our marriages by what we say and by what we do. It drives us to honoring the marriages of others. It leads us to purity in how we live our lives.
“You shall not murder,” the Fifth Commandment. Love won’t let us hurt or harm our neighbor in his body. Rather, it leads us to helping and supporting our neighbor in every physical need. We have seen this a lot lately with the help being given to those in Texas, and we will probably see it once again when Hurricane Irma runs her path.
“You shall not steal,” the Seventh Commandment. Not only do we not take what is not ours, we actually help to improve and protect the possessions and income of other people. I had this done to me a few weeks. I was finishing up something at home on a Friday, and Dawn came to pick me up in the car for our date. She had to run in the house and grab something before we went to the movie, so I gave her my keys so that we didn’t have to turn off the car. When we got to the movie theater, we got the spot of a lifetime, the first spot by the door. I parked the car, and we went in to buy the tickets and see the movie. As we were leaving, I asked her for my keys, and she told me that she had given them to me while we were driving. While we were driving, she placed them in the center unit of the car, which was an obvious place for me to see. I spaced out at her telling me this, too. When we got outside, the car was still there, and amazingly so after I saw that I didn’t lock it either. Love does not steal, even when it is easy to do so. It protects and watches out for the property and possessions of others.