“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another” (Rom.13:8).
Being in debt has become such a common thing among Christians nowadays, that hardly anyone thinks of it as being a sin. In exactly the same way that Satan has gradually got many believers (especially in Western countries) to accept divorce as being normal for Christians, he has got many believers to accept being in debt as also being perfectly normal for believers. But it is NOT normal. It is sinful to remain in debt, because it is a disobedience to God’s command (that we see in the above verse).
The first and foremost debt that we all owe, is our debt to God. Every sin that we commit is a debt that we owe to God. Jesus taught us to pray,“Forgive us our debts…” (Matt.6:12), in relation to asking forgiveness for our sins. It was our debt that Jesus paid on the cross (Col.2:14). But that debt is cleared only when we personally ask God to forgive us our debt.
In money matters, the first step to clearing our debts is to repay everyone whom we have cheated in the past. It wasonly when Zacchaeus did that, that Jesus said that salvation had come to him (Luke 19:9). Can Jesus say that salvation has come to you too?
Some of the debts we owe may be impossible for us to repay. God understands that and expects us to repay only what we can. What God sees is whether we are willing to make restitution, wherever we are able to. He knows very well that there are some matters for which it is impossible for us to make any restitution at all. 2 Corinthians 8:12 is a liberating verse, in this connection: It says there that if we have a willing mind, God accepts us on the basis of what we are able to do, and not on what He knows we cannot do. This should free us from all unnecessary condemnation.
It could also be at times, that we do not know where some of the people we cheated, now are. What should we do then? Since God is the Ultimate Owner of everything on earth, we can repay it to Him, by donating that money to Christian work in some needy part of the world. But we must never have any money with us that does not righteously belong to us.
The next step is to do our best to avoid getting into debt in future – just like we do our best to avoid sinning.
What is a debt and what is not a debt? Borrowing money from a bank on the basis of some collateral (something pledged as security for repayment of that loan), is not a debt. If for example, we have borrowed money to buy a house or a car and the house/car is pledged to the bank until we repay the debt, then that is not a debt because we still have that money in another form (as a house or a car). If it is a house, then we must always ensure that the current value of the house is equal to the loan we took. And if it is a car, then the car must be insured for the value of the loan. But we must not buy a house (or a car) that is far beyond our means. And we must never buy anything merely to show-off to others, or that is an unnecessary luxury, or something that we cannot afford. Unfortunately, this is how many do get into debt.
It is interesting to note that the command in Romans 13:8 is not that we should never borrow but that we shouldnot remain in debt. God knows that in a cursed world, there can be unexpected medical emergencies or huge school/college fees, that may compel poor people to borrow money at times, in order to make those payments. There is nothing wrong in borrowing money in such emergencies. Understanding this will free believers from unnecessary condemnation, if ever they are compelled to borrow. But every effort must be made thereafter to clear the debt as soon as possible – preferably by regular monthly payments (however small).
If you are considering taking a loan from a bank for your university education, you must ensure that there is a fairly good chance of your getting employment as soon as you finish your education so that you can make monthly repayments of the loan. You must also ensure that you do not take such a huge loan that you will be under pressure for many, many years to repay it. College loans are more risky than house loans and car loans.
Credit-card debt should be avoided totally , by making payments on the card promptly every month – except in emergency situations, such as those mentioned above. Purchases of luxuries and clothes and gifts that we cannot afford – with a credit card – must be avoided totally. Going on a holiday-trip is all right, but only if you have the money to pay for it. If however you have to get into credit-card debt in order to go on a holiday, then you will glorify God more by not going on that holiday. Bear in mind that 99% of believers in the poorer nations of the world have never gone on a holiday trip even once in their lives – because they cannot afford one – but yet they and their families are happy. So you should not think of a family vacation as a necessity. If we are serious about obeying God in such matters, we will remain free from credit-card debt at all times.
One way you can escape debt is by developing the habit of saving some money every month, from the very first month that you start earning. The Bible says, “Take a lesson from the ants. Learn from their ways and be wise! Although they have no king to make them work, yet they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter (the future)” (Prov.6:6-11 – NLT). But most believers do not have the wisdom of the ant and so they do not save up for the future. The result is that when they face some unexpected need, they have to beg or borrow from others. And once they get into debt, it becomes very difficult to get out of it. So let us all learn wisdom from the ants – and save! Saving money for the future is not a mark of lack of faith in God. The very fact that Jesus had a treasurer (Judas) indicates that He did not spend all the money He received as soon as He got it. We save money because we do not want to be a burden to others in our time of need. Jesus commanded us not to lay up treasures for ourselves on earth (Matt.6:19). At the same time, parents must save up for their children and provide for their needs (according to 2 Cor.12:14; 1 Tim.5:8). This is what I myself have done with the resources God has given me. The result has been that I have never once had to borrow money from anyone and I have never been in debt even once in all my 72 years. I wanted to “walk as Jesus walked” – and I could not imagine Jesus ever going and asking someone for a loan! The teaching of Scripture is not unrealistic but intensely practical.
Honour, Respect, Obedience
Not all debts are related to money. When Romans 13:8 is read in conjunction with the previous verse (Rom.13:7), we see that giving honour, respect and obedience are also debts that we owe to others.
Parents : Children must obey their parents as long as they live at home. But they must honour them as long as their parents are alive (Eph.6:1-3). Honouring our parents is not a favour that we do to them but a lifelong debt that we owe them.
Husbands and wives : Wives are commanded to respect their husbands and to be subject to them (Eph.5:22,33). This is a debt that every wife owes to her husband. And husbands are commanded to love their wives (Eph.5:25,33). This too is a lifelong debt that every husband owes to his wife.
All men : We are commanded to honour ALL human beings (1 Pet.2:17). This is a debt that we owe to ALL human beings – poor and rich. Any believer who speaks disrespectfully to another human being is disobeying this command and is in debt. He must clear such a debt by apologizing – both to God and to the person concerned.
Government Leaders : Romans 13:1-8 says: ” Every person must be in subjection to the governing authorities – because there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God…You must pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all whatever is due to them: tax to whom tax is due; and honour to whom honour.Owe nothing to anyone.” When Paul wrote this to the Roman Christians, the ruler in Rome was the wicked emperor Nero who persecuted Christians and later beheaded Paul. Yet the Holy Spirit told believers to be subject even to such an earthly authority, because he was a servant appointed by God. Peter also told Christians in Rome to “honour the king” (1 Peter 2:17). Paul told Titus to teach believers to “obey the government and its officers and always be obedient and not to speak evil of anyone” (Tit.3:1,2 – NLT). We can express our disagreement with the policies or even the corruption of our country’s leaders. But we must be subject to them and obey their orders and pay our taxes. That is a debt we owe them, since it is God Who appoints people to rule the countries of the world. If we resist or oppose them, or cheat on our taxes, we are disobeying God and we will be in debt to them.
Servants : We are commanded to pay our servants proper wages (James 5:4). Many believers are stingy in the way they pay their servants. They don’t realize that God sees them thereby as being in debt to their servants. Many look forward eagerly to receiving a bonus from their employers. But they never think of paying a bonus to their servants who serve them faithfully at home. We must treat those who work for us in the same way that we want to be treated by our employers.
Giving the Gospel
Paul said he was in debt to the entire world, because of the gospel of God (Rom.1:14). The good news of the gospel had changed him and blessed him. But Paul realized that God had given him this good news to be shared with others in the world. So Paul had to clear his debt by sharing it with others. That was why Paul took such pains to go wherever he could, preaching this gospel until the end of his life. Every believer is likewise in debt to others around him. But very few believers seek to clear this debt, because they don’t see their debt in this area. If God has given you the good news of the gospel it is not meant for you alone but to be shared with others. You are in debt to others. When I travel around and share the gospel of the new covenant of forgiveness and victory over sin and of knowing God as our Father, I am not doing people a favour. I am just clearing my debt – and I do it joyfully.
Because God has showered such love on us, we owe a debt of love also to all people. Romans 13:8 reminds us of this. So if we love people or do any good to them, we are not doing anything very great. We are just clearing our debt. God has been good to us – and so we must be good and do good to others. When we forgive someone or help someone who is facing a difficulty, we are only clearing our debt. We don’t have to expect any gratitude from them – for after all, if we went to a creditor to repay a debt, we would not expect him to thank us for doing that!
Gratitude for Spiritual Ministry
Finally: We owe an immense debt of gratitude to those who have ministered to us spiritually. We are commanded in a number of places in the New Testament to appreciate, express our gratitude and honour those who serve us in the Name of the Lord and whose ministry has blessed us.
“Honour those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of guiding you. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!” (1 Thess.5:12,13 – Message).
This is a debt that is very easy to pay. Yet most believers never pay it. They honour and appreciate doctors who have treated them and cured them far more than they honour and appreciate spiritual ministries that have blessed them. That only proves that they value their physical health more than they value their spiritual health.
Let us seek with all our hearts to live free from every form of debt at all times.
Owe nothing to anyone.