Sermon notes 09-06-20                                  Forever Indebted                     Pastor David King

Romans 13:8-14 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

 The subject of my message today is something that most of us would rather not talk about: debt.  And if debt itself were not a sore enough subject, I am going to talk to you this morning about endlessdebt.  But please don’t get up and walk out just yet!  I promise that my sermon won’t be endless, and if you bear with me, you may find that the subject of endless debt is not as bad as you think.

We have all heard the phrase “forever indebted,” right?  (Examples): “I will be forever indebted to that person, that parent/teacher/Sunday school teacher for the difference she or he made in my life;” or;  “If you do this thing for me I will be forever indebted to you.”

Almost always the phrase is exaggerated; we don’t really mean we will be in debt forever, even though some of us may feel sometimes, when it comes to college loans, or credit card bills, or mortgages or car loans, or the national debt, that we will be in debt forever.  But none of us would really want to have a debt that lasts forever.

In fact I am pretty sure we would all prefer not to have any debt at all.  More than likely debt is not something about which we tend to have warm and fuzzy feelings.  Debt is something that hangs over our heads, it is a burden; it is something to be avoided.   Debt is even sometimes associated with wrongdoing.  When we say the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “forgive us our trespasses,” which means forgive us for what we have done wrong.  But we have probably all heard this line of the prayer spoken as, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

So if “debts” can be substituted for “trespasses,” than debt is equated with something we have done wrong, something for which we need to be forgiven.

We would all love to have all our debts forgiven, wouldn’t we?  Wouldn’t it be nice not to owe anyone anything?

But guess what?  There is one debt that we really will owe for the rest of our lives.  If by chance you didn’t catch it in the Scripture reading this morning, you might guess I am referring to the debt we owe for our sins.  That would be a good guess.  You would be right if you said that we can never pay the debt for our sins; that only Jesus could pay that debt.  But the thing about that debt is, Jesus did pay it, so the penalty for our sins is no longer a debt we owe.  We are freed from that debt, thanks be to God!

But I am talking about a debt that we still owe, a debt that no one can pay except us, and according to the apostle Paul, it is a debt that we will never pay in full.

Before I spell out what that debt is, let’s back up a little bit and get a sense of where Paul is coming from in this passage.  In this section from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he is telling the Christians who will read his letter how they are to live in the world.  Among the things Paul tells them is that they are to be subject to the civil authorities, because God has instituted those authorities for the good of humanity.  Paul says that being subject to the civil authorities means, among other things, that Christians are to pay their taxes.  Not only are they to pay their taxes, but Paul says in verse 7, the verse just prior to our passage today, that Christians are to pay everyone what is due them—“taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”

Paul very clearly does not want the recipients of his letter to be in debt; he wants Christians to pay everyone what is due them, what is owed them.  In fact, Paul says that it should not be said of Christians that they owe anyone anything… except for one thing—to love one another.

There it is, brothers and sisters.  Paul says, Owe no one anything, except to love each other.  One translation of this verse (NIV) says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”  We know that an outstanding debt is one that has not been paid, one that we are still making payments on.  And when it comes to the debt of loving one another, we are to continue owing it forever, always making installments on it, but never paying it in full.

Besides the fact that we will owe it forever, there is something else about this debt of love that distinguishes it from every other debt we have.  We pay other debts to our creditors, those who have loaned us something, or who have issued us a credit card or who hold the mortgage on our home.  But the debt of love is a debt that we are required to pay to people who are not our creditors.  Paul had previously been speaking about paying debts to people who were due taxes or revenue or respect or honor.  But he says we owe the debt of love to people who are not due anything from us based on what they have done or earned or loaned to us.

We might prefer to think we would be indebted only to certain people, those to whom we have become willfully indebted, by say, intentionally borrowing something from them.  But according to the Bible, we owe the debt of love to people who more often than not have not given us or loaned us anything; in fact we owe this debt to people whom we would be inclined to think don’t deserveanything from us.

And friends, this doesn’t mean we owe the debt of love only to some unnamed, unknown persons somewhere out there, although such persons are certainly included among those to whom we owe the debt of love.  But I want you to consider real people, people you know, the people who are sitting beside you or behind you or in front of you this morning, or living behind or beside or across the street from you.  You are in debt to each of them.

That might make us all a little uncomfortable, to realize that we owe this debt to people we actually know!

And it may make us want to ask, why does the Bible require me to pay this so-called debt of love?  Why can’t I just obey the laws and the commandments and otherwise mind my own business and let others mind theirs?

Paul answers this by saying that to love one another is the perfect fulfillment of the law.  In other words, instead of thinking that we can avoid paying the debt of love by obeying the laws and commandments, Paul says that the opposite is true—when we love one another, we need not worry about the other laws or commandments, because they are fulfilled through love.  He says, love is the fulfilling of the law because love never does harm to one’s neighbor.

Did you ever think about the fact that if we would all only love one another, never doing harm to one another, than there would be no need for other laws or commandments?  If we truly loved others, we would not steal from them.  We would not betray the spouse we love by committing adultery with the spouse of another person we loved.  We would not slander or bear false witness against someone we loved; we would certainly never kill someone we loved.

So all the laws and commandments we have against doing things like stealing and committing adultery and bearing false witness and killing, would all be unnecessary if we would all do just one thing: continually pay the debt of love we owe to one another.

As a bit of an aside, I believe these words of Paul reveal the fallacy of a term that has been popularized in recent years, and that is the term “hate crime.”  To me that is an absurd term, or at the very least it is a redundant one.  It is not that I think that the crimes people commonly refer to as hate crimes don’t involve hate; they certainly do.  It is rather that I believe all crimes involve hate.  Think about it: If we define crime as a wrong done to a neighbor, and if we believe Paul’s words that love does no wrong to a neighbor, then there can certainly be no such thing as a ‘love crime.’

If love does no wrong to a neighbor, as Paul affirms, then it can only be loves opposite—hate—that does wrong to a neighbor.  So again, if crime is a wrong done to a neighbor, than all crimes are hate crimes.  And I think we get into very sketchy territory when we make the determination that one crime involves more hate than another.  If we would all love one another, there would be no crime, and no need to have laws that are designed to prevent people from doing harm to one another. That’s why Paul says love is the fulfilling of the law.

But let’s face it.  We don’t always, or even often feel like loving one another.  What are we to do about that?  I think it is helpful to remember that love is not a feeling, but an action.  To love is to do good, it is something that is done, not just felt.  Love is something we do even when we don’t feel like it, when we don’t feel particularly loving, or when the object of our action of love isn’t especially loveable.

You know, there are lots of things we do in life even when we don’t feel like it, such as getting up to go to work or school, because we don’t have the option of not doing them.  In much the same way we are called to love even when we don’t feel like it because it is not an option.  We need to know, friends, that to love one another is not just a suggestion.  On Jesus’ last night with his disciples, among the very last words that he spoke to them were these in John 15:12: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Jesus commanded us to love one another; elsewhere he said that the commandment to love our neighbor is right up there alongside loving God.  He said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  Jesus is saying the same thing as Paul, or rather vice versa.  All Paul is doing in his letter is saying the same thing that Jesus said, that if we love God and neighbor, all the other laws and commandments will be fulfilled.

So, we are to love our neighbor even when we don’t feel like it; we love our neighbor knowing it is not an option but a commandment; and lastly, we do it with urgency.

Even though we will never pay off this debt to love one another, Paul says there is still a sense of urgency about making payments.  Just after saying that love is the fulfilling of the law Paul writes these words:

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand.

Paul is saying that time is short, so we need to begin making installments on the debt of love immediately.  ‘Get on with it,’ Paul says.

Okay then, but how?  What does loving our neighbor, or making payments on our debt, look like?  It can take many forms.  It may be offering a stranger a smile or a hug or something to eat or to drink.  It may be letting someone in front of us in a line of traffic or in the grocery store.  It may be providing a meal or flowers or a note or card to someone who has lost a loved one.  It may be that we ask a neighbor, a brother, a sister, for forgiveness.  There is no end to the ways we might make payments on our endless debt to love another.  One thing we know, we can’t do any of it on our own; we need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us to love our neighbor, especially when we don’t feel like it.  The good news is that Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, and he is with us to help us do what we cannot do on our own.

Paul says, “The only thing you should ever owe to anyone is love.”  We can try memorizing the Ten Commandments, we could go to law school to study every law on the books.  But it is not necessary for us to do any of that.  All that is necessary is love.  John Lennon was right: “All you need is love.”  Friends, all we really need to do is to love one another; then everything else is fulfilled.

When we remember God’s unconditional love for us, when we remember what God has done for us through Christ, that he loved us while we were yet sinners and gave his only Son for us, then, with that knowledge, it is a joy to make payments on the debt we will always owe.  And as we do, the world will know we are Christians by our love.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.