THE DUTY OF BEING IN DEBT
By Pastor Glenn Pease
In 1901 Andrew Carnegie sold his Pennsylvania steel mill to J. P. Morgan for 420 million dollars, and thereby became the richest man in the world. That fortune was made by the sacrifice of thousands of common laborers. He under paid them ruthlessly, and he forced them to work 12 hours a day 7 days a week. His labor practices stirred up a lot of hostility, and in Homestead, PA., where our son Mark was born one of the bloodiest strikes in labor history took place at his mill. Fourteen people were killed, and 163 were seriously injured.
The good that came out of this is that Carnegie felt obligated to benefit the masses with his fortune, and so he began to give it away. He endowed 3000 libraries, and I have personally blessed with generous gift, for I have used some of those libraries. Eighty per cent of his money went to educational purposes so that millions have benefited for the thousands who had to suffer. So many of the blessings of life come to us because of men who felt obligated to do their best to make up for the damage their past has caused. Paul was just such a man, and because of his strong sense of obligation he preached the Gospel and started churches all over the known world. Paul felt like he was in debt to the whole world, and he poured out his life to the fullest of his ability to pay what he felt he owed.
Everyone is in debt to someone, but Paul was in debt to everyone. In verse 14 he says, "I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish." What he says just about sums up the entire human race. There might be room to squeeze somebody in between wise and foolish, but there is no room at all between Greeks and non-Greeks. If you are not a Greek, you are a non-Greek, and so everyone is covered.
Our national debt is outrageous, but even we do not owe everybody on the planet. Paul was more in debt than anyone has ever claimed to be, but he was not ashamed of it. He glories in his debt to all men, for what he owes them is, not dollars, shekels, or any other type of money, but the Gospel. That is why he longed to get to Rome and to far off Spain, and to everywhere else in the world. Paul owed the whole world the Gospel, and so he had business everywhere.
Something tells me this is a message we have missed as American Christians. How often have we ever felt in debt to our non-Christian friends, associates, and neighbors? We do not feel like we owe them anything. But Paul says that he felt an obligation to all men to share the Gospel. He was debtor to all because he owed them the Gospel. Why did Paul feel such an obligation? It was because he knew that all men were capable of being made rich in Christ. The Gospel is not-look at how good I am-if you were as good you too could be a child of God. Or, look at how good someone else is. That is not good news. Good news is that you can be saved and be a child of God no matter who you are, or what you have been. No matter how sinful, foolish, or proud you have been, you can be saved and be a child of God. It doesn't make any difference if you are a PhD or a high school dropout. The reason Paul was obligated to all men is because all have an equal right to receive the Gospel and be saved.
The implications of this are staggering. It means that everyone of us is in debt to every non-Christian we know. We owe them the opportunity to be saved. This is an enormous obligation, but I fear we have been so influenced by our culture that we do not take obligations all that seriously. Clerks are obligated to wait on customers, but they often make the customer wait while they do personal business. Manufacturers are obligated to produce a product that is safe, but tons of stuff floods the market that can hurt, or even kill you. The government is obligated to protect its citizens, but often neglects this and lets dangerous drugs and products into the market place. Professionals of all kinds let us down for they set their obligations to us on the back burner, and give selfish goals priority.
We all do our share of griping and complaining, for we are all victims to some degree, but listen to how Paul starts chapter 2 of Romans: "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." You say that people owe you money and they won't repay. You say you have rights, but they are not being honored. All of this might be true, but what about the fact that every man, woman and child on this planet has a right to hear the Gospel and become a child of God! What about the fact, that we as Christians are debtors to all people, and we have an obligation to share the Gospel with them.
We saw in a previous message that we have an obligation to be an encourager of all in the body of Christ, and now we see that we have an obligation to be an enlightener of all who are outside of the body of Christ. We are debtors to all people, and we owe everybody something. We need to face the reality that we are all in as bad a shape as the government. We let our debts build up and do not pay them off. We neglect a major obligation of the Christian life because we do not have a plan by which we share the Gospel with unsaved people.
I suppose we feel that just because Paul felt such an obligation to all people, it does not mean we have to take on that same sense of debt he felt. But this rationalizing will not hold water, for in chapter 8 Paul uses this same word to refer to all believers having the same obligation as he had to die to self and what the sinful nature desires. We are to live in accordance with the Spirit, and set our minds on what the Spirit desires. The Spirit does not give us all the same gifts, and so we are not like Paul in many ways, but it is God's will for all of us to have that sense of obligation that Paul had, and to feel like we owe this lost world a chance to get in on a saved world that will last forever. We all owe the lost a chance to be saved, and so we are all under the same obligation as Paul to not be ashamed of the Gospel, but to be bold in sharing it with those who will be lost without it.
Notice that Paul does not say I am obligated to God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Jesus saved him even though he was a proud and arrogant man of violence who persecuted and killed Christians. He was a religious bigot of the worst kind, and yet Jesus saved him. He owed everything to Christ, but Paul also knew he owed nothing to Christ, for Jesus paid it all, and he was debt free to God. All he owed to God had been paid by his Savior, and so he was a free man. But it was to man that he was in debt. They did nothing for him, and yet he was in debt to them. He owed them the Gospel because he had received it freely, and when you have a gift that is so valuable that you can share it with everyone, and in so doing have even more of it, then you have an obligation to do so.
If I won the lottery and started sharing my fortune with others I would eventually run out and deplete my resources. But if I share the Gospel I never have less, and I enrich others with that which makes them rich forever. The Gospel is a gift that never stops giving, and that is why we are so obligated to share it. If I discovered a cure for all cancer and just kept it for myself in case I ever got cancer, you would consider me a monster of immorality worthy of a place along side Hitler in the pages of infamy. Yet we have a cure for sin and all of its eternal effects, and still we feel no obligation to share this good news with those who are dying for time and eternity for lack of it.
There is only one way to reduce this deficit, and that is by doing what Paul did. He shared the Gospel with everyone he could in the world. If we do not share the Gospel with anyone, then we are guilty of not paying our greatest debt in life, and we fail in our greatest obligation. We do not like this message of Paul. We like his message when he says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, and we like his freedom message, and his message about escape from the bondage of the law. We love all of his positive stuff, but we do not like the balancing side where he makes us feel the need to bear one another's burdens, and to feel responsible for suffering for the cause of Christ, and being obligated to pay off our debt to all people.
We like the benefits of being servants of Christ, but not the burdens. We want Christianity without the cross, for the cross is costly and puts us into debt. To take up the cross and follow Jesus like Paul did is to feel an obligation to tell the world about the Gospel. We owe everyone the chance to be saved, but we seldom make a payment on this debt by telling anyone about what Jesus did for them. Should we feel guilty? Of course we should! If we have a legitimate debt and do not try to make payments we should feel guilty. A non-witnessing Christian should feel guilty because that is probably the only way they will get motivated to make a list and begin to pray for people, and think of strategies by which to share the good news. We feel the obligation to pay off our financial debts, and we need to match that zeal in paying off our spiritual debts to the lost world.
I was impressed in reading about the life of Sir Walter Scott. In 1826 at the age of 55 he sank everything he had into a book publishing company that went bankrupt. It not only left him penniless, but heavily in debt to the tone of 700 thousand dollars. He was no Pollyanna who said that this was wonderful. He was miserable, as any of us would be in that circumstance. He wrote in his diary that he would like to lie down to sleep and never wake up. He wanted to escape the burden of it, but he did wake up and vow that he would pay back every cent.
He rented a home in Edinburgh and began to write like a madman. In two years he had paid his creditors 200 thousand. He toiled so hard that he became ill, but he never ceased writing. Great books flowed from his mind. His hair turned white and he became weak with exhaustion, but he had a debt to pay, and pay it he would whatever the cost. He suffered terribly, but when he died he had paid off the greatest share of his debt, and all of his creditors honored him as one of the greatest writers and honorable men of all time. He became great by his labor to pay a debt. So it was with Paul. Do you think we would have ever heard of Paul had he not heeded the call of Jesus to be an Apostle to the Gentiles? Had he not felt the obligation to carry the Gospel into the whole world, we would not have his Epistles. Paul is one of the greatest men who ever lived because he lived to pay a debt.
Paul does not say to the Romans, "You are obligated to Greeks and non-Greeks, to the wise and unwise." He says, "I am." It is individual commitment, and not a committee decision. How many statues have you ever seen erected in honor of a committee? Every Christian has to decide on their own what they will do. Is this my debt as well, and do I owe the world anything? Is it my responsibility to witness and share the Gospel with lost people? If we leave it to the church as a whole it just won't happen. Only individuals can pay this debt. God did not send a committee into the world. He sent His only Son. He did not call a committee to be Apostles to the Gentiles. He chose just one man, and that man was Paul. This does not mean that God does not use groups, but those He uses are only effective when they are made up of individuals who have committed themselves to the cause.
If you do not feel a personal responsibility, it will not happen. I am convinced that every Christian has people in their lives that only they can touch, and nobody else will. Unless we feel an obligation to do our part we will be a hindrance rather than a help to fulfilling the purpose of God. Paul cared about every person that his life could touch. He had no prejudice, and no class spirit. He was a Jew, but he loved all Gentiles. The Greek word for non-Greeks is barbaros, which we call barbarians. They are the uncultured and unsophisticated. Paul was an intellectual, and so we can see why he would love to reach the scholars and the philosophers. But Paul says that he is also a debtor to the foolish, the uneducated, and those of the lowest status.
There was no discrimination with Paul. If you were a human being, he owed you the Gospel, and all the personal love and compassion he was capable of sharing. Paul was the ideal, however, and most have not been able to live on his level. They feel an obligation only to reach their own class of people. That is better than not caring about anybody, but it is far from the Christian ideal we see in Paul. The closer we come to him the more pleasing we will be to Christ.
One of the greatest examples I am aware of in crossing all barriers to reach people was Dr. Frank Laubach. A brilliant man himself, he took it as his goal to help the illiterates of the world to read and to discover the Gospel for themselves. He reduced the Bible to 300 words, and he has taught millions around the world to read it. We need to catch something of his spirit so that we can really care about those who live in a lower state of learning.
Dr. Laubach wrote, "If you sit down beside an illiterate as an equal, your heart overflowing with love for him..., if you never frown nor criticize but look pleased and surprised, and praise him for his progress, a thousand silver threads wind about his heart and yours. You are the first educated man that ever looked at him except to swindle him, and he will be so mystified by your unusual kindness, that he is likely to stop and ask: "How do you expect to get paid for this? I have no money." The only irresistible Gospel is love in action....If we serve the illiterates and then tell the Gospel after we have won their hearts, they will believe in Christ because they believe in us."
For the Christian to develop this attitude he or she needs to have a deep conviction about the common origin and infinite value of every human life. Paul in Acts 17 stressed this on Mars Hill as he spoke to the Greek scholars and philosophers. He said the God is not far from any of us, and in him we live and move and have our being. He quotes one of their own poets who wrote, "We are his offspring." Paul could find a common ground with all people because of his conviction that all people are loved by God.
Modern science is confirming this conviction by making it clear that all mankind likely came from one mother. The study of genetics reveals that the DNA in the cells of all people has come down the same from the first egg. There is an unchanging line that goes all the way back to Eve. They studied the DNA from women in Europe, Asia, New Guinea, Africa, and Australia, and they found it to be extremely similar. We do not need chemistry to tell us this for the Bible calls Eve the mother of all living.
It is hard sometimes to love the unrighteous just because they are from the same origin and made in the image of God. But the early Christians were just this kind of unrighteous people before their conversion. Paul writes in
Titus 3:3-4, "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passion and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another, but when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared he saved us..." Paul was in debt to these very unrighteous and foolish people because those are the people Jesus died for. Had he not died for such awful people there would be not Gospel to share with our world. Many faithless fools have become faithful friends of God because of believers who feel the debt they owe them to let them know they can become children of God through Christ.
Our society is producing ruined lives almost as fast as we produce garbage. Thousands of youth run away, kill themselves, get pregnant, and do every foolish thing known to man. The folly of the adult population is too obvious to need listing. It is our duty to try and make a difference in the lives of these masses of unhappy people. There are endless books on how to get out of debt, and this is good economic advice, but for those of us who are rich in the grace of Christ, there is a need to get deeper into debt and feel more deeply our obligation to share the riches with those who desperately need the Gospel.
Frank Tillapaugh in his book Unleashing Your Potential tells of visiting with the pastor of Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston. They were eating in a restaurant right next to this historic church. In the 40's a busboy worked in that restaurant by the name of Ho Chi Minh. 2000 Christians in that church were only feet away from one who would lead the Communist Revolution in China. Many of them ate in that restaurant, but there is not a hint that one of them attempted to witness to him. One friendly Christian might have changed the course of history had they felt the debt they owed to that young boy so far from his native land. You might not change the world, but you can change some life you touch if you will just realize, as Paul did, the duty you have of being in debt to the lost around you.