We are living in a time, culture and generation in which the term “debt” is rapidly becoming a negative, despised term. The United States government certainly does not set a gold example for her citizens when it comes to debt, since the economy (steeped in debt) is at the forefront of the concerns of many when the national debt recently spilled over $16 trillion American dollars. All around the world, families understand the destruction that financial debt brings on the home. Dave Ramsey and many others have become popular individuals in leading people out of financial distress caused by debt—some by irresponsible spending and others by incidental medical bills, unemployment and such like.
Nevertheless, we should not view this term only in a negative connotation. As a matter of fact, Paul used this term in such a way that all Christians ought to embrace such. In writing to the church in Rome, the apostle wrote, “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise” (Rom. 1:14). This is a fascinating concept for Paul to embrace. Understanding his past background, when he was a Pharisee, he thought exactly the opposite—he thought God was in debt to him. Striving to keep the Law of Moses to perfection and establishing the Law of Moses as a system of self-righteousness (cf. Rom. 10:1-3), we can see exactly how the Pharisees thought by noting the example of the unnamed Pharisee who went into the temple to pray in Luke 18:9-14. Through his “prayer” (if that is what we want to call it), he cried unto God with an attitude that screamed, “Look at how great I am for you! I deserve salvation because of how great I am! You owe me blessings!” Thus, this is how Paul once thought. Conversely, as a Christian, now Paul knows that the reverse is true—as long as he lives, Paul knew that he was in debt, and it was a great thing!
First, he knew that he would owe God the rest of his life. Should we not feel the same way? Remember what God did for us when we received the blessings associated with salvation. Remember our past and how hopeless we were (cf. Eph. 2:1-13). Understanding the concept of forgiveness as it portrays the removal of a debt (cf. Matt. 6:12, 14-15), every one of us ought to be able to identify with the servant who owed an impossible debt of which Jesus stated in Matthew 18:23-35. This servant owed so much that there was no way he could possibly pay, and when we consider the debt we owe God because of the provisions of forgiveness, we should be able to identify with such—we sing, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay; I needed someone to wash my sins away….” Therefore, I ought to wake every day with gratitude for the spiritual blessings I am able to receive, all the while knowing that I will be in debt to God for the rest of my life! As a matter of fact, this coincides with his discussion later to the Romans of becoming a bond-slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:16-18).
Second, he knew that he would owe the world (especially the Gentiles) so that they would hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Do we feel the same way? As Christians, do we think about the fact that we owe the world to become zealous evangelists? How else are they going to hear the solution to their problem of sin? Somewhere along the pathway of life, we get sidetracked from the mission of the church—it is not about us, but it is about a lost and dying world! Jesus knew that. Paul knew that. I need to know that.
Therefore, Paul was proud to say, “I am a debtor!” He reminds me that I need to proud to say it, too. For the rest of my life, I am a debtor to God and a debtor to the world.