Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:7-8 NKJV
When we think of debt, I know I usually think about money. However, I have come to realize there are things we owe besides money. It is staggering to think that over half of Americans have less than a thousand dollars in the bank. But it is also staggering to realize that over half the American population feels lonely and unloved. When it comes to money, the poor feel like they are being oppressed by the rich. Instead of being oppressed by the rich, the poor want the rich to pay higher taxes and share more. After all, don’t the rich already have enough? Why can’t they give more?
Should we ask the same questions when it comes to love? Shouldn’t those who know they are loved share more of their love and time with the lonely?
Years ago, in the first district I worked in as a Bible worker, a man I was studying with brought his 14-year-old step-daughter to church for the first time. I went to the women in the church, who had teenage daughters, and asked them to encourage their daughters to befriend our teenage visitor. Do you know what one of the mothers told me? She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Our daughters already have friends.” Thirty-some odd years later, I have never been able to forget that. They left a 14-year-old girl starving, not for food or money, but for love! I actually met the stepfather years later at another Adventist church, where he got baptized. I never saw or heard from the stepdaughter again. She never came back to the church that snubbed her, and the sad thing is, the church does not care that she never returned. Their own emotional needs were being met, and that is simply all that mattered to them.
Isaiah 58:1-14 talks about a people who love to go to church and debate theology with their best friends, but forget to care for those who are left out. Isaiah goes on to say that they are breaking the Sabbath by debating theology in Sabbath School class with their best friends. Yes, they are in Sabbath School talking theology on the Sabbath, but they are still breaking the Sabbath by doing their own pleasure. In this case, their own pleasure is not going to a football game or shopping mall on the Sabbath; it’s going to church! They are breaking the Sabbath because they are not reaching out to those who are unloved.
The poor don’t like it when the rich are stingy with their money, but can the poor be just as stingy with their time, love, forgiveness and mercy? While the poor feel oppressed financially, do we oppress even the rich by not giving them mercy and forgiveness? God has been so rich and generous with us by showering us with grace and mercy! Do we share this grace and mercy with others, or do we hold grudges and oppress them emotionally by not being gracious and forgiving toward them?
There is such a thing as debtor’s prison, but there are other prisons as well. We put people in prison when we hold a grudge, and when we refuse to let them into our circle. We oppress people when we withhold our love and friendship.
Money debts are more tangible, and so maybe that’s why they stick out in our mind more than other debts. But are there other debts we need to pay back that may not be monetary? Do you owe someone a “thank you? “A compliment? A hug? A pardon? How about your time? Is there someone who just needs you to lend them your ear for a while? You may have paid off all your bill collectors, but are you really debt free? Is there someone you still owe love to? Can you begin paying them back today? And tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that…
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