Unlikely Debtor

Both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to wise and to thoughtless, I am a debtor . . (Romans 1:14, YLT)

Paul, one of the greatest missionaries of all time, saw himself as a debtor to the people he was serving . . and not just to Presidents and kings, morally upstanding people and law-abiding citizens . .

but also to Greeks and to foreigners, which can be compared as to the civilized and to the savage (GWT of this phrase).  The two groups would probably have been viewed in that day as just that: civilized and savaged.  In other words, Paul felt a debt to preach to people who both did and who didn’t know much of anything about God’s ways.  A lot of us seem to be one or the other: we either want to witness to those who have a foundation of morality and poise that resembles what we like, or we want to witness to those who are totally different from us.  Paul wanted to reach both.

Would Paul have felt himself a debtor to the women who work in the strip bars in my town?  How about to the men who, through their money, put them there?

Would he have gone door-to-door to the poorest of the poor in my town, and searched the streets for the lonely homeless he could help?  How about to the welfare-fleecers in my town?  Would he have shared the Good News with them?

Would he have visited the VA clinic?  How about the anti-war society?  Would he have even gone to the houses of those who, in the 70’s, spit on the soldiers coming back from the Vietnam war?

Would he have stopped by as many nursing homes as he could?  What about the elderly who, in their youth, beat their wives and children?  Would we have preached to them, too?

Would he would have made a special stop at the local jail?  Would he have witnessed to the drunk driver?  What about our local Federal prison?  Would his sandaled feet have stopped even in front of the cells of rapists and demented serial killers?

Would he have visited our mayor and prayed for him?  What about the politician accused or convicted of embezzlement.  Would he have paid even him a visit?

Would he have knocked on the doors of the local millionaires?  What about the doors of those who have never shared a penny with the poor, who would rather have every luxury in the world than give a crust of bread to a starving child?  Would he even have shared the Gospel with them?

Paul saw himself as a debtor.

No one was beneath him.  (See Colossians 3:11)

And no one was above him.  (See Galatians 2:6)

He would preach to the rich and poor, heroes and villains alike.  He would be gracious and respectful if he got a hearing with the President, but he would not regard him as a more precious human life or more worthy of a hearing of the Gospel than James Holmes.

Am I saying that to be sensational?  Is that really true?  Could anyone really see themselves as a debtor to share the Gospel with a man like James Holmes?

I think we forget, all too often, that Paul really was a murderer before his conversion.  In one portrayal I saw, it was suggested that he tortured Christians in the synagogue when he caught them.  While we don’t know this to be true, it is likely that he flogged Christians–the graphicness of which is lost many times to our modern day ears.

The prisons he was throwing Christians into were not like U.S. prisons.  They were terrible, awful places where you might not be fed, there was no legal restraint against your mistreatment (unless you were a Roman citizen, which few Christians in Israel would have been), and you could be freezing cold at night with not so much as a cloak provided.  If Christian brothers and sisters came to help you, they might have been thrown in prison, too.

Paul had, in his old life, believed he was better than almost everyone (see Philippians 3:6).  In his new life, he believed he was better than absolutely no one.  He wanted everyone to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  As he was thrown in prisons throughout his ministry, I don’t believe he used his time there only to write letters to the churches.  I believe he was also witnessing to all prisoners within earshot, if he was allowed to talk to them.

As modern day Christians, we devalue the debt Jesus paid for us, and thus we skimp on our allegiance to Him.  While most of us readily embrace analogies of Jesus as our Father and Brother and even King, few of us actually want to identify as His servant, bond-servant, or slave.  But all these metaphors hold true.  I think when we think “king” we have a picture of Him sitting on the throne blessing us and judging nonbelievers.  I think we miss the picture of a king that would have been readily seen in Jesus’ day: that of someone with total power, pledged total allegiance and given total obedience.

We are not only free.  As believers, we are free from the power of sin.  There’s no doubt about that.  But we are also captured by the grace of God.

We are slaves to the mercy of God, debtors to His love.  This slavery is nothing like the unjust slavery of U.S. 18th and 19th century history.  And this debt is nothing like the debt owed a loan shark.

Instead, we are in debt to the most gracious God of all, forever enslaved to be servants of His mercy.

“I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” (God, quoted in Hosea 11:4, NIV)

Our debt is no longer one of sin, but of worship.  We owe a debt of worship to Him that we cannot pay.

Worship of God is not only singing to Him or listening to sermons, though it is that.  Worship of God is also looking at the world–His world, ruined by sin–and reaching every soul we can for Him.  We should long for more worshipers in Heaven, and more vacancies in Hell.  We should long to bring anyone and everyone to Him, and since He longs for this more than we can imagine; we are debtors to the people around us.

To those who are wise and those who are fools.  To those who are humble & broken and those who are arrogant & loud-mouthed.  To those with etiquette and popularity and those with annoying habits and isolation.  To those with public approval and those who are social pariahs.  To those who live seemingly morally inspiring lives and those who live lives worthy of the darkest human pits in Hell.

We are debtors to them, all of them, because this is how God wants it.

As believers, our role in this life is, absolutely, How can I serve _____?

Fill in the name of anyone you have ever met.

This doesn’t mean serving them in an enabling sense, but serving them in the sense God desires, that is debtors to bring the Good News of Christ Jesus to the world.

Both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to wise and to thoughtless, I am a debtor . . (Romans 1:14, YLT)

_____________________________________________

This blog owes a debt of love to all Christians who have helped my thinking in this area, especially the short movie Unbreakable, the influence of Christian missionaries, and, personally, my Sunday school teacher Kevin, Pastor Tommy, and Pastor John, whose thinking and ideas shaped much of this.  Most of all, my debt of love is to Jesus Christ, who is the Person who paid my eternal debt of sin . . who is the Person who gave me understanding of what Love really is.

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