Romans 13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.”
In this day and age we live in a world where debt is an expectation. Particularly in western countries, it’s not uncommon for people to have an outstanding debt on their house, car, or credit card. It’s easy to justify having a mortgage, with the tax breaks that come with owning a home it becomes less reasonable to completely pay off a home. Cars are a necessity and credit cards are an expectation when purchasing goods and services, but the quality of the car often determines the cost and managing credit can be a slippery slope if people aren’t careful. Given the right circumstances and the debt becomes overwhelming, the creditors come calling, and trouble ensues.
We often overlook the charge of Paul to stay out of debt because the culture is so different today. For those who do the lending, there is a very small threshold for sending someone a credit card and then watching them accumulate debt that becomes unbearable. If only creditors paid closer attention to God’s laws for Israel, they might have spared many people from divorce, suicide, or depression.
Deuteronomy 24:14 “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates.”
Is this what Paul was talking about when he gave the charge about debt?
When looking into a text it’s important we understand the circumstances surrounding the text and what the original readers might have been thinking.
Paul’s letter was to the christians in Rome. Rome was ruled by Nero in the year 57 C.E.. Nero’s legacy was one who was remembered as a monster and sadist with a chilling list of crimes to his name, from burning down his own capital city to sleeping with his mother and murdering many of his close relatives. A few years after Paul wrote to the Romans, Nero blamed christians for burning down Rome and began torturing and persecuting them mercilessly. Nero viciously persecuted Christians, first he would arrest whoever confessed to be a Christian, then they would most likely either be torn apart by dogs, crucified, or possibly set on fire to illuminate the dark night and even to brighten his roadway or garden parties that Nero would host.
With this in mind, the context for believers living in Rome takes on a different light.
Romans 13:1 “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”
Imagine reading this from Paul and wondering why God actually appointed Nero? It seems absurd that God would place a madman into a position of authority and yet we see this today in many countries throughout the world. Forget all the evil rulers for the past 2000 years and consider who is in authority today…Biden, Putin, Kim Jung-un, Arif Alvi, Yoweri Museveni, Erdogan, Bashar Al-assad, and many more who have proven themselves corrupt.
How could a good God allow such men to come to power? How could Paul make such a statement and on top of that charge people to not resist?
Romans 13:2 “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”
Could it be these rulers are only puppets before a just and holy God? Could their influence be less than we make it?
Maybe God is trying to tell us that regardless of who rules over us, we have a different rule and kingdom by which we live—the Kingdom of Heaven.
Paul’s charge to owe no one anything is a reminder for us to only be found subject to the debt we owe to God and not to man. What debt do we owe God?
Romans 13:9-10 “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
These are the standard by which we live. The Moral Law is a culmination of God’s character by which we are ultimately subject to–loving God and loving our neighbor.
In Debt to God
The problem we have is that we have not kept this charge. Everyone has broken God’s law and all are found guilty before Him. The debt we now owe is our lives, the offenses we have committed are against God’s name and His name is Holy.
The debt we accumulate with man is a product of living for ourselves. When we live to please ourselves, we take our eyes off God and place them on our circumstances. Our worship moves from exalting the King of kings to exalting our own desires, pleasures, and comforts. When we take what God gives us, and He does supply us with all we need, then we live in freedom. Freedom from the subjection of debt, of trying to keep up with our neighbors, or presenting an image of prosperity just for the sake of image.
What do we owe the Lord?—We owe Him our lives!
Romans 13:11-12 “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”
How could the christians of Rome understand their salvation to be nearer now than in the beginning?
The persecution of roman christians was really only beginning, the decision to follow Christ was the easy part, following Him until the moment their bodies were being torn apart by animals in the arena was the true test of belief. Christianity wasn’t accepted in Rome until the time of Constantine, well over 200 years later. The United States has only been independent for 250 years, imagine living under persecution for a majority of our existence?
Romans 13:13 “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”
Paul outlines what it looks like when we live for ourselves. The attitude of self-indulgence carries into every aspect of life. If our hearts are turned inward toward ourselves, we look for ways to please our flesh. What seems like a simple debt to man becomes a greater issue as the debt does not fulfill. The more the flesh is fed with indulgences, the more it desires. The more we compromise, the further we go down the path of darkness. As we reach the end and recognize the hopelessness, we often wonder how we got there in the first place.
The wayward path begins with a small compromise and ends with a trap! Many who find themselves at the end of this hopeless endeavor with little knowledge of Truth, end up taking their own lives in despair.
Nero’s road of burning christians is a stark reminder of what the world wants to take from God’s people. The world will lure people in by promising happiness, prestige, and honor, but it will take your life.
The Debt has been Paid
We must not compromise on one iota of God’s directives. Persecution for living out our faith is far more noble than the persecution the world brings because of compromise.
Our ultimate debt is unto God and Jesus has fulfilled that debt perfectly.
Romans 3:25-26 “God presented Him as the atoning sacrifice through faith in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had passed over the sins committed beforehand. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and to justify the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The wrath of man pales in comparison to the wrath of God. The dark heart of man will throw you into prison for not paying your debt, the world will take everything and leave you poor and destitute.
Spiritually, we came as poor and destitute before God and then Jesus offered up Himself as a gift to all who would believe. Our debt of sin has been paid when we accepted His great sacrifice.
For those who believe, they believe unto death. The freedom God’s people know in Christ is the freedom we are encouraged to live by while on earth. Don’t let the world hinder you from the work God has prepared for you to do.
The expectation of Christ’s return should find us living faithfully until He does return for His bride. Since Jesus hasn’t taken His church yet, this means there is work left to be done.
Our debt has been paid….let us now live in freedom.