PRAY TO OWE NO ONE ANYTHING
Paul, the Gentile Apostle, wrote to his Roman Christians, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Ro. 13:8-10). Jesus was far more specific what we should pray for, after we have fulfilled some definite obligations. “And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses” (Mt. 6:12-15).
The idea that we must forgive, in order to be forgiven is simple enough; but, to add debts and temptation to the process, puts us into a different environment. Debts and temptations are the trespasses we get ourselves into. This prayer is not merely about disagreeing with each other that makes us angry and can be resolved with an apology, a handshake, an embrace, and an arm around the shoulder seventy times per day or even shed tears from time to time. We do behave like children and apologetic forgiveness is essential in behaving lovingly. We do get angry, but stop before we sin and do not let the sun set on our anger and open the door to the devil to disrupt our relationships (Eph. 4:26-27). Jesus had a far more troubling issue in mind and that was the temptation of the rich to indebt the poor. His message of good news to the poor was a restoration of the inheritance that they had lost to the rich. The Law of Moses, in the repossession of Canaan, had eliminated poverty by assigning an inheritance to every family and a tenth to the Levites to enforce that law. A slave was to be set free every seventh year and the land was to be returned to its rightful owner every fifty years (Lev. 25). That was part of the answer Jesus gave to John that the poor would get their land back (Mt. 11:7).
Moses credited God for the design of a person’s right to get out of debt. Seven years were sufficient time to work off a personal loan and fifty years for loaning out the property. All leases were temporary and so were the sales. The original owner never lost his right to repossess. It was one of the most effective ideas in use, but man failed to protect that right with temptations of greed to get bigger and better, until he could no longer sustain his unpaid acquisitions. The temptation to own things with the assistance of credit, rather than cash, is our own fault. Creditors and lenders have made it easy for us to enjoy the pleasures this world offers, but they do not tell us what happens when we lose the income to pay for that short-lived fools paradise? The last recession has made us relive the consequences of not being able to pay for what we borrowed. Far too may of us were unable to keep up the contracts we had signed.
Jesus gave us examples that turn on a yellow light, before we allow ourselves be led into a world we ought to stay out of. Most of the temptations to be indebted can be dealt with a simple, “Yes or No” (Mt. 5:33-37). The more difficult choices require an analysis of our resources to sustain the venture we plan to enter. Luke’s account on Jesus’ view of what it takes to be a disciple is an eye opener (Lk. 14:25-35). Not everyone can leave everything and go off as a preacher. This is true of every profession and venture. Jesus used a builder that built a tower and could not finish it. He used a king that was smart enough to seek peace with a more powerful king with submissive terms. I have been around for eighty-four plus years and I have cautioned my own loved ones against overextending themselves to no avail. When we lose property that we repaired with borrowed funds, we continue to remain obligated to the lender. This was one of the harsh lessons one of our sons faced, when he had to pay for an expensive roof he no longer owned.
When debt is involved, forgiveness has to resort to negotiations and settlements. There are no free rides. I have a very close relative whose son committed a mild crime and when the son confessed Christ, he expected his son to go free. This relative and many others believe that Christians should be set free from their obligation when they accept Christ as their Lord. The truth is that people, who become Christians, do not vanish into heavenly air, but become more responsible for their debts. On earth, we deal and make agreements with each other that God honors. We will not get a better deal from God, if we act irresponsibly with what others trust us with (Lk. 16:10-12). Luke had a nag for digging up pearls of wisdom Jesus had left behind. Here is one of the nuggets. “And that servant who knows his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more” (Lk. 12:47-48).
In one of my first pastorates, a father passed away, who owed the Internal Revenue Service a minor amount of taxes. The son informed the IRS that his father could no longer pay. The reply was, “but you can.” Ben Franklin supposedly said, “If you are in debt, someone owns part of you,” and “Creditors have better memories than debtors” (S.S. P.77). To help their memory they should not take their good fortune for granted. Jesus’ Parable of the “Shrewd Manager” who reduced the debt of his subordinates and built a financial security for him self has been repeated many times (Lk. 16:1-9). Your creditors and lenders have introduced the borrowers to a lifestyle they cannot sustain and they will face you and force you to make up the difference. Sooner than later, you will harvest what you sowed. It is the irreversible law of cause and effect. Indebtedness has been the biggest temptation man has faced because it also has enslaved his spirit and rendered him helpless. A helpless person turns to desperate, painful and even ugly solutions. It is the root that grew into the cosmic struggle between capitalism and socialism. If there is any prayer of concern to us, then this one takes priority. I already had a small taste of “debt – temptation” and I am still paying for it. It does not end with my death, but it is passed on to my children.