“I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise.” – Romans 1:14
Why do you do it? Why do you do what you do, especially when no one else seems to care or appreciate what you do? Why do you keep getting up and moving forward when everything seems to be beating you down to knock you out? Why do you struggle with temptations when giving in would be so easy? Why do you swim against the current when everyone else is going with the flow? Why?
Why do you wake up early, go to work each day, work hard, fight the commute, come home late, drag yourself into bed, try to sleep, wake up, and do it all again, every day? Do you work? Are you a giver or a taker? Why? Do you go the extra mile when it doesn’t affect your pay or prestige? Do you do that when no one is watching? Do you do what you do only for self-recognition and personal benefit? Why do you do what you do?
Why do you clean where no one else will see? Why do you pick up after others? Why do you put up with insensitive words, harsh remarks, unrequited love, even betrayal? Why do you forgive? Do you forgive? Why don’t you just walk away? Why do you deal with people when it seems everyone is a narcissist? Why don’t you just give up on people? Why don’t you just say, “Later for you!” and leave? Why do you put up with the lack of appreciation from those you work so hard for? Why do you take the unfair criticisms and backhanded comments? Why do you care for those who show no care for you? Why do you give yourself for those who could care less about your sacrifices? Do you do these things? Why? Why not?
Why do you take the insults and threats of the bully or the crowd? Why do you take a stand for what is right when it costs you, costs you everything? Why are you courageous when it would be so easy to be a coward? Why? Why do you do it?
Why do you go the extra mile with people? Why do you care to pray for the lost who could care less you are praying for their lostness? Why do you continue to pray when an answer is delayed? Why do you obey? Why do you love the unlovable? Why do you put yourself last and others first? Why do you put up with difficulties and present darknesses? Do you do these things? Why?
Why do you serve people? Do you serve people? Why do you pray with them, listen to them, go the extra mile for them? Why do you care for them? Why do you care so much for those who so often do not care about you? Why do you love so selflessly? Do you love selflessly? Why, why do you do it?
Why do you do what you do? Maybe you do what you do simply because you have a vague sense that it’s the right thing to do. Maybe you do what you do because you think it would profit you in some way. Maybe it’s your “job” to do these things? But why do really do it? Is all you do in some way, for you? The sinful nature is tricky and sly. Sometimes we do what we do in secret, hoping that someone will discover and see our “selfless” “secret” act of “love.” Our motives are not always pure. Why do we do what we do? What should our motive be?
I would like to spend a little time to share about a powerful motivation for what we do. This is not a Tony Robbins motivational study; far from it. But I do believe why we do what we do adds power to what we do. Someone has said, “Attitude is everything.” There’s truth in that statement. Attitude may not be everything, but it’s a lot of what we do.
If what we do, no matter how big, or small, is to amount to anything, then our motive has to be weighed and taken into consideration. The Apostle Paul knew that. It’s why he wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in th name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). He piggy-backed on that statement adding, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). Whatever we do, big or small, observable, or obscure, it all takes on meaning, eternal meaning, based on why we are doing it. You see, we owe a debt to our Lord. He has done so much for us. We have a high and holy hope for the future because of what He did for us on the cross.
Are you doing what you do for the glory of God? Paul said, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whatever we do is “to the glory of God,” when we do it for Him. “Whatever,” means whatever. Go to work, work, put up with the nonsense of those around you, do the mundane things, the unseen things, everything, do it all for God and His glory and it takes on eternal meaning and value. Why do you do what you do?
We can never truly do enough to repay Him. That’s why grace is free. God knows we are but dust. The cross is holy. There’s nothing we can do that measures up to the eternal high point of the cross. To equate our lives with any repayment for what Christ has done is a low, legalistic, foolish, and childish perception. What we can do though, is live with a sense of indebtedness to Him. All we can do for all He has done is show our appreciation as best we can, with the meagre morsels of our lives.
The Indebtedness of God’s Servants
Romans 1:14 – “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise.”
Good debt. There is bad debt, like credit card debt. But there is also good debt, like feeling indebted to Jesus. What a privilege it is to share His glorious gospel with the lost. Good debt is a sense of urgency, a sense of being compelled, a sense of earnest obligation, because of God’s love shown to us in Christ. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). And we pay forward to others the love of Jesus. What does that mean, to “pay it forward”?
Have you ever gone to a fast-food drive-through and graciously paid for the person behind you? Has anyone ever done that for you? It’s a great feeling. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). That is so true. When you pay for someone and they thank you, then you say, “Pay it forward.” It’s a way of saying, “Do for someone else what I’ve just done for you.” It’s encouragement to keep the kindness and love flowing. The blessing of Christ’s love in us is compounded when we show love in Christ to others. Jesus loved us, we love others. That is good debt.
Living as “a debtor” in that pay if forward way is an indication of spiritual life in us. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14). When the Holy Spirit indwells us, He pours the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5). We live out Christ’s love by paying forward the debt of reaching out to the lost with God’s truth and the good news of the gospel of Jesus with others.
Now I want to clarify that loving and doing kindnesses to others is not the way to heaven. If you are relying on good works to make you right with God, you will always fall short (Romans 3:23; Galatians 3:10-13; Ephesians 2:1-9; Titus 3:4-7). It is only relying on the completed work of Jesus that we find forgiveness for our sins and eternal life (John 19:30; Romans 3:24-26). Truly, we can only really love after we have first and in a saving way experienced His love for us in Christ.
A debtor. Paul said, “I am a debtor.” Paul viewed himself as a “debtor” (Greek opheiletes), “one who owes to another.” [i] Paul was so moved, so thankful, so appreciative of what Jesus had done for him on the Damascus Road (Acts 9). In that moment bright light when life stopped for Paul, when he heard the voice of Jesus, he crumbled in a heap of his sins. Right then and there Paul knew, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And right then and there, Paul knew, he simply had to tell others about His Savior Jesus.
It was not as though Paul was trying to earn God’s favor, he had that by virtue of his saving relationship with Jesus. It was simply that the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus was just too good, too magnificent, to full of God’s grace to not share with those around him. Paul indebted himself to Jesus. And Paul would pay his debt to Jesus by serving others. Paul was a debtor in the sense that he felt an obligation to share the great grace and truth that God had shown him. For him, it would be criminal not to share Jesus with others. Jesus deserved to be glorified. Paul was not motivated by guilt; it was that he felt it criminal to hog God’s glorious, graceful gospel truth to himself. Paul just couldn’t hold the gospel back. The gospel of Jesus was bursting out of him. Sharing the gospel, was paying forward a debt of gratitude to Jesus.
The KJV Bible Commentary compares Paul’s sense of indebtedness with another saint of old:
It is probably this same concept that inspired Isaac Watts to pen the words of the hymn “At the Cross” when he said, “But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here, Lord, I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.” Paul felt he had a responsibility to give nothing less than himself to the propagation of the gospel by which he was saved.[ii]
Jesus has paid the just debt due God for our sins. The debt is paid in full by Jesus, but we have a moral obligation to share the gospel. We are not our own but have been purchased by Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We have been entrusted with an ambassadorship of the utmost import (2 Corinthians 5:15-21). Someone has said, “Because I have received, I owe, to those who do not know.”
A debtors attitude. Having said all of this, when we do fulfill our debt by sharing the gospel with others, what should our attitude be? Should we be proud and feel as though we’ve earned some favor with Jesus? No, in fact Jesus tells us what our attitude should be when we serve Him. Jesus said:
Luke 17:10 – So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.”
We are not serving to gain God’s favor or earn glory for ourselves. We serve and share and fulfill our debt to bring glory to God by hopefully, the saving of souls. We serve to fill up the great crowd of witnesses who will stand before the LORD one day and worship Him. We want a full house to worship our LORD. And as we share, we are only unprofitable servants doing our duty. We serve thankfully for what Jesus has done for us and should be happy to do so. It’s not only an honor to fulfill this debt in service to Jesus, but also an opportunity and honor to do so.
How can we have the right attitude of a debtor? Having such a debtor’s attitude doesn’t come naturally to us. We want the attention, the honor, the glory of serving and fulfilling our debt. Our sinful nature wants all the attention when we serve out our debt. How can we overcome this self-centered tendency of our sinful carnal nature within? Paul tells us later in Romans:
Romans 8:12–17 (NKJV) – 12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
We are not indebted to our “flesh” our sarx (Greek), our sinful self-centered nature. We are indebted to the Holy Spirit and His selfless ways worked out in us. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin (John 16:8-11), walks with us and then comes into us at conversion. The Spirit empowers us and helps us when we are weak so that we can follow in the steps of Jesus (cf. John 14-16). It is only by relying on the Holy Spirit that we can properly fulfill our debt to Jesus and those around us.
A debt of love. Later in Romans Paul writes this, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). That in a nutshell is the nature of the debt we owe. Like Paul, we owe it to love those around us. That love is seen most clearly in Jesus on the cross. That sacrificial agape love is what we are to live out in this world in order to pay the debt we owe. That is why we share the gospel; it is God’s greatest expression of His love.
The greatest expression of love. Sharing the gospel of Jesus with others is the greatest act of love we can do in this life. Elsewhere Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 9:16 – “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”
Can you relate to such a statement? Do you have that burning desire to share the gospel? Pray that you would be on fire to share the gospel like Paul. If such fire is foreign to you, maybe you should have a spiritual heart exam. Sharing the gospel is what Christ’s love is all about for us. Paul explained this to the church of Corinth saying:
2 Corinthians 5:14–15 (NKJV) – 14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
The debt we owe is a debt of love. The debt of love is to selflessly share the gospel with those around us.
Fulfilling our debt to Jesus. How exactly do I fulfill this debt to others? The simple practical answer is, a good place to begin is, by sharing with others, what Paul wrote in the incredible letter to the Romans. It is not an accident Paul describes himself as a debtor in the opening words of this letter. He wants his readers to feel the same way. Paul is setting an example for us. We have a debt to pay forward. The gospel we are to share, is laid out in the letter to the Romans. So study hard, be ready and unashamed to share the gospel and truths of Romans with those around you. Remember, “Because I have received, I owe, to those who do not know.” Why do you do what you do? “I am a debtor.” Are you?
[i]W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.
[ii]Jerry Falwell, executive editor; Edward E. Hinson and Michael Kroll Woodrow, general editors, KJV Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1994.