In the Office: I Owe, I Owe, So Off to Love I Go

The readings from today’s Daily Office provide an embarrassment of riches.

  • Psalm 88, while unique in the way that it ends in a cry of abandonment rather than an expression of trust, offers an opportunity to reflect on the way that we can take even our most bitter and negative feelings and place them before the Lord in prayer.
  • Genesis 27:46 – 28:22, which tells the story of Jacob’s dream at Bethel (“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”), invites us to consider all the unexpected ways that God reveals Himself in our lives.
  • Romans 13:1-14, which tells us that we should “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established,” and that “consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted,” practically begs us to make comparisons with other biblical teachings, like the place where Peter says, “We must obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29).

But despite having all these attractive options for reflection, I think I’ll settle on a single verse, which packs less theological heft but more personal meaning. The verse is Romans 13:8, and it says simply: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

Of course, we can note in passing that this brief instruction comes in the context of Paul’s aforementioned discussion about submission to the governing authorities. It’s because the authorities are instituted by God for the common good that we should pay our taxes (a biblical principle that many of us might not want to hear at this time of year). In fact, Paul continues, we should give to everyone what we owe them: “If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (v. 7).

i-o-u-loveBut then come those words that have been so influential in my life: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” There was a time in my life, you see, when I learned the hard way how quickly “outstanding debts” can pile up. I was in college…it was my first credit card…there were so many CD’s and so much pizza to buy…you can imagine the rest. Thankfully, my mother bailed me out (at great personal cost to herself, I might add). And I became keenly aware of the “spiritual and emotional downside” of allowing poor money management to make a wreck of one’s life.

So, I took up the practice of carrying this verse around in my wallet so that I’d be reminded of this valuable principle whenever I was tempted to overspend. Did it instantly prevent me from making unwarranted purchases? Sadly, no. But over time, it did plant this idea in my heart: The only debts that I want to carry are the ones that I gladly embrace: my debt to the people whose love and encouragement have made me who I am; and my debt to the Savior who gave His life for me so that I could share my life with Him.

May we embrace our “holy indebtedness”; and may we give love freely – as we have freely received.

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