Debt and Love

Genuine Hug

The only good debt out there is a debt of love.

Today’s article is a quick thought  about debt, money and love: God doesn’t want us to be financially beholden to anyone, because debt holds us back in life. But He does want us to be spiritually beholden to each other, because our spiritual bonds create a continuing debt of love, which is the only kind of debt that makes everyone richer.

This idea comes out of Romans 13:7-8. In this passage, Paul is transitioning between two teachings. He is just finishing a discussion of why it’s important to obey civil authorities, and he is beginning to explain how love is the fulfillment of God’s law. In making the transition between these two ideas, he brings up the relationship between debt and love. Let’s take a look:

7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

This passage can be used as one of the biblical teachings against debt, and rightly so: Paul is saying that we should pay people what we owe them quickly, and that we shouldn’t get bogged down in debt. But its application goes beyond that to say some really powerful things about the nature of love. The only debt that we should carry around in our lives is the debt to love one another. No matter how much we pay of that debt, we’ll never settle it entirely. And that is God’s intention.

Let’s unpack the idea of the “debt of love” a little bit. When you’re in debt to someone, that means that you have taken something from them that you are not in a position to immediately repay. With love, it’s a similar situation: We have all received abundantly from God’s eternal love for us. It’s love that we never deserved, and His gift of love for us is a debt that we can never hope to repay Him. And He doesn’t ask us to repay His love to Him (likely because He knows that we could never accomplish that). Rather, He asks us to pay the debt forward by continually loving each other.

In loving people well, we are expressing our indebtedness to the love of God. And no matter how much we love each other, we can never pay this debt off, because it’s an eternal debt. This is all part of God’s plan: In asking us to pay our debt of love to Him by loving on each other, He sees to it that His people are caring for each other and the rest of the world. I am indebted to God to love you well, and by loving you, I improve your life.

It gets even better. The beauty of love is that it’s not a zero-sum game: Loving you doesn’t deplete my resources of love to give to other people. Rather, love multiplies as it is given. The more I love you, the more God enlarges my heart to love other people, and the more love you have to express and give to the people in your life too.

Where monetary debt restricts us and makes us financially poor, the debt of love enlarges us and makes us spiritually rich. Unfortunately, too many of us struggle to be generous in love because we are bound financially by debt. That’s why God wants us to stay away from debt: The more freedom we have in our resources, the more abundant we can be in our love for each other.

When we turn our focus to paying our continual debt of love, everybody wins.

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Photo by John Ragai. Used under Creative Commons License.