Back when I was in high school, it was not uncommon in my group of friends to borrow a little change for an occasional afterschool snack in exchange for a proverbial I.O.U. To satisfy the debt, we would either pay back the money or the one who owed would buy the next time. For the most part, we were pretty good about paying back what we owed. As I was thinking about this, I was reminded that we all have an I.O.U. on the books that can never be paid in full. Do you know what it is?
From the pen of the apostle Paul, we read about the debt we all owe: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). What Paul is saying is absolutely radical. Because God “so loved us” we must in turn “so love” others.
But why does Paul put this love in the context of a perpetual debt? Simply because of the perpetual debt of gratitude we are to show God for all that He has done for us. And what better way to show our gratitude than through love?
In Matthew 22:36-40 we read, “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Here we can see the root of Paul’s radical statement. Jesus says that love is the fulfillment of all the law simply because love is the foundation upon which obedience and devotion to God must be built. Without love there can be no fulfillment of the law, and we’ll simply become “resounding gongs or clanging cymbals” as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1.
Through the words of Paul and Jesus we see that it is not enough to live by the letter of the law. That is what the Pharisees did, and, in doing so, they reserved for themselves the wrath of Almighty God. God did not save us to make us good, obedient servants. He saved us to make us His, and that makes all the difference in the world.
As His children, our love should identify us in all that we think, do and say. Love is supposed to be what defines a Christian’s life. We are even called to love those who are hard to love. We don’t get a vote!
So now that we understand every Christian’s I.O.U. to God, how do we live it out?
Here are the three pillars of living out this biblical mandate of love:
First, God must do a work inside our hearts. He raises us from death to life because of His Son, and then we begin the process of discipleship. This is a life-long process of sanctification, growing more and more into the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Once God has begun His good work in us, we are to begin a good work in the lives of others. Growing to maturity is never an end unto itself. Maturity is for Life . If we are going to be relevant to our culture, we have to be willing to meet people where they are. By the grace of God, we can lead them to a relationship with His Son. Remember, our love for God and others is to be on display for all the world to not only hear, but see and feel.
The “inward” and the “outward” are joined together through “upward” worship. This is the worship of the One True Living God. God is worshipped simply because He is God and worthy of our praise.
If we are going to make a difference in this world, it will be because we understand the debt we owe and our privilege to pay it. I say privilege and not duty simply because it is a privilege to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not need us. But He wants us. Because He wants us to participate in bringing His Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” He has given us all we need to do anything He calls us to do.
So are you ready to pay your I.O.U.?
I will close this month’s article not with my words but with the words of my new pastor Tullian Tchividjian from his latest book “Unfashionable.”
“The world will take notice of a community of men and women who refreshingly and joyfully bear one another’s burdens and who actively look to lay down their lives for others in need because Jesus laid down his life for them,” Tchividjian writes. “When the world sees that Christians want to help people because God has helped them, they’ll begin to ask what makes us so different.”
To make a difference you must be a difference-maker, and to be a difference-maker you must be different! Never forget that Amen! Blessings!
Rev. Tommy Boland is the sports and men’s minister at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and teaches adult Sunday school. For more information including Bible study resource materials, please send an e-mail to [email protected] or [email protected]