It is common in the South to hear someone say, “I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.” It is a way of refusing help so that one doesn’t owe help back to another – even upon pain of failure or facing a long struggle on one’s own when a little help would make the solution much easier. That is often how the world works – I do something nice for you and I hold that in reserve against the day that I need help. Then I can say, “Well, I helped you when you needed it.” It is the way of the world and not altogether bad that if you help me I feel like I need to also help you. However, this exchange of debt is why some folks refuse help and seek rather to pull themselves up “by their own bootstraps.”
As with most things that are natural in this world – natural according to human nature – that isn’t how it’s supposed to work according to God.
Romans 13:8 [KJV] says, Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. This would seem to support the idea of not being “beholden” to anyone. I like the NIV better on this one because it seems to clarify what the writer is getting at: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.
There is a difference, to my thinking, in how these translations instruct me. The NIV seems to imply that I do have an obligation to pay folks back what I owe – whether money or service or goods. It doesn’t say to me that I need to never have any debt or anything I owe others, need to never be “beholden” to anyone, to never accept help. Rather, it tells me that I should pay it back in a timely manner and not let it remain outstanding.
It also says to me that the debt to love one another – a debt that all believers owe – is impossible to pay back – it remains owed no matter how many payments we make.
We do not owe this debt of love to others because of anything a family member or neighbor or friend or stranger has done for us. We owe it to others because of God’s love for each of us and because of what Jesus has done for each of us.
I finally got to watch the movie Wonder, about an extremely disfigured boy named Auggie and the impact his life makes on those around him, primarily the other 5th graders in his school. Auggie, of course, gets picked on and misunderstood in the beginning, but eventually wins over his classmates and gathers a group of true friends who love him for the person he is inside. (I hope that isn’t a spoiler for any of you.) Because of his ability to inspire others to kindness, his mother says, “Auggie, you are a wonder.”
True, godly love, especially shown in acts of kindness, is a “wonder” in the real world we live in too. Love that is outward facing, given generously and without thought of payback, which is given to those from whom I have received hate, and that is given inexhaustibly, isn’t natural in this world. Yet Romans 13:8 tells us that this is exactly what we owe – and that it is a debt that remains open and owed for our entire lives. We are required make regular payments.
Acts of kindness – showing love for others – need not be big and bold – don’t need to involve a 501c3 or massive, group effort. Mark 9:41 [NIV] sets the bar really low for us when it says, Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. A cup of water – whether literal water or refreshing of the spirit through encouragement – even this most simple acts of kindness is precious to our Heavenly Father.
As in all of our Christian walk, Jesus’ example is the marker toward which we should strive. 1 John 2:6 [NIV] Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. Jesus lived a life of love that we can only hope to emulate. Though we never achieve His level of love for one another, we must try for it every minute of every day. Simple acts of kindness are one way to inch toward that goal and chip away at the debt we owe.
Be a wonder in this world, sweet sisters – a person whose godly love and acts of kindness cause folks to marvel. I say this not so we can cause wonder for ourselves, but so that, then, we can point others to the debt of love we owe to one another because of the great love that God and Jesus have shown each of us. We do this so we can point to the Wonderful God we have.
Because God’s limitless love for us is the greatest wonder in all the earth and through all eternity, let’s commit ourselves to ask what we can do each day to refresh another, to encourage another, to help another – to make a payment on the unrelenting debt of love we owe – by being a wonder in this world.
Please share the acts of kindness that you see around you and/or that you receive. Post them on Facebook to encourage others that there is good – that there is wonder – in the world and to inspire others to do the same. By this we can encourage others to seek the God of all Wonder.
It’s all just a small down payment on the wonderful love of God; on the wonderful debt we owe.
I also welcome your thoughts, comments and questions. You can write me at Nancy@DynamicChristianMinistries.org.