July 18, 2004
Pastor Brian Shimer
"Just Three Words"
Romans 13, part 3
This week I had so much fun with the short presentations for the
VBS kids. These little vignettes pictured the relationship of 5 year old Jimmy, played by me, and his grandma, played by Nancy Hilgendorf. Well, Jimmy was rambunctious, inquisitive, and really active, and caught the imagination and delight of the children. One little girl asked, "Is he really like this at home?" "Thankfully, not always," my wife would say. Another little girl told me she thought I looked like a monkey. And another boy said, "I like it when you are Jimmy."
But when Jimmy wet his bed one night, the children went "full stop". Indeed, many of them could not escape from the remembrance of their own similar experiences. Getting the message out of that story was "oh so hard!"
As adults bed wetting does not cause us to come to a full stop, but rather to go into overdrive... remaking the bed, comforting the child, and tucking them back in for the night and then returning to sleep ourselves.
But there are things that bring us adults to a full stop.
I have had phone calls do that to me. "Brian, your dad has a spot on his lungs," my parents told me over the phone. It brought my life to a standstill.
Conversations have done it: "Your message hit my life. This change has resulted. I just wanted to thank you for letting the Lord work through you."
Issues in the relationships of others have stopped me.
Karen and I were in a bead shop in Nahalem Bay, behind a woman who was buying what looked to me like a small tray of beads. The lady behind the counter rang them up and the total came to $249.00. I was astounded. But what astounded me more was the comment made by this woman purchasing the beads: "My husband will kill me when he sees this one..." That brought me to a full stop for it manifested a lack of respect and relationship in her marriage.
Or the women Karen has encountered in stamping stores who enter the amount in the check book but write in "Safeway" or "Albertson's" in the line so that when their husbands do the books they would not know that the purchase went for stamping supplies. That is another thing that stops us for it manifests deception in the relationship.
When we seek to balance the checkbook and find we have forgotten to enter the $800 insurance payment, that has a tendency to bring our hearts to a similar stop as our stomachs drop to our feet.
There are many things that stop us, but there are other things that
ought to stop us. The sentence in Romans 13:8 begins with a phrase that ought to stop us: "Let no debt remain outstanding..."
Now when we encounter the word "debt" we immediately think of bills, which come without fail. You pay them, but like weeds, they just keep coming back. There is the light bill, the gas bill, the water bill, the fuel bill, tax bills, mortgage payments, insurance bills, credit card bills, car payments, and on, and on, and on, ad infinitum.
So we read the words and think the Scriptures mean "don't be in debt" to anyone, at any time. Indeed, the Greek has just three words for this statement, and the words are arranged so that the emphasis is upon the negatives: "No one Nothing Owe!" Does that mean we ought not have a house payment or pay rent for an apartment? Does that mean no car unless you save and pay cash?
The warning here as it applies to money means to not incur unreasonable debt, it is a warning against living beyond our means or in other words to pay what we owe. In this context we had better listen. These three little words "owe no one anything" ought to be taped to our credit cards. They ought to be written on our billfolds, for Proverbs reminds us that the debtor is slave to the lender. We need to be reminded in this culture of ours to live within limits.
In a book called Money Makeover I read the story of the author, Mary Hunt, who writes of the time when she and her husband came to full stop. He had lost his job, had no unemployment benefits, absolutely no source of income, and over $100,000 in unsecured debt due to her inability to control her credit card spending. She would just pay the monthly minimum payments!
(Cheapskate Monthly: Money Makeover, St Martin's Paperbacks, c.95, p.13, ubp).
Three years ago the average unpaid credit card balance in the US was 4,400! And that figure had gone up 123% over the previous decade!
US News and World Report 3/19/01 Article: Digging your Way out of Debt. Paul J. Lim and Matthew Benjamin
Juliet Schor in her 1999 book called The Overspent American: Why we want what we don't need emphasizes the source of this spending cycle of ours-- our relentless attempt to keep up with the Jones' who are no longer the next door neighbors, but the imaginary world of people presented by television. She speaks of people in her book with six figure incomes who still believe they do not have enough, who are still overspending.
This reminds me of the great danger there is when we believe we just need a little more money to solve our financial woes. The book of Ecclesiastes 5:10 warns us: 'Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income." And the danger with the love of money is it is the root of all kinds of evil. We need to come to full stop and grow in wisdom.
One place we can go for wisdom is John Wesley, a preacher from
the 1700s in England encountered the same kind of attitudes then that we see in our nation today.
He emphasized that money is not an evil but instead, "a primary vehicle by which people help one another and thereby grow in faith and love. It is unspeakably precious and an excellent gift of God precisely because of the good it can do."
(quoted from an essay by Rebekah Miles, entitled "Works of Mercy as Spiritual Formation," included in The Wesleyan Tradition: A Paradigm for Renewal, Paul Chilcote,ed. Nashville: Abingdon, c. 02, p. 104, ubp).
Wesley had a threefold admonition regarding money. First, he said, "earn all you can," without taking advantage of your fellowman, without fraud, without evil action. This was a principle of diligence. Second, "save all you can," in order that you have the funds you need for your livelihood. This was a principle of thrift. And finally, "give all you can." This was the principle of generosity.
All three were necessary for lives which exhibit the holiness God intends. However, in Wesley's day people managed to apply just the first two, became wealthy, and refused to learn to have a generous heart.
This caused Wesley as an old, old man to plead with them, saying: "Sit as loose to all things here below, as if you were a poor beggar." He would warn: "Have riches not so hurt you as to stab your religion to the heart? Have they not cooled (if not quenched) your love of God? ... And if your love of God is in any wise decayed, so is also your love of your neighbour. You are then hurt in the very life and spirit of your religion! If you lose love, you lose all" (ibid., p. 108).
He would advise his hearers to spend not "one pound, one shilling, or one penny, to gratify either the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, or the pride of life; or indeed, for any other end than to please and glorify God. ... and hoard nothing. Lay up no treasure on earth, but 'give all you can", that is, all you have. I defy all the men upon earth, yea, all the angels in heaven, to find any other way of extracting the poison from riches." (ibid., p. 108).
When we think of debt that is what we hear, bills.
But the word does not only mean bills, does it. It means not to "owe" anything to anyone. We pray it this way in the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."
The second word translated "sin" in that prayer is not the word for sin but the word used here for "debt" or "owe". Forgive those who "owe" us something. Jesus is connecting this "owing" to sin, to the missing of the mark, the falling short of the glory of God.
In this passage Paul has told us to pay our taxes and to give honor to all and then to owe no one anything except one thing: to love him or her. So in this sentence the meaning does not apply only to our money -- which is an essential area to bring under discipline-- but also to our behavior.
Do not sin against another person and leave it that way. Do not owe anyone anything for your sin. The only thing you ought to owe someone is your love.
This whole chapter has dealt with how we are to obey our government, and the ultimate governing authority above us is God, and here he says the means God has given us to obey God's government is to love others.
This week I experienced that opportunity through the little plays
we did for VBS -- it was a simple opportunity to love these wonderful kids. The teachers and workers in every area also experienced this unique gift to love others. And loving your children is what Vacation Bible School is all about. For Love is what life is all about.
That's what Romans 13 says. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another."
What does it mean to love someone else? It means to do what is best for them.
And what is best for anyone is not just what is best for the moment but what will be best for eternity -- so best is to express to them the greatest wonder they could ever have the knowledge that God loves them, the experience of that love, and the transformation possible through Jesus' resurrection power.
Why love like this? Paul reminds us that although it appears we have all the time in the world upon earth, that really the hour is late for the world. That although are lives look like they will expand out before us for months and years, that our lives are only brief, like the breadth of our hands, like a mist in the air, like a blink of the eye. If that is the case, do not fritter any of your time away in wickedness or darkness, but use time to love others, to do what is best and to determine not to owe any one anything.
Do you need to bring your finances under control? Is there brokenness to clean up in some of your relationships? Then come to a full stop in your life, and applying all diligence "owe no one anything" while living in a manner that glorifies and honors the Lord.