No one has ever truly stood for the One True God without encountering opposition. As we read—in the Word of God and in the records of history—about the lives of godly men and women who have gone before us, it seems that even their smallest advance was accompanied by persecution, derision, and misunderstanding.
We can’t help but ask the question, “How (and why) did they put up with it all?” An answer can be found in Romans 1.
Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let [hindered, prevented] hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
Paul had planned on coming to Rome, and indeed longed to come to Rome that he might be of help to the believers there, but something hindered him.
I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
Considering how much Paul desired to come to Rome, why had this trip been delayed? Because of a debt. Verse 15 explains that what Paul owed was not money, but an obligation to preach the gospel.
So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
Why did Paul feel indebted to all of these other nations and groups? Some Bible commentators explain it like this: “I owe so much to all of these wonderful cultures. Greek philosophy and poetry have inspired me; I’ve often used the language of Roman law and the Roman military. Even the cultures of less significant nations have helped me so much that I feel obliged to give back to them by teaching them the gospel.”
However, we know from Galatians 1:12 that Paul did not receive the gospel from man, “neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, although Paul may have borrowed examples and terminology from the culture of the day, this cannot be the debt he’s speaking of in Romans 1.
A more scripturally accurate reason can be found in Romans 13.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
The word “owe” in this verse is the verb form of the word “debtor” in Romans 1:14. Thus, God’s Word indicates that as Paul had a debt to pay, so do we.
“But,” you might ask, “How can you say I owe something to people whom I’ve never met? What have they done for me to place me in their debt?” In terms of worldly logic, this question makes tremendous sense. From the world’s point of view, I owe you nothing until you have somehow benefited me or hurt me (in the latter case, I owe you what is often called “payback”).
The reason I owe love to others is not because of what they have done for me, but because of what has been done for me, and in me, by One who owed me nothing but wrath.
Romans 5:7, 8
For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Sinners—dead in sins—and yet God loved us. He gave His son Jesus Christ —for us! And now we are not only saved, but raised and seated with Christ, forever.
How can we repay Him? By loving one another, with that same love, to those same limitless limits.
You will remember that in Romans 13 we were instructed not simply to “pay,” but to “owe.” This is tremendously significant. We may contract other debts in life and, as Christians, we should pay those debts off, promptly and fully. But love will always be a debt, always be something we owe.
I will never finish paying off the debt of love I owe to you, nor will you ever finish paying off the debt of love you owe to me.
I Corinthians 13 reminds us that, while other aspects of our Christian walk (tongues, miracles, even believing) will have a termination point, love will go on. It was love which caused God to plan His great purpose of the ages, and that same love will continue forever. It is the governing principle of all eternity. And it is this same love which can and should be our governing principle right now. It was Paul’s reason for giving his life (and words of life) to others.
In view of what God has done for us, only the most blind and calloused heart can respond with anything less than, “I am a debtor … to love.”