Give to everyone what you owe them ... Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! (Romans 13:7-8 NLT)
I thought my dry cleaner was trying to, well, take me to the cleaners.
Back in May I brought in a pair of suit pants that had a rip in one of the cuffs courtesy of my dog, Isaiah. I thought that probably the tailor that works there could sew the tear up well enough that it would be unnoticeable. What ensued was a comedy of errors that became less and less funny as it went on.
What happened wasn't all that important; suffice to say that the dry cleaner's tailor apparently took care of the tears by cutting them out of the pants. The owner of the shop told me at different times that he would replace the pants, that he had found the fabric to replace the pants, that the fabric wouldn't work after all, and that he would buy me a new suit. Whenever I called, he put me off. Some of the excuses he gave me, frankly, were a little hard to swallow. (He actually told me that his tailor had been hit by a bus.) That took all of May and most of June. I finally bought a new suit and contacted the dry cleaner and asked him to reimburse me for the cost of the suit. He agreed, but said he would have to submit the claim to his insurance company.
July passed. August. Whenever I called or dropped in the owner of the dry cleaner's was either submitting paperwork or waiting for a call from his insurance agent or changing insurance companies. I figured there was no payment coming. I figured he would try to keep putting me off until I got tired of chasing him and gave up.
I was frustrated. Really, it wasn't the money. The suit wasn't exactly Armani, and if he hadn't offered to make up for the damaged pants I probably wouldn't have asked him to. But after he offered, after he promised me, I started feeling like he had an obligation. I felt like he owed me. And I was disappointed and exasperated and even a little angry that he seemed to not only be putting me off, but seemed to have such weak excuses for doing so.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe someone has owed you something. Maybe you've known the frustration of having to chase someone down and dog him until he gave you what he owed you. Maybe you've been avoided, had phone messages go unreturned, had people do everything in their power to delay or avoid making good on a debt. You know how maddening that can be.
Or maybe you've been on the other end. Maybe you know what it's like to be in debt and unable to pay. You've not answered the phone, you've thrown away past due notices unopened. Americans are in debt to the tune of trillions of dollars. If you've missed payment deadlines, let debts go unpaid, borrowed from friends or family without paying them back, then you're in good company.
Well, maybe it's not good company. Just a lot of company. Paul, you notice in the verse above, cautions us against that kind of life. Debts are to be paid; they are obligations that must be honored and it reflects badly on the kingdom of God if it's full of people who don't know how to pay what they owe. If we have so much credit card debt that we can't even make the minimum payments, if we owe friends money, if we don't pay our utility bills or get behind on our car loans, how does that reflect on God? If we as his people look ethically challenged in our financial dealings, the world will take note and fail to be impressed when we talk about our new lives in Jesus.
I'm getting more and more convinced that one of Satan's most effective weapons for undermining the witness of Christians and the ministry of the church is financial misdealing. Don't fall into that trap. Do what you can to extricate yourself from it. Some of us need to simplify. We simply need to cut back on our spending, to stop imagining that just because we can finance a certain lifestyle with credit cards doesn't mean we've earned the right to live that lifestyle. So many of our financial problems come from an inability to see what we've been given as a trust from God instead of a way to buy toys for our own amusement. So many of our financial worries come from a nearsightedness that sees only the standards of living that the world says "successful" people live. And as our debts mount our relationship with the Lord grows cold and our ability to be generous and share what we have is compromised. We start to lie, embellishing or making up stories that will keep bill collectors and friends alike away for one more day. Our witness for Christ is hampered as people see the irony and hypocrisy of our financial conditions.
"Give to everyone what you owe them." By the way, my dry cleaner finally did. I stopped by and he wrote me a check. He shook my hand, thanked me for my patience (I didn't feel very patient!), apologized for the delay, and told me he hoped I'd still be a customer. I think I will, now.
Maybe it's time for you to do something along the same lines. You're always obligated to love others, but let no other unpaid debt or unfulfilled obligation come between you and another person. Or between you and your Lord.
Time to clean up your act?