On Stewardship and the Orthodox Life - Part 78: In Debt to God

“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish…” (Romans 1:14 RSV)

When St. Paul speaks to the Romans about being “under obligation,” he actually means that he is in debt to “Greeks and to barbarians…to the wise and to the foolish.” What does St. Paul owe to these people he mentions? And why does Paul say he is in “debt” to them? When we speak of being “in debt,” we usually refer to the amount of money we owe on credit cards, loans or mortgages. We have purchased something or we have borrowed cash, and we owe the cost or the repayment. These are our debts. St. Paul says he is in debt to virtually all people, including the “wise and the foolish.” Here St. Paul is not talking about money (which is perhaps why the translators have used the word “obligation” rather than “debt”).

 St. Paul recognized what he has received, not only from God but from the Church. When he was known as Saul, St. Paul persecuted the Church. He is said to have actually murdered Christians, and was giving his approval to the death of Holy Protomartyr Stephen when Stephen was stoned. St. Paul, however, was rescued from his life as persecutor. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he was converted to Christianity, and was given many gifts to use to spread Christianity to the known world.

God had revealed His truth to St. Paul. What St. Paul “owed” as a debt was an obligation to take this truth and share it with Greeks, barbarians, the wise and the foolish. He felt he had to pay God back for the many gifts St. Paul himself had received in the process of his conversion and the mission work that followed.

Seldom do we think about the fact that all that we have are gifts from God. The first and foremost gift is the gift of life on this earth. Our lives, provided and supported by God Himself, become our own debt to God. We owe Him our lives. We owe God something in repayment for allowing us to live on this earth. But there is more. We have been given the means by which we live, the money by which we buy the necessities (and pleasures) of life. But these, too, are loans, so to speak. We have become debtors to God. We owe God a return on what He has actually “lent” to us while we are on earth. None of this is our own – we are debtors to God.

St. Paul saw his life, his whole life, all he was and all he owned and all the gifts given to him as missionary and preacher something he needed to give back. Let us take stock of our lives, and see how much we actually owe to God and our neighbor.

This weekly series of brief thoughts on stewardship and Orthodox life is brought to you by your Diocesan Stewardship Commission.

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