How they were handled in Jesus’ day:
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. – Matthew 5:25-26
In Jesus’ day, someone who couldn’t pay a debt was thrown into prison until the debt was paid. Unless someone came to pay the debt for the prisoner, he or she would probably die there. It is practical advice to resolve our differences with our enemies before their anger causes more trouble (Proverbs 25:8-10). You may not get into a disagreement that takes you to court, but even small conflicts mend more easily if you try to make peace right away. In a broader sense, these verses advise us to get things right with our brothers and sisters before we have to stand before God.
[“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24. Broken relationships can hinder our relationship with God. If we have a problem or grievance with a friend, we should resolve the problem as soon as possible. We are hypocrites (flesh) if we claim to love God while we hate others. Our attitudes towards others reflect our relationship with God (1 John 4:20).]
[“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5:27-28. The Old Testament law said that it is wrong for a person to have sex with someone other than his or her spouse (Exodus 20:14). But Jesus said that the desire to have sex with someone other than your spouse is mental adultery and thus sin. Jesus emphasised that if the act is wrong, then so is the intention. To be faithful to your spouse with your body but not your mind is to break the trust so vital to a strong marriage. Jesus is not condemning natural interest in the opposite sex or even healthy sexual desire, but the deliberate and repeated filling of one’s mind with fantasies that would be evil if acted out.]
[…Some think that if lustful thoughts are sin, why shouldn’t a person go ahead and do the lustful actions too? Acting out sinful desires is harmful in several ways: (1) it causes people to excuse sin rather than to stop sinning; (2) it destroys marriages; (3) it is deliberate rebellion against God’s word; (4) it always hurts someone else in addition to the sinner. Sinful action is more dangerous than sinful desire, and that is why desires should not be acted out. Nevertheless, sinful desire is just as damaging to righteousness. Left unchecked, wrong desires will result in actions and turn people away from God.]
[If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. – Matthew 5:29, 30. When Jesus said get rid of your hand or your eye, he was speaking figuratively. He didn’t mean to gouge out your eye, because even a blind person can lust. But if that were the only choice, it would be better to go into heaven with one eye or hand than to go to hell with two. We sometimes tolerate sins in our lives that, left unchecked, could eventually destroy us. It is better to experience the pain (paintful) of removal (getting rid of bad habit or something we treasure, for instance) than to allow the sin to bring judgment and condemnation. Examine your life for anything that causes you to sin, and take every necessary action to remove it.]
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. – Matthew 18:30
In Bible times, serious consequences awaited those who could not pay their debts. A person lending money could seize the borrower who couldn’t pay and force him or his family to work until the debt was paid. The debtor could also be thrown into prison, or his family could be sold into slavery to help pay off the debt. It was hoped that the debtor, while in prison, would sell off his land or that relatives would pay the debt. If not, the debtor could remain in prison for life.
[“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. – Matthew 18:18. This binding and loosing refers to the decisions of the church in conflicts. Among believers, there is no court of appeals beyond the church. Ideally, the church’s decisions should be God-guided and based on discernment of his word. Believers have the responsibility, therefore, to bring their problems to the church, and the church has the responsibility to use God’s guidance in seeking to resolve conflicts. Handling problems God’s way will have an impact now and for eternity.]
[“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. – Matthew 18:19, 20. Jesus looked ahead to a new day when he would be present with his followers not in body, but through his Holy Spirit. In the body of believers (the church), the sincere agreement of two people is more powerful than the superficial agreement of thousands, because Christ’s Holy Spirit is with them. Two or more believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, will pray according to God’s will, not their own; thus their requests will be granted.]
[“Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. – Matthew 18:22. The rabbis taught that people should forgive those who offend them – but only three times. Peter, trying to be especially generous, asked Jesus if seven (the “perfect” number) was enough times to forgive someone. But Jesus answered, “Seventy-seven times,” meaning that we shouldn’t even keep track of how many times we forgive someone. We should always forgive those who are truly repentant, no matter how many times they ask.]
[“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” – Matthew 18:35. God has forgiven all our sins, we should not withhold forgiveness from others. Realising how completely Christ has forgiven us should produce a free and generous attitude of forgiveness towards others. When we don’t forgive others, we are setting ourselves outside and above Christ’s law of love.]
[Matthew 19:3-12 says that John was put in prison and killed, at least in part, for his public opinions on marriage and divorce, so the Pharisees hoped to trap Jesus too. They were trying to trick Jesus by having him choose sides in a theological controversy. Two schools of thought represented two opposing views of divorce. One group supported divorce for almost any reason. The other believed that divorce could be allowed only for marital unfaithfulness. This conflict hinged on how each group interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4. In his answer, however, Jesus focused on marriage rather than divorce. He pointed out that God intended marriage to be permanent and gave four reasons for the importance of marriage (19:4-6).]
The debt we owe Christ:
I am bound both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. – Romans 1:14
By “Greeks and non-Greeks”, Paul was referring to those of the Greek culture and those not of the Greek culture. “The wise and the foolish” refers to educated and uneducated people. What was Paul’s obligation? After his experience with Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), his whole life was consumed with spreading the Good News of salvation. His obligation was to Christ for being his Saviour, and he was obligated to the entire world. He met his obligation by proclaiming Christ’s salvation to all people – both Jews and Gentiles, across all cultural, social, racial, and economic lines. We also are obligated to Christ because he took on the punishment we deserve for our sin. Although we cannot repay Christ for all he has done, we can demonstrate our gratitude by showing his love for others.
[I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. – Romans 1:11, 12. Paul prayed for the chance to visit these Christians so that he could encourage them with his gift of faith and be encouraged by theirs. As God’s missionary, he could help them understand the meaning of the Good News about Jesus. As God’s devoted people, they could offer him fellowship and comfort. When Christians gather, everyone should give and receive. Our mutual faith gives us a common language and a common purpose for encouraging one another.]
[I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. – Romans 1:13. By the end of his third missionary journey, Paul had travelled through Syria, Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia. The churches in these areas were made up mostly of Gentile believers.]
[I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. – Romans 1:16. Paul was not ashamed because his message [economics] was the gospel of Christ, the Good News. It was a message of salvation, it had life-changing power, and it was for everyone. When you are tempted to be to be ashamed, remember what the Good News is all about. If you focus on God and on what God is doing in the world rather than on your own inadequacy, you won’t be ashamed or embarrassed.]
[…Why did the message [economics] go to the Jews first? They had been God’s special people for more than 2,000 years, ever since God chose Abraham and promised great blessings to his descendants (Genesis 12:1-3). God did not choose the Jews because they deserved to be chosen (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8; 9:4-6), but because he wanted to show his love and mercy to them, teach them, and prepare them to welcome his Messiah into the world. God chose them, not to play favourites, but so that they would tell the world about his plan of salvation.]
[…For centuries the Jews had been learning about God by obeying his laws, keeping his feasts, and living according to his moral principles. Often they would forget God’s promises and requirements; often they would have to be disciplined; but still they had a precious heritage of belief in the one true God. Of all the people on earth, the Jews should have been the most ready to welcome the Messiah and to understand his mission and message [economics] – and some of them were (see Luke 2:25, 36-38). Of course, the disciples and the great apostle Paul were faithful Jews who recognised in Jesus God’s most precious gift to the human race.]
…Jews and Christians alike stood against the idolatrous Roman religions, and Roman officials often confused the two groups. This was especially easy to do since the Christian church in Rome could have been originally composed of Jewish converts who had attended the Feasts of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1ff). By the time Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, however, many Gentiles had joined the church. The Jews and the Gentiles needed to know the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.]
Why is love for others called a debt?
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law. – Romans 13:8
Why is love for others called debt? We are permanently in debt to Christ for the lavish love he has poured out on us. The only way we can even begin to repay this debt is by loving others in turn. Because Christ’s love will always be infinitely greater than ours, we will always have the obligation to love our neighbours.
[Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. – Romans 13:1ff. Christians understand Romans 13 in different ways. All Christians agree that we are to live at peace with the state as long as the state allows us to live by our religious convictions. For hundreds of years, however, there have been at least three interpretations of how we are to do this. (1) Some Christians believe that the state is so corrupt that Christians should have as little to do with it as possible. Although they should be good citizens as long as they can do so without compromising their beliefs, they should not work for the government, vote in elections, or serve in the armed forces. (2) Others believe that God has given the state authority in certain areas and the church authority in others. Christians can be loyal to both and can work for either. They should not, however, confuse the two. In this view, church and state are concerned with two totally different spheres – the spiritual and the physical – and thus complement each other but do not work together. (3) Still others believe that Christians have a responsibility to make the state better. They can do this politically, by electing Christian or other high-principled leaders. They can also do this morally, but serving as an influence for good in society. In this view, church and state ideally work together for the good of all. None of these views advocate rebelling against or refusing to obey the government’s laws or regulations unless those laws clearly require you to violate the moral standards revealed by God. Wherever we find ourselves, we must be responsible citizens, as well as responsible Christians.]
[For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. – Romans 13:3, 4. When civil rulers are unjust, upright people are afraid. In these verses, Paul is talking about officials who are doing their duty. When these officials are just, people who are doing right have nothing to fear.]
[The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” – Romans 13:9. Somehow many of us have got the idea that self-love is wrong. But if this were the case, it would be pointless to love our neighbours as ourselves. But Paul explains what he means by self-love. Even if you have low self-esteem, you probably don’t willingly let yourself go hungry. You clothe yourself reasonably well. You make sure there’s a roof over your head if you can. You try not to let yourself be cheated or injured. And you get angry if someone tries to ruin your marriage. This is the kind of love we need to have for our neighbours. Do we see that others are fed, clothed, and housed as well as they can be? Are we concerned about issues of social justice? Loving others as ourselves means to be actively working to see that their needs are met. Interestingly, people who focus on others rather than on themselves rarely suffer from low self-esteem.]
©Dodgsons (British family), 1973.