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Pay Off Your Debt

by Tim O'Hearn

John Grisham has a new novel out, called The Rooster Bar. In it, three law students at a “second-tier for-profit” law school hatch a plot to eliminate their hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. (Drawn from the headlines: student debt, failing for-profit schools.) Some of us have accumulated student debt and were fortunate enough that much of it was in a type of government loan that would have up to fifty percent eliminated if we worked or taught in low-income areas or did military service. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Besides student debt, America is also plagued with credit card debt, housing debt, and probably several other kinds of debt. Of those, credit card debt is probably the easiest (and hardest) to pay off. Hardest because once it is paid off it is so easy to reaccumulate. Easy to pay off by the snowball method. You pick your highest-interest card payment and continually pay double (or triple if you can afford it) the minimum payment amount. Once that card is paid off, add the amount you have been paying to the monthly payment of the next-highest interest card. (You won’t notice a change because you are still paying the same monthly amount.) Continue doing that until all your credit cards (and auto payments) are paid off. Then you will have several hundred dollars a month free for other things, as long as you don’t use your credit cards again (except maybe for continuing online payments). If you do use the cards, pay them off within a month. (This is what many of the credit elimination companies ask you to pay to learn to do.)

There is, however, a debt that is so great that it cannot be paid off this way. In the ancient world there was little of what would compare to slavery today, except perhaps among prisoners of war. Most of what some versions of the Bible call “slaves” were actually servants who owed a debt to their master. If they could earn enough money, they could buy their own freedom (a rarity). If another master bought out their debt, they would become his servant and he could insist on servitude or could set them free.

And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. (Gal 4:6-8)

While Paul was talking specifically about the Jews in the first part of the passage, he seems to expand the meaning to everyone. God paid our debt of sin through the blood of Jesus. We are no longer slaves to sin, but have been freed and adopted. Not only did he buy our debt, he cancelled it. Not only did he cancel our debt, he made us heirs. That is more significant than even cancelling student debt in America today (which totals more than the incomes of every working person in Australia, according to one source.)

On the other hand, Paul recognized a debt that could not be cancelled, even by Jesus. It was a debt incurred because our other debt was marked paid. “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.” (Rom 1:14)

It is a strange thing that when our debt was paid off, we became debtors, but not to the one who paid the debt. Instead we became debtors to others that needed their debt paid. Or to others that had the debt paid.

But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. (Rom 15:25-27)

Note that Paul said the ones giving were debtors to the ones receiving. That is because there are some debts that cannot be paid even by distributing physical assets. No matter how many secret meetings in the Rooster Bar we may have, those debts will always remain.