A Debt You Can Leave Unpaid

I’m not sure how you feel about debt but I grew up with the notion that debt was kind of a bad thing. There are all kinds of reasons why debt can be bad. It encourages living beyond your means. It can add stress to relationships. You’re paying way more than an item is worth if you are borrowing to own it. Finally, you become enslaved to your debt.

Generally, if you can help it, you really don’t want to go into debt. And, if you do have a debt, you should try to pay your debt off sooner than later. It’s amazing the freedom you feel when you are out from that burden.

There is one exception for sure. The Apostle Paul tells us that there is a time when we shouldn’t pay off a debt. Listen to what he says and then I’ll explain.

“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess. 5:15).

To “pay back” implies that you have received something from someone and are therefore in their debt. You owe them. You are obligated to pay them back. In the context of “wrong for wrong” this means that if someone hurts you, you get to hurt them back.

The fact is, you can’t watch a hockey game without seeing this played out in the action. Somebody gets an elbow and suddenly the guilty person’s number becomes a target. When they catch him they’ll repay the debt of an elbow and perhaps a slash with their stick for good measure.

The Apostle Paul says that this is the kind of debts we must never repay although our human nature wants to repay the debts of injury, hurt, and suffering. Again, Jesus taught the very same thing when he preached on the Mountain.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye in exchange for an eye, and a tooth in exchange for a tooth.’ But I am saying to you, you shall not rise up against an evil person, but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other ... love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you ... (Matt. 5:38-39, 44).”

Back to what Paul said. Don’t repay wrong for wrong. Oh how we want to pay them back but we believe we’re better than that. So we keep our distance and hope we don’t come into contact with that certain person who hurt us. We think we’re doing the right thing but Paul says we need to go much further than simple avoidance.

The word translated as strive (pursue and seek in other translations) means to “go hard after”. For example, what would you do if someone grabbed your child and began to run away? You would do everything within your power to catch up and rescue your child. That’s exactly the sense of the word. Paul says it’s not enough to avoid a person who’s hurt you. You need to do everything within your power to seek their good (along with yours). Now that’s counter cultural!

May God give you the strength to NOT pay back those kind of debts (and to seek what’s good). Perhaps peace will be the result.