I’ve never thought of evangelism as a debt before, at least until I studied Romans 1:14-15:
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:14-15)
Paul says that he’s under obligation to pretty much everyone. The word he uses implies debt. Interesting. How does Paul owe a debt that brings him under obligation to others?
John Stott helped me understand. He says that there are two ways to be in debt. One is to borrow money. If I borrow $10,000 from you, then I owe you that money. But there’s another way to be in debt: it’s for a friend to give me money for you. If that friend gives me $10,000 for you, then I am in debt until I give you that money.
It is in this second sense that Paul is in debt. He has not borrowed anything from the Romans which he must repay. But Jesus Christ has entrusted him with the gospel for them…
Similarly, we are debtors to the world, even though we are not apostles. If the gospel has come to us (which it has), we have no liberty to keep it to ourselves. Nobody may claim a monopoly of the gospel. Good news is for sharing. We are under obligation to make it known to others…
It is universally regarded as a dishonorable thing to leave a debt unpaid. We should be as eager to discharge our debt as Paul was to discharge his. (The Message of Romans)
I walked down the street the other day, and as I passed people, I thought, “I owe you.” I am in debt to every person I meet, and so are you. It’s a debt that we owe vertically, but the payment is made horizontally as we share the gospel with others.
There are many motives for evangelism, but I’d never noticed this one before. It’s a debt that Paul was ready to pay, and I want to be too.