Debt is a term that is not unfamiliar to us. Our nation has a staggering debt that we will likely never pay off. The accessibility of credit cards coupled with most people’s inability to postpone gratification has resulted in American households drowning in a tumultuous sea of debt. Delinquent debt has spawned collection agencies that badger debtors at all hours of the day and night with “pay your debt or else” threats. Debt in America is indeed a problem.
As a Christ-follower, I am a debtor. Like the Apostle Paul, I feel the weight of my obligation to all peoples. “I am debtor,” Paul wrote in Romans 1:14, “both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.” A debt is an obligation. So, to whom was Paul obligated? Paul was certainly obligated to Christ for his salvation. But, he was also obligated to all who do not know Christ.
The terms Greeks and Barbarians refer the Gentiles, among whom Paul hoped to have a harvest. However, Paul also desired to reach the wise, those who were lost because of their worldly wisdom, and the unwise or those considered unworthy to receive the gospel. All of these terms define the broad scope of Paul’s personal mission field.
Paul understood that Christ had already “broken down the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14) between Jews and Gentiles. And he believed that God had called him to carry the message of reconciliation through Christ to all peoples. He owed it to them. Those who know Christ are indeed in debt or obligated to take the gospel to those who do not know Christ. In other words, those who know Christ owe Christ to all people.
John R. Mott, a leader of the Student Volunteer Movement at the turn of the twentieth century, understood what it meant to be a debtor. In a speech that he gave in April 1901, Mott challenged his audience to come to grips with the fact that not only do all people need Christ, but that we owe Christ to all people. “To have a knowledge of Christ,” Mott said, “is to incur a tremendous responsibility to those that have it not.”
Unless we understand that the gospel concerns all people, we will likely never feel the weight of our obligation to the nations. Mott reminded his audience, “You and I have received this great heritage, not to appropriate it to our exclusive use, but to pass it on to others. … What a colossal crime against two-thirds of the human race to withhold this surpassing knowledge!” Withholding the gospel from others is indeed a colossal crime, one with eternal ramifications.
When considering our debt to all peoples, we must think and act strategically. Today, more than 6,600 people groups are still waiting to hear the good news. We have the resources and the capability to take the gospel to all peoples. In Mott’s words, “God forbid that we should lack vision in these days to take advantage of the tide that is rising to sweep multitudes into the all-embracing kingdom of Jesus Christ.” May we be dominated by the conviction that we must stop at nothing until we have paid our debt.