Good Debt

Le Repos

Le Repos, William Adolphe Bouguereau

Even the Gentiles

I became a Christian at 15. Before that, I hung out with kids in the city who were not strangers to abusing alcohol and other substances. We had an unspoken code of ethics among us that you share and share alike. If you were unwilling to receive “gifts” from others, that meant you probably didn’t want to share your “gifts” either. In other words, if you didn’t allow your friends to scratch your back, you were saying that you wouldn’t be scratching theirs when your time of plenty came.

This type of generosity is par for the course among unbelievers (Matt. 5:46-48). Christian love is of a completely different character. It’s not an arrangement of rights and duties, but a self-giving type of love that is non-manipulative. It doesn’t do good in order to get something. It treasures the other as an end in themselves. Christian love (or as Westley, in The Princess Bride called it, “True love”) is more noble because the dedication and affection is freely given, with no strings attached.

No Payback

This is basic Christianity 101. The real insight I see here, however, is that as love is given, so it must be received. Christian love receives the kindness of others and doesn’t try to pay it back. Love should inspire love, but it should never try to be repaid. It must be received with no strings attached, too.

We might say that when others love us with true love we become indebted to them in a way that can’t, and shouldn’t, ever be paid back. If we try to, then we have no reward; no reward of real communion. Instead, we have a settled obligation, a completed business transaction. When we’re loving with Christian love we are forever putting each other in each other’s debt, and that is good. That’s what builds ties of intimacy and affection. The biblical word for this is grace.

Grace

We call this Christian love because it’s the kind of love Christ has, which we are to imitate (Eph. 5:1-2). Grace is the word we use to describe the nature of God’s love; a self-giving, self-sacrificing, status renouncing love. Grace is love that has no strings and doesn’t want to be compensated. This is the kind of love God has for us and the kind we should have for one another.

Love transforms its object

Received properly, Christian love will transform us. It’s by grace that we are saved (Eph. 2:8-9), and it’s by grace we are endeared to each other. Certainly, love will inspire us to reciprocate acts of love back, but we will do it without keeping a score. We do it because we count as precious the object of our love. Love transforms its object. God’s love transforms His people. Our love for one another transforms His church.

“This is true love — you think this happens every day?” – Westley