The Continuing Debt

Years ago, when my husband, Dave, and I were ministering in Rochester, New York, we had a snowbird in our church named Ed Pfaff. Ed lived in Florida most of the year but would come up to visit his old church friends for a month when the leaves were on the trees and the snow was just a memory. Ed was a kind soul and a serious Bible student. He gave Dave several of his personal sets of commentaries.

Folks in the church spoke of Ed in legendary tones. His dear wife, who had long gone to be with Jesus, had suffered the sorrowful decline of dementia. For Ed, that meant that his beloved, of more than half a century, gradually slipped away before his eyes. Ed would faithfully bring her to church week after week and sit in the back where she would not disturb others. And I can only imagine what it meant for Ed to be the sole caregiver for his dear one, whom he never stopped loving.

But later, I saw my own father do the same thing with my mom—loving care given to one who, after a while, wasn’t sure if he was her husband or her father. And then I saw Dave’s mom do the same thing with his dad, who slipped away over a period of 15 years to the point that he could no longer operate the television remote.

All three individuals did heroic, merciful deeds of daily love as hearty believers. I never heard any of them say that they did what they did as an act of faith, but it could not have been otherwise. And surely there must also have been the thought, My spouse gave me everything.  How can I not give everything in return?

The Apostle Paul articulated this radical power of steady, unceasing love in his letter to the Romans: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom.13:8). This is a debt that can never be paid off. There will never be a completion letter from the love mortgage company or a bunch of zeros on the love credit card statement. And because it is never ending, it is impossible for you and me to do.

But we have a good Father who not only sets the example for steadfast compassion, who not only issues us a command to follow that example, but who also grants us the grace to do it: “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NASB). His love fuels our love.

The significance of this provision stretches far beyond our earthly families. Love is the debt that makes the body of Christ authentic. It’s why we want to be there. Love is the glue of belonging. Love is what makes room for others. Love is the perpetual welcome for new ones in the Body. Love is why there is still room and why there will always be.

So, when the immensity and challenge of the debt of love seems overwhelming, let us draw by faith on the well of grace that can never run dry. No one said it would be easy. I cannot imagine that Ed Pfaff, my dad, or Dave’s mom found it easy to pay the debt of love every day and every night. But that sometimes heart-breaking challenge is where joy and meaning can be found like nowhere else on earth.