A Debtor to All
Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Romans 13:7NKJV
Question 126 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What is the general scope of the fifth commandment?” It gives the answer, “The general scope of the fifth commandment is, the performance of those duties which we mutually owe in our several relations, as inferiors, superiors, or equals.” Last time we saw how God in His commandments uses language best suited to stir up our hearts to obey Him. Today we consider the obligation of each human being toward his fellow man.
Obligation. No one likes to be obligated to anyone or anything. The instinctive desire of the natural man is to be free from all obligations. Should not a person desire to be free? Freedom. Now there is a concept we can all get excited about! I want to be free, not obligated. How can I most quickly loose myself from the bonds of any and all obligations, which by definition constrict me and prevent me from doing whatever I want to do at the moment? Now that is a question I would like answered! Unfortunately, for the natural man in each one of us, God has created mankind as an organic race. That is, each person is intrinsically part of a larger whole of which we cannot escape without losing our human-ness. Or to put it more simply: we are all obligated to one another. That is the way God made us. That is what it means to be human.
As we have noticed previously, the implications of God’s laws go well beyond the mere letter. Therefore, if I truly seek to honor my father and my mother from my heart, I will also honor those persons who take the place of my father and mother in society. I will honor the policeman on the corner. I will honor my teacher in the classroom. I will honor my coach at practice. And in those situations where I am the parent, the policeman, or the teacher, I will be careful to honor my children, the citizens, and my students with the honor which I owe them. For I know that though positions of age, responsibility, and authority will differ, we are all equal as human beings in dignity, worth, and duty before God. Accordingly, I will be careful in all my honoring to not get in the way of my neighbor’s honoring. In fact, I will do what I can to aid my neighbor in meeting his obligation before God to love his father and mother just as I do for my own. Loving God and loving my neighbor require this response from me, for to love is to be obligated. Thus, “Owe no one anything except to love one another,” (Rom. 13:8a).
Today’s Catechism question notes how this debt of love will be different depending upon the relationship between the people in question. Husbands and wives owe a certain kind of affection to one another as part of their marriage relationship (1 Cor. 7:3). It is sinful for a husband or wife to not pay this debt to each other. However, it would be just as sinful to pay this debt to someone not in such a relationship. Marital affection is part of the obligation of marriage, but outside of the marriage relationship, such affection is forbidden. So also, the kind of obligation the employee has to his boss is different from the obligation he has to his fellow employee, which in turn is different from the kind of obligation the boss has to all of the employees. Each one is to render what is due to the other as determined by the relationship. The relationship determines the debt of what we owe, but if there is a relationship there is always a debt.
To love is to be obligated; and the kind of love is determined by the kind of relationship that exists. As the Scripture at the head of this article states, we are only to pay taxes to the person whose place it is to collect the tax, and so also custom, fear, honor, and whatever else is proper according to the nature of that particular relationship. Moreover, it is the relationship, not the organization, which determines the obligation. Thus, parents owe their children the same kind of love and respect that teachers owe their students. And siblings owe each other the same kind of love and respect that fellow students owe to one another. God is a God of order. Where God’s order is respected, there is peace and harmony, where it is not, there is strife and chaos. May God grant that we more and more render to one another the obligation which love imposes upon us, to His glory and our good!