People bring lots of things into their marriages. My wife brought a 1990 Honda Civic. It was blue, clean, and nicely appointed for a 1990 Honda. We liked the car, but the time came to sell it. It had started having problems, I had put about $600 in it, and it needed about $400 more of work. It had high miles, and it wasn’t worth that much, but I figured it was worth about $1300.
I was a seminary student at the time, and this was in the days before I knew about Craigslist, so I made little signs and posted them in the student center. I started getting a few calls, and soon found a buyer named Charles. It happens that the buyer was a fellow student, and he and his wife were from Nigeria. Money was tight for them, their children were unable to get visas from the Nigerian government, so they were in Nigeria while the parents pursued a seminary degree. Their life was difficult. My asking price was $1300, we settled on $1000, and I fully disclosed everything I knew to be wrong with the car. He then asked me if he could pay me in three monthly installments. I wasn’t excited about that, but I agreed. This guy was a Christian, he was a fellow student, and we had a lot of friends in common. If he didn’t pay me, I reasoned his own reputation would suffer worse than my pocket book, so I wasn’t too worried about it.
He paid me the first payment at the time of delivery. The second was a couple of weeks late, and then I got a call about the final payment. It seems that Charles took the car to the shop, and it did need about $400 worth of work. He explained to me that since he had to put money in the car, I should release him from the final $300 debt. Well, we had a very pleasant talk, but I held him to the deal. I had been totally honest with him, I took less money than I should’ve, I agreed to let him pay me in installments which he had been late in paying, and I didn’t feel I was obligated to release him from his debt. He asked me to give him a couple of more weeks, and I agreed.
But then Jesus got a hold of me. At the same time this was occurring, I was taking an Intro to Theology class, and we were studying Jesus’ ministry and the Sermon on the Mount. It was impossible for me to study Jesus, to read his words, to see his miracles, to experience his compassion and not be affected. You simply can not know Christ, and not be changed by him. If He hasn’t changed you it’s because the Jesus you follow isn’t the Jesus we find in scripture.
I decided that I was going to forgive the debt. Yes, I needed the $300. I had books to buy. I didn’t call Charles up and tell him I forgave the debt because there was a part of me that wanted to know he was not deliberately taking advantage of me. I wanted to know he had the character to fulfill his agreement with me. He did, and a couple of weeks later we received a check in the mail. I voided the check, and sent it back to him with a note attached expressing my hope that he and his wife could use the money well.
As I read the gospels, I was moved by the ethics I found in them. I was moved by the selfless but bold purpose by which Jesus lived. I was moved by God’s grace for me a sinner. I was moved by a vision of the world the way it is supposed to be. I didn’t forgive the debt because I’m a generous guy. I’m not. I’m not a particularly nice guy either. No, I forgave the debt because the presence of Jesus changes people. He changed me.
Have you been changed by him? Does Jesus speak to you from the pages of scripture? Is your life structured for your protection? Do you view power and influence as a way to protect what’s “yours”? Jesus taught us that all we have comes from God, and is His. He tells the rich young ruler that anything that binds us to this world also keeps him from following Christ. Will you give up what binds you to this world or have you found a way to ignore or excuse the words of Jesus? Jesus isn’t safe. Are you listening?