Slogans that awakened the church: Pay it forward

Howard Culbertson
Sunday, January 11, 2015

"We are debtors to every man to give him the gospel in the same measure in which we have received it" -- P.F. Bresee, founder of the Church of the Nazarene

ImageDebtors?  How can we be indebted to someone from whom we’ve never received anything and with whom we have no contractual agreement whatsoever?  To be sure, Bresee wasn’t the first person to make a statement like that.  To the church in Rome, Paul wrote: “I owe something to all men, from cultured Greek to ignorant savage” (Romans 1:14, Phillips)

To understand how Bresee could feel indebted to people in terms of evangelizing them, think about Catherine Hyde’s phrase “pay it forward.”  That was the title of her book that promoted the idea we should repay good deeds not to the ones who did them but rather to other people.  By paying good deeds “forward” rather than “paying them back,” we keep the cycle of good deeds going.

The relevance of “pay it forward” to statements by Bresee and Paul is clear.  Paying it forward is exactly what God expects of us.  We have received the Gospel.  Biblically, that puts us under obligation to pass it on to everyone else in the world.

Bresee, a founding father of the Church of the Nazarene, did not say we were indebted to “our near neighbors.”  He did not say “people like us.”  He said, “every man” (or in wording more common today, “every person”). 

Because we embrace God’s great grace, we have become debtors on a global scale.  Let’s follow Bresee’s admonition.  Let’s “pay it forward” by doing whatever we can to see that everyone on earth clearly hears the Good News that God has come in Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to Himself.

-- Howard Culbertson was professor of missions and world evangelism at Southern Nazarene University, in Bethany, Oklahoma, U.S for 25 years. Culbertson, who formerly served as a missionary in Italy and Haiti, has published numerous articles, books, and chapters in books on missions.