“Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” – Romans 13:7
Back in the early 1980’s a friend with whom I worked at the time had, along with some business partners, made substantial investments in commercial real estate, and in order to do so had borrowed heavily from the banks. The properties they owned had appreciated nicely, almost to a point where they would be able to cash out and become wealthy men. But then the the economy stalled, real estate values plummeted, and their holdings suddenly became worth much less than the debt they owed. So the partners, being under water and unable to repay the loans, decided to just hand over the keys to the lenders, defaulting on their loans, walking away from their commitment.
Such was not the case, though, with my friend who chose a different path from that of his partners. Instead he felt obligated to honor the agreement he had made with the banks. He had, after all, signed what is commonly known as a “promissory note”, a promise to abide by the terms of the loan agreement. And for years afterward I watched as he labored tirelessly, while living frugally, to make good on his promise.
Lending institutions determine the creditworthiness of a borrower primarily on the value of the collateral and the financial ability to service the debt. But there is another important dimension to creditworthiness I learned from an old mentor, one much harder to measure – that is the willingness and determination of the borrower to repay. More than financial resources, it is about integrity, doing the right thing. And in the case of my friend, it was ultimately a matter of his integrity that proved his creditworthiness.
“Give everyone what you owe him,” said the Apostle Paul, and my friend did just that, every penny. But not all debts are repayable, at least not in dollars. How do we repay, for example, our parents for the gift of life, our teachers and mentors for their knowledge and wisdom, our loved ones for their companionship, or God for our many blessings? There is only one way to repay debts of gratitude, and that is through thankfulness, and by blessing the lives of others when we can. Otherwise, we can never be creditworthy.