Don’t Pay Back… Pay Forward.


Suppose I needed to contact people but I had no load on my phone. It’s a problem because it is an emergency. Perhaps someone would come by and share a load with me, or give me money to get a phone card. I would be grateful but now I am in debt. So I offer to find some way to pay him back. But he says, “No… just pay it forward.” What that means is this. I don’t want you to give me anything back. Rather, you pay me back when you help someone else who is in need.

Consider this verse from the Bible:

“And what you have heard from me (Paul) in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others.  -II Timothy 2:2

Consider the chain of

Those before Paul  (Jesus of course… but also the Twelve… and Moses and the Prophets)

Paul

Timothy and witnesses

Faithful men and women

Others

And this is the pattern of discipleship. This is the pattern of paying it forward. Train up the next generation… and not just train the next generation but those who would be faithful to train others.

The church is always one or two generations from extinction. If a generation does not pass on the faith to the next… it will cease to be. And THAT has happened. In North Africa (present day Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria) the church died. It ceased to be back in the 8th century. In the 10th century in China, the church ceased to be. In both of those cases, there was persecution going on. However, in many parts of the world at many times in history, the church has grown and thrived in the face of persecution.  While the church was dying in Libya, the church was thriving in Egypt… even though persecuted. While the church in China died under persecution in the 10th century… it thrived under persecution in the 20th century.What happened? I don’t know. Persecution doesn’t seem to be a full answer. Ultimately, some churches stopped PAYING FORWARD to the next generation.

Paying it forward violates the typical understanding of indebtedness, but the Bible seems to place greater focus on paying forward.

Some look to verses Paul’s collection of money for the Jerusalem church for inspiration in a “PAY BACK” mentality. Perhaps the idea that from Jerusalem came spiritual care to the Gentiles, and so payback to Jerusalem with earthly things repays that debt. I have certainly seen that interpretation applied here in the Philippines. I have seen self-described “apostles” (using a revisionist definition of that term/role) train up Filipino “disciples” and then require them to pay a tithe back to themselves. I have seen a local church in the Philippines that was started as a mission action from an American denomination. The home denomination in the US demanded money to be annually sent back from the Filipino church. When that church refused, the denomination sent over people to set up a competing church. While that is not wrong (albeit distasteful), they actively pressured members of the local church to switch to the church that would PAY BACK. There is something seriously wrong with that. The church that refused to pay back wasn’t selfish. In fact it was very active in outreach. They paid back by PAYING FORWARD. I can understand why a denomination would not find that acceptable, but it would be nice to part of a denomination that would recognize that paying forward is BETTER than paying back.

To be honest, PAY BACK is not wrong. It is normal, fair, and human. But I believe it is not the normal way of Christ. I see nothing to think that the collection by Paul for the needy in Jerusalem was a “normal” or annual, or expected thing. Care is to be given for those in need, be they predecessors, friends, or strangers.

However, as it pertains to God’s mission, PAY BACK is clearly not the idea. It is PAY FORWARD. Paul recognized that he had the right to be supported by the churches he worked with, but chose not to do it. He did not want to give a wrong impression (in it for the money). He did not want churches to feel indebted to PAY BACK.

Churches here in the Philippines have a debt to mission work before. Our church here in Baguio City is West Baguio Baptist Church. It was founded as an offshoot of University Baptist Church with the assistance of the Gammages. The Gammages, an American missionary family, were able to serve in Baguio because of the foundation laid by Winston Crawley and others with him. The Crawleys were able to serve because of the financial structure inspired by Lottie Moon. Lottie Moon was able to serve because of the organizational structure set up through the vision of Luther Rice. Luther Rice was inspired by the writings and actions of William Carey. And one can go back century upon century back to Jesus.

Today, our church is supporting a missionary working in Southeast Asia, and is actively involved in a churchplanting effort. Our church is not looking to PAY BACK. Thankfully that is not being requested from those who have come before. Our church is looking to PAY FORWARD. I believe that is God’s better plan.

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