John Calvin summarizes beautifully the duties we owe each other in Christ:

Finally, let each one see to what extent he is in duty bound to others, and let him pay his debt faithfully.

For this reason let a people hold all its rulers in honor, patiently bearing their government, obeying their laws and commands, refusing nothing that can be borne without losing God’s favor [Rom. 13:1 ff.; 1 Peter 2:13ff.; Titus 3:1].

Again, let the rulers take care of their own common people, keep the public peace, protect the good, punish the evil. So let them manage all things as if they are about to render account of their services to God, the supreme Judge [cf. Deut. 17:19; 2 Chron. 19:6-7].

Let the ministers of churches faithfully attend to the ministry of the Word, not adulterating the teaching of salvation [cf. 2 Cor. 2:17], but delivering it pure and undefiled to God’s people. And let them instruct the people not only through teaching, but also through example of life. In short, let them exercise authority as good shepherds over their sheep [cf. 1 Tim., ch. 3; 2 Tim., chs. 2; 4; Titus 1:6ff.; 1 Peter, ch. 5].

Let  the people in their turn receive them as messengers and apostles of God, render to them that honor of which the highest Master has deemed them worthy, and give them those things necessary for their livelihood [cf. Matt. 10:10ff.; Rom. 10:15 and 15:15ff.; 1 Cor., ch. 9; Gal. 6:6; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17-18].

Let parents undertake to nourish, govern, and teach, their children committed to them by God, not provoking their minds with cruelty or turning them against their parents [Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21]; but cherishing and embracing their children with such gentleness and kindness as becomes their character as parents.

As we have already said, children owe obedience to their parents.

Let youth reverence old age, as the Lord has willed that age to be worthy of honor.

Also, let the aged guide the insufficiency of youth with their own wisdom and experience wherein they excel the younger, not railing harshly and loudly against them but tempering their severity with mildness and gentleness.

Let servants show themselves diligent and eager to obey their masters—not for the eye, but from the heart, as if they were serving God.

Also, let masters not conduct themselves peevishly and intractably toward their servants, oppressing them with undue rigor, or treating them abusively. Rather, let them recognize them as their brothers, their co-servants under the Lord of heaven, whom they ought to love mutually and treat humanely [cf. Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-25; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18-20; Col. 4:1; Philemon 16].

In this manner, I say, let each man consider what, in his rank and station, he owes to his neighbors, and pay what he owes. Moreover, our mind must always have regard for the Lawgiver, that we may know that this rule was established for our hearts as well as for our hands, in order that men may strive to protect and promote the well-being and interests of others. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.viii.46)

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4 thoughts on “What We Owe Each Other”

  1. Viktor Janke says:

    Thank you from Germany!

  2. Faithworks says:

    Wish I could grow a beard like John Calvin.

  3. Curt Day says:

    By being too concrete, I think we miss a lot of what we owe people because we will be focussed on details some of which either do not apply today or need to be revisited.

    By being too concrete, what we have neglected to say is that we owe people love and we owe that for two different reasons. We owe because it is part of God’s 2nd great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. But we also owe love to people because of the 1st great commandment since every person is made in the image of God, to not love others is to possibly breach the commandment not to love God.

    By focussing on love, we are more outer directed to the needs of others. By focussing too much on the concrete, we are more inner directed because we become more and more aware of whether we have paid people what we owe.

  4. anaquaduck says:

    Faith and State/Empire. Faith and deeds. God declares his freedom & wisdom that we should know him & his ways. Yet being young is not necessarily the way Calvin expects it to be, or old for that matter. We see it best in Jesus.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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