2. Pay it forward

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

Slogans to awaken the Church

Sayings about world evangelism to stir hearts and move people to action

Debtors? 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 other people in terms of evangelizing them, think about Catherine Hyde's phrase "pay it forward." That's the title of her book that encouraged us to 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 good deeds moving forward. That certainly echoes Matthew 10:18, "Freely you have received; freely give."

The relevance of "pay it forward" to statements by Phineas Bresee and the Apostle Paul is clear. Isn't paying it forward exactly what God expects of us? We have received the Gospel. Biblically, doesn't that put us under the 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. [ more on Phieas F. Bresee

"If we believe what Bresee said is true, then every person is owed E-1 evangelism1." -- Thom Fish, pastor

Discussion questions

  1. In what ways can the concept of "paying it forward" be applied to evangelism?
  2. How should the idea of being a debtor to every person influence the way Christ-followers think about world evangelism?
  3. What are some ways can churches and individuals can overcome barriers to sharing the gospel with people who are culturally different from them?
  4. How can Christians balance the desire to share the gospel with the need to respectd other people's beliefs and cultures?
  5. What practical steps can churches and individuals take to ensure that everyone in the world hears the gospel message?

The concept of "paying it forward" in evangelism, as advocated by the Apostle Paul and echoed by P.F. Bresee, carries immense significance. Just as we feel obliged to repay good deeds to others, we should recognize that we are spiritually indebted to share the Gospel with every person on Earth. Bresee's call to evangelize every person emphasizes the global scale of this responsibility. Because of God's bountiful grace showered on us, let us "pay it forward" to the ends of the Earth.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

More mini-essays in the "Slogans that awakened the Church" series published in Engage magazine.

1Missiologist Ralph Winter gave the label "E-1 evangelism" to evangelism that reaches "our kind" of people who are non-Christians, i.e., people who are culturally or linguistically our counterparts. It is evangelism that takes place outside of the church body but within the same culture. E-1 evangelism is communicating the message of Christ to people of one's own culture and language. It is people communicating the gospel to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.


Phineas F. Bresee's profound declaration, "We are debtors to every man to give him the gospel in the same measure in which we have received it," encapsulates a fundamental principle of Christian responsibility and compassion. With these words, Bresee emphasizes the universal obligation to share the transformative message of the gospel with others, echoing the teachings of Jesus Christ to spread love, forgiveness, and salvation to all.

Bresee's statement underscores the belief that the grace and truth one receives through faith should not be hoarded, but rather generously shared with all worldwide, irrespective of race, ethnicity, creed, or circumstance. It serves as a poignant reminder of the inherent duty of believers to extend the same grace they have received to all people, thus fulfilling the mandate of the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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