Therefore, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.…
At the time this Epistle was written, and among the people to whom it was addressed, the creditor exercised over the debtor a power which the humanity of modern times has abolished. The unfortunate man who was insolvent was at the mercy of his creditor, and might be treated as he chose. It has long been a question whether, according to the Roman law, the creditors had not the right of cutting the man's body in pieces in proportion to the amount of their claims; and there can be no doubt that the debtor's person as well as his property, his family as well as himself, were liable to be apprehended and disposed of; just as we read in the parable, where the king is found ordering that the servant who owed him ten thousand talents should be sold, with his family and all that he had, that payment might be made. In this sense, therefore, the debtor of the flesh would have been a man over whom the flesh had established an absolute power; whose mind as well as body were devoted to its service, and bound to do its will — who, if he laboured, was to labour that he might make "provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof"; who, if he rested, was to rest that he might indulge it in all its inclinations more freely; who, if he thought, was to be thinking about things to be had in the body, or, if he spoke, was to be speaking of them, and was to show a distaste for thought and conversation of a higher, purer character. There are many who are debtors to the flesh; who acknowledge the obligations, and show no inclination to be released from it. Listen to the voice of the world. Hear how the young are told that they ought to enjoy themselves while they are able, and that no one can condemn them if they do so. Hear how those who are more advanced are told that in dress, furniture, table, amusements, they ought to do what ethers do, and that they ought not to give offence by adopting a more Christian course of life than that which their neighbours lead. And when this language of the world comes to be translated into the words of the text, is it not equivalent with saying, "We are debtors to the flesh, to make provision for its indulgence; we are debtors to the flesh for everything we enjoy or desire; and therefore we are bound to do all we can, in order to fulfil its purposes and gratify its wishes"? "Therefore," as the apostle continues, "if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die." If you have persuaded yourselves that you must owe to the flesh the happiness you wish for, and if, acting under this impression, that you are "debtors to the flesh," you determine to "live after the flesh," death will soon come and put an end to all these dreams you have been cherishing; but long before death comes to chill your mirth, long before those rosebuds are withered with which you have been crowning yourselves, a deadness of heart shall come over you, a deadness to all spiritual things, which shall be the pledge and token of eternal death.
(H. Raikes, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.