The Bible’s Viewpoint
Lending and Borrowing Between Friends
“THE WICKED ONE IS BORROWING AND DOES NOT PAY BACK, BUT THE RIGHTEOUS ONE IS SHOWING FAVOR AND IS MAKING GIFTS.”—PSALM 37:21.
“NEITHER a borrower, nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend.” So wrote the English playwright William Shakespeare, reiterating wisdom as old as the ages. Certainly, few elements of human relations are as potentially explosive as borrowing or lending money. Even with the best-laid plans and the most sincere intentions, things do not always turn out as expected.—Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12.
Circumstances may arise that make it difficult or impossible for the borrower to fulfill his obligations. Or the lender may suddenly find himself needing the money he lent. When such things happen, as Shakespeare pointed out, friendships and relationships can be in jeopardy.
Of course, an individual may have valid reasons for borrowing some money. Faced with a financial setback caused by a serious accident or the loss of a job, he may see it as his only recourse. The Bible encourages those who can to help ones in need when it is in their power to do so. (Proverbs 3:27) This may include lending money. How, though, should Christians who enter into such an arrangement view their obligations?
Principles to Consider
The Bible is not a financial guidebook. It does not discuss all the details that borrowing or lending may entail. Such issues as whether to charge interest or not and how much to charge are left up to the individuals involved.* What the Bible does provide, however, are clear, loving principles that should govern the attitudes and behavior of anyone borrowing or lending.
Consider principles that apply to the borrower. The apostle Paul exhorted Christians not to be “owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another.” (Romans 13:8) While Paul was stating a broad principle here, his advice can certainly be taken as a caution against incurring debt. Sometimes it is better to go without than to owe money to someone else. Why? Proverbs 22:7 explains that “the borrower is servant to the man doing the lending.” The borrower must realize that until the money is paid back, he is under obligation. In principle, his resources are not entirely his own. Paying his debt in harmony with the terms agreed upon must have a high priority in his life, or difficulties will likely arise.
For example, as time passes without due repayment, the lender may become irritated. Things the borrower does such as buying clothes, eating at restaurants, or going on vacation might be viewed with suspicion by the lender. Resentment could build up. The relationship between them and even between their families may become strained or worse. Such may be the sad consequences if the borrower does not abide by his word.—Matthew 5:37.
But what if the borrower is suddenly prevented from meeting his commitment by a circumstance beyond his control? Would this cancel the debt? Not in itself. The psalmist says that the righteous person “has sworn to what is bad for himself, and yet he does not alter.” (Psalm 15:4) In such a case, the loving and wise thing to do would be for the borrower to explain the situation to the lender immediately. Then they can agree on some alternate arrangements. This will ensure peace, and it will please Jehovah God.—Psalm 133:1; 2 Corinthians 13:11.
In truth, a person reveals a lot about himself by the way he handles his debts. A nonchalant, casual attitude toward repayment reveals a lack of concern for others. In effect, a person with that attitude shows selfishness—his desires and wishes come first. (Philippians 2:4) A Christian who deliberately and knowingly refuses to pay his debts endangers his standing before God, and his actions may indicate a greedy, wicked heart.—Psalm 37:21.
While the major obligation rests on the one borrowing, there are also principles that apply to the one doing the lending. The Bible indicates that if we have the ability to help needy ones, we should do so. (James 2:14-16) But that does not mean that an individual is obligated to lend money, even if the one requesting it is a spiritual brother. “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself,” says the Bible.—Proverbs 22:3.
Knowing and understanding the very real pitfalls involved in lending and borrowing, the discerning person will give careful consideration to any petitions for credit that he might receive. Is the request valid? Has the individual asking thought the matter through? Is the prospective borrower well organized and well spoken of? Is he willing to sign a document outlining the terms of the agreement? (Compare Jeremiah 32:8-14.) Is he really prepared to repay?
This is not to suggest that a Christian should refuse a needy individual who seems to be a potential credit risk. A Christian’s personal obligations toward others go far beyond good business practices. “Whoever has this world’s means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him?” asks the apostle John. Yes, Christians must show “love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.”—1 John 3:17, 18.
In some cases an individual may decide not to lend money to his brother in need. He may prefer to give him a gift or offer some other form of help. In a similar spirit, when difficulties arise in a borrowing arrangement, the lender may choose to act mercifully. He may wish to take into consideration the borrower’s changed circumstances and stretch payments over a longer period of time, reduce them, or even eliminate the debt entirely. These are personal decisions that each individual must make for himself.
Christians should keep in mind that God is observing all things and will hold us accountable for the way we conduct ourselves and use our resources. (Hebrews 4:13) The Bible’s advice to let all our “affairs take place with love” certainly applies to lending and borrowing between friends.—1 Corinthians 16:14.
For additional information on the matter of charging interest on loans, please see the October 15, 1991, issue of The Watchtower, pages 25-8.
[Picture on page 18]
“The Money Changer and His Wife” (1514), by Quentin Massys
Scala/Art Resource, NY