Questions From Readers
● The law of Moses forbade the Israelites to charge interest on loans among themselves, and Jesus said to lend without interest and to hope for nothing back. Does this mean that Christian brothers today must not pay or receive interest from one another? Did Jesus mean not only to pay no interest but also not to repay even the principal?—J. G., United States.
The Mosaic law spoke of loans made to the poor, those who had become financially weak and in need of help. It made it an obligation to loan to such ones to relieve their destitute state, but forbade the charging of interest on these loans to the poor. The ones making the loans did get back the principal, pledges sometimes being taken to indicate the indebtedness. At that time loans in Israel among Israelites, or involving non-Israelites residing in the land and a part of the Jewish community, were to relieve poverty or misfortune and it was thought wrong to profit from a neighbor’s reverses. The loans were not for commercial purposes. But the case was different with foreigners passing through with caravans or stationed there for the purpose of trading. They might borrow to enlarge their operating capital and increase their earning power, and it is only proper that reasonable payment should be made for the use of such money. The Israelites could lawfully charge interest in such cases.—Ex. 22:25, 26; Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 15:8; 23:19, 20; 24:6, NW.
At Luke 6:34, 35 (NW) Jesus said: “Also if you lend without interest to those from whom you hope to receive, of what credit is it to you? Even sinners lend without interest to sinners that they may get back as much. To the contrary, continue to love your enemies and to do good and to lend without interest, not hoping for anything back, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind toward the unthankful and wicked.” Here Jesus is going farther than the Mosaic law, as he did on other points when discussing the law. He said not just to avoid adultery as the law commanded, but not even to entertain it in your heart. He said not just to avoid murder as the law required, but not even to call your brother a contemptible name. So here he was saying to loan, not just without interest, but without even expecting the return of the principal. Sinners sometimes loaned without interest. Christians were to surpass that, not even expecting repayment of the principal.—Matt. 5:21, 22, 27, 28, NW.
Then their reward would be great and they would be true sons of God, because, like him, they would be helping the good and the wicked without return. If you do this your reward will be great, because Jehovah will reward you. Why would he specially reward you if you were paid back? That would be your return. But if you did not expect to be paid back, if you gave the money to help the poor, Jehovah would reward you in the resurrection of the righteous ones, as shown when Jesus told men not to make a feast for those able to make one in return, in reciprocal payment, but to do it for those too poor to make a return feast, and thereby “you will be happy, because they have nothing with which to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous ones.”—Luke 14:12-14, NW.
Jehovah will repay, for the poor belong to him, and to help them is the same as loaning to Jehovah and he will pay you back, not the poor ones you help. If you require that the loan be repaid, you have your payment and so will get none from God. But if you help the poor and expect nothing in return, Proverbs 19:17 (AS) applies: “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto Jehovah, and his good deed will he [Jehovah] pay him again.” Why is helping the poor like loaning to Jehovah? Because “he who oppresses the poor insults his Maker; but he who is kind to the needy honors him.” (Prov. 14:31, AT) What we do to the poor is counted done to Jehovah, just as what is done to Christ’s brothers is counted done to Christ. All this applies to assistance given the poor and destitute.
But it is different when it comes to loans for business purposes. Suppose a brother wants a loan to improve his business. He can get it from the bank and pay the bank interest, but what if he prefers to borrow from another brother and give the interest to the brother, seeing him profit rather than the bank? He can do that without violating any command, and the one making the loan will be violating no command because he takes interest on the money loaned. There is a vast difference between loaning to one who is destitute and loaning to one who is not. If the receiver is destitute the Christian, in keeping with Jesus’ words, should help for nothing, should give freely, not even expecting any return of the principal. Then Jehovah will see and give reward to the generous one, noting his fine display of brotherly love and consideration and willingness to share, and God will judge him worthy of life in the new world, thus rewarding him.
The one borrowing for business purposes is not destitute. He merely wants to borrow capital to improve his business, to increase his income. It would not be right for one brother to make an outright gift of money to make it possible for another brother, already having money, to make still more money. Yet if we apply Jesus’ words to business loans or all loans that is what would result. So Jesus’ words and the Mosaic law prohibitions on interest apply to loans to needy persons only. Hence if one brother loans to another for business purposes the one loaning may expect a return of the principal and also may charge interest. That interest is proper under certain circumstances is shown in Jesus’ illustration that involved business activities with money: “You ought to have deposited my silver monies with the bankers, and on my arrival I would be receiving what is mine with interest.” (Matt. 25:27, NW) This slave was disapproved because he did not use the money in his care in a businesslike way to increase it. It is only right that a brother loaning to another for business reasons receives interest, because the one borrowing is using the money to work for him and make more, and the one making this possible by the loan should rightfully share in the productiveness of that money. He so shares by charging interest.
So the point to determine is, Is the brother destitute that wants a loan? Then share freely, expecting no return. If he is not in dire need, but only wants temporary assistance to get back on his feet after some financial reverse, another brother might make him a loan but charge no interest, yet expect a repayment of the principal when the one needing a measure of help has recovered himself financially. But if the loan is for business reasons to increase income the one making the loan can certainly share in the increase his money makes possible by charging interest.