Questions From Readers
● What is the Christian view of the payment of bills?—L. D., U.S.A.
While there are countless situations covered by this question, the basic answer is quite simple. The counsel at Romans 13:8 definitely applies to this matter: “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another.” Surely it would be unloving for a person to avoid paying money owed to another, whether it was owed because of having borrowed it or because of having received goods or services. In this vein the inspired psalmist wrote: “The wicked one is borrowing and does not pay back, but the righteous one is showing favor and is making gifts.”—Ps. 37:21.
Also bearing on the matter is the fact that Christians are honest! The apostle Paul nicely expressed the point, saying: “We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” (Heb. 13:18) When a person makes a purchase, he in effect says that he agrees to pay for the merchandise received. For a number of reasons it is usually wise to pay cash and not run up bills.a Yet there may be an instance wherein a Christian is billed for a purchase. In most places a person in that position is obligated to pay for what he has purchased or face legal action. But beyond any fear of such a consequence, the Christian is motivated by a personal desire to live up to the implied agreement he made when he purchased the merchandise. He accepts and follows Jesus’ counsel: “Let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No.”—Matt. 5:37.
It is quite common for worldly persons who care little about having God’s approval to be willfully negligent when it comes to paying bills. Many of these persons might be repelled by the thought of breaking into a store and stealing merchandise off the shelves. But they think little of taking the same merchandise out the front door and then deliberately refusing to pay for it. Is that much different from stealing?
Sometimes one receives a bill for some service rendered, such as from a repairman, doctor or hospital. The fact that one did not receive merchandise or goods in no way changes the reality of his obligation. Representative of the legal view in many places, American Jurisprudence (Vol. 58, p. 512) states: “In the absence of circumstances indicating otherwise, it is inferred that a person who requests another to perform services for him thereby bargains to pay for the services rendered.” A wise course that can prevent difficulties from arising is to determine as nearly as possible ahead of time what the fee will be. This is true whether one is dealing with a professional man such as a dentist, lawyer or doctor, or with a tradesman such as a carpenter, painter or electrician. Jesus recommended such an attitude of forethought, saying: “Who of you that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense, to see if he has enough to complete it?”—Luke 14:28.
Jehovah’s witnesses are well known for their honesty in all aspects of life. And that is as it should be. They know that to have God’s approval they must be as honest in their financial affairs as in any other avenue of life. Thus they do not engage in “sharp” business practices that cheat customers or the government, excuse dishonest or unethical deals by hiding behind corporate laws or other legal technicalities, or willfully default on their bills.b All of this is consistent with the Bible’s counsel to be honest and to avoid lying, stealing, defrauding and greediness.—Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:28; 1 Cor. 6:8-10.
In the rare case when something unexpected, such as an accident, does occur and makes it impossible at the moment for a Christian to meet the payment of a bill, his honesty and fairness will guide him. For instance, out of consideration for his creditor he will contact that one and explain what happened. Likely the creditor will very much appreciate the Christian’s forthrightness and will agree to accept smaller payments or something of that sort instead of turning the case over to a collection agency and then receiving only a portion of what is collected. The Christian’s obvious honesty in being determined to pay the bill will stand in clear contrast to those persons who just ignore a bill they cannot or prefer not to pay.
So even in the matter of paying bills a Christian can uphold the fine reputation Jehovah’s witnesses have for being honest. Thus no reproach is brought on the congregation, and the way of the truth continues to be spoken of highly.—2 Pet. 2:2.
b For a discussion of bankruptcy, see The Watchtower of April 1, 1968, pages 223 and 224.