A Godly View of Debts
THE God of justice, Jehovah, does not look with favor upon persons who do not pay their debts. The inspired psalmist declared: “The wicked one is borrowing and does not pay back.” (Ps. 37:21) Setting forth the Christian position, the apostle Paul urged: “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another.”—Rom. 13:8.
The person who desires God’s approval must, therefore, be conscientious about paying back borrowed money and making prompt payment for goods and services received. To this end, he should exercise care in taking on greater financial burdens than he already has. Otherwise he might come into a situation where he cannot meet his obligations. Furthermore, the payment of debts should not be delayed. It would be most unreasonable and thankless for a person to postpone payment and to use a sizable part of his earnings for lavish entertainment, luxuries or expensive vacations.
Some people may reason that the responsibility is not so great when one is in debt to a relative or a friend. But is not such a lack of conscientiousness, a taking of selfish advantage on the basis of family relationship or friendship?
Really, the person who is negligent about paying others what he owes is failing to show love. He is depriving them of the opportunity to use the money to which they are entitled. This may even work to their injury. Consider, for example, the situation of self-employed persons—doctors, lawyers, electricians, carpenters and the like. In doing their work, they incur expenses. Payments for their services must cover these expenses, as well as be large enough for them to make a living. Now, if many people fail to pay them, these professional men may be unable to meet their bills, and things may come to the point where they have to give up their business. Obviously persons who deprive others of their livelihood are not showing love.
This is a very serious matter. The apostle John made this clear when he wrote to Christians: “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer, and you know that no manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him. By this we have come to know love, because that one surrendered his soul for us; and we are under obligation to surrender our souls for our brothers. But 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?”—1 John 3:15-17.
If that needy brother could not get help from any other source, he would die if deprived of necessities for too long a period. Hence, the one claiming to be a Christian who refuses to come to his aid would be guilty of a form of criminal negligence. Similarly, if Christians were to take advantage of a fellow believer by unduly postponing payments of their debts, they could become guilty of forcing him out of business. This could create serious financial problems for him and could reduce him to a needy state. Should that happen, could we not say that those who refused to pay their debts did a very hateful thing toward their brother?
Conscientious Christians do not try to gain advantages for themselves on the basis of spiritual relationships. They recognize that this would be ‘greed for dishonest gain.’ (1 Tim. 3:8) From the Scriptures we learn that such greediness can jeopardize one’s standing with Jehovah God. This is well illustrated in the case of Elisha’s attendant Gehazi. Through Elisha, the Syrian army chief Naaman had been healed of loathsome leprosy. In appreciation for the cure, Naaman wanted to present a gift to the prophet. But Elisha refused to accept it, as he did not want to profit from his God-given prophetic office and the powers associated therewith. Gehazi, however, greedily coveted what Elisha had refused and obtained a gift from Naaman under false pretenses. As a result, in expression of Jehovah’s judgment, Gehazi was stricken with leprosy.—2 Ki. 5:15, 20-23, 27.
Accordingly, if greediness is responsible for a person’s failure to pay off his debts, he can bring adverse judgment upon himself. The Bible warns us that ‘greedy persons will not inherit God’s kingdom.’ (1 Cor. 6:10) Yes, such greediness could mean losing out on the gift of everlasting life. What a high price to pay!
As Christians, then, we want to be honest in our dealings with everyone. We should be guided by the following principles: “All things . . . that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matt. 7:12) “As long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Gal. 6:10) So, if we desire others to be conscientious in caring for their debts, should we not be setting the right example ourselves? Especially should we be concerned about doing good toward our Christian brothers, not imposing on their kindness when it comes to paying what we owe them.
It would be wrong for Christians to feel that, in business matters, fellow believers are obligated to give them special rates and favors. But if any special consideration is shown it should be regarded with appreciation. Christians should want their brothers to get whatever they are entitled to receive. The apostle Paul’s counsel to Christian slaves sets forth a fine guideline: “Let those having believing owners not look down on them, because they are brothers. On the contrary, let them the more readily be slaves, because those receiving the benefit of their good service are believers and beloved.” (1 Tim. 6:2) A Christian’s conscientiousness in paying his debts to fellow believers would certainly be in harmony with this admonition.
May our handling of debts reveal that we are conducting our affairs in harmony with Bible principles. We should never lose sight of the fact that a deliberate failure to pay what we owe others is wicked. The Most High will never look with approval upon those who, because of greediness or selfishness, do not care for their obligations. Only by making sure that ‘we are not owing anybody a single thing, except love,’ can we expect Jehovah’s blessing.