Moneylending and Christian Love
SOME time ago, a farmer’s daughter was seriously ill. She desperately needed treatment, but the farmer was poor and could not afford to take her to a doctor. In the town where they lived—as in most towns in that country—there was a moneylender who lent money on a six-to-five basis. You borrow five dollars and the next month pay back six. This moneylender readily made the necessary cash available to the farmer, but, of course, the next month the farmer had to start paying the interest.
How would you view this arrangement? Would it be proper for a Christian to lend money on interest under such circumstances?
The apostle John told his fellow Christians that they should not ‘shut the door of their tender compassions’ on their needy brothers. (1 John 3:17) And the law that God gave to the Israelites specifically said: “You must not harden your heart or be closefisted toward your poor brother. For you should generously open your hand to him and by all means lend him on pledge as much as he needs, which he is in want of.”—Deuteronomy 15:7, 8.
Hence, the moneylender did well in making the money available for the sick girl’s treatment. At least she received the medication she needed. But there was another feature of the law given to Israel. It said: “If you should lend money to my people, to the afflicted alongside you, you must not become like a usurer to him. You must not lay interest upon him.” (Exodus 22:25) Why could the Jews not lend on interest to one another?
Remember that originally most Jews were farmers, not businessmen. If a farmer working his ancestral lot asked for a loan, it was most likely because he had come into need. The law took for granted that the one borrowing would be “afflicted.” Perhaps he had had an accident, his crops had failed, or for some reason he needed money to get him through to the next harvest. Demanding interest under such circumstances would be making profit from a brother’s adversity. It would not show love, and the Israelites were commanded: “You must love your fellow as yourself.”—Leviticus 19:18.
While Christians today are not under that ancient law, they are still obliged to love one another. Jesus said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) Hence, a Christian, too, should not want to profit from the misfortunes of his brother by demanding interest when his brother comes into need and asks for a loan.
The fact is, in times of hardship Christians help one another with more than loans. They give gifts. In the first century Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to carry donations from the Christians in Asia Minor to their brothers in Judea who were suffering because of a famine. (Acts 11:29, 30) Similarly, today, whenever disaster strikes, Christians send gifts to assist their brothers.
In this same spirit, Jesus urged: “Do not turn away from one that wants to borrow from you without interest.” (Matthew 5:42) Thus a Christian views the temporary difficulties of his brother as an opportunity to show love. He ought to help as much as he is able to, even to the extent of giving gifts or interest-free loans. Doubtless, if the moneylender mentioned earlier had been applying Christian principles, he would have viewed it this way too.
In this, the borrower is not without obligation. Paul admonished Christians: “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another.” (Romans 13:8) Hence, a borrower should be conscious of his obligation to pay his debt as soon as possible. He should not reason that, because the one who lent him the money is richer than he is, there is no need to repay. In the same way he should not expect a fellow Christian, such as a doctor or a lawyer, to do him some personal service without reimbursement.
Jesus said: “Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No.” (Matthew 5:37) In other words, a Christian ought to keep his word. If he borrows money and promises to repay, or otherwise incurs a debt, then he should do all he can to repay that debt. To help him in this, and to be sure that there is no misunderstanding on either side, it is wise to have a written record, showing the amount, how it is to be repaid, and so forth.
Lending on Interest
Is it always unloving to ask for interest? Not necessarily. It is noteworthy that, while Jews were not to ask interest from fellow Israelites, it was different with foreigners. “You may make a foreigner pay interest,” said the law. (Deuteronomy 23:20) Why the difference? Because a foreigner in Israel would likely be a businessman, and the loan would probably be for business purposes. Hence, it was only reasonable that the one lending money should share in any profits to be made, and he could do this by asking interest.
Jesus had no objection to the principle of lending money for interest. He indicated this in one of his parables. He told of a man of noble birth who went away for a while and left money with his slaves. When he returned he called for an accounting, and he found that most of the slaves had invested the money and made a profit. These were commended. One slave, however, had not invested the money; hence he had no profit to show. He had not even put it in a bank—in effect lending it to a bank for business use—and collected interest. This slave was reprimanded by his master.—Luke 19:11-24.
What of today? Two Christian women had a business arrangement. One would lend to the other the equivalent of $20 (US) each day. The borrower would then buy food and sell it in the market. At the end of the day she would have about $25, of which she would give $21 back to the lender, and keep $4 for herself. In that country $4 is not an unusual wage for a day’s work.
In another part of the world, a Christian man was running a family business. Because of advancing technology, he knew that the business would shortly be obsolete. But there was an opportunity to branch out into another field. The only problem was, he needed more money. So he borrowed from a fellow Christian, and promised to pay a certain amount of interest on the loan each month.
Did either of these arrangements contradict the spirit of God’s law to the Israelites that they should not ask interest from one another? Not at all! When a person is not in urgent need, but wishes to obtain a loan—perhaps for business reasons—there is no reason for the lender not to ask for interest. How much interest? This would depend, among other things, on the kind of loan being made, what each of the parties agrees to, and the law of the land. In the first arrangement just mentioned, 5 percent interest a day might seem quite high. Yet the borrower was actually making 25 percent profit and was happy to share some of this with the lender.
Of course, if problems arise later, it does not seem reasonable that the debtor should complain that the interest rate is too high, if he freely and voluntarily agreed to it originally. Here again, it is wise to have the terms of the loan in writing, to avoid misunderstanding afterward.
Opportunities to Show Love
When such transactions go smoothly, it can be beneficial to everyone. But this is an uncertain world, and things often go wrong. For example, what would happen if the lady mentioned before who borrowed $20 each day was robbed? Or suppose in the business arrangement between the two men the venture did not work out as hoped and the borrower could not afford to pay the promised interest?
The Bible gives no rules as to how such problems should be handled, but the obligation still applies: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) If both parties balance a genuine concern for each other’s interests with a spirit of practical wisdom, seeing the situation realistically and accepting reasonable recommendations, then matters can usually be resolved in a fine way.
Certainly, the apostle Paul did not recommend that Christians take their brothers to court for financial reasons. He said: “Really, then, it means altogether a defeat for you that you are having lawsuits with one another. Why do you not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded?”—1 Corinthians 6:7.
The Christian debtor, not being “greedy of dishonest gain,” should really want to repay his debt. (1 Timothy 3:8) The Bible tells us that “the wicked one is borrowing and does not pay back.” (Psalm 37:21) Even though unexpected difficulties may have arisen, he still does not want to be classed among the ‘wicked ones.’ He ought to want to be a person who is not “owing anybody a single thing,” except love. (Romans 13:8) Hence, he should act honorably and not seek legal loopholes to escape his obligations.
On the other hand, the lender needs to be realistic in his expectations. He realizes that making loans involves a certain amount of risk. Hence, he should not put unbearable pressure on the debtor. It may be that the money is just not there so he can be repaid. Many Christians in such circumstances have shown that they are ‘not lovers of money’ by extending the period for repayments, or accepting a sensible and reasonable settlement. (1 Timothy 3:3) Some have written the debt off entirely.
Mention of the problems that can arise in the borrowing and lending of money raises the further question: “Is it really necessary?” The Bible does not condemn the borrowing of money when it is necessary. But often it is not. Many times the “desire of the eyes” is stronger than the capacity of the pocketbook, and people borrow money to buy luxuries they really do not need. (1 John 2:16) Eventually the bill must be paid. So the Bible straightforwardly warns: “The borrower is servant to the man doing the lending.”—Proverbs 22:7.
However, when lending and borrowing has to take place between Christians, this often provides an opportunity to show Christian qualities. For example, an honest desire to fulfill obligations, a deep-seated concern for the welfare of others and a shunning of the love of money will help to ensure that the lending of money is done with Christian love. In this way the Biblical command will be obeyed: “Let all your affairs take place with love.”—1 Corinthians 16:14.