Questions From Readers
When Jesus instructed his followers “to lend without interest, not hoping for anything back,” did he mean that they should not ask back even the principal?
Jesus’ words recorded at Luke 6:35 are best understood against the background of the Mosaic Law. God there commanded Israelites to make interest-free loans to fellow Israelites who had become financially destitute and were in need of help. (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37; Matthew 5:42) These loans were not for a commercial purpose, a business undertaking. Rather, such interest-free loans were to relieve poverty or misfortune. After all, it would be most unloving to profit from a neighbor’s economic reverses. Still, the one making a loan was entitled to get back the principal, a pledge (security on the loan) sometimes being taken.
While upholding the Law, Jesus gave it an even broader application, saying that the one extending aid should not hope “for anything back.” Like the Israelites, Christians sometimes experience economic reverses or other circumstances that may leave them in poverty, even destitute. If a Christian brother in such a dire situation seeks financial aid, would it not be kind to render assistance? Indeed, genuine love would move a fellow Christian to want to help a brother who through no fault of his own gets into serious financial difficulty. (Proverbs 3:27) It may be possible to make a gift to such a needy brother, even though the amount may be less than one might provide as a loan.
In the first century C.E., the apostle Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to carry donations from Christians in Asia Minor to their brothers in Judea because of a famine. (Acts 11:28-30) Likewise today, when disaster strikes, Christians often send gifts to their needy brothers. In doing so, they also give a fine witness to others. (Matthew 5:16) Of course, the attitude and situation of the one seeking assistance comes into the picture. Why is he in need? Paul’s words are noteworthy: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.”
If a brother requesting a loan is not in dire need but wants only temporary assistance to get back on his feet after some financial reverse, it might seem fitting to grant him an interest-free loan. Under such circumstances, making a loan with a view to full repayment would not be going contrary to Jesus’ words found at Luke 6:35. An agreement should be set out in writing, and the recipient of the loan should make every effort to repay it according to the terms agreed upon. Indeed, Christian love should impel the borrower to repay the loan just as it moved the giver to make it.
The one considering making a loan (or giving a gift) would also need to look at his own family situation. For instance, would he compromise his ability to care for the needs of his family members, a Scriptural priority? (2 Corinthians 8:12; 1 Timothy 5:8) Still, Christians look for opportunities to show love for one another, expressing that love in practical ways that are in harmony with Bible principles.