by Randy Alcorn
In the Old Testament, stipulations governed borrowing and lending. While collateral could be held, it was forbidden to hold an essential security, such as a garment needed for warmth on cold nights (Exod. 22:26-27; Deut. 24:10-17).
Charging interest is the means by which a lender profits from a borrower. Charging interest was common practice in Babylon, Rome, and many ancient cultures. In Israel, interest could be charged to foreigners, but not as a means of exploitation (Deut. 23:19-20). Loans to brothers, fellow Jews, were always to be interest free (Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 23:20).
Whether interest is charged or not, there should be a spirit of graciousness in lending (Deut. 15:8, 10). No one should take advantage of a person's misfortune. We must loan primarily to help him, not to help ourselves. We're not even to take our brother to court to recoup our losses, since it's better to experience loss than to bring conflict with a brother before unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:1-7).
Israel had a largely noninflationary economy. A lender's money was worth the same to him when it was returned as when he loaned it. Perhaps in an inflationary economy interest might be charged to match the inflation rate. But even if this isn't done, the gracious heart won't quibble about minor losses when his purpose in lending is to extend grace, not demand repayment.
Throughout church history, Christian teachers have taken a strong position against exacting usury on a loan in order to make personal profit. Whereas usury is thought of today as charging excess interest, the word actually meant charging any interest. Ambrose said, "If anyone commits usury, he commits robbery and no longer has life." Calvin declared that the professional money lender should be banned from the church. Luther commented, "After the devil there is no greater human enemy on earth than a miser and usurer, for he desires to be above everyone." 1
Still, Jesus spoke without condemnation of gaining interest by deposit to a moneylender (Luke 19:23). While this was a reference in a parable and doesn't necessarily imply approval, it seems unlikely he'd use as a positive illustration what he believed was wrong.
It appears charging interest isn't wrong per se. It might be appropriate for lending institutions, but not for individuals if they're loaning to fellow believers to help meet their needs. If interest is charged, perhaps it should no more than the current inflation rate.
There's a time to lend, a time to give, and a time to do neither. If the need isn't legitimate, I shouldn't give or lend. If the need's legitimate, not the result of an unwise choice in which there's a lesson to be learned, I might give. If, on the other hand, the need is real but a gift would contribute to someone's irresponsibility or loss of dignity, lending may be best.
I must be careful not to encourage my brother's indebtedness unless it's absolutely necessary. The last thing the person in debt needs is to incur still another debt. When the needs are legitimate, a Christian policy ought to be to give freely . When the situation merits it, I may make a loan, but only in the same helpful spirit as the gift.
1. Christian History Magazine (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1987), 7(2):18.
by Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, 2229 E. Burnside #23, Gresham, OR 97030, 503-663-6481, www.epm.org
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