Saturday, February 6, 2010

In My Own Best Interest

Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. Deuteronomy 23:19

Oh to be an only child! Then we’d have no brothers to borrow from us - and if we're not married, we might want to look for a spouse who has a small family too!

It's not that easy to escape the command in this verse when we stop to consider how big our family really is. In Matthew 12, Jesus asks, "Who is my brother?" and then explains that anyone who does the will of the Father is His brother, mother or sister. So if I am Jesus' sister and you're his brother, that makes us brother and sister, right? Whoa! That’s one big family. A person could go broke lending to all of them without earning any interest. Better consider carefully who we lend to, right?

Well, there are some pretty clear instructions on that too: "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" Matthew 5:42. In a word: Anyone! Hold on, because it gets deeper. Jesus goes on to say that not only are we to loan to anyone who asks of us, but that if anyone takes what belongs to us, we're not to demand it back (Luke 6:30) and that we’re to lend without expecting to be repaid (Luke 6:35).

Do I have this straight? The Bible commands us to loan to our brothers without interest, loan to anyone who wants to borrow from us and, finally, we're not to expect repayment or demand it back. What's at stake here? If we take these verses literally, we could end up loaning every spare cent we have to our brothers and never earning a penny of interest on it or seeing anything come back to us.

I could just stop right here and let you contemplate that, couldn't I? I need to time to think it over as well. For the person who lives tightly within his or her means, these verses don't so much as prickle – in fact, they may be somewhat liberating: Cool! There’s a Biblical basis for me to borrow money and not pay it back! (We'll tackle that in a later post, but for the quick answer, see Romans 13:7-8.) However, before we determine we don't have anything to lend, we need to examine how we are defining "means." Does "means" include our savings and retirement? Perhaps we think that just because our money is tied up in an IRA, we don't have anything to loan. Is stuffing all our extra income into a sock a legitimate way to get out of having to loan money to those who need it? What's the motive behind that thinking? We may have convinced ourselves that it's prudence - we're planning for our future when we will have outlived our ability to work. Maybe. Examine yourself, however, to see if there might be some other motive that's not so prudent. Greed can make a person stuff their money in a sock drawer too. So can fear - it's a lack of faith and trust in God’s promises to provide for our needs.

Here, friends, is where our faith needs to grow. There is a Biblical basis for saving money for a long winter (Proverbs 13:11 and 10:4,5), but have you ever noticed that there aren't any references to that in the New Testament and that the ones in the Old Testament aren’t exactly hard core? The New Testament takes the principles of money management presented in the Old Testament to a higher imperative. The Old Testament says don't charge your brother interest on a loan and the New Testament ups the ante (if I can apply a poker term to scripture) by commanding that we give to anyone who asks without expecting repayment. (BTW, money management is just one of the very many teachings that the New Testament takes to a higher imperative –see the rest of the Sermon on the Mount for more.)

Greedy buggers that we are, however, we want to conveniently regress to Old Testament imperatives and claim our right to amass wealth for the heck of it - because we like it! Not only that, it makes us feel secure. If I have three months operating reserve in a checking account, I am assured of being at least three months away from the street - from being homeless should disaster strike. If I have half a million dollars saved up by the time I retire, I can be assured that I will have a comfortable retirement and my kids might have an inheritance.

When we put our faith in our three months reserve and our IRA, in effect, we make money a god. The New Testament, out of the mouth of Jesus himself, tells us we should put our faith for financial provision in God. We are not to store up treasure. Countercultural? You bet! Not even Dave Ramsey is advising you throw away your 401K! But I ask you - where is the Biblical basis for a 401K? Someone in Internet land, please answer me that.

Please know I'm not bashing wealth. I not only believe it is possible to be wealthy and a Christian, I actually hope to be wealthy some day! The Bible clearly supports the idea of prosperity. But for what purpose? Seek the scriptures for yourself, but here's the bottom line: "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God."

If God has given us much in the way of earthly riches, it's so that we can be generous. We are to let this light shine and produce good deeds to the glory of God (Matt 5:16). Loaning without interest is a good deed. Loaning without expecting repayment is a good deed too.

Contemplate this: Am I saving so much money each month that I don't have anything to loan?

For Further Contemplation
He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor. Proverbs 28:8

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. Exodus 22:25

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. Leviticus 25:34-37

You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess. Deuteronomy 23:20

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

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