The Bible doesn’t forbid borrowing per se. It says things like: “IF a man borrow ought of his neighbour … he shall surely make it good.” And it says: “the wicked borroweth, and payeth not again.” It makes general statements which need to be learned by absolutely everyone: “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” This is a scripture and a scriptural principle which every parent needs to drill into the mind of his child. It is true no matter what the interest rate or even if there isn’t any interest charged at all. When we borrow something, especially money, we give up some of our freedom to that lender. On the other hand the Lord actually encourages people to lend what they can in order to help others. “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.” “A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion.” Unlike today, the Old Testament teaches some strict rules, protecting not the lender – but the lendee. For example, only certain things could be taken as pledges or collateral. And in many cases they had to be returned even before the loan was paid off. And certainly, everything – loan and collateral – was to be cleared away as quickly as possible. It needs to be noted that the New Testament echoes the Old Testament in these areas: But in addition to being quick to loan what is necessary, we are exhorted to be even quicker at giving. “Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind …”
One of area, which is totally foreign to today’s world of economics, is in regard to the word “usury.” The Bible condemns usury, but it doesn’t clearly define it – probably, because it didn’t have to. “If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.” “Take thou no usury of him, or INCREASE: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.” “Unto a stranger (ie. foreigner) thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.” Proverb 28:8 – “He that by usury and unjust gain INCREASETH his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.” In the early 17th century, when our Bible was translated, the word “usury” had only one definition. It was what is now the first definition in my computer dictionary: “The practice of lending money and charging the borrower interest.” The current and most common definition of the word “usury” came later in our history: “An excessive or illegally high rate of interest charged on borrowed money.” In other words, both as used in 1611 and as used in the Bible, God’s people were never to charge other people of God interest on loans. In fact they were encouraged not to loan at all if possible – just give what you can to help others – and don’t even expect to receive it back.
Of course Israel quickly forsook God’s laws. There are several examples like that of II Kings 4, where a widow was about to loose her sons to slavery because her creditors were demanding money that her late husband had borrowed. By the way, it might have been borrowed so that he could go to Bible school. By the days of Christ, there were bankers, monetary exchange rates, investments, interest and even usury as we define it today. The Lord Jesus even mentions people being beaten and imprisoned for defaulting on loans.
Then there is that somewhat disturbing Romans 13:8 – which we may eventually study more fully. “Owe no man anything.” Fortunately, or unfortunately, those four words are almost always quoted out of their context. Romans 13 isn’t talking directly about money, and it isn’t forbidding borrowing. It is saying that we are all obligated to pay what we currently owe; it forbids delinquency. “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” This scripture is talking about respect and honour as much as it is about money. And the principle is – keep your debts current – give the honour and love that is due to others. Extending that to money – it’s not a sin to borrow, but it is a sin to fall behind your payments. The world judges the Christian by a great many measures, including by our promptness or carelessness in fulfilling our obligations.
Here in Romans 1 Paul claims consciousness of a spiritual debt as obligating as a mortgage payment. It is not due to the fact that he borrowed something from someone, but because he had been given something by Someone else. God gave to Paul salvation and the gospel – for the service of others – he was therefore a servant and debtor to those other people. It’s similar to the way that someone agrees to work for a certain company, and now he is obligated to perform as his employer demands. But the fountain of Paul’s debt was the Lord – not some sinful, human employer, banker or loan-shark.
Without delving into our personal finances, let’s see to whom you and I are in debt.
If you have been saved by God’s grace then you are a debtor to THE LORD – it’s as simple as that.
Every true Christian becomes such in the same manner. They were born children of wrath, children of the Devil with death-dealing sin flowing through their veins. But then the Saviour came onto the scene. “He was wounded FOR our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of OUR peace was upon him; and with his stripes WE are healed.” “Christ hath redeemed US from the curse of the law, being made a curse FOR US: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” “For Christ also hath once suffered FOR (OUR SINS), the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” “Who his own self bare OUR sins in his own body on the tree … by whose stripes ye were healed.” This last verse from I Peter 2 inserts a special little clause: “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.”
“Alas and did my Saviour bleed? And did my Sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I? But drops of tears can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here, Lord, I give myself away; ’tis all that I can do. ” That song intimates a very important scripture. – I John 3:16-18 – “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” The gift of eternal life which every Christian has been given, makes that person a debtor to grace. “I give unto them eternal life; & they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” This is the reason that Paul said so often: “I am His slave,” because he was the Lord’s debtor.” And then he could say to us, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Jehovah is our first creditor – before taxes, before our children, and before our stomachs. And this debt cannot be paid off simply with money.
We are also debtors to OUR CHURCH.
There has never been a day when the doctrine of the church – the true doctrine of the true church – has been so hated. It is hated even by people professing to be Christians. But these people are so blind that they can’t see that they are bitting the hand which once fed them. If it were not for the churches of Christ down through the past centuries there wouldn’t be the preaching of the gospel here in the 21st century. The first time that the gospel was preached it was delivered by members of the church in Jerusalem. Humanly speaking if were not for that church there would be no gospel today. There have been churches doctrinally like that one in every century since, and to them the Lord committed the on-going preaching of the Truth. I admit that there are lots of unauthorized gospel preaching today, but that is a relatively recent occurrence. Unfortunately along with not being authorized by God, many of them are preaching poor replicas of the gospel.
Someone might respond by saying, “I don’t owe anything to Calvary Baptist Church, because it wasn’t here that I came to know Christ.” Whether directly true or not, the gospel passed through churches to get to you. And this is the church of which the Lord has made you a member or attendee today. We are all debtors to the Lord through the church which He established – His generic church. When father owes the food on the table to his wife who fixed it, to the grocer who sold it, and to his employer who gave him wages to buy it, then his children are just as indebted to them as he is. It is similar to the way that a national bank might work. We might create a loan in Sandpoint and then move to Post Falls. You can rest assured that the local branch here will be more than happy to accept our payments and to maintain that loan for us.
We owe a great deal to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, because it is the channel through which the Lord brought to us His gospel.
And at the same time we are debtors of the LOST around us.
This is the sense of debt that Paul felt here in this scripture. He had received very little in real value from the Greeks and Barbarians. The world can give us a little worldly education, some gold trinkets and perhaps a little fleeting happiness. But if you could make a scale and on one side you put everything that the world has provided, but then on the other side you placed your God-saved soul, the balance would drop so quickly that your scale would tip over. Just as “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” the baubles of the world are not worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as the least blessing of salvation.
Paul was a debtor to the Greeks and Romans, not because of what they had given him. He considered himself a debtor because God had placed him in a position of service to them. If you are a child of God then one day the Lord approached you with the gospel. You were convicted by the Holy Spirit – reproved of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. Why did God select you for this convicting work? No reason whatsoever in yourself. Eventually the Lord taught you the meaning and importance of the vicarious sacrifice of Christ. And He filled your heart with faith, which then burst out upon the Saviour. What is it in your life which made you more worthy of such blessing than the Romans or the Roman Catholics? Nothing.
There may not be an earthly economic equivalent to compare it to, but this work of God in us makes us spiritually debtors to the rest of the sinful souls on this planet. They have no less right to the gospel than we have. “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel…” But please be aware that Paul’s was not a special case; he was no more a debtor to others than we are. And what happens when the debtor refuses to make the proper payments? “Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”
We are also in debt to our BROKER – the AGENT of our loan’s retirement.
There have been occasions when I have consolidated my debts. For example, I took a second mortgage based on the equity in my house, to pay off medical bills. At that point not only did I have to make my mortgage payment, but also my second mortgage payment. Fortunately, I had that opportunity, but what if I didn’t and had to turn to one of these street-corner loan places? Not only do the fees increase and the interest becomes usury by the second definition, but failure to make the payments on time, becomes increasingly more dangerous. Similarly, when someone does something on our behalf, we are sometimes placed in their debt.
So we are debtors to the Lord for our salvation, and in another sense to the Lord’s church. We are also debtors to the lost, as Paul expresses it here. But there is another sense in which we are debtors to those who are paying our debt toward the lost. We have agents in Mexico, Australia, Honduras, Oklahoma and elsewhere paying our debt on our behalf.
Those missionaries are as much our ambassadors as they are the Lord’s. And as such we are in their debt. “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” We owe those missionaries as much of our finances as we can afford. And we owe them encouragement in whatever fashion we can find. We owe them regular, if not daily, prayer. And we owe them our utmost respect, recognizing what they have given up and endure to represent us in their various fields of service.
We have debts, which are not necessarily bad in themselves, but it is critical that we maintain our payments.