A few months ago, I sat with an attorney representing a well off investor, who had a claim against a small struggling businessman. The man and his wife had signed for a loan. The terms were reasonable, the interest was fair, but the man’s business had failed and the investor had already foreclosed on the real estate owned by the business.
However, the investor was concerned that the property alone, when sold, would not cover the debt, so now he was about to take the couple’s two old cars, a trailer used for work and his tools. To complicate matters, both the investor and the small business owners were Christians. So, I got a call from the debtor, who I barely knew, and he asked if I would get involved. I promptly called the investor, who I’d met only once, and asked if we could meet. He agreed, if his attorney could be present, (who was not a Christian).
It was clear from the legal documents that the investor and his attorney had the legal right to everything the debtor had. He and his wife had signed personally for the loan. But, I listened to the investor’s version of the story. I’ve learned there truly are, two sides to every story. When he finished explaining, the investor said with righteous indignation, “The law says, I have a right to do this!” My response surprised him. “Your right, the law tells us what we have a right to do. But, for a Christian, justice dictates what we ought to do. And in God’s economy, justice and mercy always trumps our rights.”
“Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:3
I went on, “If you weren’t Christians, your ‘I have a right’ position works. But this passage out of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 makes it clear, it’s better to be defrauded than sue a fellow Christian.”
“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.” 1 Corinthians 6:1-8
They both whipped open their phones to look that passage up after I read it, desperately looking for a loophole. After an awkward silence the attorney said, “Do you mean you think my client had no moral right to take the property back, which was pledged as security for the loan?”
“First of all, what I read, is what God says on the subject, not me. So, your argument is ultimately with God, not me. But I’ll give you my opinion based on conventional biblical wisdom.”
“I don’t think the Bible prohibits a Christian lender from taking property, pledged as security against a loan. That’s a reasonable business practice. I probably wouldn’t be here today, if that were the only issue. And it appears to me, that the property you’ve taken can be sold for enough to cover the original debt. However, in order to cover the interest, penalties and legal expenses, you, a wealthy Christian, are attempting to take away cars and tools, that the family needs to make a living. The Bible prohibits that.” I quoted this verse to him.
“Do not take a pair of millstones—not even the upper one—as security for a debt, because that would be taking a person’s livelihood as security.” Deuteronomy 24:6
The Old Testament even prohibited charging interest to fellow Israelites.
“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit.” Leviticus 25:35-37
New Testament Teaching The New Testament does not prohibit lending money to fellow Christians, with interest, particularly for business or investment purposes. And almost no Christian I know thinks repossessing investment property to cover the principle, presents a problem either. Here’s what troubles me, I told them.
Taking a fellow Christian’s personal possessions, for any reason!
Going to court first, without trying to settle this as Christian brothers, out of court.
And finally, why you haven’t simply forgiven the interest and penalties. When a rich person oppresses the poor, it is a sin.“Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13
I’m happy to report that the Holy Spirit convicted this investor and he backed off on his attempt to take this man’s personal possessions.
The point of this blog is that God loves the merciful and the generous. And he’s set up protections for the poor and warnings to the rich to keep them from doing what the law may give them the right to do. He’s also set up a mechanism for handling disputes in the church that unfortunately, are rarely are used today. Here’s a link to a blog I wrote on this subject, (http://bit.ly/1isOLy3) when another Christian owed me money.
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17
How following Jesus works in real life.
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