Owe No Man

Paul told the Romans, “owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Is it wrong for a Christian to borrow money? Can Christians have and use credit cards?

Paul has just been talking about the need for the saints at Rome to pay their taxes to the government, along with the respect they are to show their rulers. Now he commands them in regard to their financial obligations to others: “owe no one anything except to love one another…” (13:8a). This phrase is sometimes interpreted to mean that a Christian is never justified in going into debt of any sort. However, this passage of scripture is not a proof-text against Christians borrowing money. Some Christian financial planners have used this passage in that way. Staying out of debt is a good idea, for “the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Proverbs 22:7). Gone are the days when only a house or a car was purchased with credit. Now everything and anything goes on the credit card. This is a serious problem across the board in society. But Paul is not against home mortgages, college loans or even churches paying on a building. Besides to so interpret this passage would place Paul in direct contradiction to the previous verse: “render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (13:7).

The rest of the Bible supports the idea of God’s people borrowing and lending money to those in need and those in business. In fact, lending was permitted in the Old Testament. However, there were rules set in place to protect the lender and the borrower. “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest” (Ex. 22:25). The lender was warned against refusing to give a loan to a fellow countryman because a sabbatical year was near, when all debts were canceled (Deut. 15:7-9). The Law of Moses cautiously governed the lending by banning the charging interest to those who were penniless, but it did not prohibit lending with reasonable interest. Borrowing and lending was considered acceptable in the New Testament. Jesus said, “give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (Matt. 5:42). In Jesus’ parable of the talents, the master rebukes the one talent man, “so you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest” (Matthew 25:27). Let’s face the facts, many business, farms, and homes could not exist without a system of credit

The Bible clearly and consistently forbids certain behavior with regard to borrowing and lending of funds. First, the borrower was warned against taking out a loan beyond their ability to repay. This attitude of buy everything you want right now on credit and worrying about how you are going to repay it later is a form of theft. When one makes a promise or vow to repay, God expects the man to follow through with his commitment. “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed— Better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (Eccl. 5:4-5). Also note in this passage the verb “owe” is in the present tense. Thus, one should not have an ongoing debt or constant line of credit representing habitual debt. “One may have incurred a debt which if due in the present must be paid because that is the appointed time for it to be paid. Until that point, it is not due” (Hamilton 725). Finally, all borrowed funds are to be repaid as agreed and in full.

Paul is not condemning as sinful the borrowing of money by Christians. He is insisting that if money is owed to someone the Christian will pay his outstanding debts in a timely manner.

Daniel R. Vess

Perfecting Faith by Works

James 2:14-26

James begins this section with two rhetorical questions; “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (2:14). The obvious answers are: nothing and no. In verses 15,16 he gives a specific illustration. It implies one knows the condition of their brother, then just wishes them well. They speak the right words but take no action. The apostle John spoke of this same attitude with regard to a lack of love, but James is speaking here concerning a lack of faith. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?  My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3;17-18).

Faith without action is a dead faith. The works under consideration in verses 17 and 18 are not in reference to “works of the Law” Gal. 2:16); “works of the flesh” Gal. 5:19); “wicked works” Col. 1:21); “dead works” (Heb. 9:14); or personal “works of righteousness” (Tit. 3:5). Faith itself is one of the “works of God” which a man must do to be justified before God. “Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent’” (John 6:28-29) The challenge to others is to show their faith without practicing any works. This cannot be done.

Those who practice faith without works are not better than the demons (2:19). Demons believed in God. Demons believed in the Son of God (Mark 3:11,12). They believed in Hell (Lk. 8:31). They believed Jesus was Judge (Mark 5:1-13). Faith without works cannot justify a man any more than it could save a demon. Again, such faith is dead (2:20). Faith is made complete when acted upon. Salvation is found only in obedient faith (2:22). Believing the truth about baptism doesn’t save you.  Salvation happens when you act upon that belief (Mark 16:16 “and is baptized”).

Next, Abraham is used of an excellent example of being justified by works. True; Paul said Abraham was justified by faith and not by works. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God” (Romans 4:2). Many see a contradiction in the teachings of James and Paul. However, James and Paul were discussing different kinds of works. Paul spoke of the works of the Law of Moses. James is speaking of the works commanded by God of those how claim to believe in Him. We to have “been justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1). Nowhere does Paul teach or indicate a man is justified by faith only. James shows in 2:23 that Abraham believed God and acted upon that faith by taking Isaac to be sacrificed.

The only time the Bible mentioned faith only is in 2:24: “you see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” The term “justified“ means “to deem to be right, to declare, pronounce to be righteous” (Vine p. 285) and “to be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous” (Arndt p. 197). Many denominations hold to the belief that one is saved by faith only. “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort” (The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1972 Edition, p. 55). John Calvin wrote, “it is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.” The Church Manual for the Baptist Church believes, “…that it (justification) is bestowed. Not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done. But solely though faith…” This is not supported by scripture.

James uses the example of Rahab’s active faith in saving the two spies. She is listed among the heroes of faith (Heb 11:31). Rahab was the great-grandmother of David and in the lineage of Jesus (Mat 1:5,6). She helped the spies escape at the risk of her own life! (Joshua 2:10,11). When Jericho was destroyed, she and her household were saved (Josh 6:25; Heb 11:31) or justified by faith plus her works. Finally, James gives one last illustration to prove his point concerning true saving faith including God commanded works. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (2:26).

Daniel R. Vess

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