Forgiving Debt and Lending Money

Q. Mt 18:23-25 That is why the kingdom from heaven may be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he had begun to settle the accounts, a person who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him. Because he couldn’t pay, his master ordered him, his wife, his children, and everything that he owned to be sold so that payment could be made.

Lk 6:34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to get something back, what thanks do you deserve? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back what they lend.

The theme of the parable of the unforgiving servant is not about money but about forgiveness. However, on the surface, it looks look Luke is stepping on the toes of Matthew. What is your verdict on lending money or other things?

A. You are right in observing that the parable of the unmerciful servant in Mt 18:23-35 is not about money but forgiveness. Although the text mentioned “owed” and “debt”, the amount is simply too big to be considered ordinary lending.

If you read your NIV footnotes, you will see that a talent was worth about 20 years of a day laborer’s wages. He owed the king 10,000 talents. Let’s bring this to today’s terms. Assuming a round C$12/hour, 8 hours/day, 300 days a year (no work on Sabbaths & feast days), a year’s wage = C$12 X 8 X 300 = C$28,800, more if he works over 8 hours a day, say C$30,000 in round terms. So 10,000 talents = C$30,000/year X 20 years/talent X 10,000 talents = C$6,000,000,000! There is no way a king would lend his servant $6 billion! Possibly, the servant was one of the king’s officials who mismanaged the kingdom’s finances and lost this staggering sum, just like our current ministers :-).

Lk 6:34, on the other hand, is about “love your enemies” using lending as an illustration. It is real lending since “lend” is repeated 3 times in v 34-35, and “expecting to be repaid” twice. Matthew and Luke are not contradicting each other.

My verdict on lending money depends on whether I am the borrower or the lender. If I were the borrower, my guiding principles are:
Rom 13:7-8 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

I would avoid debt if at all possible, except things that are too big for me to handle such as buying a house, in which case I would take out as small a mortgage (by using as big a down-payment I can afford) and as short an amortization as possible. It’s not that I don’t know about leverage, as I was a finance professional for over 3 decades before becoming a pastor. It’s just that I believe the Bible more when it comes to financial wisdom.

If I were the lender, my guideline would be:
Lk 6:35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

I would be judicious in discerning whether the borrower has legitimate needs, as I am also a steward of the resources God had entrusted to me. I would balance extending help to relieve the burden, while not encouraging shirking responsibility and dependence on others. If the debtor can repay me, I would accept repayment to use the funds for other worthwhile causes. If he/she cannot pay me back, that’s fine as I do not expect to get anything back. Just helping someone in need is sufficient.

Imprecatory Psalms versus Love your Enemies?

Q. Jesus taught us that we should love and pray for our enemy. Mt 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Why is it that in Ps 109 David curses his enemies before God?

A. Imprecatory psalms and prayers invoking curses on ones’ enemies are a problem to many Bible readers, who find it difficult to reconcile these passages with Jesus’ command to love your enemies. And it’s not just David being vindictive, but involves other people such as prophets as well, who are God’s spokesmen and ought to know better e.g.

Jer 18:21 Therefore, give their children over to famine
And deliver them up to the power of the sword;
And let their wives become childless and widowed.
Let their men also be smitten to death,
Their young men struck down by the sword in battle.

It is especially problematic in view of God saying, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30) What were these people thinking? Don’t they know what God said? Some therefore consider such passages as sub-Christian and shouldn’t be in the Bible. How do we reconcile them as they are indeed part of Scripture?

Rather than consider those who call upon God to judge their enemies as being mean-spirited and beneath what a Christian should do, my opinion is that it is us who are not as close to God as the imprecatory psalmists were, who were more concerned about God’s name being profaned by their enemies than seeking revenge for themselves. David did evil in the sight of the LORD when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:27, 12:9) and when he ordered a census of Israel’s army (1 Chron. 21:7), but God never faulted him for his imprecatory prayers. That should alert the critics that they overlooked something.

The LORD called David a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). David knew “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully (Ps 24:3-4). He was not afraid to call upon God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me,” (Ps 139:23-24a). I would not dare to do so unless my heart was totally free from personal motives and 100% pure before God.

And his actions vindicated his thoughts. David had the opportunity to get back at those who wronged him, but he did not take matters into his own hands, instead leaving it to the LORD to exonerate him e.g. sparing Saul’s life twice (1 Sam 24; 1 Sam 26).

My conclusion is that unlike us who often view things through jaundiced eyes tainted by self-interest, David saw things in sharper contrast of right vs. wrong, conformity to God’s character or against it, positive or negative impact on God’s name etc. He therefore called upon God to deal justly with His enemies and give them the punishment they rightly deserved. Notice that in v 6-20 all the righteous judgment are taught elsewhere in the Bible, including doing unto his enemies what they did to him, and David had not gone overboard in retaliation against his enemies. He left the “settling the scores” entirely in God’s hands.

My last comment is that biblical ethics is a progressive revelation. While there is continuity between OT and NT ethics, with the coming of Christ in the age of grace, people receive a fuller understanding of what God requires of us than in OT times. We should therefore not read back NT standards into the OT and expect full compliance.

Turn the Other Cheek (2 of 2)

turn-the-other-cheek-3

(Continued from yesterday)

What about shirt & coat? The shirt is the inner garment, the coat the outer cloak, to keep warm while a person sleeps. In Jesus’ days a lender could legally keep a borrower’s shirt overnight as collateral, but must return his coat during the night so he can use it as a blanket:
Ex 22:26-27 If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in?
• Deut 24:12-13 If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you;

This was not the laws of the country, but Mosaic law in the Torah, & definitely not lawlessness. By asking a borrower to let the lender have his coat also, Jesus was asking us to give up our rights & go beyond what the law required.

Paul understood this principle very well, for he taught in
1 Co 6:7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?

Regarding going two miles, under military law any Roman soldier can conscript a Jew to carrying his burden for a distance of up to one mile. This was the case when they pressed Simon of Cyrene into service to carry Jesus’ cross (Mt 27:32, Mk 15:21, Lk 23:26). By asking His disciples to go two miles, Jesus was again asking them to go the extra mile freely, not under compulsion.

Finally, with respect to giving & lending, Jesus was not asking us to be manipulated by panhandlers & acquaintances who want to take advantage of us, because we are supposed to be shrewd:
Mt 10:16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.

The principle is in:
1 Jn 3:17-18 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Paul learned this well:
Rom 12:17-21 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So all cases in fact relate to not insisting on your rights, not taking revenge in your own hands, but giving up rights and going the extra mile because you are now a child of God, for the sake of your testimony. Roman rule applies only to Mt 5:41, so the first commentator you quoted generalized too much. Besides, no one except those who are indwelt & filled with the Holy Spirit can do these. To require that of the lower social strata, who may not be Christians, is to ask for the impossible, which Jesus didn’t do. The second commentator caught the essence of what Jesus taught better, though he did not explain it enough.

As to your own observation, there are only two parties in Mt 5:38-42 – you & the second-party, be it an evil person, your creditor, a government authority, or a brother in need. There is no third-party peacemaker as in Mt 5:9. While it would be nice to have a reconciler to act as go-between, you do not have that luxury here. So Mt 5:9 does not really apply. Hope this helps.

All Things Work Together for Good?

Romans 8 28 u

Q. Do all things really work together for good? Christians are being persecuted now, what good is there?

A. That’s God’s promise according to Rom 8:28 –
• And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Not all things are good, but God causes all things, including the bad ones, to work together for good to those who love God.

Just this week I heard two examples illustrating this truth. The first is from Dr. Sameh Maurice, pastor of Kasr el Dobara Evangelical Church, the largest evangelical church in the Middle East. He said during the Arab Spring protests in Egypt, Islamic terrorists took advantage of the revolutionary wave of demonstrations to attack Christians. Over a hundred churches were burned, and hundreds of Christian businesses and homes were destroyed. From external observation this is not good. However, to the Christians’ credit they did not retaliate. They followed “love your enemies” (Mt 5:44) and prayed for those who persecuted them. Their neighbors took note and respected the Christians for practicing what they preached. When rioters came, the neighbors formed a human shield and surrounded the churches. The leader of the Coptic Church did not want the neighbors to get hurt, so he pleaded with them to go home. “We can rebuild churches, but we can’t bring you back if they kill you” he said. As a result thousands of Muslims turned to Christ, because they saw faith in action, God’s love showing through persecution. God causes all things, even persecution, to work together for good.

The second is from a pair of veteran Chinese missionaries with Christian and Missionary Alliance. They care for missionaries by visiting them in the Latin American field. To protect their economy,the Venezuela government devalued their currency (Bolivar) against the US$, which led to hyper-inflation and price control. Imports became very expensive and supplies were scarce. When goods arrived, the police mandated that they must be sold at the government-set price, and merchants were not allowed to hold inventories. As a result most warehouses are bare. Many Venezuelan Chinese are wholesalers. Prior to the devaluation, they were busy at their business making money, and nobody has time for church, even though they are believers. With the business downturn and no merchandise to sell by the afternoon, many close up shop early to go to church! Brothers and sister enjoy fellowship and there are meetings most week-nights, despite the fact that crime rates are high. Churches end their meetings by 9pm so that their members can go home safely. Not all things are good, but God causes even recession and hyper-inflation to work together for good!

Joseph said of his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen 50:20) What we need is to look at things from a wider perspective, and not limit ourselves to what’s in it for me. We need to have a Kingdom mentality.