If you’ve loaned money to a close friend of family member, I want you to seriously consider forgiving their debt. But forget about what I want — God wants you to forgive their debt too. And His reasons are much more compelling than mine.
In the last article in this series, we talked about the problem with personal debt and the way that it can seriously threaten relationships. My pitch was based on a simple principle: Debt creates an uneven dynamic between two people, making one person a slave and the other person their master. God didn’t intend for us to live in that kind of unbalance with people, and the friction caused by such arrangements can actually damage relationships. If you really value your relationship with someone, forgiving their debt will help you preserve the core friendship that matters most.
Today, we’re going to tackle this same topic from another angle. Forgiving someone’s debt isn’t just a strategic relationship decision — it’s also the strong teaching of scripture. Study the Bible for long and you’ll find all sorts of reasons to forgive someone’s debts (both financial and otherwise). For today’s purposes, we’re going to examine just three.
1) Forgiveness increases love.
Forgiveness doesn’t just rescue a relationship, but actually makes it better.
I said last time that forgiving someone’s debt to you is a good idea because it may help save your relationship. But Jesus takes the idea a step beyond this. According to Him, forgiveness doesn’t just rescue a relationship, but actually makes it better.
Jesus teaches this in Luke 7:41-43, when He uses a parable to instruct Simon Peter about love, sin and forgiveness.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Jesus is making a much bigger point here about sin and forgiveness, but the principles that He teaches apply directly to finances as well. When we forgive someone, we are showing love to them, and that stirs up love in their hearts toward us. The bigger a debt you forgive, the more love you invest in your friend’s heart. This means that when all is said and done, forgiving a debt can put your relationship on stronger footing than it ever was before.
2) God hates usury.
Many people with good intentions lend money to friends or family members in an attempt to help them through hard times. Some people who are especially shrewd with money might also attach interest to the loan in order to motivate the borrower to pay quickly. or to enrich themselves a little bit as part of the transaction. That’s a dangerous practice, though, and one which God condemns thoroughly in the Bible.
There are dozens of places in scripture where God forbids usury and lending at interest. For today, we’ll focus on just one. In Deut. 23:19-20, God makes it clear that His people should not loan money to each other at interest:
19 Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow 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.
Exploitative debt is both wrong and dangerous.
The injunction against charging a brother interest is clear here. What’s fascinating is that fact that God did allow the Israelites to charge interest to a foreigner, but he didn’t allow interest to be charged to a compatriot. This reinforces what we’ve been saying about debt and relationships: God forbid the Israelites from charging interest to each other because He knew that it would warp their relationship and cause disunity among the people. The principle holds true today: Exploitative debt is both wrong and dangerous.
3) Forgiving others unlocks forgiveness for us.
Ultimately, any discussion about forgiveness will ultimately circle back around to Jesus Himself. Through His work on the cross, He purchased forgiveness for all of us who accept Him. But accepting that forgiveness requires that we forgive others. “Forgive us our debts,” we learned to pray, “as we forgive our debtors.”
Jesus makes this clear in the parable of the unmerciful servant, which you can find in Matthew 18:21-35. The whole passage is worth a read, but for the sake of time we’ll focus on verses 32-35, where the Master chastises a servant who was forgiven a huge debt, but then ruthlessly pursued a fellow servant for a paltry amount of money.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Here we see two things clearly: First, God is a God who forgives us our debts. Second, He expects us to do the same.
If you have loaned money to someone and are considering whether or not to forgive their debt, these teachings should weigh heavily on your decision. We serve a God who forgives us infinitely, and He expects us to do the same for others.
Forgiving your friend’s debt puts you in excellent company. What is holding you back?
Photo by Kurt-Rune Bergset. Used under Creative Commons License.