Our Financial Dealings with Our Fellow Christians
From the Message of
Bread Upon The Waters Ministry
A Serious Question
When, in Genesis 4:9, God confronted Cain about what had happened to Abel, Cain responded with the classic question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Although God did not respond directly to the question, most Christians would agree that the answer implied by the context of the entire Bible is emphatically, "YES!"
When Jesus addressed His disciples in the Upper Room after the Last Supper, He said, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another" (John 13: 34 & 35).
In his First Epistle, John elaborated on this by saying, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth" (I John 3: 18). We can safely assume that these teachings apply to our financial dealings with our fellow Christians. Yet there is a widespread problem with Christians disobeying them where money and personal property are concerned.
In the Law of Moses, the Israelites were told to give preference to their fellow Hebrews in all financial matters. (See Deuteronomy 23: 19 & 29.) In view of Galatians 6:10, the same principle should apply among Christians: "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith". But all too often Christians do just the opposite to their brothers and sisters in financial matters.
A Christian may find himself in debt to several creditors, one of whom is a Christian. He is likely to pay the non-Christian creditors first and let the Christian creditor wait. Christian ministries do this too. Sometimes Christian debtors completely fail to repay their Christian creditors, even denying that the debts exist. In Romans 13:8, the Word says, "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the Law". This verse ties the issue of debt directly to the issue of loving one another. It clearly follows that a Christian who doesn't pay his debt to a fellow Christian isn't fulfilling the Law. He isn't loving his brother. In fact, he's hurting him! This kind of behavior is iniquity of the worst kind as far as its effect on the Body of Christ is concerned. Many Christians, Christian-owned business, and even Christian ministries are hurting financially because of this.
There are several common reasons why a Christian may fail to pay a debt owed to another Christian. One is that the debtor might feel that it would be a bad testimony to owe money to an unsaved creditor, and so it is. But, in the light of the Scriptures above, it is an even worse testimony if it's known that a Christian is in trouble financially because another Christian (or in the case of Christian-owned businesses, Christians) failed to pay money that was owed.
Another reason is that Christians will sometimes decide not to pay debts owed to other Christians is because of doctrinal differences that become known after the debt is incurred. To fail to pay a debt because of something like that is judging in the worst sense of the word. Any Christian who does so shouldn't be surprised if God's judgment falls on his own finances.
Again, a Christian debtor may take offence at something the creditor does, especially if it is a sin that personally affects him, and therefore decide not to pay the debt. Again, this is judging, compounded with the sin of unforgiveness. This is returning evil for evil. It is all sin. "Judge not that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1); "If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14); "Repay no one evil for evil.....it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay" (Romans 12: 17 & 19).
But the most common, and the nastiest reason why Christians don't pay debts owed to other Christians is that they don't think that the Christian creditors will do anything about it, and they are afraid that the non-Christian creditors will. Now it is a fact that the Bible does tell Christian creditors not to do anything about it (See Luke 6:30-34 and I Corinthians 6:7), but that isn't a license to allow a Christian debtor to forget his debts. For a Christian to do so is defrauding (or we might say, cheating) his brother, as in the latter verse. In Romans 14:23 we read, "....whatever is not of faith is sin". If a Christian defrauds his brother out of fear, that certainly isn't from faith. And since it is not loving either, it is doubly sinful. The only thing that makes a Christian free to forget a debt is if the creditor forgives it!
It is no coincidence that the passage quoted above from Galatians follows the famous passage about sowing and reaping: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that will he also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Galatians 6: 7 & 8). Note, in reference to this, Ephesians 6: 8, "....knowing that whatever good a man does, he will receive the same from the Lord". Remember that this is a two-sided coin. If you do good financially to your fellow Christians, good will come to you. But if you do otherwise, you will reap otherwise. If you have been reaping some financial difficulty, maybe it is because you have been sowing it in the lives of one or more of your fellow Christians.
The same principles apply when you borrow another Christian's property, whatever it may be, from a screwdriver to an automobile. If you don't return that property promptly and in good condition, you have effectively robbed your brother. Again, the fact that the Bible tells Christians not to do anything about it doesn't exonerate you! Just as with money, to misappropriate another Christian's property expecting that he won't do anything about it is doubly sinful. Once again, you are defrauding your brother. The Law of Moses required the Israelites to make good on any loans of property they received (See Exodus 22:14 and Leviticus 6:1-4). The same principle applies to Christians: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever, therefore shall break one of the least of these commandments and teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5: 18 & 19).
Special Note: Understand one thing, as a universal principle: Whatever the Bible tells you to do or not do is for your own good . See Psalm 19: 7-11. Furthermore, being saved does not make us free to sin. See Romans 6. We are free from the ceremonial laws of Judaism, but not from the moral law! If you think different, you are into lawlessness, as opposed to godliness.
The same thing goes for Christian employers who pay other debts while failing to pay their Christian employees. (This is not an imaginary situation, this writer has been the victim of this, and knows other victims.) Those Christian employers do this may not know it, but they are committing a very serious sin. It goes beyond simply being unloving. Failing to pay earned wages is a sin equivalent to stealing (Leviticus 19:13). It is one of the sins that the Bible indicates will make God particularly angry (Jeremiah 22:13, Malachi 3:5). A Christian employer who isn't making it financially may find that God will bless him if he makes a financial priority of paying his Christian employees. This writer once worked for a Christian ministry that was able to get out of debt for the first time after they started doing this.
Special Note: There is a popular idea among Christians that a sin is a sin, regardless. However, it can be shown from the Bible that God considers some sins far more serious than others. For example, there are passages that show that telling a "white lie", that is, an untruth that is truly meant to achieve something good, (see II Samuel 12: 1-7) is no problem to God, even though any lie is technically a sin. On the other extreme, human sacrifice to idols is viewed in the Bible as such a serious offense to God that annihilation is promised to any nation that practices it (see Jeremiah 7: 31 - 33). There are degrees of evil, both in temporal and eternal severity and consequences.
The same principle applies to Christians who expect other Christians, even professionals, to work for them for little or no pay. This writer knows a Christian law firm that has been practically besieged by Christians expecting legal services free or dirt cheap. A Biblical principle that applies here is "the laborer is worthy of his wages" (I Timothy 5:18). There is nothing Christian or loving about expecting someone to work for you for little or nothing. Again, this kind of thing is defrauding your brother. The truly Christian thing to do when a Christian works for you would be to pay him more than you would an unsaved person because he is your brother and you love him. Look at it this way: What would you do if it was Jesus working for you? "....inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40). It follows, of course, that the Christian laborer should do his very best for the Christian employer, as if he were working for Jesus. He is!
This particularly applies to the problem of congregations that don't want to pay their pastors a decent salary. Some Christians have the illusion that a minister only works on Sunday. Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, a pastor is on call for his flock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. For example, this writer knows a pastor who wasn't able to take a vacation for years because every time he scheduled a vacation, something happened in his Church that he had to deal with. Again, when a Christian needs a loan, the pastor is often the first person he goes to. If he gets the loan, he seldom pays it back. This writer is a minister's son, and he knows! Yet no other professionals make so little compared to the amount of education required to qualify them for their jobs. The Bible says, "Let the elders be considered worthy of double honor" (I Timothy 5:18). The Greek word translated "honor" is time'', and it can also be translated "value" or "price"; which is to say, "pay"! By the context of the following verse, it appears that that is what Paul really meant; "For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain' and 'The laborer is worthy of his hire' "; and the word "honor" is really a mistranslation. See also I Corinthians 9: 9 & 10. The Lord wants us to pay our pastors and other Christian workers, and pay them well.
One more relevant issue is paying pledges made to Churches and ministries. Of course, they are always after people to make pledges, but they almost never tell them the full spiritual meaning of what they are being asked to do. When you make a pledge, you are doing what the Bible calls making a vow, and to fail to keep a vow once it is made is a serious sin. It carries a Biblical threat of bringing God's judgment on you (Ecclesiastes 5: 4 - 6). Unfortunately, Christians often, in the excitement of a service, let themselves be talked into pledging more than they can pay. Or they may make pledges to get rid of pressure without ever really intending to pay. Again, they may make a "faith pledge", hoping that God will give them the money to pay it. Sometimes He does, sometimes He doesn't, probably depending on the spiritual condition of the person who makes the vow.
Usually, only about half of what is pledged to Churches and Ministries is actually paid. Ministries know this, and those that are run well don't plan on their pledges being paid in full. Nevertheless, once you have made a pledge, it is a sin not to pay. On the other hand, the Bible explicitly says that it is not a sin not to make a pledge. (See Deuteronomy 23:22 & 23.) So don't let anyone lay a guilt trip on you about refusing to pledge. If you do make a pledge, never pledge more than you intend, and expect to be able to, pay. A Scripture verse that fund raisers never quote is II Corinthians 8:12, "For if there first be a willing mind, it (the pledge) is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not". The Lord does not expect you to give beyond your means. You are never commanded to give to the point that you put yourself in a financial hurt, in any circumstances. You have no Scriptural grounds for complaint against God if you do. So don't pledge yourself into spiritual trouble. But if you do pledge, Pay it!
The purpose of all this is "love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith" (I Timothy 1: 5). If you are not handling your financial obligations in a truly Christian way, you aren't going to have a good conscience. This, in turn, will seriously damage your faith: ".....having....a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck" (I Timothy 1:19). If you have a guilty conscience and damaged faith, you will live a defeated, fruitless Christian life generally. Your prayers won't get answered, and you won't be able to love others, period. It all goes together. Remember: God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. This was action! "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (I John 4:11) ......With Action!
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