‘The borrower is slave to the lender’

Proverbs 22:7 and Matthew 18:21-35

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” asked Peter. “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,” answered Jesus (Mt 18:21-22)
Peter thought seven times was generous and godly. The number seven was sacred in his culture, and it was usually used to symbolize completion. Surely anyone who forgave seven times had done what God required? But Jesus chose another number – seventy seven. By compounding the sevens Jesus was saying that God’s people should never stop forgiving. His reasoning was simple: If God has forgiven us; we should always forgive each other. He then illustrated his point by telling a story about a servant who owed his master money. The master took pity on him and released him from his debt. But the servant refused to do the same for a fellow servant down the road. When the master heard about it he reinstated the first servant’s debt and threw him in prison. So Jesus concludes that if we do not forgive each other our heavenly master won’t forgive us. We must always keep on forgiving.
Now, this makes a lot of sense with spiritual debt, but what about financial debt? Does it make sense to lend money seventy seven times to someone who promises to repay but never does? Obviously not! And for two reasons; first, you will cripple yourself financially, and second, you will only end up enhancing the borrower’s habit and financial dependency.
Proverbs 22:7 puts it like this, “The borrower is slave to the lender” (TNIV). Do we want those we love to be slaves? God doesn’t! He doesn’t want his children to be in bondage. That is why he brought Israel out of Egypt. God’s children are to stay out of debt, and are to help others to do the same. Debt is a pit, and the more we borrow the deeper it gets.
At this point someone may remember Jesus telling fellow Jews to be prepared to lend to their enemies (Luke 6). Jews considered Samaritans, Roman’s and other Gentiles to be their enemies. They wouldn’t dream of lending money to them. But Jesus was saying they should be prepared to lend to anyone. God loved all people and so should we. But things would be different if a Samaritan, Roman or even an Israelite started borrowing habitually and becoming dependant. In such a case we would be wise to stop feeding their addiction by refusing to lend to them.
Here in Kenya I have come across many people who have fallen into the trap of fraudulent borrowing. It starts out as something innocent; the borrower always intends to repay. But then they find they can’t and the lender releases them from their debt. But with time this happens again and again with their friends releasing them from their debts. Soon the borrower starts to think that their friends will always release them, and they begin to borrow with no intension of paying back. At this point the borrower is actually involved in a type of fraud and it does not take long for the community to start talking about it, and eventually the borrower gets taken to court.
So when we lend money we need to be wise. If you live in a culture where people don’t pay back, you should only lend an amount that we don’t mind losing. And you should not lend to someone if lending to them will nurture their addiction and dependency.
Forgiving people and holding them accountable is two different things. When we forgive we cleanse our hearts of all bitterness towards that person. But when we hold someone accountable we are stopping them from continuing the wrong. This is especially important when the wrong affects many people. Matthew 18:15-17 says “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” This is the biblical way of holding someone accountable and Christians should not be shy to use it.
But if someone is not a habitual borrower, is in desperate need, intended to pay back but cannot, and you don’t need the money, then be merciful and release them from their obligation. God went to great lengths to free us from spiritual debt, and we should do all we can to free others from debt. But one way to free people from debt is to teach them not to borrow. The borrower is slave to the lender, and God does not want us to be slaves.

Other Illustrations used: Loaning from your boss – your master | The haves, the have-nots, and the have-not-paid-for-what-they-haves | Give me your keys

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