Owe no one anything except to love one another
Romans 13:8

We owe each other love for ever. But what about the first part: “Owe no one anything.”

This passage presents a problem for many. Some do not understand what it means and for everyone the application is sometimes difficult.

What are Biblical principles of dealing with money?

“Owe no one anything.” Does this mean that we may never commit ourselves financially? At Rome “Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house” (Acts 28:30). Thus he obviously had agreed to pay rent. Financial commitments are part of life. As long as we pay on time, we owe no one anything.

But what if we pile up commitments that are beyond our means? After a while we will no longer be able to pay.

Actually we are all stewards of other people’s money. Most of our income each month belongs to someone else. Part belongs to the government, and the State is smart enough to deduct its portion from our wages before we get them! If we rent a house, a portion belongs to our landlord. If we have loans, a part belongs to the bank. Our family needs food and clothing, so a part belongs to the shopkeepers. We need energy, so a part belongs to the utility companies. There is only a small amount left that we can spend any way we want. If we are not good stewards, we can easily misappropriate someone else’s money, and no longer be able to give them their due portion.

I knew a woman who opened a shop and went bankrupt in a few months because she thought she could freely spend everything that came into the cash register!

Also in money matters, the temptations of Satan must be resisted. Problems can be “love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10); “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16); covetousness (Colossians 3:5); not paying your workers a fair wage (James 5:4); “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19). Materialism can cause us to get in debt and be unable to pay what we owe.

“Owe no one anything.” What are some dangers?

We are warned in Scripture about the danger of putting up security for someone else. “A man devoid of understanding shakes hands in a pledge, and becomes surety for his friend” (Proverbs 17:18). Why is this dangerous? If your friend can easily pay, he will have security of his own! If you decide to provide security anyway, keep in mind that you may have to pay the whole debt yourself! Thus, you must be able to do so without jeopardizing your own financial condition.

The principle behind this warning is that we must avoid excessive debts. If we allow ourselves to become insolvent, there is a great danger that we will not be able to pay what we owe. Being solvent means that we can pay all we owe by selling things we own.

Does the command, “Owe no one anything,” mean that we may not borrow? Borrowing is not forbidden in Scripture, but it is viewed as something negative, which of course it is. A loan is negative money.

When the Lord promised to bless Israel if they remained faithful, He said: “For the LORD your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow” (Deuteronomy 15:6). The one who lends has power over the one who borrows: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7).

Yet, borrowing is sometimes needful. In the next two verses in Deuteronomy we read: “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs” (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8). Thus, it is not wrong to borrow for things we really need, on condition that we will be able to pay it back.

It is wrong not to repay: “The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives” (Psalm 37:21).

Thus, to obey the command, “Owe no one anything,” we must be careful not to borrow more than we can repay. When we have a loan, we do not owe until payment is due. If we repay the loan at the agreed time, we do not owe anything.

A loan should be covered in some way. If because of unexpected circumstances, for example, you are not able to make your car payments, you should be able to repay the loan by selling the car.

Insurance can also be part of the coverage. I know someone who had to pay off a loan for five years on a car that no longer existed because it caught fire while he was driving and was not insured. And, he was an insurance salesman!

The same applies to the purchase of a house with a mortgage. If you cannot make your house payments, you should be able to pay off the loan by selling the house.

It is not sufficient, however, that the principal is covered by a countervalue, the repayments must also be within our means.

Many get in trouble at this point. In our society it is easy to borrow more than we can repay. Since we can get something on credit, we may be tempted to buy a more expensive house or automobile than we can afford.

Why is it so easy to get credit? Because those who offer us credit want to make money off of us even if it is to our financial disadvantage.

In my pocket I have something that is extremely dangerous: a credit card. First, one must understand that a credit card is NOT MONEY. With it you only promise to pay money.

It is dangerous because it enables you to promise to pay more than you can afford. You can make purchases with money you do not have. You can go to the airport and get a ticket to fly halfway around the world and back, even if you do not have the money.

A credit card can be valuable for one month’s credit. If you pay your credit card bill completely every month, no interest is charged!

If you do not pay it off every month, the interest charged is exorbitant, and you can easily build up a debt that you are no longer able to repay. It can become a form of debt bondage. You owe your soul, not to the company store, but to the credit card company.

This is how it works: One month you use your card to buy more than you can afford. So, at the end of the month you are not able to pay the whole amount. Or if you do, you do not have enough money for the next month’s expenses. So now you are forced to use your credit card because your money is gone. And if you buy more on your card than you can afford again (it is so easy to do), your negative balance grows even larger. Your debt snowballs because each month you must pay high interest on your growing debt.

When you go shopping with a credit card there is no hard limit to what you can spend.

Credit card companies set a high maximum credit to lure the card user into deeper debt, which results in more profit for them. They also make it easy for you not to pay off your debt by setting a low minimum payment each month. After all, they collect high interest on what you do not pay!

Credit card debt is a major cause of personal bankruptcy.

A survey by the US Department of Justice in 2000 determined that in 74% of personal bankruptcy cases, credit card debt played a significant role, and that 42% of bankruptcies involved credit card debts of $10,000. to $50,000, 7% involved credit card debts of more than $50,000 and 3% involved credit card debts of more than $75,000. Those with high credit card debts usually had several credit cards they obtained through the aggressive marketing of credit card companies.

Someone who uses more credit than he can repay, is not obeying the command: “Owe no one anything.”

To obey God in this, our expenditures must be less than our income. It is that simple. If we spend even a little more than we earn each month, we will go deeper and deeper into debt. The first rule if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging! The hole must be filled up!

If you have become a victim of credit mongers and you find yourself in a seemingly hopeless situation, ask for advice, possibly from someone in the church or from a free independent family finance counseling service. But beware of loan sharks who profile themselves as debt advisors! Someone who wants to loan you money is not the best source of advice.

Christians must pay their taxes: “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:6, 7).

Christians are to give as we have been prospered (1 Corinthians 16:2) and as we have purposed in our hearts (2 Corinthians 9:7). This is possible only if we do some planning.

To obey the command to owe no one anything, we must also save for extraordinary expenditures. Even under normal circumstances, there are certain times of the year and certain occasions in life, when expenses are higher than otherwise. This requires saving, which means that our regular expenses must be less than our income. During lean years it is not possible to save. And most of us have experienced such times. But when things go better, it is wise to put something aside.

“There is desirable treasure, and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man squanders it” (Proverbs 21:20). Remember the prodigal son? ‘Prodigal’ means wasteful. He wasted his whole inheritance. He repented and returned to his father, but his inheritance was gone.

So far, we have spoken mainly about frugality so we can obey the command, “Owe no one anything”. But frugality does not help if we have no income!

The world does not owe us a living. We must work to pay our own way. “But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12). We are to work, not only to provide for our own needs, but also that we “may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).

Paul also wrote: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).

A brother who is unemployed asked me about this passage recently. I pointed out to him that it does not say, “If anyone is out of work”, but “If anyone will not work.”

Circumstances can vary, but in the first instance it is the man’s responsibility to provide bread for his family “in toil” and “in the sweat” of his face (Genesis 3:17-19). Women are to be “homemakers” (Titus 2:5; See also 1 Timothy 5:14).

Jesus promised that God will provide for our needs if we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Let us pray and work for our daily bread that our needs might be provided and we might have extra to give to the Lord and to share with the needy. Let us be careful to “Owe no one anything except to love one another” (Romans 13:8). Amen.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive