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Dear Chuck,

About 9 years ago, I lent an acquaintance I met at church a substantial sum of money, with signed paperwork to guarantee repayment. Payback time has come and gone. This person has since left the state, got married, and blocked me on every collection attempt. He no longer responds to emails or phone calls. Would it be wrong to take him to court or contact his family members to seek their help in paying his debt? What steps, as a Christian, should I take now?

Unpaid

Chuck Bentley
Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown, the world’s largest Christian finance ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett.

Dear Unpaid,

I’m sorry for your situation! This is a sad scenario that I often hear. This has brought some to the point that they trust Christians less than non-Christians.

There’s an old adage that the definition of a distant friend is a close friend who owes you money.

This is not always true, but all too often Christians, anxious to help others, lend money that is never repaid. In addition to losing money, the relationship suffers or is broken.

Lending is not a new principle. There is no record of a society that functioned for a period of time without borrowing or lending. Do you remember the widow in 2 Kings 4:1? She feared that her two children would be taken by the creditor because she could not pay a debt. She understood the terrible meaning of Proverbs 22:7 (ESV) which states “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender”. It had a much heavier meaning back then. People knew and witnessed the devastating effects of creditor bondage and tried to avoid it.

Until a century ago, the lender had almost absolute authority over a borrower. When a loan has not been repaid on time, the borrower has lost everything he owned to his lender. But today we live in a unique historical period, where the opposite view on debt exists. The borrower can avoid repayment of almost any debt, no matter how frivolously the money was spent.

Unfortunately, many Christians naively assume that other “believers” will behave in ways that honor God. We want to trust them. We want to believe the best in them. We want to extend grace and mercy as we ourselves have experienced from others. But unless we are wise and shrewd, there are those who will take advantage of our love and compassion, often intentionally. And, there are those who run when they cannot repay the money they have been loaned.

One of the blessings promised by God for obedience to His ways is the ability to lend, at interest and in some cases without interest, to increase their prosperity (Deuteronomy 28:12). But when it’s time to collect, there are limits within which we must operate, and those limits are narrower than those of the world.

We must not sue another Christian. This applies to debt collection.

“To have lawsuits with each other is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer the wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7 ESV)

Rather, we are to follow the three-step process described in Matthew 18: confront the sin privately, confront the sin with other witnesses, and finally confront the sin publicly, in front of the church, if necessary, for the purpose of restoration. .

The Lord also clearly explains how to deal with the one who refuses all these collection attempts.

“If your brother has sinned against you, tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. But if he does not listen, take with you one or two others, who each accusation can be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. And if he refuses to even listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax. collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)

As far as unbelievers are concerned, we must remember that we are ambassadors for Christ.

According to Luke 6:30-31 “Give to anyone who asks you, and to him who takes your good, do not ask for it again. And as you would have others do to you, do it to them.”

However, the Bible does not absolutely forbid Christians from suing to recover what was taken by unbelievers. We simply need to keep an eternal perspective, counting the cost of the loss of less value than the preservation of the ministry of the gospel.

Collection agencies can be a resource if the means by which they collect honors the Lord. Before using one, regardless of its reputation, try to determine the borrower’s need and situation so as not to inflict additional pain if it can be avoided. The Bible insists that we should show mercy and forgiveness to others because God has given us mercy and forgiven a debt that we could not pay.

Knowing that we may have to forgive financial debts, it is imperative that we as wise stewards know the spiritual character of the borrower. A team of advisors interviewing a potential borrower can be helpful. Because “in an abundance of advisers, there is security”. (Proverbs 11:14 PSE)

If you are lending to people of good character, a gentle reminder regarding debt repayment is all that should be given, if needed.

Lending money to someone who shouldn’t receive it deprives those who will repay and costs the lender financially and emotionally. In many cases, we should be prepared to simply donate to those in need without expecting a refund.

Finally, Unpaid, I hope your borrower has changed his mind and will respond to your contact attempts. If not, perhaps the person’s family members will actually help you repay so that the burden falls on the borrower and their immediate family. His dishonesty should be dealt with in a way that will bring him restoration and the glory of God.

And for anyone stuck in the cycle of credit card debt, contact our partners at Christian Credit Counselors. They have a wonderful team of professional and friendly advisors who can help you consolidate your payments and lower your interest rates to help you pay off your debts while honoring God.

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Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown, the world’s largest Christian finance ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is an author, host of My MoneyLife – a daily radio show and a frequent speaker on the subject of biblical financial principles. Follow him on Twitter @chuckbentley and visit Crown.org for more help.