Is Charging Interest a Sin?

LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?…[he] who lends his money without usury… Psalm 15

This may be an oversimplification, but there seems to be two basic kinds of debt: The kind that comes from overspending, and the kind that oppresses the poor and vulnerable.

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The Year of Jubilee, by Henry Le Jeune

So many Americans are slaves to debt.  Many of them are still paying off Christmas debt, in addition to making monthly payments on cars, furniture and televisions at exorbitant interest rates.  It is easy to get caught up in trying to store up treasures on earth, rather than storing them up in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Those carrying the burden of debt – whether it be from overspending or from necessary expenses –  should consult authors like David Ramsey, who teaches debt free living, and he does so from a Christian perspective. 

There is the other kind of debt, the kind where the poor with few alternatives are offered high-interest loans.  The recently unemployed paying interest on back payments for rent.  A low-income family paying interest on mounting medical bills.  A single mom using credit cards to keep the electricity on or put food on the table.  Charging interest is nothing new, and the God of ancient Israel had a different society in mind:

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. Exodus 22:25

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.  Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.  (Leviticus 25:35-36)

Not only did God prohibit charging interest, God also commanded the cancellation of debts:

“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.  This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed.”  Deuteronomy 15:1-2

All of this is not to be confused with ‘handouts’ to the lazy and unmotivated (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10).  The subject of charging interest and forgiving loans was a part of God’s bigger vision for the world:

“…there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.” (Deuteronomy 15:4-5) 

If only big banks and big businesses had a similar vision.

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About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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