With this installment of F.W. Mattox’s Christian Solutions to Modern Problems, the writer and professor at Harding College in the mid-1900s addresses the ideas that earning interest is sinful, and that poverty is the pinnacle of Christian virtue.
6. DOES THE BIBLE TEACHING WHICH CONDEMNS USURY CURTAIL BUSINESS?
The critics of Christianity have left no stone unturned to bring it into discredit. It is being stated that the Bible opposed collecting interest on loans, and since the American system is based upon investment of capital for which a return is expected, the Bible is against the American system.
This criticism is based upon the following scripture quotations. In Psalm 15:5, the man that pleases God is described as a man who “putteth not out his money to interest.” In Ezekiel 18:8, the just man is spoken of as “he that hath not given forth upon interest, neither hath taken any increase.” These passages, upon first thought seem to prove the contention, but upon examination it is clearly seen that this prohibition is against taking interest from the poor to whom a loan has been granted in order to sustain life. In Ezekiel 8:17 it is stated that this just man, “hath given bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment; that hath not withdrawn his hand from the poor, that hath not received interest or increase.” In Leviticus 25:35, this idea is even more clearly: stated: “And if thy brother is waxed poor, and his hand fail with thee; then shall thou uphold him …Take thou no interest of him or increase….Thou shalt not give him thy money upon interest, not give him thy victuals for increase.” This same principle applies to the passage in Nehemiah 5:3-13 which condemns the practice of some of the Jews who were taking away the lands of their poor and starving brethren through usury.
There is, however, another type of loan. The loans so far discussed were for subsistence purposes. There was no consideration here given to capital loans—or loans for the purpose of capital investment. This type of loan is made for the purpose of creating greater wealth, and justice would require that the person furnishing the money should share in the increase which his money makes possible. In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the story of the master who distributed talents to his servants. In this story the men who properly invested the money were rewarded and the man who did not was condemned for his failure. Although the story teaches a spiritual lesson the approval of Jesus for interest on capital investments is clearly seen. The language is as follows, “Wherefore givest thou not my money into the bank, and I at coming should have required it with interest.” Criticisms of the Bible are made by those who do not see the whole picture and accordingly, fail to make distinctions that alter completely premature concepts.
7. DOES CHRISTIANITY DISCOURAGE WEALTH AND ENCOURAGE POVERTY?
It has just been suggested that Christianity might be misunderstood to such an extent that the charge would be made that Christianity discourages the accumulation of wealth and sanctions poverty. It is unfortunate that any would so misinterpret the teachings of the New Testament. The statement of Jesus to the rich young ruler, “Go, sell what you have, give to the poor, and come follow me,” has been used as a proof text for such an idea. In this case, Jesus is not approving poverty but was dealing with a young man who had a love for possessions that was stronger than his devotion to God. It was this love of money (which the Apostle Paul tells Timothy is the root of all kinds of evil) that was the sin of his life. Evidence that this is correct is seen in the statement that Christians should “Maintain good works (honest occupations) for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14.)
Another criticism stems from a statement in the 5th chapter of the Book of James where the rich are condemned. The passage reads, “Come now, ye rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth-eaten.” This passage has been used to prove that God is displeased with the rich. Such thinking overlooks entirely the 4th verse which gives a clear explanation of why the condemnation is given. It continues by saying, “Behold the hire of the laborers who mowed your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth out.” This is the key to the passage. The rich have a responsibility not to use their power as means of oppression. The passage in no way indicates a condemnation of wealth as such, but rather the un-Christian means used for making the money.
In this connection, some have misunderstood the commendation of Jesus for the widow who gave her last penny into the treasury. In this case, Jesus made the statement that she had given more than they all. But this cannot rightly be interpreted to mean that Jesus is approving poverty and condemning wealth, but rather he is commending the deep devotion of one who was poor. One does not need to be rich to be covetous; neither does one need to be poor to be liberal. Jesus is here commending one who assumes responsibility and this is a keynote of the Christian religion.