The Ultimate Question
Sunday, 8 February 2015
Usury: The Evil Redefined as a Necessity and a Social Good
Many people in the modern world do not know what usury is. Most have not even heard the term ‘usury’. While it is easy to dismiss the issue as ‘antiquated’ or ‘irrelevant’, usury and its operation in global finance and banking affects the lives of all people in the west, whether directly or indirectly. As the global banking system is financed by debt, it is absolutely important to understand the nature of usury, as well as its ethics and morality. This article will examine the nature of usury, its ethics and morality from a Biblical perspective and how to deal with the challenges usury poses to the modern world.
History of usury
During Christendom in Europe, usury was banned by the governing powers because it recognised usury as evil. As the laws prohibiting usury during Christendom became lax, usury become increasing legitimised as a result, and eventually redefined to mean an unreasonable interest on a loan rather than interest on a loan per se. Usury is now the cornerstone of the modern banking system. It is its lifeblood.
It was the redefinition of usury which legitimised it. Owing to the argument that as long as the parties to a usurious loan agreed, usury became seen as unethical and immoral on the grounds of the effect it has on the borrower, rather than unethical because it is interest on a loan. The modern mind may ask, ‘what is so wrong with usury’? Indeed, it is very hard for the modern mind to fully understand why usury is wrong because of its existentialist and naturalistic approach to ethics, in contrast to the essentialist ethic of the Medieval Era, in particularly, Christendom which approached questions of ethics and morality from an essentialist and spiritual perspective. From the existentialist perspective, an act or deed is wrong because of its effects and consequences suffered. From the essentialist perspective, an act or deed is wrong because of what the very act itself is, or what it involves to constitute that act or deed.
Lending money itself is not an immoral or unethical act. Neither is generating wealth itself. Usury, however, is not merely a means of generating wealth from money which many people seem to think. Even among the modern intellectual “elite” is opposition of usury. However, much of this opposition is based on the effects and consequences of usury, rather than what usury is. One might also be justified in suspecting that much of this opposition is also a reaction to the modern upper class of banking “elites”, stemming from envy.
Nature of Usury
What is usury?
Usury is extraction of interest on a loan per se. It is essentially extortion, violating the ethic of freely lending and giving. Lending money or land places on the borrower the moral obligation to return money. Thus, to extract an interest on the loan is to violate ethic of freely giving others financial needs. This is not at all to imply that the borrower has a “right” to borrow money. Rather it is to assert that insisting a lender has a “right” to extract interest on a loan is always of an ungenerous, unforgiving, miserly spirit. Neither is this to argue that borrowers who fail to repay their debts in full are acting morally and responsibility in failing to do so. Rather, it is merely to assert that the lender, in believing one has a “right” to extract interest on a loan is acting against a spirit of generosity. This stems from an anxiety over physical needs, which is of covetousness and greed. The borrowers indeed are morally obliged to repay one’s debts in full. However, the question that arises is what if the person cannot repay one’s debts in full, despite whole-heartedly trying to do so. Such is the question posed to the moral philosopher of usury and debt.
Is usury payment of services?
Some may argue that usury is a payment for services, namely that of lending money. Many of such people even argue that usury is not only a “right” but an obligation on behalf of the lender. This shows a complete lack of understanding as to what usury really is. Despite what most people would like to think, usury is not merely that taken which people of the black market extract. It is extracted by banks – the modern day, erudite, civilised financial black markets which are legitimised by modern law throughout the whole world.
The essence of usury is extortion. It seeks to gain from what one did not have in the first place, thereby creating some monetary value out of thin air. This is precisely the mechanism of fractional reserve banking. Fractional reserve banking is usury because the money loaned to people is not, nor cannot be backed up. Since the amount of money loaned cannot be backed up, it cannot be returned to the borrower. The borrower, however, perpetually owes money to the lender because the lender, in its books, has only a fraction of the total amount loaned that is backed up. This creates credit expansion, by virtue of the perpetual debts a borrower owes to the lender.
Usury is not “payment for services” like a payment one makes for goods that are determined solely by costs required to produce the goods or services as supplied to the buyer. Selling goods or services whether for a profit or otherwise, is not usury because it does not seek to increase credit. Credit, which comes from the word ‘credos’ meaning trust, is that which a person must repay for that which one has taken from another, as opposed to what one has brought from another.
To buy goods or services from another is to give them a reward for the goods they provide to the buyer. The seller is slave to the buyer in a barter system, in the sense that the seller serves the buyer through his or her efforts in producing the good as supplied to the buyer. Therefore, the buyer in return, by paying for the stated selling price of goods or services acknowledges the financial servitude of the seller. Although sellers certainly do have a profit-making motive in almost all, if not all cases, the seller still exercises financial servitude by the labour required to sell the product or service in the way the buyer can consume from. Thus, this is to be distinguished from usury as the labour required to produce the product in the form presented to the buyer amounts to financial servitude.
However, usury on the other hand is gain made from another that which is not laboured for. It is to extort from another. Usury is the charging of ‘interest’ from another person who is slave to the lender, as opposed to charging money from a person who is benefiting from another’s labour, like the consumer. The lender is not a person who benefits from another’s labour which justifies why he or she should pay money to the person from who labour he is benefiting from. Rather, the lender benefits from another by being free from obligation to repay another. The lender is a master of the borrower (Proverbs 22:7).
Lending money to another to expect the amount lent in return does not amount to labour. Labour occurs when a person has to spend effort into producing something of benefit to another that is not expendable for him or herself. This is in contrast to a lender who merely gives money to another out of one’s own financial capacity which one can expect a return financially.
The roots of usury: the doctrine of private property
Apart from the redefining of what is usury, the doctrine of private property has also provided the groundwork for legitimising usury. Private property is the concept that an individual has a sovereign absolute right to ownership of what he or she can pay for. This is in contrast to common property, which is the concept that no particular individual or individuals have a sovereign absolute right to ownership of any possessions, especially in regards to land and houses. Since an individual is deemed to have an absolute right to property in one’s possession, one is deemed to be able to do absolutely what one wants with what one has, including to make usurious loans.
The very doctrine of private property violates the Word of God. The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Psalm 24:1). This clearly indicates that God is the owner of all things. Since God is the owner of all things, humans are merely stewards of the Earth, not owners. Humans are merely managers of God’s Creation. To claim that humans own what they possess is to deny God’s Sovereignty over His Creation, and usurp His authority. Unlike what many Christians claim that the 8th commandment justifies private property, the same logic can be asked of the 6th commandment.
There is no “rights” deserved
God is the Creator and Author of Life, having Sovereignty over the lives of all humans. It is for this reason that suicide is immoral in the eyes of God because it violates God’s authority as Giver and Author of Life. However, life is a free gift from God. No human deserves life, that is, it is not a “right” as many people of all kinds of worldviews simply assume, (at least where it concerns their own life). Yet, it is immoral to commit suicide because it violates the authority of God, not because life is taken per se. Similarly, self-harm is wrong because it seeks to subvert the authority of God. It is to claim that the body one has is one’s own. However, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says that: Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. This applies equally for both Christians and non-Christians because the body that God gave to each person is from Him. He Created and loves every single human being who is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). God, being the Author of Life is justified in taking away life because He is the Sovereign Creator.
Likewise, all possessions humans have are given out of God’s grace, not because any person “deserves” the possessions one has. Despite what many may believe, no human has a “right” to one’s possessions because such is that which is given by God’s grace. God, as He did to Job can allow all of one’s possessions to be taken away. Some may argue that it was not God’s perfect will, but that God only allowed it so that He could (by using satan) test Job’s faith. They may argue that God’s restoration of Job’s possessions shows that this was the case. Even if this was the case, no where does the Bible state that what humans have, including life, is deserved. In fact, it is the exact opposite. God destroyed the world during the time of Noah because of its wickedness (Genesis 6:13). God is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does (Psalm 145:17). He is absolutely justified in taking away life as occurred throughout the Old Testament. To argue otherwise is not only to question His very character, but like a murderer being indignant at a civil law which prohibited murder and telling that judge that he is evil to find him guilty of murder.
Life is not deserved and not a right. Neither is one’s possessions deserved which is what the doctrine of private property advocates. Therefore, usury which essentially claims a right to property is against God.
Does the doctrine of common property violate the 8th Commandment?
Many Christians have reacted to the doctrine of common property which purports that there is no private property in the natural sense in the eyes of God. Their reactions range from a sense of unease as if common property advocates ‘poverty’ (in their eyes), or anger as if common property advocates government-sanctioned theft because it confers all property “rights” to the government. Indeed, it has been frustrating to explain to, of all people, mammonised Christians who think that God may be the owner of all things, but that they somewhat ‘deserve’ their “fair share” of what God owns.
Yet, they love to accuse the unsaved, especially the liberalistic sceptics of capitalism, who they accuse of being ‘socialists’ or ‘communist’, of being envious by merely being sceptical of capitalism’s morality and ethics. Many of these liberalistic sceptics of capitalism are not even advocating for change of the capitalist system! They merely advocate for more government assistance, only to be met with scorn and cynicism from many of those mammonised Christians.
The doctrine of common property does not violate the 8th Commandment. Quite the opposite, it validates it. It is the doctrine of private property, not common property that advocates stealing – stealing from the glory of God who these mammonised Christians claim to love and serve. Is not stealing from the glory of God more serious than stealing from other humans?
In no way I am downplaying theft. Rather, this is to note the irony of those who claim that common property violates the 8th Commandment, and perhaps, the hypocrisy of these mammonised Christians who seem to love their property “rights” more than God. Such is the extremely disturbing thinking of the modern church.
The (faulty) objection that ‘usury should only be banned for the poor’
Some argue that usury should only be banned for the poor, implying that taking usury from a person who is not poor is permissible. However, this statement is one that fails to recognise usury for what it is: extortion and unjust gain, made out of covetousness. It is often raised in the context of the effect of usury on the poor and how one should be generous with personal wealth.
To claim that usury should only be banned on the poor is to claim that whether usury is moral depends on the consequences of usury on the individual, rather than what is the motive of the usurer. Usury is immoral, an unjustifiable for being usury, just as murder is unjustifiable for being murder. It indicates either ignorance as to what usury is, and more importantly, that usury is a sin, or a disregard of usury being a sin because of the love of mammon. Thus, it is analogous to claiming that whether murder is moral is dependent on whether one physically acts to carry it out.
The claim that only extracting usury from the poor should be banned is not only to deny that evil of usury, but to assert that it can be a moral good. Extracting interest on a loan which is always done for personal gain is to not lend freely and willingly. How can usury be generous?
Lender is servant to the borrower(?)
Finally, it also claims that extracting usury is an act of service to the borrower, and therefore that the usurer is entitled to extract interest on a loan, as long as it does not impact the borrower to a certain extent, whatever that extent may be. Lending money is not a ‘service’ because it inherently gives power of the borrower by virtue of the moral obligation on part of the borrower to repay debt to the lender. Rather, the borrower is servant to the lender.
Usury: Mammon’s harlot who has (spiritually) seduced the church
Despite what many in the modern church think, let alone the unbeliever, usury is a sin. It is a shame to the church that even many unbelievers are fighting usury. Many in the modern church fail to recognise usury for the being abominable sin that it is because of a lack of discernment, wisdom and understanding, and more importantly, succumb to the seduction of mammon without realising it. When confronted with the truth that usury in a sin (and that private property is anti-Christian), many Christians react with vehemence and hostility.
Despite undertaking no study on the subject, or even knowledge of term ‘mammon’, they attack those within the church who even question the ethics of usury, private property or capitalism, which is mammon’s method of control over the world. They ask uninformed questions, and also make uninformed comments, and even “sophisticated-sounding” Old Testament theology justifying capitalism and private property, despite having no understanding of the subject. In their extreme hypocrisy, they say that usury is justifiable because the Old Testament law is irrelevant, but yet use the Old Testament to justify private property, capitalism and war.
Jesus Christ declared that the Two Greatest Commandments are to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul and spirit, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Matthew 22:37-40). In Matthew 22:40, He states regarding the Two Greatest Commandments, ‘All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’. This is a very significant statement. The Two Greatest Commandments are not a summary of the Law of God, or that which encompasses all the Law and Prophets. Rather, they are the fulfilment of the Law.
Romans 13:10 states that “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law”. Similarly, Galatians 5:14 says “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. Love is the fulfilment of the Law of God because God is love. The Law of God come from His nature, not His Commands. Rather, His Law is the Law of Love because of His nature as God being love itself. Indeed, whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8) (emphasis in italics).
Usury in the Old Testament
Many Christians argue that usury laws do not apply anymore (and yet use the Old Testament Mosaic Laws to justify property and war) because it is only specific to Mosaic Law. The question that must be asked of such proponents is how that can be implied from the Bible. A theologian once said that because animal sacrifices are no longer demanded by God for obedience, usury no longer applies. However, this is not only a seriously flawed analogy, but a damnable heresy. Indeed, a damnable heresy.
Matthew 5:16-20 makes it unequivocally clear that the Law of God applied in the Old Testament as much as it does under the New Covenant:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus in this passage refers to the Pharisees as ‘righteous’ despite His rebuke of their hypocrisy. This was because they kept the Law of God which is that which was to be fulfilled. Those who break the Law of God will be least in the Kingdom of Heaven, while those who keep and teach the Law of God will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. God demands that the Law of God be fulfilled. While one may retort to this claim that no one is saved by works, it must be emphasised simply for the sake of such people that this is not to advocate that one is saved by the works of the Law. Rather, it is to simply reiterate and make it clear that the Law of God is to be fulfilled and that every single sin, whether by thought, word or deed will be judged by God to be deserving of Eternal punishment.
The ‘Law and the Prophets’ refers to all the teachings of the Law and Prophets before the coming of Jesus, that is, without exceptions. It is tempting for anyone to seek to downplay, eradicate or explain away Biblical teachings, whether in the Old Testament or New Testament, that one feels uncomfortable with. There are many explicit condemnations of usury throughout the Old Testament by the Prophets.
Pentateuch teachings on usury
Many Christians believe that usury prohibition is an antiquated teaching, just as many secular people believe. It must be noted that unlike the other Laws in the Pentateuch regarding property such as those in Exodus 22, usury appears to the only practice listed in the Exodus 22 that has been widely practiced, and has a long history throughout the world. Many Christians think that usury is only wrong when extracted from the poor, and think that it can be used for generous acts. They point to Exodus 22:25 to justify this position, often while ignoring other verses in the Bible regarding usury:
If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.
These ‘usury ban on poor only’ proponents use Deuteronomy 23:19-20 to further justify their position, claiming that usury was banned only because it was unloving or placed a brother in slavery:
Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.
It must be noted here that it that the ban on usury does not distinguish between the poor and the others. Likewise Leviticus 25:35-37 explicitly prohibits usury on the poor. It makes clear who is meant by ‘brother’:
And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.
In Leviticus, which can be called the book of the Law as it sets out the Mosaic Law, the brother can be a stranger or sojourner. As long as one was living as part of the chosen nation of Israel, set aside by God to be Holy and to show the nations His graciousness and His holiness, it was a sin to extract usury. Therefore, the distinction between brother and stranger regarding the Law of God is irrelevant with respect to the Mosaic prohibition on usury. This appears to foreshadow God’s desire that all be saved through Christ and set apart as holy: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28).
What matters here is holiness. Thus, the prohibition on usury in the Pentateuch is one that was to make a nation holy, as opposed to worldly and earthly like the pagan nations. In Usury: a Scriptural, ethical and economic view, Calvin Elliott quotes Robinson's Bible Encyclopedia definition of ‘Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury’:
In this place God seems to tolerate usury toward strangers: that is the Canaanites and other people devoted to subjection, but not toward such strangers against whom the Hebrews had no quarrel. To exact usury is here, according to Ambrose, an act of hostility. It was a kind of waging war with the Canaanites and ruining them by means of usury.
Similarly, S.C. Mooney in Usury: Destroyer of Nations explains why God permitted the Israelites to charge usury:
Who were these "foreigners", and why was Israel permitted to exact usury from them if usury was unlawful? It was understood from ancient times that this permission related specifically to the conquest of the Promised Land. Usury was part of the violence that Israel inflicted upon the wicked people whom God was driving out before them. God had told Israel that the conquest would encompass a length of time. Exodus 23:29-30, "I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate, and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land." The oppression of usury was an effective means of keeping the Canaanites under check until they had been totally conquered. In this case, usury was an instrument of God's judgment upon a wicked people.
The teachings on usury in the Pentateuch were to disciple the nation of Israel to be generous and merciful. Usury is clearly portrayed in the Pentateuch as unholy because of the ungenerous spirit behind the extraction of usury.
Teachings of the prophets on usury
The prophets in the Old Testament were also not silent about usury. In fact, the prophets of the Old Testament expressed disapproval of usury, implying it was a sin. In particular, Ezekiel, called usury an abomination and an act punishable by death (Ezekiel 18:13). It is all too easy to simply ‘contextualise’ teachings that one feels uncomfortable with, and dismiss them as teachings which are only applicable at the time it was written or written for a different group of people to justify one’s failure to follow or accept particular teachings. An example is the New Testament teaching which prohibits women from exercising authority over men in church which is often questioned or dismissed at applicable to the Early Church only (1 Timothy 2:12).
During the times of Israel’s rebellion, they would charge usury. Jeremiah, amid his cries of suffering from persecution, not only asked why he was born, and also why he was cursed since he had neither lent usury or has been lent usury:
Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me (Jeremiah 15:10).
Jeremiah was implying that usury was so evil that those who extracted usury somewhat deserve curses people made against them. Similarly, Nehemiah, in response to complaints by the poor of usury which lead to oppression, commanded people to stop charging usury:
And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards. And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them (Nehemiah 5:10-11).
Ezekiel’s condemnation of usury was more direct and unequivocal. He describes lists it alongside iniquity, indicating that it was prohibited as duty one owed to others according to the Law of God:
True judgment was executed by those who did not extract usury, took no increase or refrained from being involved in iniquity between humans. Proverbs 28:4 states that “they that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them”. Thus, that true judgment was executed by those who did not extract usury means that usury against the Law of God. Ezekiel makes this explicit:
Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him (Ezekiel 18:13).
Isaiah also mentions usurers explicitly as a group that was under the wrath of God because of transgression of God’s Law. It must be noted that in the list of people mentioned in Isaiah 24:1-6, the takers of usury and givers of usury are the only group defined by an action which was against the Law of God. This is significant as it indicates that usurers angered God on that ground of being usurers:
Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him. The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word. The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left (Isaiah 24:1-6).
Isaiah placed much emphasis on the oppression of the poor and needy (Isaiah 10:2; 14:30; 41:17; 58:7); a teaching which was to the emphasised by the One who Isaiah prophesised would come as Messiah – Jesus Christ Himself. Usury often, it not always, oppresses the poor as shown throughout the Bible and also in the modern world.
Teachings on usury in Psalms and Proverbs
The Psalms and Proverbs describe usury and those who charge usury. Similarly, both Psalms and Proverbs portray those who charge usury as unrighteous and unholy.
In Psalm 15:1, the psalmist asks “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” Among those who will dwell with the Lord is “he that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved” (Psalm 15:5).
Proverbs 28:8 classifies usury as gain that will be given to the poor, implying that usury is illegitimately gained wealth: He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor (Proverbs 28:8).
Overall themes of usury in Old Testament
Usury is represented in Old Testament as that which is unjust. Those who extract usury are portrayed as not only covetous, but having callous and perverse disregard of the poor. Since those who have been extracted usury are treated unjustly, God will ensure justice is done for such people by giving the proceeds of usury to the poor as shown in Proverbs.
Breaking the Law of Love: New Testament teachings about usury
The New Testament documents the teachings of Jesus Christ who give the Two Greatest Commandments: (1) Love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul and spirit; and (2) Love your neighbour as oneself. The Law of God not only hinges on the Law of Love. The Law of God is the Law of Love. Love is the fulfilment of the Law of God (Romans 13:10).
Approach to dealing with usury
Since the New Covenant is the current one, it is more applicable for the Christian to think about the issue surrounding usury from the New Testament perspective, rather than the Old Testament. However, this is not in any way to discard the Divine Wisdom of the Old Testament Laws regarding usury.
It must be noted that the New Testament does not explicitly mention usury. However, this does not make usury permissible as it is an act that concerns duties between people, and the Christian is expected by God to responsible in such duties. Usury is not an act akin to eating certain kinds of food or what one should wear – matters of the conscience because it is an act concerning how one should treat others. As such, it is not a matter of liberty in Christ. Rather, it is akin to acts concerning money such as gambling, another act that is not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament and not a conscience matter.
Purpose of the Law of God
Whether an act is a sin is determined by whether it breaks the Law of Love. It is not because an act is an act that makes it sin, but rather because it breaks the Law of Love. There are certain acts which always reveal a heart that is not of love. These acts are all the acts that are listed as sins such as those explicitly covered by the 10 Commandments. Each sin is one that violates at least one of the 10 Commandments which reveals sin and incite more sin so as to show that humans cannot be righteous by one’s own natural flesh or by one’s strength (Galatians 3:19; 5:20). Keeping the Law would not make one righteous but condemn (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). Only by trusting the Jesus Christ will make one justified (Romans 3:24) – salvation from the just wrath of God comes from Jesus Christ alone.
It is not the acts of a person that makes an act immoral, which is determined by God alone. Rather the Law of God is one that reveals the condition of the heart, as to whether it is one of love or one not of love. Thus, the question the Christian must ask is what does usury reveal about the heart? More specifically, the question is, does usury show a heart of love or a heart not of love?
What does extracting usury reveal about the heart?
The issue of gambling which was eluded to previously can demonstrate how to apply wisdom to moral issues, as opposed to simply doing things or not doing certain things out of a sense of a feeling that one must simply follow a set of rules.
Gambling is an act that is not explicitly stated to be a sin in the Bible. However, it can be known and is known that it is – from both the moral conscience and by inference from the Bible. The act of gambling always involves the anxiety for one’s physical earthly needs, namely money. The physical act of gambling cannot be separated from this anxiety. Jesus commanded His followers not to be anxious about physical needs as it shows a failure to fully trust God:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (Matthew 6:25-34).
The very verse before this famous passage beloved among Christians is the equally famous and often twisted verse that arouses the unease and discontentment of many Christians is:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).
Jesus, in the passage of Matthew 6:25-34 explains what it means to serve mammon, as opposed to what it means to serve God wholeheartedly. This verse is as relevant and important for Christians today as it was for Christians during Jesus’ time. It applies to all humans, whether Christian or not, for the person from whom such Words come is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Whether one agrees with it or lives by it is a different matter, and does not make the Words of Jesus pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).
Whenever a person gambles, the person is doing so out of a heart that is anxious and does not trust God. It is one that is serving mammon. To serve mammon is to not serve God, but hate God. To hate God is to have no love because God is love. The person who serves mammon does not and cannot love (agape) God or others selflessly. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother (1 John 3:10).
Likewise, usury reveals a covetous idolatrous heart that is anxious about one’s physical needs. This is to serve mammon. Usury is also a means of tempting another to serve mammon, just as the adulterous woman in Proverbs tempts another to sin. Usury is mammon’s harlot. Usury is not an act of giving animal sacrifices, and thus the argument against usury being a sin on the grounds the end of animal sacrifice laws is invalid, if not ludicrous. Rather, it is the opposite of making sacrifices, reveals a covetous and idolatrous heart.
The key in applying wisdom to moral issues is looking at the heart for God judges the heart of each and every single person, not the acts. The acts, deeds and words of a person are a mere manifestation of the heart. It is the heart that determines the acts, deeds and words.
Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Could it not be said that ‘You have heard do not extract usury for it is an abomination. But I say to you whoever feels anxious about one’s own earthly needs, that people has already committed covetousness and idolatry in his or her heart?’
It seems Jesus was indeed saying this in Matthew 6:24-31 by saying ‘No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon’ and then commanding His followers not to be anxious for one’s earthly needs. He tells them that by worrying about such things, they had ‘little faith’ in God (Matthew 6:30). He likens them to pagans for doing so (Matthew 6:32).
Jesus also said: And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil (Luke 6:34-35).
The Ultimate Question
It is not that when Jesus died and rose again, the Law need not be followed. Rather, the question for each and every single person is, ‘Do you accept that you have broken the Law of God and are deserving of just punishment according to the Law which condemns?’ not whether you have kept the Law or is following the Law.
Just as usury keeps people in bondage to debt owed to other people, sin keeps people in bondage to debt owed to God. However, God enabled cancellation that debt owed to Him through sin by providing Jesus Christ, His Only begotten Son to pay the debt, by suffering and dying for the sins of the whole world. To have that debt owed to God cancelled, one needs to turn from one’s old life of sin and place one’s trust in Jesus Christ alone.
Choose this day whom you will serve: will you turn to Jesus and serve Him, or will you continue to serve mammon?