Why Should We Be Neither a Lender Nor a Borrower?
One of the famous quotes about debt that is often cited as colloquial wisdom comes from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” The line is said by the sometimes wise and sometimes foolish character Polonius to his son, following it up with the axiom, “For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”
The sentiment has its roots in a passage in the Bible. Polonius warns not to loan money because the debts would probably not be repaid, and whether one is the loaner or the borrower, the relationship will probably be poisoned by the exchange of money. The idea comes most directly from the Proverbs, “...the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7b).
Another important verse Shakespeare drew from is in Deuteronomy, where Moses commanded the Israelites, “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it” (Deuteronomy 23:19-20). God did not want the Israelites charging one another exploitative interest and profiting off the hardships of someone else. In fact, every seven years - known as the Year of Jubilee - debts were cancelled.
When considering how this idea applies to Christians today, believers should treat other Christians as brothers and sisters. They should also treat non-believers with the love of God, and avoid exploiting, but have the wisdom not to be exploited. In fact, the Bible says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Christians should give generously, not treating it as a loan that must be repaid, but as a gift as if it were to the Lord. However, we are warned not to be foolish with our giving. To avoid being a slave to worldly whims, Christians should not borrow money if they do not have to, so they are free to obey God, rather than their money-lender.
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