If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks (Deut.15:7-8).
Lending is not giving. The poor man here may ask for a loan, but should he be granted it, he should be prepared to take all possible steps to ensure steady repayment, through setting aside monies from his pay. This is good for him, because it reminds him that money does not grow on trees, and he will be careful in future to studiously avoid the circumstances that have brought him undone, on this occasion.
And it is also good for the lender, who has his capital returned intact. On another occasion, he will be inclined to lend again, if his capital base was not eroded this time.
Having said this, the scripture also teaches that there are limitations on how demanding the lender can be in requiring payment.
When you make your neighbour a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge (Deut.24:10-12).
This thought of the godly man lending to the needy comes up again in scripture. Psalm 112 promises that
It is well with the man who is gracious and lends; he will maintain his cause in judgement (v.5).
And there is more:
How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble. The Lord will protect him and keep him alive, and he shall be called blessed upon the earth (Ps.41:1-2).
He who despises his neighbour sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor (Prov.14:21).
He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honours Him (Prov.14:31).
One who is gracious to the poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed (Prov.19:17).
This doesn’t mean that everyone in church who asks for a loan should be given it, for some people (even in church) become proficient at milking the system, once they know how it works. Not only are there limits on how much money can be loaned, but there are (more importantly, from the perspective of prudence) limits on how much should be loaned.
Amongst poor people, there are the deserving and the undeserving. The Prodigal Son was undeserving, for he had known riches but lost them by his folly. He had to be hungry and humbled, before he “…came to his senses” (Luke 15:17). Depriving him of other people’s charity was the best thing that happened to him. Giving him unearned money would only encourage him to continue in his wasteful and indulgent lifestyle.
Poor people ideally, should get a job and keep it, not get a loan. People really do need to develop a reputation for integrity, faithfulness and reliability, before expecting (or even hoping) that monies will be made available to them by a wealthy church member. And if that means that they struggle and go without for a while, that should do them no harm. Sound and reliable people accept that is a requirement of life. Reputations are not developed overnight, but over years. The Bible does say,
Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects instruction, but he who regards reproof will be honoured (Prov.13:18).
The burden of Paul as he developed his arguments about just how widows were to be helped in the church, was to ensure that “…the church must not be burdened” (I Tim.5:16). He needed 14 verses to deal with that subject, so it is no mean issue for any church to get right.
And let’s face it: there are a lot of people who would be very happy to be a burden to the church. It’s no concern to them, if they are essentially amoral people. Thus the elders have to be particularly wary of these types, but let them do what the Bible commands: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil.2:12).
Lending money to truly needy people is a Christian opportunity to care for them. Having said that, prudent asset management amongst God’s people is just as important. Jesus did warn us of thieves, robbers and wolves, who would be (and have been) predators amongst God’s people. The elders of any church need to firmly protect God’s people from them.
Thus wise and godly lending to the needy is an aspect of the gospel. God commands that we engage in it, and the needy will appreciate it, especially when its provision is governed prudently, and not wasted on the indolent.