“The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.” - Psalm 37:21.
As Christians, we know that paying our debts is important. We serve a just and righteous God who hates dishonesty, but what if someone owes you money? What recourse do you have?
God’s Word contains dozens of verses about repaying debt, but usually from the perspective of owing it to others. Another example of this is Ecclesiastes 5:5, “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”
We have to dig a little deeper to discern God’s will for us when someone owes us money, but one thing is very clear, the Lord expects us to act differently than the world.
For one thing, if the person who owes you is a fellow believer, you should never sue to recover that money. Paul says this in no uncertain terms in 1 Corinthians 6:6-7, “But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”
Of course, this applies only if the person owing you money is a fellow believer. The Bible doesn’t say that you can’t sue someone outside the church. If you own a business, you may someday be forced** to take someone to court for non-payment, simply to keep the doors open.
That’s not to say you have no recourse within the church. If someone rightfully owes you money and doesn’t pay, there’s a four-step process for reconciling the issue.
First is to put the matter into perspective. You shouldn’t be surprised if another believer attempts to defraud you. Romans 3:23 reads, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
With that in mind, consider how Jesus treated sinners— with kindness and patience. You want to avoid confrontation. A good way to do that is by praying for the one who owes you money. You might say to God:
“Heavenly Father, I lift this person up to you and put this situation in your hands. Please give me wisdom. Please bless this person financially so they will never feel the need to borrow in the future. Your ways are not our ways. Please use this situation to give glory to You and guide my steps. Help me act as Christ would, showing mercy, that others might see and be drawn to him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The next step is to meet with the person who owes you money. In Matthew 18:15 Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” This means keeping the matter private for now. Don’t grouse about it to your spouse or friends and certainly not on social media.
The idea is to show respect for the other person so their heart might be softened. The real goal is reconciliation. Getting what you’re owed is secondary. Be willing from the outset to forego payment if need be.
If meeting privately with the person doesn’t work, step three is to take other Christians with you for another meeting. Jesus goes on to say in verses 16 and 17:
“If they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
That seems pretty drastic, but we’re entering the realm of church discipline. It’s important to understand that this isn’t to punish the individual, but to help him or her see the error of their ways, repent, and make good.
If this person rightfully owes you money and refuses to pay, it’s a sin and the Church needs to deal with it. Just as with adultery or any other type of public sin, the Church must exercise proper discipline or it ceases to honor God. If the offender refuses to repent, Jesus Himself says they should be treated as an unbeliever.
And finally, step four. You must continue to show humility, respect and love for the offender. You must remember that you represent Christ and that you trust Him for the outcome.
People are watching you. Think of the situation not as a win/lose proposition, but as an opportunity to express the love of Christ in a difficult situation. As believers, we should be better than the world at resolving conflict.
Pray that the Holy Spirit will show His power through this process, that God’s will should be accomplished through you, whether you’re paid or not. Either way, you must forgive that person, as Christ has forgiven you.
Mark 11:25 reads, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive your trespasses.”
You can also listen to the related podcast on this topic.