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Question and Answer

What is the biblical view of making restitution?


What is the biblical view of making restitution by the offending party to the offended party in matters such as business relationships gone bad, unjustifiable divorce, and stealing from your neighbor? Where does civil government come in and where does the church come in? Is having both parties involved being reconciled to one another any part of the equation if indeed there truly is an equation?


Assuming that both parties are believers, the Bible gives us a good deal of guidance with regard to restitution. The prime New Testament example of this is Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8. There, Zacchaeus, a tax collector turned believer, repents of his former life and he gives half his possessions to the poor (whom he formerly robbed) and paid back all he stole fourfold. This was going above and beyond what was required, often times, by the law. In Exodus 22 and Numbers 5 we find laws concerning restitution. Sometimes the offender is to simply replace what it was he took or destroyed. Other times there was an extra cost on top of the value of the property as a kind of interest or restitution for the trouble of having to deal with lost, stolen, or damaged property.

Of course, all this points to the fact that in all things we are the offending party and God is the offended one. We owe God for our sin and rebellion against him. And the only thing that can compensate for our offense is our very lives, for the wages of sin is death. But praise be to God, in his Son—his only begotten Son—we have one who has purchased us with a price. And the price he paid for our lives is his own life as he become a propitiation for our sins upon the cross. Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe, for sin has left a crimson stain but he has made it white as snow.

In light of this, we need to be quick to repent and ask forgiveness, paying back what we owe when and where it is needed. And furthermore, when we are offended we should be quick to forgive. If someone strikes us on the cheek, we should give him the other one. If someone wants our tunic, we should give him our cloak as well. If they want us to go with them a mile, we should go with them two (Matthew 5:38-42). We need to be quick to forgive, because Christ has so greatly and quickly forgiven us. We are to forgive much, because we have been forgiven much.

That said, we most certainly may and should bring our grievance, as per Matthew 18, to the offending party first in private. If he does not repent, then we should go to him again with a witness. If he still ise unrepentant then we can bring it to the church (i.e., to the elders). If we still find no justice here, and we still cannot absorb the cost of what was taken from us, we may also report the crime (if it is a crime) to the civil authorities. Hopefully there we will receive justice. But we must always keep in mind that vengeance belongs to the Lord. It may be that the state fails us. But God never fails. And it may be that we need to simply rest and trust in the Lord knowing that some day God will set all things straight and right:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:14-21, ESV)

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