Back to The Basics: Debt

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by Tim on February 4, 2011

Most of us have experienced debt in one form or another: home loans, car loans, student loans, credit cards, you name it.  Debt is binding, limiting, frustrating, controlling, annoying, burdensome, and most of the time it’s just plain foolish.  It’s no wonder that the Bible is full of scripture that warns about the dangers of debt and plainly instructs us to avoid borrowing.  Before you can free yourself from debt, it’s helpful to have a Biblical understanding of debt – which is why we’re covering the basics of debt.

An Old Testament View of Borrowing and Lending

Borrowers in ancient times (Old Testament especially) were men and women who were in desperate situations.  This usually meant that they could barely provide food and clothing or shelter for themselves.  The ability to lend was a sign of power and borrowing was simply a sign of weakness.

Deuteronomy 15:6

For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.

The Lord was promising to make Israel a powerful nation and spoke in terms of borrowing and lending here to represent the strength and weakness that is inherent in lending and borrowing.

God gives even more instruction later in Deuteronomy that simply instructs Israel to follow His commands and never borrow, allowing them to always be the ‘head and not the tail.’

Deuteronomy 28:12-13

“The LORD will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.”

13 “The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully, “

The Old Testament examples of borrowing and lending are pertinent to today because of the one factor that kept Israel ahead of other nations: God’s favor.  The reason Israel would be in a position to always lend and never borrow is because God’s favor was with them, as long as Israel would follow God’s commands.  If they were to fall back from the Lord’s commands, it was clear that His favor would become absent and, as Deuteronomy 28:43-44 says:

“The foreigners living among you will become stronger and stronger, while you become weaker and weaker. 44 They will lend money to you, but you will not lend to them. They will be the head, and you will be the tail!”

A New Testament on Borrowing and Lending

One of the major themes regarding money in the New Testament is generosity.  Yes, that also affects debt.  How so?  Let’s first look at the greatest sermon ever given – the Sermon on The Mount.

Luke shares Jesus’ introduction of the sermon in chapter six and we find Jesus’ teaching on lending in verse 35.

Luke 6:35
“Love your enemies!  Do good to them.  Lend to them without expecting to be repaid.  Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.“

If we see understand the Old Testament wisdom of never borrowing and always being in a position to lend, the words from Jesus might make you cringe.  The idea of lending and not expecting the money back is such a difficult concept to grasp, but it’s generosity in its truest definition.


But What Does Jesus Say About Borrowing?

Jesus gives great wisdom in his teaching about money and possessions that will help us understand how debt doesn’t need to be a part of our life.  In Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus’ words on possessions can be summed up with verse 33 – “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  When we live our lives free from the need to constantly upgrade and increase our standard of living (based on the world’s view) we don’t need to include debt in the equation.

We can get almost anything we want if we’re approved as creditworthy.  The problem is that it fosters a sense of instant gratification, which can snowball into more and more debt.  It’s no wonder that the average American household has over $6,500 of consumer debt according to the Federal Reserve.  If we follow Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-34, we’ll have a firm foundation when shaping a financial plan – one that is not built around debt.

Is it Wise To Go Into Debt?

If you’re looking for scriptures about debt, these verses provide great wisdom on the topic.  You’ll find a common thread between these verses – Debt is Dangerous.

Ecclesiastes 5:5
It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.

Proverbs 11:15
There’s danger in putting up security for a stranger’s debt; it’s safer not to guarantee another person’s debt.

Proverbs 17:18
It’s poor judgment to guarantee another person’s debt or put up security for a friend.

Proverbs 22:7
Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.

Proverbs 22:26, 27
Don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt or put up security for someone else. If you can’t pay it, even your bed will be snatched from under you.

Proverbs 27:13
Get security from someone who guarantees a stranger’s debt. Get a deposit if he does it for foreigners.

Romans 13:8
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

Did this help you in understanding what the scriptures say about debt?  What do you think about debt?  Is it a necessary evil, or is it something we can avoid, but choose not to?

Back to The Basics Series…

Part One: Income
Part Two: Savings
Part Three: Budgeting
Part Four: Debt
Part Five: Investing
Part Six: Giving

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith February 4, 2011

Thanks for this! I am starting to find my way out of the debt snowball! Love the inspiration you give me from the Bible.

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Tim February 6, 2011

Keep it up Keith! I’m glad this post could encourage you today! Thanks for your comment!

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Evelyn August 15, 2012

I would love to read more information on this.

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Jeff March 4, 2013

Scripture does put much emphasis on the danger of borrowing, without a definite prohibition. I can find no fault with the idea of living debt-free, however, putting an oppressive burden upon God’s people doesn’t enthrall me either. By this I mean to offer the following counsel: As I’ve stated, borrowing is not strictly prohibited in scripture, and should not be a whipping post for responsible debtors. This is the gist of Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. While it is not wise to accumulate too much debt, it is necessary at times. Let’s take a practical look at the scripture, Romans 13:8. Too often this verse is used to shut down any believer’s thought of borrowing, while “love” is the focus of Paul’s discourse. There are many within the ranks of local churches, that will proclaim, “I don’t believe it is right for the “Church” to borrow money. And yet, they are still paying on a thirty-year mortgage, a car payment, braces for their children’s teeth, a vacation trip, credit card balances, etc., forgetting that people are the “Church.” For instance, a Church family that is seeing phenomenal growth can be stymied by a lack of space, facilities, and the like. Remember, we are still dealing with people; people who are not all on the same spiritual level. In this modern era, it doesn’t require very much to drive away those who might otherwise sit under the Word of God in a service. The evangelism of people is our goal, not regulation that constrains effective outreach. Borrowing to foster continued growth is not a disobedient act, nor is it intended to violate God’s law, only a deceptive purpose does this. Debt-free Church-families are indeed better off than those who are bound to repay a debt whatever amount, but to bind the hands and feet of those who are laboring for the cause of Christ is not serving faithfully.

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