Debt: Who You Gonna Serve?
Foundational Concept: God’s Exclusive Ownership
“The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23)
“To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (Deut. 10:14)
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Ps. 24:1)
“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12)
“Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:11)
“Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” (Psalms 50:10-12)
“‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:8)
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Financial Problems Due to Wrong Spiritual Priorities
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.’“ Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the LORD Almighty says:
“Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. (Haggai 1:2-11)
The Question of Debt
“Owe nothing to anyone.” (Romans 13:8, NASB)
“Let no debt remain outstanding.” (Romans 13:8, NIV)
Is it ever right to borrow?
“The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty…to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.” (Deuteronomy 28:12)
“The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.…They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.” (Psalm 37:21, 26)
“Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.” (Psalm 112:5)
Conclusion: Borrowing is always involved whenever there is lending. Since lending is sometimes permissible, so is borrowing. Still, normally it is the righteous who are lenders rather than borrowers.
The Curse of Debt
“All these blessings will come upon you if you obey the LORD your God"
“…The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to…bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The LORD will make you the head, not the tail.
“However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:
“…The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. He will lend to you, but you will not lend to him. He will be the head, but you will be the tail.” (Deuteronomy 28:2, 12-13; 15; 43-44)
The Desperation of Debt
Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards.” (Nehemiah 5:2-4)
The Danger of Debt
“The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)
“You were bought at a price. Do not become servants of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23)
“No one can serve two masters.…You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)
Debt in Ancient Times:
“Their property held them in chains…chains which shackled their courage and choked their faith and hampered their judgment and throttled their souls. They think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they rather who are owned: enslaved as they are to their own property, they are not the masters of their money but its slaves.” Cyprian, 300 A.D.
The Debt Mentality involves:
- believing you need more than God has given you the means to have.
- believing God doesn’t know best what your needs are.
- believing God has failed to provide for your needs, forcing you to take matters into your hands.
- presuming upon God that just because today’s income may be sufficient to make debt payments, so will tomorrow’s.
It’s one thing to trust God to provide for our present needs (Matthew 6:33). It is another to presume upon him by dictating (via choosing to go into debt) the demand for, amount of and necessary duration of his future provision.
Self-Examining Questions About Debt
- Is debt my way of getting around depending on God? (Why trust God to provide when I can just go get a loan?)
- Is debt my means of short-circuiting the God-created means of acquisition—including work, saving, planning, self-discipline, patience and waiting for divine provision?
- What statement do I make to God when instead of living on what he’s provided I insist on going beyond it? What am I saying about his sovereignty, goodness or timing?
- What effect will my choice to go into debt today have on my ability or willingness to tithe and give freewill offerings tomorrow?
- What effect will today’s choice to go into debt have on tomorrow’s freedom to follow God wherever he wants me to go?
DEBT is always serious, but is especially dangerous when:
- an asset’s resale value is less than what you owe (high depreciation items, such as cars, clothes, and furniture).
- you are tempted to rob God (your primary Creditor) in order to pay men (your secondary creditors).
- monthly payments strap you to the point that you have little freedom to respond to the Spirit’s promptings to generously give to others.
- Inability or unwillingness to respond desensitizes us to human need and to God’s leading.
If you “must” go into debt to provide for your “needs,” is it because:
- your “needs” are really wants in disguise?
- you’ve spent so much money on your wants that not enough is left for your needs?
- you’ve robbed God and forfeited his financial blessing by failing to give Him the firstfruits?
What to Do about Debt
Change your mind and your actions regarding money, things, needs v. wants, giving, saving, spending, credit, and debt.
2. Immediately give God the firstfruits by giving back to him a minimum of 10% of his provision.
Say to him “I recognize your ownership” and “I trust you to bless my obedience.” It is self-contradictory to seek God’s blessing on your finances while putting yourself under his curse by withholding the tithe. You need his blessing to get out of debt! (Never procrastinate obedience.)
3. Incur no new debts.
Operate on this principle: “If I can’t afford it now, it isn’t God’s will now.”
4. Systematically eliminate existing debts.
Draw up a careful budget. Make a specific plan to get out of debt. Seek wise financial counsel. Liquidate unnecessary assets. Realize it won’t happen over night, but with a good plan and commitment you can and will get out.
5. Perform plastic surgery on your credit cards.
Destroy credit cards unless you always make full payment when due (so you never pay interest) and it is no easier for you to put down the card than to put down cash.
Warning: Studies show those who use credit cards—whether or not they pay off at end of month—still spend about 30% more than if they only use cash.
6. Stop rationalizing your debt habit.
Houses: “We need to buy a house because renting is throwing money down the drain. Besides, we’ll save lots of money on taxes because interest is tax deductible.”
Buying your home is sometimes wise stewardship, but not always—there are many hidden financial costs, plus a huge drain of time and energy.
Cars: “We have to buy a new car to save money on gas and repairs.” (How many dollars are you spending for each penny saved on gas and repairs?)
Be honest—just admit you want that beautiful home and shiny new car and deal directly with your desires before God. Don’t rationalize.
7. If debt seems the best or necessary choice, go slowly and prayerfully.
Get objective financial counsel from good stewards (Proverbs 15:22).
8. Learn the difference between saving and spending.
Saving is when you have more money than when you started; spending is when you have less. (If you buy an $80 sweater on sale for $30, how much money do you save? Not $50!! You don’t save anything. You spend $30. People “save” themselves into financial bondage and bankruptcy.)
- Nothing is a good deal unless you can afford it.
- God wants an opportunity either to provide your needs or to show you they aren’t needs before you take things into your own hands.
- Just because you can afford something, it doesn’t mean God wants you to get it.
- Increased income isn’t necessarily God saying “Spend more.” More often his real message is “Give more.” (2 Corinthians 8:14; 9:10, 11)
For further treatment on the subject of debt, including “The Consequences of Debt” and “Illusions About Debt,” see Money, Possessions and Eternity, pages 309-329. For information on lending money and cosigning loans, see pp. 425-29, and for practical guidelines to control spending, pp. 431-36.