The issue of debt has been on my mind a lot in the past several weeks. For one thing, we have been pursuing purchasing a house here in Northeast Ohio and since we are not paying cash with this house, it will involve some debt. But also, I have found myself reading some Dave Ramsey books and other material about finances and stewardship. Thinking about debt is never a good feeling. Not sure where you stand financially, but being debt free would certainly be liberating. This thought has caused me to go back to some things that I studied and taught on over five years ago. It has made me ask the question, "What does the Bible have to say about debt?" Today and tomorrow, I am going to share with you some of the thoughts the Bible has to say about the issue of debt.
First, Debt Is NOT Prohibited, But Is ALWAYS Discussed Negatively. The Bible is not silent on the issue of debt. There are more than 50 passages in the Bible that speak directly about debt and more than 20 that speak indirectly about it. And every one of these passages refers to debt negatively. But they never say that debt is sinful.
"Do not be among those who give pledges, among those who become guarantors for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take your bed from under you?" (Proverbs 22:26-27).
"Let the creditor seize all that he has, and let strangers plunder the product of his labor." (Psalm 109:11)
It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of creditors who can "seize", or more literally "ensnare or strike at" all that you owe them. Later I will discuss how debt is a form of bondage. The Bible always paints the issue of debt in negative terms, but it does not say that it is sinful. There are some who at this statement will point to Romans 13:8, "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another," as a proof text that debt is sinful. Can I just say that it is just that, a proof text. It is not speaking about a loan from a bank. The point Paul is trying to make is that love is something that we will never get rid of. We should seek to pay out our debt of love, but will never be able to get rid of it.
Plus, if it was a sin, then all the passages in the Old Testament where the Israelites were allowed to loan money to their own countrymen (at no interest) would have been causing them to sin. If lending is allowed, then borrowing would have been allowed as well. And if it is always wrong for every circumstance, then God would be guilty of aiding and abetting a sin--something we know is not true. Debt is not sinful, but it is spoken of negatively.
Second, Debt Should Only Be Considered For Essential Physical Needs. For the Israelites in the OT, lending and borrowing was not for big commercial enterprises or for personal wants and desires. It was to help private individuals who lacked everyday needs. Not the rich, but the poor were in debt.
"Now in case a countrymen of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God that your countryman may live with you. You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God." (Leviticus 25:35-38)
People who took on debt in the OT was because of unfortunate situations. They had a bad crop and because they did not have insurance like they do today, they might have had to borrow in order to plant the next years crop or to survive the winter. And that debt would have weighed heavily upon them. It would have been unheard of for them to borrow in order to justify unnecessary things. Can you imagine some Israelite going into debt from their neighbor so they could purchase that new TV or couch for their hut? Or do you think they would ever have mortgaged their farm so they could get the cooler, newer horse & buggy?
Much of debt in our culture today has to do with a failure to be content with the basics of life. In the Lord's prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus tells us to pray for our "daily bread." Basic physical provisions. Debt in the Scriptures was to sustain the essentials of life, not the luxuries. If you have a roof over your head and food in your stomach, you are taken care of.
As I think about this, there are a few questions that might be helpful to ask before every purchase. "If we must go into debt to provide for our needs, is it because our needs are really wants in disguise?" "Have we spent so much money on our wants that there's not enough left for our needs?"
These are two of the points I want to share about debt in the Bible. Tomorrow I will finish and deal with the last three points.