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Waging War on Debt

Paying off debt is usually near the top of the list of goals for most folks (often right behind “retirement” and “a little more travel”).  Regardless if the debt is feels manageable or like Mt. Everest, most of us have a sense that it’s a good idea to be decreasing the amount of debt we have to eventually zero.  But just how big of a deal is debt really?  Are some debts better or worse than others?  And beyond the numbers, what are the spiritual implications of financial indebtedness?  What does the Bible actually instruct us regarding the topic?

The answer to the last question is “surprisingly little”.  There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible dealing with money and possessions, but much fewer when it comes to debt.

Is this because debt is unimportant to God?  Of course not.  On the contrary, the reason there is so little in scripture regarding debt is because over much of history it’s been unusual for the average person to take on debt of any kind.  Until the middle of last century, mortgages and credit cards were mostly only available to folks that didn’t need them.  The Bible is silent on topics like binge-watching Netflix and recreational drug use, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about those either.

So what exactly does the Bible teach us about debt?  Let’s take a dive into a few specific passages:

Debt is servitude

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender – Proverbs 22:7

The world wants us to believe that debt is just leverage that helps us get what we want faster and easier.  “Other People’s Money” is a popular term that makes debt sound smart and almost like someone else is the one taking on the risk.  But scripture is clear that when we take on debt, we become the servant to the lender.

Not only do we owe someone financially, but there can be a spiritual burden with this as well.  We experienced this when we borrowed money from my dad for a down payment on our first home.  He was very gracious and helpful to us in lending us the money, but we felt a weight on us for owing him.  We decided pretty quickly to do whatever we needed to do to pay him back ASAP, because we didn’t want the debt to ever affect the relationship.

Were we disobedient in borrowing the money from my dad?  I don’t think so.  Debt isn’t prohibited by God, but He does let us know that there are consequences for it.  There is a legal requirement to the lender, as well as a more intangible (but no less real) servitude associated with debt.

We should strive to eliminate debt

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continual debt to love one another – Romans 13:7

Another lie the world wants us to believe is that debt is fine so long as you can make the payments.  It seems that most cars are advertised not as a purchase price, but as a low-monthly-payment.  The same can be said for mortgages, engagement rings, and so on.

But doesn’t all of this presume upon the ability to maintain our income?  How many of us can ultimately control our future income?

Rather, the Bible encourages us to work towards not being in financial debt.  Again, it’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just a burden that God doesn’t want us to have.  He wants us to be in debt to Him alone, and when we have financial debts we’re obligated to, we can’t be freed up to fully serve God.

Debt was a curse

The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.  You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. – Deuteronomy 28:12

This was a promise that was given from God to his people if they would obey his commands.  Blessing from the Lord was equated to abundance, while going into debt was conversely a curse.

And yet while debt was clearly a curse in the Bible, we have turned it into a way of life in America.  It’s become much more rare to be totally debt-free than not.  We’re often more concerned about our credit scores than we are about how much we’re actually borrowing.  Debt is seen as a blessing in that it can enable us to have houses, cars, educations, and stuff that we would otherwise have to either wait for or else never be able to afford.

But in the Bible debt was reserved not for those with good credit scores but for those who were outside of God’s protection and blessing.  There was no laissez-faire attitude about debt in the Bible, it was a serious deal.

Fighting the Lies

So why do we fall for the lies about debt?  What makes them appealing like the forbidden fruit?

The war against consumer debt is an uphill battle with the cards stacked against us.  We’re inundated with advertisements constantly.  They pop up in apps on our phones, on TV, and almost everywhere we turn.  And when we hear the same messages over and over again, we stop questioning them as much.  We begin to believe that if we have that experience, that new toy, that new you, then our lives will be happier, longer or at least better than our neighbors.

The insidious part of the lies is that they’re somewhat believable.  They target our emotions and get to the heart of our fears and hopes and dreams.  But remember that people get paid a lot money to come up with these emotional pulls.  Think about that.  Someone actually got a master’s degree in stirring up discontent for you and me.  They go to work every day dreaming up new ways they can try to get you to want something!

What’s your plan for debt?  If you have debt (and yes, a mortgage is debt!), have you put together a plan for paying it off?  Have you committed to not taking on any further debt?  Again, it’s not wrong or evil, but it is certainly dangerous and limits how freed up we can be.  If you need help putting together a game plan for tackling debt, let us know and we’d be glad to help.

Even if you don’t have debt, the bigger battle is to begin countering the lies of discontentment.  The truth is, that ______ won’t make me happy.  It might be nice to have, but it won’t truly satisfy.  Make sure to tell yourself that regularly.

It’s also a great idea to list out as many things as you can that you already have, and then to thank God for His provision.  When we see how blessed we already are, it keeps us from feeling the “if-only’s”.  It’s been said that comparison is the thief of joy.  That’s because we tend to only compare ourselves with those who have more than we do.  Counter this by recognizing all you already have.

Finally, be sure to pray over any big purchases you’re considering.  Ask God if he would have you spend money on ______ or use His resources in another way.

Debt isn’t wrong, but I believe the Bible calls us to work towards eliminating it whenever possible.  Being debt-free won’t earn you God’s favor, but it will free you up to say “yes” to wherever He leads.  Blessings on the journey ahead!