Debt for the Christian

What difference does debt make in one’s life?  Do the positives outweigh any possible negatives? Debt makes certain assumptions.  What if those assumptions prove false?  Can Christians be setting themselves up for disaster or should they simply trust God will bail them out if things go bad?  With those few questions in mind, let’s take a look at the bible passages that appear relevant.
 Proverbs 28:8  He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.

Usury is the lending of money or goods with a motive to gain interest and payment of the original sum as well.  Here in Proverbs there is an idea that somehow usury offends God’s sense of fair use of one’s assets.  This is especially true if one is lending to a brother of the faith.

Deuteronomy 23:19  Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:

Apparently God is concerned about the little guy, specifically his little guys.  He makes it clear that if you lend anything to his kids, Israel, he wants there to be no profit motive.  No usury, no interest.  Why?  Evidently, someone in need is vulnerable.  Evidently someone in need must compromise his allegiance toward someone who will lend him money.  Evidently a debtor loses control of his future, he has in fact enslaved himself to the lender.

You cannot serve God and mammon or money.

Matthew 6:24   No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

1 Timothy 6:10  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

While these verses doesn’t speak specifically to debt, it does show the compromise some make while pursuing the things of this life which includes money.  It’s plain to see that God wants his people free of encumbrances that get between Him and his people.  Mammonism is defined as the pursuit of riches.

Did you ever notice in the concept of getting a loan that there are stipulations of what happens in case you default on your loan?  Here are a few of those details:

Repossession – You may lose what you purchased with the money, plus your own outlay.

Fees – You may be responsible to refurbish what you were buying so it may be re-sold.

Loss – If the lender takes a loss at sale of repossessed items, you may have to pay his loss.

Lawyer Fees – The lender can charge you for attorney fees required to collect the debt.

Blemished Record – A negative spot on your credit history may last for many years.

Late Payment Fees – Fees with added interest penalties may be assessed.

These are just a few things that transpire if a loan goes bad.

Now let’s have a look at another aspect of debt for a Christian, co-signing a note.  Everyone knows if you don’t have good collateral, you may have to put up your deed to your house, or on a smaller loan, maybe a clear title to a car, if it’s fairly new.  That way, should you default on the note or loan, the banker or moneylender is sure to get his money back.  It’s just common requirement for a good loan to have all the bases covered if the worst case scenario occurs.

So, why bring up co-signing a note?  Mainly we are going to take a look at it because the bible does in the Book of Proverbs.  Another word for co-signing a note is surety.  If you become surety for another person, you are guaranteeing payment, even to the full amount including interest and fees levied to collect the loan, yikes.  Yes, it’s true, take a look.

Proverbs 6:1  My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, 2  Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. 3  Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend. 4  Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids. 5 Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.

Pretty clear isn’t it.  You are really at risk co-signing a note for someone else.  Many parents do this for their children.  Many parents have had to pay off their children’s notes too.  Imagine the strain on the relationship that it can bring, having to do without yourself to pay off a note of your son or daughter, or even a friend.  And then typically, that debt is nursed and rehearsed during subsequent occasions when money or the need for it comes up.  A bit messy.  Sometimes, those outstanding debts divide families or are adjusted for in the wills of the estate when one passes away.  Pretty powerful thing, unsatisfied debt.

When getting a college degree in Business Administration, I had this one really straight-shooting instructor.  He was a Juris Doctor, or lawyer and he was a Christian.  He did not enjoy doing divorces, and wrangling in the affairs of civil suits, and surely never wanted to represent shady characters on the wrong side of the law.  It just did not suit him at all.

During a college Business Law class, he asked how many of us owned a car.  Just about every hand in the room went up.  Then he asked how many have a note on that car, almost all the same hands shot up.  His next comment: Pay cash for your car.  Ouch.  I was one of the few that owned my car, but it wasn’t new and it wasn’t something anyone would steal to go joy-riding either.  Then came the next round of questions.

Our instructor asks, How many of you own a home?  Well, these were college students, not many, but there were four or five of us.  Then, you know what question came next, How many of you have a loan on your house?  I don’t think he noticed that I didn’t hold up my hand.  I built my own home, saving thousands of dollars.  An early inheritance gift however, allowed my wife and I to pay it off.  So, really, we were all in the same boat, I was just fortunate that my parents could help in this way, through a generous gift.

His point?  You are business majors, you should be doing things in a business-like way. You shouldn’t be paying tons of interest on a thirty year mortgage.  He acquiesced, and allowed a maximum of 15 year notes on a home.  That got us all, most did have the 30 year mortgage and were paying tons of interest and little principal in our monthly payments.

Where did the instructor get his information?  Maybe from handling repossessions of poor clients losing their homes or cars?  State laws regarding bankruptcy typically allow a family to retain their home even though financially bankrupt.  Maybe he worked for a bank and was on the other side of the equation?  I don’t know, but he got it somewhere.  Many people would call this type of knowledge common sense.

In summary, debt basically says, I have to have it now.

 Gone is the day when folks actually save up the required sum to buy something, or is it?  There is no doubt that the borrower is servant to the lender.  So debt is actually saying I’ll make my payments with future earnings, even with the inability to “know” the future.  Debt enslaves the borrower.  What if a person changes their mind or feels called to do differently, can you unload the home, or car, or tv?  In a sense we are very obligated to see it through to completion or lose our investment possibly altogether. Am I saying it’s wrong?  Only you can make that judgement for yourself based on the light of scripture.  Hopefully this little discussion at least got you to thinking on how debt affects our relationship with our God who loves us.

Bruce Dickey  12 May 2008 (notice this was written before the current recession ensued)


About Bruce Dickey

Guitarmaker and follower of Christ. Luthier since 1996. Christ follower since 1957. Russellville, Arkansas, USA. James 1:27 Visit the widow and the fatherless. They might just need you.
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