Here’s my summary of what the Bible says about debt: it’s not a wise thing to do, but it’s not a sin.
Honestly, the Bibles doesn’t have an exclusively negative stance on debt. There are situations where borrowing is a good option.
Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 15:9 NIV)
It seems to me that the loving thing a Christian can do is to lend to his brother who is in need. If lending is a blessing to that person then it must bless the borrower to borrow. Lending can fulfill the commandment to love our neighbors.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42 NIV)
Once again, we see the Bible encouraging the practice of lending. Which would only be approved, I believe, if it was in the best interest of the borrower and the lender.
So, what are we to make of all this?
- When the Bible talks about lending, you MUST remember it is talking about a completely different borrowing and lending culture than our own.
- If lending money to someone can bless them, then some borrowing leads to freedom, not to slavery. It is a blessing to people. Yes, I know that people will want to show me Proverbs 22:7 and tell me that I’m violating a teaching of the Bible. I believe that there is a Biblical teaching on borrowing and lending, and it is not succinctly summarized in one passage popularized by Dave Ramsey.
Because of these Bible verses, I’m in the process of setting up a system whereby I lend money to local Christians who want to start small businesses. I think this lending context honors the same borrowing and lending culture in the Bible. I think that borrowing can be a good option for those who participate in the program.
BUT, North American lending and borrowing is a whole ‘nother animal.
My biggest personal concern with much of the debt people take on in a North American context comes from the fact that motivations for borrowing are not biblical.
Borrowing under the right circumstances can make sense. Borrowing can be a good option. However, 99% of the borrowing in North America is because of unhealthy reasons.
Three Unhealthy Reasons Why People Borrow
People take on a debt because they are unwilling to wait until they have the cash necessary. I’ve already shown how much you can save over a lifetime when you pay cash for cars. However, most people are unwilling to be inconvenienced for an initial two to three years. I call that impatience. Yet, the Bible said that patience is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is a Christ-like characteristic when you don’t need everything now. You are willing to wait.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)
People take on debt because they convince themselves that what they want to buy, they need. Interestingly, in human history more people have lived without that item than with that item. Consider again the car. People buy a car because they need a car. How many people, historically, had cars? Yet, we need it. Spending and consumerism comes from advertising that seeks to encourage us to move wants into the needs category.
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24 NIV)
Sometimes we borrow so that we’ll have what others have. Part of our humanity is the desire to be loved. How many people go looking for love in all the wrong places? Some do it through owning material possessions. We buy the clothes needed to be accepted. We buy the houses needed to belong. We put our kids in the extra-curricular activities everyone else is part of – even if we can’t afford these things. As Christians, we have been accepted by Jesus Christ. That is all the acceptance we need.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)
Is borrowing wrong?
The Bible does not answer that question until you say why you want to borrow. I believe if you want to borrow for one of the three reasons above then it is wrong. However, if your motives are pure, your options limited, and the lender is gracious then there can be situations where borrowing is acceptable.
But, as for me and my household we hope to move completely out of the situation where we will ever need to borrow again. Most folks in North America have the resources to live debt free, but they simply have not made the choice to live debt free.