On a few different occasions, I’ve tried to explain my views about the Bible in debt (debt in the Bible, is the borrower slave to the lender part one and part two). I think my view has largely been misunderstood. Today, I’ll try and address the topic again, and I’ll either make things more clear, or dig a hole even deeper.
One of my ministry responsibilities is to help the men at our church learn how to teach the Word of God. That may seem like a simple task, but it is not. It is not simple because teaching from the Bible brings a heavy responsibility.
I know this guy who loves to prepare his messages by first coming up with a compelling story.
After he’s found a story that strikes the funny bone or is deeply emotional, he’ll come to me and ask, “What Bible verses should I use?”
Here’s the problem: he’s got the theme, the lesson, the moral, the focus, the function - before he’s even opened the Bible.
Because I’ve followed the sermon construction process, I often wonder if the sermon is biblical even when it agrees with the Bible. I wonder this because I know the seeds of the sermon grew out of common sense or human understanding. The message did not germinate through study. It was not conceived out of the pages of Scripture.
It was a message that evolved completely outside of the Bible, and it was pinned up using a few Scripture verses.
So what does this have to do with the current Christian view of debt?
I’m just being honest here. I hated debt long before I knew that the Bible had anything to say about debt.
I distinctly remember having a discussion about banks and interest in either the seventh or eight grade. I couldn’t get my mind around the fact that people would borrow money and then be required to pay back even more after a certain amount of time elapsed.
I thought it was a dumb thing to do.
(And now a little background on the life and times of Craig Ford.)
Because of that early mathematical disconnect, I didn’t borrow money to buy my first car – a Honda CRX. I paid cash. I didn’t borrow money to pay for my first or second year of college. I paid cash.
By the time my third year of college rolled around, my part-time jobs and savings were no longer able to cash flow my education.
There in York, Nebraska, I borrowed my first dollar. A student loan debt. I finished school with $5,000 in student loan debt. I was 21 at the time.
Now in case you’re wondering why I’m taking this trip down memory lane, at that point in my life I didn’t even know that the Bible directly had anything to say about debt.
So by the time I started studying what the Bible had to say about debt, I had already decided what made sense to me. I had my common sense understanding of debt. That means I was very susceptible to try and latch onto Bible verses about debt. Without planning to, I could overstep and claim Biblical authority where it does not exist. So I tread lightly when studying what the Bible says about debt.
As a result, at the very least I have to openly admit that when I read the Bible, I’m heavily influenced by my intellectual inability to understand why anyone would want to borrow money.
That’s why I’m uncomfortable with the idea of taking the word debt in the Bible and bringing it forward to our current economic situation and say that debt teaching applies to our current economic debt situation.
I’m not sure the writers of Scripture (yes, inspired by the Holy Spirit) envisioned a time when people would borrow money just because they want to.
People weren’t that silly. They borrowed when they had to. In desperate situations.
If you did borrowed and not repay, you could easily be sold into slavery.
Matthew 18:28 seems to present a historically plausible situation where a guy can get thrown in jail for not repaying a day’s wages worth of debt.
Basically, I’m not willing to take the word debt in the Bible and bring it into our contemporary situation without that word going through some type of a filter that asks – does the word debt carry the same connotation today as it did yesterday?
Thus, I feel more comfortable building a Biblical case against debt, not just (or primarily) on verses that talk about debt. Instead, I’d rather discuss the spiritual condition that is feeding the debt.
Here’s just one example:
Gal. 5:22 reminds us that one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. This, I don’t believe, refers only to our sexual passions. It refers to our natural tendency to feed the desires of the flesh. Getting what we want when we want it. It is the inability to say no to one’s own self. It is destructive. I think today we can make a case against debt from the self-control perspective. Many times (please don’t hear my saying always, because I know there are indeed exceptions) debt mounts because of a lack of self-control.
That’s how I can distinguish between different types of debt with different levels of risk. Because I don’t transfer the word debt from the Bible directly into our modern context.
Why does it matter?
Here’s a reason. In my opinion, house debt is different than credit card debt, and I believe the Bible allows for these differences.
If Proverbs 22:7 was the definitive text on debt and we could just snatch up the word debt without any critical thinking, then we would need to conclude that a person who takes a house loan is a slave. Yet, we rarely hear people include the house loan when we talk about the tragedy of debt.
In my case, I have a home worth 400% less than my mortgage. I have five times the outstanding amount of my mortgage in the bank.
There is not a single thing anyone could do to use that debt to hold it over me, dictate my future, or control me. I don’t believe the presence of such a minimal debt is an indication of selfishness. The worst that could happen is someone could say, “Craig, you need to pay off your mortgage because we’re calling the loan.” Yes, it would be an inconvenience because I’d need to take five minutes to write a check, but that’s the end of story.
Thus, the debt is not slavery. The debt does not dictate my future. The debt, I pray, is not an indicator of a self absorbed soul.
If Prov. 22:7 is our definitive debt text, then I’m in slavery. But, if we allow ourselves to say that our use of debt is different than their use of debt, we have the flexibility to determine what type of debt that the Bible opposes (rather than just using blanket statements).
Our focus should not be on the word debt when we’re studying what the Bible has to say about debt. Our focus needs to be on:
- What debt reveals about our loves, passions, desires, and spiritual hunger.
- The obligations we’re taking on.
Romans 13:8 talks about debt as an obligation (much broader than just money). We, as Christians, are all in debt. We’re indebted to Christ. As a result, we are all now indebted to love. If we replace that obligation with other obligations, we may find ourselves quickly serving two masters – or at least trying to.
I think we put ourselves, Biblically and theologically, in an awkward place when we start spouting off Bible verses about debt, assuming that their debt terminology equals our debt usage. Instead, I think we’re better off understanding their debt situation and applying it to parallel situations today.
If a person quotes Proverbs 22:7 to say that every borrowed dime equals slavery, I think we tragically misinterpret Scripture. The Biblical concern is not debt, but too much debt or ill-motivated debt. As such, it would be hard to apply Proverbs 22:7 to the case of a conservative or moderate house loan.
The Bible, I believe, is against debt that is incurred as the result of impure motives and a spoiled heart. The Bible, I believe, is against debt that obligates the borrower to act in line with the wishes of that lender over and above the wishes of their true lender, Jesus Christ.
No, that doesn’t include every debt under the blue moon.
I think a person can borrow money for a car and not be a slave to that debt. Look, I think the idea of borrowing money for a car doesn’t make any sense. I’ve proved how expensive it is here. I teach people how to buy cars with cash.
I also think a person can borrow money for a car and be a slave to that debt. If you have too much debt, refuse to live with what you have, and get a loan, you are signing ownership of your freedom to others. That’s when it approaches slavery and even, I might add, sin.
I am an anti-debt guy. I avoid debt. Debt-free living has been a tremendous blessing in my life. Still, I think we need to be sure we have a solid Biblical understanding on the topic before we start saying, ‘God says’.