The debt and credit system is one that was an active and dare I say, important economic component of the Israelite community. There are, however, crucial differences between our debt system and theirs.
In ancient Israel debt was a function of survival and a ministry to the poor . Those without any other survival options were forced to borrow. As a result, the lending systems was established as liberally as possible. You would not charge interest (Ex. 22:25), you would not remove items necessary for one’s livelihood (Deut. 24:10-14), and you would forgive all debts every seven years (Deut. 15:1).
In our society debt is a function of convenience and a hindrance to the impatient. Those who want to accumulate more items often use debt as a tool to accumulate more things. This could be anything from credit card debt, to car loans, and even house loans.
The biggest biblical concern with debt is one of servitude and obligation to debt creditors.
Debts are little more than commitments and promises. Debts (monetary and otherwise) tie us down and dictate our future. Each debt we assume offers us less personal choice for our future actions. Eventually our false hope for the future will be sold away because of our discontentment with the present. When we are no longer free to follow God’s direction for our lives we know debt has reached a dangerous point.
Nevertheless, it would be inaccurate to categorize debt as a sin. Debt is a system for which God offers directions and structure. Still, I find it difficult to find passages that mention debt as a positive action.
Yet, even a cursory reading of Proverbs makes it clear that debt is not a function of the wise. Instead, assuming debt is often more closely associated with folly.
- He who puts up security for another will surely suffer, but whoever refuses to strike
hands in pledge is safe. Proverbs 11:15
- Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have
no food. Proverbs 12:9
- One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has
great wealth. Proverbs 13:7
- Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom? Proverbs 17:16
- A man lacking in judgment strikes hands in pledge and puts up security for his neighbor. Proverbs 17:18
- The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7
- Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack
the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you. Proverbs 22:26-27
Thus, we should view debt with a less is more mindset.
Bible Debt Guidelines and Principles For Christians To Consider
Larry Burkett (in Debt-Free Living) suggest four borrowing principals (the four points are Burkett’s and the comments are mine):
- Debt is not normal (Deut. 28:1,12). God prefers us not to be in debt servitude to others.
- Do not accumulate long term debt. Burkett points to the seven year limitation in the Bible (Deut. 15:1-2). Debt is a temporary event, not a way of life.
- Avoid surety –When you borrow without a means of repayment you venture into dangerous ethical, spiritual, and moral waters.
- The borrower has an absolute commitment to repay (Ecclesiastes 5:5). For my thoughts on bankruptcy, see Should Christians Declare Bankruptcy?
Ron Blue (in Taming The Money Monster) suggests four helpful rules when it comes to deciding about borrowing (the four points are Blue’s and the comments are mine):
- Common sense – There is a greater economic benefit than cost. This rules out any kind of credit card or car debt.
- A guaranteed way to repay – Your income (if consistent) is conservatively adequate to make all payments or you have items that can be sold to make the payment.
- Peace of heart and mind – How do you feel about borrowing? Does it cause internal strife? I’m allergic to debt so this knocks out a lot of my borrowing decisions.
- Unity – Do both married partners agree?
For more information on this topic you can read what does the bible say about money and debt?