One of the most contentious issues around Christmas is money. It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about digging themselves out of holiday debt come January. Retailers revel over the black in their checkbooks, while consumers cry over their bleeding bottom line.
For many Christians, the concept of debt is a touchy one. There are the pious few who shun credit cards, and a majority who long for the day when they can pay off all their plastic.
Recently, I heard a financial adviser speak on debt-proofing Christmas. She had tons of wonderful ideas for keeping Christmas traditions while eliminating or minimizing the cost. Wonderful ideas, good ideas, useful ideas.
However, following that interview, I got into a discussion on marital finances with my sisters. That prompted me to re-examine my perspective on money, debt, borrowers and lenders. What exactly does the Bible say?
Once when I was young, my dad loaned me money to purchase a bike. The plan was for me to earn my allowance and other funds to slowly pay off my debt. Truthfully, I don’t recall how many nights passed, but I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake thinking about how sinful, terrible and scary it was to owe someone something. One night, I climbed out bed, ran to my dad and begged him to let me take the money out of my savings account so that I could be free of this terrible debt.
Therein, I think, lies one of the Biblical cautions against debt. It invokes fear. There’s a feeling of inferiority to the person who holds the debt. That emotion, in and of itself is not Biblical. As children of God, we are not beneath or subservient to anyone. Neither should our lifestyle reflect that we are.
The problem with debt is that from either side, it is completely contrary to our personhood in Christ. We are called to be like our Father. Our God is beneath no one, in need of nothing and under no fear or condemnation. Neither are we. To live in a lifestyle of borrowing and owing is not to look like our Father.
In the relationship between a borrower and lender, Proverbs tell us the borrower is servant to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7) Consider these two roles. Both encourage an attitude that is un-Christ-like. The lien holder has the tendency to feel superior and to lord his influence and power over the borrower. The borrower is beholden, and legally bound to his benefactor.
Throughout the Old Testament, God laid out parameters for borrowing and lending. If to do either was sinful, God would not have explained how to do so honorably. God tells the Israelites to lend freely but never to be in debt to another nation. I believe God does this for the sake of His own name.
“The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.” (Duet. 28:12)
“And I prayed to the LORD, ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin,lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” (Duet 9:26-28)
For the glory of His own name, God protected and provided for His people. He does the same today. Essentially, borrowing displays a lack of trust in God’s faithful provision.
A final criteria for Christians to consider regarding debt, is motive. More often that not, debt is acquired by greed. There is an insatiable longing for something that God has not previously provided, so in self-sufficiency we run to our own means for satisfaction.
Finally, in the New Testament, Paul instructs his listeners to own no man anything but a debt of love. Think of how you feel when you owe someone money. It is usually a pressure, a frustration, a burden. However, when love has been given, to return it ten fold is a joy, a pleasure!
God longs for His people to reflect His nature. God longs for His people to trust his sufficiency. And God longs for His people to experience the joy of effusively giving love.
Can we apply this to our checkbooks?