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Biblical Perspective on Debt

What does the Bible say about people who owe a lot of money? My husband and I carry debt — like most of our friends. Does this place us completely outside the will of God?
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There are many misunderstandings about scriptural teaching on debt. People often assume that the Bible takes certain positions when it really doesn’t. So let’s take a look at what the Bible doesn’t say — and what it does say. (The lists here aren’t all-inclusive, but they’re a good starting point.)

What the Bible does NOT say about debt

  • It doesn’t say … it’s a sin to borrow. While the Bible offers many warnings about the dangers of debt, it never says that you are out of God’s will or violating one of God’s commandments when you borrow. We can debate the wisdom of incurring debt under certain circumstances, but it’s never a black-and-white issue. And there are cases where debt is simply unavoidable — such as medical emergencies, job layoffs, or bankruptcy. (Romans 13:8 is often used to “prove” that borrowing is sinful, but this verse is mainly about relationships, not money issues.)
  • It doesn’t say … it’s wise to borrow. Many financial experts will tell you that leverage — the use of borrowed money to buy assets for appreciation — is the “way to prosperity.” But that is not a biblical perspective. Absolutely nowhere in the scriptures are we advised or commanded to use debt to accomplish God-given economic goals. On the contrary, the Bible has many warnings against the use of debt.
  • It doesn’t say … God will bail you out of debt. Some Christians who are heavily in debt seem to believe that God has promised to get them out of their problems. The verse they usually point to is Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That’s true, of course, and God will meet our needs — in the way He knows is best. But He hasn’t promised to cancel the consequences of our unwise behavior.
  • It doesn’t say … debt is an exercise in faith. To say that we’re exercising faith by borrowing money is the same as saying that God needs to use a lender to meet our needs. In fact, in many cases we put the lender in the place of God and let them fulfill the desires of our hearts as opposed to our true needs. In some ways, this can be seen as a denial of faith.
  • It doesn’t say … it’s a sin to loan money. Just as the Bible doesn’t say that it’s a sin to borrow money, it also doesn’t say that it’s a sin to loan money. Still, it’s important to remember that when you loan someone money, you inevitably change your relationship with that person — even if he or she is your own child. And the change usually isn’t for the better.

What the Bible DOES say about debt

It’s important to understand what the Bible does say about debt because there are times when certain biblical principles seem to require us to borrow money.

For example, in 1 Timothy 5:8 Paul writes, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” What does this mean for parents who don’t have cash on hand to pay for a child’s emergency surgery or arrange nursing care for an aging loved one?

Clearly, it’s possible to find ourselves in situations where the implied command to care for family members may outweigh all other financial considerations. Sometimes we must take on debt so that we can care for our loved ones.

But if we do have to take on debt, three important biblical concepts should guide our borrowing decisions:

  • It’s wrong not to repay debts. Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always wrong for a Christian to declare bankruptcy. (Our legal system allows individuals and businesses in distress to regroup and re-establish themselves under the protection of bankruptcy laws.) Ultimately, however, a believer has a moral obligation to repay his or her creditors to the best of their ability.
  • It’s foolish to put yourself in a surety situation. Surety is a formal commitment to guarantee another person’s loan (for example, by cosigning). Proverbs 11:15 says, “Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking hands in pledge is secure.” In other words, if you’re in a surety situation, the Bible encourages you to get out of it. But if you feel you have no choice — for example, if you’re helping an adult child who is financially strapped — we’d recommend that you set aside the money in a separate account and absolutely expect to repay that debt.
  • Debt may violate two biblical principles that directly affect our relationship with God. First, while the Bible doesn’t say that it’s wrong to borrow money, it does warn us against making assumptions about the future:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15).

Second, by borrowing, you may be denying God an opportunity to provide. The Lord has promised to supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19). Sometimes borrowing is just an easy way out of a situation that would otherwise force us to grow in our faith.

Need help with these ideas?

We know that money can be a touchy subject. Would you let us help? Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors will be glad to pray with you and point you to practical tools. You can also dig into the recommended resources and referrals below.

 

Related Video
The Hidden Costs of Borrowing: Ron Blue discusses the implications of borrowing money.

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Trusting God in Today’s Economy

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Free and Clear: God’s Road Map to Debt-Free Living

Thriving in the Midst of Financial Ruin

Managing Money Well During a Crisis

Family and Personal Finances (resource list)

Referrals
Crown Financial Ministries

Dave Ramsey

Debt-Proof Living

Kingdom Advisors

Articles
Breaking Free from Debt

Managing Money

Money and Finances

His Delight Is Not in Your Strength

Adapted from The Complete Guide to Faith-Based Family Finances by Ron Blue. Copyright © 2008, Ron Blue. Used by permission.

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