This January Kelly and I resolved to pay off all of my student debt within the next year. No easy task, especially considering we’re expecting our first child in July. This push to do away with a significant portion of our debt has caused my eyes to be open articles and news on the topic of money and debt. A few weeks ago I came across an article about students who have left the country to avoid paying their student loans. This morning I read a horrifying post at The New York Times about the trillions of dollars of “bad debt” that are threatening the global economy.
Debt has become a way of life for most modern humans. It’s just assumed. Scripture, however, has some pretty strong words about how we are to address debts. I want to draw from a few different scriptures and highlight 4 points about how the follower of Jesus should deal with debt, financial or otherwise. By no means is what I write here exhaustive. It’s just the extension of my study on the matter over the past few months.
1. Pay it back.
The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives.
God is clear. Not paying back a debt is sin. “The wicked borrows and does not pay back,” and the follower of Jesus is commanded not to walk in wickedness. If you’re in debt you don’t get to skip out by leaving the country or finding some sneaky way to declare bankruptcy. Student loans, credit card debt, and home loans – any form of debt – is a promise you’ve made to the lender. Honorable men and women keep their promises. Numbers 30 puts this bluntly; “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2) If you have debt pay it back. Promptly.
2. As quick as possible.
My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
you have been trapped by what you said,
ensnared by the words of your mouth.
So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go—to the point of exhaustion—
and give your neighbor no rest!
Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.
Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the snare of the fowler
Most people I talk to seem more than content to pay the minimum on their student loans for the next 25 or so years and then have the rest “forgiven.” The verses above, take from Proverbs 6:1-5 are an urgent cry to not lounge when there is a debt hanging over your head. Instead work zealously to pay it off it as quickly as possible. We’re to repay our debt with the same urgency and zealousness that a wild animal would have to escape from a hunter or a trap.
3. Debt is bondage.
The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.
Like the Jews to Jesus when they adamantly declare “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (John 8:33) most modern Christians take being in debt for granted and have become so used to the chains that they can look Jesus straight in the face and say, “I’m not a slave to anyone!”
Proverbs adamantly declares otherwise. “The borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” As if in confirmation, the Apostle Paul writes, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” (Galatians 5:13) and earlier, “do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
Being in debt means you are bound to someone other than your savior. We’re called to not owe anyone anything, save for love. Don’t live in bondage, regardless of what’s expected in our culture.
4. Debt implies dissatisfaction
Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I forsake you”.
Far between and few are the times when we literally need to go into debt in order to live. Did I actually need to take out student loans? Probably not. I could have worked a couple part time jobs during the school year, worked full time during the summer, and pursued more scholarships and taken a year or two longer to finish school and graduated debt free. Or I could have been wiser with my money while living at home and saved up enough to pay for my schooling.
Most often we go in debt because we feel we need something more than we currently have. Do you actually need a new car now? Couldn’t you take the bus/bike/ride with a friend instead for a few months while you save up? Couldn’t you buy a cheaper vehicle? Do you actually need the new computer? That trip? That house?
Debt implies that we are dissatisfied with what God has provided for us and that we need something additional to live the life he has called us to live. If we learn to be satisfied with what God provides for us in Christ debt becomes much less likely.
In Romans 13 Paul makes the amazing command, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Owe nothing to anyone. What a powerful command for a people that spend their time owing money to so many.
Let’s be Romans 13 kind of people – people who have no debt other than the debt of love we owe in response to the glorious gift of Christ that covered what we owed to our heavenly Father. When we are paying out love rather than paying off loans the world will most certainly take notice.