We live in a consumer driven society. Many people are not only bent on owning the latest "whatever," they are entangled in the snare that the value of life is somehow linked to possessions. We hear people remark, "I wonder what he is worth," meaning, "I wonder how much money he has." The person making the remark has the mistaken idea the man's worth is based on the amount of money he has.
As God is removed more and more from both public and private life, many social and financial problems will arise and worsen, one of the most painful being that of heavy indebtedness. The ads of some companies read as though written by Satan himself (whoever goes about seeking whom he may devour) in that they attempt to lure people into even more debt. The ads tell people, "Don't let the fact you don't have the money to pay for this stop you. Buy now - pay later. No payments for a year!" This type of bait is irresistible to a great many people.
If we profess to be Christians, God should be the center and controlling factor of our life, and we should always be trying to live in accordance with His Will. God has made it abundantly clear He wants us to be good stewards of all He has given us. We abhor a void or vacuum, and when God is not the center of our life, we fill the void with something. More often than not, self with all its selfish desires and interests is uppermost in our minds. Then we are prey to every sin of self-indulgence imaginable, one of which is inordinate spending.
Most of us at one time or another have experienced the strain of trying to make ends meet financially. The strain increases when debt accumulates. The underlying anxiety caused by debts piling up creates stress in our marriage and our relationship with our children. Heavy financial burdens can easily be linked to divorce and depression, as well as many kinds of violent crimes perpetrated by people of all ages. Even when debt does not lead to these extremes, it can become paralyzing and life-draining. We know the destructiveness of debt; but in our greed or lack of wisdom we continue to accumulate it, and our insecurity is compounded. To cover our insecurity we spend more, and the problems simply perpetuate themselves.
The wife of one of the Priests in my Diocese is a financial counselor dealing primarily with credit card debt. She tells me it is not unusual to find a person earning an average income with credit card debts of $100,000. What is difficult to grasp is the reluctance and, at times, unwillingness of people to give up using credit cards. To further complicate matters, there are people who have become so accustomed to being in debt, they regard it as a way of life and nothing to be really concerned about.
I would like to set before you some Biblical principles and common sense guidelines I hope will enable you and your children to live a less stressful life as the world about us goes deeper into debt.
First of all, let us look at the subject from a Biblical perspective. According to Scripture there does not seem to be a hard and fast prohibition against either borrowing or lending, but there are important admonitions and warnings: "If you lend money to any of My People who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest" (Exodus 22:25).
This admonition is repeated in Leviticus 25:35-36. Psalm 15:5 tells us that God honors him "who does not put out his money at usury" (exorbitant interest).
Deuteronomy 15:8 speaks to us of lending to the poor sufficiently for his needs. "The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives" (Psalm 37:21). "...the borrower is servant to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7b). "He who has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor" (Proverbs 22:9). God's desire is to bless His People. He calls us to freedom and abundant life (John 10:10). He sent His Son to set us free; but when debt accumulates, we become enslaved.
God wants His People to have a spirit of generosity, to be the ones giving and lending to others without charging interest and taking advantage of their situation. It is difficult for us to be generous and giving when we are in debt. First of all, we need to understand what money and debt really are. Money is not a commodity as some people think. In reality, it is a symbol of our life and our ability to use the maturing, God-given talents we possess. When we go to work or perform a job in exchange for money, we actually exchange a bit of our life and talent for a symbol called money that can be used to purchase goods and services that represent the life and labor of other people.
When we go into debt we are presuming on the future. In James 4:13-16 we are advised against presuming on the future with boastful language and expectation of profit, how much more should we refrain from borrowing money beyond a reasonable expectation that we shall be able to pay back what we have borrowed. I have been asked to help people set up a budget in order to get out of debt. It is truly a joy to see those in debt begin to have victory and experience financial freedom. There is nothing more heartbreaking than working with a person who wants the burden of debt removed but does not want to change his life patterns. If we are to be overcomers, we have no alternative but to establish godly guidelines dealing with the issue of borrowing and lending.
In Deuteronomy 28:12&13, we discover it is the desire of God to bless His People so that we shall be the lender and not the borrower, the head and not the tail. If this word is true and I believe it is, then we need to learn how God wants to work this out in our lives. The first thing that must happen is God, His Church, and His Kingdom must come first. Malachi 3:8-10 reminds us of our responsibility to give tithes and offerings to God, and of the blessing that will follow when we are obedient. "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me.... Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My House, and prove Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it." In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus tells us, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." In order to set our priorities right, tithing a full 10% of our gross income comes first. For many people the experience of tithing is enough to break the pattern of inordinate spending. In giving back to God a portion of what He has given us, grace is poured out in abundance. We must realize God is calling us to live in the world on 90% of what He has given us. This is where faith and discipline work hand in hand.
We need to make a list of all our sources of monthly income. Then make a list of all our bills. Set aside money for savings, vacation, clothes, gifts, auto, medical and food expenses, mortgage, etc. If our bills or expenses are greater than our income, the next step is prayerfully to evaluate our expenses, set priorities, and cut back on our spending. If this task seems overwhelming, or we cannot see where we can cut back, we probably need to seek out a Christian counselor skilled in working with people in debt over their heads.
Remember, with God there is always a solution to the problem. One of our community members was steeped in debt when she came to us. After she established a budget, began to tithe the gross income, and allowed the Lord to have His Way with her finances, she worked free of the debt. Looking back on that time of indebtedness, she realizes money was spent whenever she felt lonely or depressed. She would be the first to tell you that getting out of debt is not just a matter of changing our behavior or managing our money better, but truly a matter of filling our heart with Jesus.
Is there anything a person can purchase on credit? Generally the answer is yes. If we have a sufficient income to obtain a mortgage for a primary residence, the purchase of a home that will hold or increase in value in a stable neighborhood can be a good idea. There are times however when renting may be better for you.
A rule of thumb for credit buying might be this: if what we are buying will not increase in value, don't buy it on credit. Items not to buy on credit would be food, clothing, vacations, furniture, automobiles (we may also want to avoid leasing), and appliances. Educational loans are also not advisable. Often young adults will graduate from college with $10,000-$40,000 or more in loans to pay off. At the same time, they may have yet to find a job, learn to live on their own, buy a car, etc. They may want to get married and start a family, but their plans are hindered by their debt. I have seen this so often in the lives of young adults that I really advise against educational loans. Often an education worked for is valued more, and when the formal education is ended, the person is free of debt and free to move on with joy and freedom to the next period of their life.
Credit cards are helpful when we are highly disciplined and able to pay our monthly balance in full to avoid service charges and interest. We need to shop for our credit card. Avoid cards with annual fees. Some cards give cash or premium rebates. They may be preferable to cards which charge fees or advertise low interest rates. Remember even low interest rates make us a prisoner of the lender. When shopping, if there are two identical items, of course we would buy the more cheaply priced item. However, if we charge it, the item could end up costing more, depending upon how long we take to pay the bill. Although we seek diligently to find the best deal, we often negate all our efforts by allowing the interest to add up.
It is important that we establish excellent standards in the handling of money. Remember, money is a symbol of talent and life and we are to be stewards of both. This is important not only to ensure that we will be financially secure, but also to enable us to lend or give generously to others as the Lord might lead. We are also to teach our children these principles, not simply by giving instructions but, more importantly, by setting a good example. God's Desire is that His People be blessed and prosper for the sake of others, as well as themselves. If we are to prosper, then we must learn to become good stewards of time, talent, money, and life. We are to be a generous people, trusting God for our resources. We are not to presume upon the future and we are to be a responsible people who always repay what we borrow. We are to "owe no man anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). May God grant us His Blessing that we may be secure in Him and be a blessing to others, pointing them to Christ who is the only true security we have in this world.
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