The Issue of Debt

For our sermon on tithing yesterday, I emphasized how committing to a monthly tithe can encourage you to think critically about your finances. Debt is another issue that often could be included in this conversation, too. Many times, because of circumstances of owing a lot of money, people feel utterly unable to be generous, whether that be a massive housing payment, student loans, or credit card bills.

In Proverbs 22:7, we find a profound thought on money: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” This is quite a verse to unpack! If you’re familiar with the financial literacy corner of the internet, you know that many figures like Dave Ramsey take this verse very seriously. There’s a rather sizable movement of Christians today addressing the issue of debt and how to get out of it in order to build wealth and increase financial generosity.

When you think about it, this verse from Proverbs really can teach us a lot for today. We often struggle with a “you only live once” kind of mindset. We may also think that money will buy us happiness. Likewise, we quickly develop a dysfunctional relationship with money, trying to buy our way into contentment. And many times, we can even feel hopeless because of everything. Debt can become an idol distracting us from God.

Consider this example from the book The Boglehead’s Guide to Investing. This finance book essentially outlines three categories of spending and saving:

  1. Bill and Betty “Borrower” have a debt mentality. The Borrower family eagerly finances their lifestyle through debt. Cash buying is almost unheard of, as they can easily put everything on a credit card. They “rob” tomorrow to pay for today. A approach like this often leads to dire outcomes, once bills become due.
  2. Chad and Cathy “Consumer” have a paycheck mentality. The Consumer family looks at the monthly payment and decides whether or not they can afford something. This is clearly a step up from borrowing absolutely everything, but the Borrowers are literally one paycheck away from financial disaster.
  3. Ken and Kim “Keeper” have a savings mentality. The Keeper family prioritizes budgeting to save for the future. They might have a smaller income than the Borrower or Consumer families, but in the long run, they’ll end up with more resources, due to frugal lifestyle habits. They might even carry some debt, but have a plan to address it rather than let it spiral out of control. They tend to never spend more than they take in. They set aside at least 10% of pay and invest it for the future.

Out of the three examples above, who do you think has the most stress? Who do you think might have the most freedom to help out other people?

Sure, the Borrowers might enjoy the most material goods for a brief time. The Consumer family might also be alright, provided they continue working and never have any emergencies. But remember the wisdom from Proverbs 22—the borrower is slave to the lender. Letting debt control your life can lead to unbearable stress. So if you ask me, I think Ken and Kim Keeper would be the best suited to endure life’s ups and downs. They would almost certainly be in the best position to be financially generous to a charitable cause!

As far as faith goes, you may be able to guess where I’m going with this. Extraordinary debt can hinder our ability as disciples of Jesus. If we are so burdened with bills (or worried about providing a roof over our head), chances are we likely aren’t thinking much about helping other people. Hopefully we get to a place where we can wisely manage God’s blessings, as well as share those with other people.

Christianity has a rich history of social justice. Where the church goes, people get lifted up out of poverty. The hungry get fed. And in turn, those people share the good news with others who are impoverished and at the margins. Hopefully we can all work to control debt, and enter into greater financial freedom to be generous with our money to other people. That’s one important way we can spread Jesus’ love.

Here are some helpful resources surrounding budgeting, debt-reduction, and generosity. There’s quite a bit out there on the internet that will cost you money, but if you look diligently, a lot of information can be free:

Previously written blog posts on tithing:

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