The Christian and the Question of Debt

The Christian and the Question of Debt

Text: Romans 13:7-8 — Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.  Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Introduction: This morning we’ve arrived at the last message in our preaching series, Hot Topics, that began way back on February 24thof this year. By way of review, we began with (1) a reminder of the believer’s source of truth – the Bible– which we said is without error and authoritative on all matters to which it speaks either directly or indirectly. This means that God’s Word should form our opinions on every moral issue, including the hot ones. (2) Then we asked the question, “Should Christians judge others?” And the answer, of course, is that while the Bible does not condone a critical, judgmental and self-righteous attitude toward others, believers are called to make judgments regarding matters of right and wrong but only after taking a close look at our own lives and repenting of any sin lest we would be viewed as hypocrites. (3) Then we looked at government from the perspective of God’s Word. We noted that it has been established by Him to punish evil, protect human liberty and promote what is good. Our role is to obey and pray for our leaders, pay our taxes, and because we live in a democratic republic, vote God’s values in our elections … in effect … to be good citizens. (4)In our fourth message we addressed the Christian and the Sanctity of Human Life. Specifically, we talked about abortion and euthanasia and concluded that God is the author of life and only He and governments appointed by Him can take a human life and only then for a just cause in keeping with biblical values. (5) Then we tackled the issue of racism and determined that all human beings are created in the image of God. In addition, we recognize that Eve is the mother of all living making us genetically connected to one another and in heaven there will be people from every tribe, people and language. There can, therefore, be no room for racial discrimination. (6)  Alcohol and other legal drugs were next on the list. The Bible does not forbid the consumption of alcohol or legalized drugs, but we are to be careful never to lose our self-control and become enslaved to either. (7) We also looked at the issue of self-defense and asked if Jesus always wanted us to turn the other cheek when attacked. The answer is “no.” Whenever possible, however, we should seek to be peacemakers and only defend ourselves when such actions will accomplish the greatest good. In the end, we must trust in the Lord to protect us. (8) Then we tackled Biblical Marriage. The Bible tells us that this is a covenant relationship between one man and one woman free and totally committed to each for life. This rules out any other kind of marriage, even those that governments would recognize. (9) (Hang in there! We’re close to getting caught up.) Our ninth topic was the Christian, Wealth and Poverty. We saw that God expected mankind to establish a better standard of living. We also noted that both wealth and prosperity present some dangers and the best way to lift people out of poverty is to expand the economy, create more jobs and encourage people to work hard to improve their lives. While we are called to be generous toward the poor, simply redistributing wealth is not the answer since it does nothing to increase the total net income of a nation. (10) The environment is certainly a hot topic, especially global warming. We saw that Scripture calls us to be stewards of God’s good creation despite the fact that He cursed it after the fall of man. The Bible teaches that God sustains the earth, controls the weather and even limits the seas. This tells us that the earth is not fragile as some would purport. Still, global warming is real and should be left to legitimate scientists in the field of climate physics to impartially and sincerely tell us how to respond, not the environmentalists, media, and politicians, all of whom have much to gain personally from the debate. (11) Two weeks ago, we looked at same sex unions and gender dysphoria. We saw that God does not call us to hate those who struggle with either, but to love them enough to call them into a holy relationship with Christ who can change them from the inside out. IF YOUR ARE INTERESTED, YOU CAN LISTEN TO ANY OF THESE MESSAGES ON OUR WEBSITE AT WWW.RIVERRIDGEWI.COM.
I’m excited to inform you that next week we’ll begin a new preaching series called Vital Signs. We’ll be taking an up-close look at the book of 1 John and some of the identifying characteristics of those who have new life in Christ. But this morning, in the last message in the series, Hot Topics, I want to address the Christian and the Question of Debt. If you’re wondering why this topic was included, here’s a three-fold answer that should make my case: (1) as of February 14thof this year, college students had borrowed 1.46 trillion dollars in student loans with the average monthly loan payment (not including those who have been deferred) coming in at $393. This is the equivalent of a new car payment of six years at 2.9% for a vehicle costing $22,500. (2) the average credit card balance for American families who do not pay off their cards monthly is $9,333. This means that if your rate is 7% and you pay back $100 per month and never use your cards again, it will still take 11 years to pay off the debt. And (3) the current national debt is over $22 trillion dollars. Sadly, that equals $770,000 per taxpayer, with that amount increasing daily.
Debt is a big, big problem for Americans! We are very good at borrowing, but we seldom consider the long-term consequences. This certainly should cause us to pause and ask, “What does the Bible teach about borrowing and lending?” So, let’s start there in our final message on Hot Topics.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TEACH ABOUT BORROWING AND LENDING? Many people quote Romans 13:8 (Owe no one anything except to love one another) to argue that Christians should never incur debt. Others cite Psalm 15:5as a prohibition against charging interest (speaking of the righteous person, he…does not put out his money at interest). So, is this a fair summary of what the Bible teaches about borrowing and lending?  No. In fact, the Bible sometimes views both positively! Psalm 112:5says, “It is well with the man who deals generously and lends.” Psalm 27:25-26identifies lending as one of the characteristics of a righteous man — I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. In fact, the passage in Romans 13 doesn’t prohibit borrowing, but failing to pay those to whom you owe money (Pay to all what is owed to them). And the verses in Psalm 15:5is a reflection of the Mosaic covenant that God made with Israel that they were not charging interest when lending money to other Jews (Exodus 22:25-27 — If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body). But we are not under the law anymore meaning that this applied to Israel, but not to the church. And how about the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:27? In the parable of the talents where our Lord was teaching the importance of being a good steward of God’s gifts, He said, “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” Here He viewed earning interest as a responsible action. Some Christians cite Luke 6:34-35as a prohibition against lending to anyone – And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and evil. This is not, however, a command to refrain from lending to those from whom you expect to receive. If it is, then we should also assume that Jesus is saying something similar in Luke 6:32– If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  Jesus is no more prohibiting lending than He is loving. In both cases, He is teaching that we should be extravagant in our love and in our generosity, including lending to those in need! Illustration: People in David Senkungu’svillage fondly call him “The Mayor” and are proud of what he has achieved. While many of his fellow villagers struggle to get shelter, he has not only built a new six-room brick home but also installed electricity. David, 52, feeds, clothes and pays for the education of an extended family of 15 children. But it wasn’t easy and David had to overcome many challenges. Nearly half of Uganda’s households can’t fund improving or repairing their homes. They can’t access mortgages and hesitate to approach banks for other loans due to a general mistrust of the banking system. Habitat for Humanity Uganda has tried to address this situation making affordable loans available to low-income families. The loans remove the constant worry about repairing a home that is falling apart, enabling them to focus on making their lives better. David is a case in point. He and his family once lived in a mud-walled house in a compound, far from the village’s main access road. Says David Senkungu, “The situation was very bad, very bad indeed. If you are in a house that does not give you pride then your body is not fine and neither are the children.” Through the use of a micro-loan from Habitat for Humanity, David was able to start a brickmaking business, a two-acre banana farm and another farm where he is rearing pigs. This gives him a stable income to repay the loans. He supplies bananas and sweet potatoes to a nearby university, and his brick-making business earns him over $67 every working month. Thank God for groups like Habitat for Humanity that are willing to loan money and help people acquire a higher standard of living. This is the kind of generosity that Jesus was talking about.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS GOOD BORROWING AND LENDING? Though some would disagree, I would say that there are times when borrowing (and lending for that matter) can be beneficial to yourself and others. Here’s an example: A person who has more than enough money, puts $150,000 in a bank. That money earns him interest. A family wants to build their own home. While they have enough for a down payment, they recognize that it would take years to save up that kind of money, so they go to the bank and borrow $120,000. Now the bank is making interest on the money as is the person who put it there to begin with. The family begins construction and pays a builder who employs several workers to erect the house.  You can see that four parties have benefited from this process. The owner of the money, the lender of the money, the family who will live in a new home and the company doing the construction. So, borrowing and lending the money multiplied the use of it several times over. The point is that if we could not borrow and lend money, but only operated on a cash basis, the world would have a vastly lower standard of living. It is this process that opens up the opportunity for much good to be done in the world, and if Christians should support anything, it should be good deeds (Let your light shine in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven – Matthew 5:16). Now, of course, there is also such a thing as foolish debt and that brings me to the next question.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DANGERS OF BORROWING AND LENDING?(1) We all know it’s possible to extend ourselves beyond what we’re able to repay. The Lord tells us not to do this … owe no one. In these cases, we should wait until God provides a way to make it happen. I’ll remind us that if the Lord wants us to have something, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills(Psalm 50:10) and is fully capable of providing everything we need to do His will through another means. (2) We can also put ourselves in a situation where our financial picture must remain the same or improve in order to meet our debt obligations. This is simply unwise. I’ve not only seen families do this, by the way, but also churches who have convinced a bank to loan millions and then had to renege on the commitment they made to repay them as attendance and giving suddenly decreased. Do not make your decision based on a best-case scenario. The Bible doesn’t tell us that trials may come, but that they will come – Consider it pure joy, my brethren when you encounter various trials – James 1:2. We need to keep this in mind when considering borrowing or loaning money. (3) When we borrow money, we lose some of our future freedom because we must repay the debt rather than put it to other uses. This is what the writer of Proverbs means when he says, “The borrower is a slave to the lender” – Proverbs 22:7). (4) And when it comes to lending, God would never want us to charge such a high-interest rate that it creates great hardship for others. This is called usury in the Bible. It was the sin of some of the wealthy people of Israel that Nehemiah rebuked when they returned from exile to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. During a time of famine, these men were taking property from those who borrowed money at very high-interest rates so that they could not grow crops to feed their families. What did Nehemiah say about this? Nehemiah 5:9-11– “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them — the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine, and oil.” Greed is a fruit of the flesh and it never blesses anyone!
Applications: Here are five personal applications and one related to the spending habits of our nation.
·      Be a wise saver. Saving a portion of what we earn enables us to avoid going into someone’s debt when you incur an unexpected expense. This is very biblical by the way. Proverbs 21:20says, “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” If we put some of valuables away for a rainy day, we’ll be dependent upon no one but God (See 1 Thessalonians 4:12).
·      Be careful with acquiring debt. Do not borrow beyond your ability to repay. Remember that the debt you accumulate is going to have to be repaid with money you earn in the future that you may need for tomorrow’s expenses, not yesterday’s debt.
·      Pay your debts. The Bible says we should pay revenue to those to whom revenue is owed. If you borrow the money in good faith, you should repay it in good faith. If you find you’re over your head in debt payments, contact an agency that can help you restructure your finances to repay debt. To meet your debt payments may require a change in your lifestyle, but meeting these obligations will honor the Lord and, in turn, He will honor you.
·      Be generous with others. As I previously illustrated, providing a loan can really make a difference for some people. But don’t let greed drive you to charge an exorbitant interest rate (Proverbs 28:8 — He who increases his wealth by interest and usury gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor). It is acceptable to charge a fair rate of interest; however, it is not required. Paul told Timothy, “Command them(those who are rich in this present world) to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life(1 Timothy 6:18-19). If you don’t make any money now, the interest on your generosity will be paid by God as you lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.
·      Do not put up security for someone else’s debt unless you’re willing to assume it. Proverbs 22:26-27 — Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you. This is not an absolute command prohibiting co-signing for a loan or putting up property for another person to secure a loan. It’s merely teaching that you need to be prepared to pay the debt if the other person is unable or refuses to. Now each of these first five principles apply to personal finances, but also to finances on a larger level, including corporate, state or federal borrowing and lending. This brings me to one more application regarding America.
·      Demand that our politicians do something about our national debt. Right now, our nation has a debt of 22 trillion dollars. Ten years ago, it was 10 trillion. It projects to be 34 trillion in ten more years. Today, America pays $300 billion a year in interest on our national debt. Soon it will be 1 trillion and represent a fifth of all the federal taxes paid. This means that 20% of the revenue of the federal government will be used to pay the interest on our loans, not the principle. This money will not go to infrastructure, education or defense. Where do the cuts need to come from? Some people strongly suggest Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In the next three decades, these funds forecast to a 100 trillion-dollar deficit. Perhaps it’s time to raise the retirement age to 70 since people are not living much longer. In any case, cuts have to be made across the board or America will soon be bankrupt.
Conclusion: Ben Franklin quoted William Shakespeare when he said, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” but, guess what? He was wrong to make such an absolutist statement. While we have to be very careful with borrowing and lending, God says that both can be helpful to people who need a leg up on life.