By Dean Allen, Presented at the 1990 New England Baptist Family Conference
Summary: Giving is not only a cure for a covetous heart; it’s also a cure for bad debt. A disposition of giving will keep you from debts. You will not think in terms of taking; you’ll think in terms of giving
My Maker and My King (Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal #15)
The wicked, because of the disposition of his heart, borrows. He does not work to get it himself. He does not plan. He does not prepare. And because it is the pattern of his life to live dependent on others and be irresponsible, he does not have the resources needed to pay his debts.
The contrast to the disposition of the wicked is the disposition of the righteous. Giving is the opposite of borrowing irresponsibly. Giving is not only a cure for a covetous heart; it’s also a cure for bad debt. A disposition of giving will keep you from debts. You will not think in terms of taking; you’ll think in terms of giving. There’s a strong line drawn between the two. The wicked borrows and doesn’t repay. But the righteous is gracious and gives.
Debt gives the appearance of opulence
Debt can get you things that make you look and feel rich. We get so swept away by the thing that we refuse to consider what it is going to cost us. And when the money is due, it’s so stunning that we ignore it. There are many who irresponsibly use debt to get things they could not otherwise have, that they don’t know how to live with themselves when the bills come due and, therefore, fall prey to the temptation not to pay the bill.
Debt creates the illusion of security
There was a time when only the rich could afford expensive things. Now, in the western countries, everybody can get what they want. There was a time you simply said, We can’t afford that. We can’t get it. But now the economy makes it possible for you to get whatever you want--not with your own money, but with someone else’s money. This creates a false feeling of security. You can now have everything your neighbor has, and more! The things in themselves are not evil. There’s nothing wrong with having a second or a third car, or even a pool in your back yard--if you really need it. These things can sometimes make people feel secure even when they’re on the threshold of utter disaster financially. But the very things that surround them will one day crumble in disaster.
Twenty percent of all cars in this country are repossessed. You own only that which you paid for in full. If you haven’t, it belongs to the one who loaned you the money. More importantly, when payment day comes and you do not have the money, you become a thief--for you are keeping what rightfully belongs to someone else.
Unrighteous or unpaid debt is thievery. You’re a thief if you keep what belongs to another. But you don’t have to live like this. God is able and ready to renew hearts, to cleanse hearts, to create new hearts. Say to your God, Lord, Make my heart right about my unrighteous debts. I don’t want to keep what belongs to another. Forgive me. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew within me a right spirit.
Then go to your creditor and say I’ve been a poor manager of money. I cannot repay you according to our agreement. Will you allow me to give you another amount? And as soon as I can righteously increase it, I will. Would you let me?
Debt loosens the reins of self-control
One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control (Gal 5:23). Debt loosens the reins of self-control. You can very easily get out beyond the parameters of control. A woman once commented, I love credit cards; they go so much farther than money. Credit cards make you be an impulsive buyer. You walk by a window. You see something. The money’s not there, but you’ve got the card. So you buy what you desire for the moment without asking yourself the two important questions: Do I need it? Can I afford it?
Debt causes strife in the home
Debt makes many anxious for tomorrow. In the home, tensions increase, the irritations flare, and resentments build--when money becomes the issue. And all of a sudden you realize that the very things that you thought would make family happier is now the cause of strife. Sometimes the very spouse who said, Honey, let’s go ahead and buy this, will three months later say, You are the one who got us into this mess. Now get us out of it. Debt in the home results in uncontrollable emotions that make you say and do things that are vicious and sometimes irreparable.
Debt fosters irresponsibility
Debt removes the debtor at least one step away from his responsibilities. If you don’t have to pay when you buy, it softens your conscience a bit, it lulls you to sleep. It is easy to get comfortable in late payments and unpaid bills. Soon your conscience will allow you to set those bills aside while you accumulate even more.
Debt loses friends
When you borrow from a friend and don’t repay, you won’t have a friend for long. Don’t ever lend to a friend unless you do it in the context of proven trust. You’ve got to have proven patterns of trustworthiness before you lend him money. Now it’s not wrong for a Christian to lend money. But it should be done in the right setting and in the right context. If a friend is in genuine need for money it’s better to just give the friend the money without expecting repayment--that’s more biblical. If you do borrow from a friend, pay back with interest. While you kept the money out of his savings account, he has lost more than just the money he gave you. So, do the right thing.
Does the Golden Rule apply to any of this? When Elisha was delivering that poor widow from her debt by the miraculous provision, his first directive to her was Go pay all your debts and then live on what’s left (2 Kgs 4:7). Her first obligation was to her creditors, not to her tummy and her sons’ tummies.
Debt sets a poor example
Don’t rear your children in an atmosphere of debt for they will grow up thinking debt is an acceptable mode of living. Chances are, they’ll grow up to be much worse than you. Instead give your children the legacy of a debt-free life. Pay your bills on time or ahead of time. Don’t ever pass the grace period. Don’t even get close to the grace period. And don’t get yourself in the position where you have to go with your hat in your hand to somebody, apologizing for your stupidity.
Debt hinders the work of the gospel
What you could not resist last Christmas now comes back to haunt you when an appeal for the work of Christ comes along. You’re laden with debts. If I buy today what I do not need, I will need tomorrow what I cannot buy. Often it’s the work of the gospel itself that suffers. And we go with our drooping eyes to the pastor; we acknowledge that we have mismanaged God’s money.
If only we could all be free from debt! Don’t wait for such a day to start afresh. If you are in debt, take steps to clear it. Your steps may be little ones, but they’ll be in the right direction. Also keep your priorities straight. Don’t take a vacation while you still owe someone money. A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches (Prov 22:1). May God give us help in this fumbling effort to lay out some of these things. May He help our souls to see His name and kingdom. May He help us remember that the stakes are high in the way we treat our finances.