How Should Scripture Inform My View of Debt?

When it comes to debt, Christian advice is all over the map. On the one hand, you have people who will tell you to avoid all credit like the plague. On the other extreme, you find Christians who run headlong into debt. What can we discern from the what the Bible says about debt?

Is borrowing money bad?

Throughout the Old Testament, God promises that Israel will be wealthy enough to lend to its neighbors:

If only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. For the Lord your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you (Deut. 15:5–6, English Standard Version).

God is promising to bless Israel so that they may be a blessing to others. This means that there’s nothing glaringly wrong with borrowing from others. But God does warn against usury.

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 (Ex. 22:25, ESV).

It wasn’t God’s will that Israelites would should use interest as a way of taking advantage of those in need.

Debt puts you in a precarious position

Proverbs 22:7 is one of the Bible’s most well-known verses about debt. It says:

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

When this proverb was written, borrowers could literally become slaves to those who lent to them. Even into the nineteenth century, people in debt could be forced into prisons until they were able to work off their debt or find someone who could buy their way out.

This isn’t the case today, but that does not mean that the principle doesn’t apply. Unmanaged debt can put us in a position where were struggling to pay off our lender, and until we do, that debt hangs over our head.

We're responsible for paying back what we borrow

When we borrow from someone, it’s essential that we pay them back. The psalmist makes this case in Psalm 37:

The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Psalm 37:21, ESV).

Paul says the same in his letter to the Romans:

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 (Romans 13:7, ESV).

We shouldn’t be putting ourselves in debt if there’s any chance we might default. This doesn’t mean that bankruptcy is a sin. We have a legal system that allows distressed individuals protection under bankruptcy laws—but that’s not intended to be an alternative to repayment. We’re obligated to pay back lenders to the best of our ability.

We should be incredibly cautious about debt

Living in western culture without incurring any debt is hard. Very few people can pay cash for a house. But it’s pretty easy to live without the consumer debt that comes from credit cards. If you have to use them, do everything you can to pay them off every month. And if you’re in debt, make it a goal to get out as quickly as possible.

Debt isn’t necessarily a sin, but it’s a financial arrangement that we should entire in very carefully.

What is Financial Stewardship and What Does It Mean For Me?

God has blessed each one of us a little differently. The challenge is to use whatever we have—be it money, time, energy, or skills—to serve God and grow His Kingdom. This means that we look at what we have and ask God, “How can I use this to glorify You and reconcile people to You?” When we consistently ask ourselves that question, we are well on our way to becoming good stewards.

We are all stewards of God's resources that He has entrusted to us. Remembering what stewardship means how how it applies to each of our lives is a great place to start.