Before we move on, I think we need to spend a day talking about debt. I did mention this before when we studied Proverbs, but this is a good time to review and then expand on it a little.
First question we need to grapple with: Does Scripture categorically forbid debt, like it does adultery? No. Today’s verse in Romans is the closest thing you can find to a prohibition, and it doesn’t really tell you that you can’t go into debt at all. The NIV says don’t let any debt remain “outstanding.” Now, it's true that other more literal translations, such as the NASB, say things like “Owe nothing to anyone.” But if we look at the whole of Scripture, we see that in both the Old Covenant and in the New, debt is regulated, not outright forbidden. On whether or not it’s OK to charge interest, here are my thoughts, if you’re interested.
So, how do the Scriptures view debt, if they don’t outright forbid it?
I summarize it this way: Scripture doesn’t forbid debt, but it sure discourages it. Solomon in the Proverbs passage really presents a stark image: Just like a king rules over his poor subjects, a creditor “owns” the borrower. The image of a borrower who’s behind on bills is quite common: He’s ducking and dodging his creditors, screening every phone call for bill collectors, dreading each trip to the mail box.
I think--other than sex--that this is probably the area where American society has ignored God’s wisdom the most. This is a nation in which it’s considered normal for a person to get into debt. You can hardly buy a house or a car without it. If that’s what you need to function in society, then I think that’s understandable. I’m not Doug Ramsey, and I honestly think he goes a little overboard at times. But if you’re amassing debt in order to keep up a certain lifestyle, then I think you need to listen to Solomon again: You are not a free man (or woman) until you don’t owe anyone any money. To the degree that you owe people money, you’re a slave to them. And I think there’s a huge difference between A) going into debt to buy a house or a decent (functioning) car and B) doing it to get the latest wide-screen high-def TV for your living room. The first is a necessary investment, the second, not so much.
Also, getting back to Paul’s verse in Romans, even though I don’t think he’s forbidding debt, he is saying that if you owe someone money, you need to pay them as soon as possible. That really needs to be your top financial priority. If you agree with me that Paul’s verse doesn’t categorically forbid debt, then at the very least we need to allow that he’s telling us to get out from under debt as soon as possible.
Ideally the only “debt” you should have is the “debt” of love you “owe” to each other. I need to see siblings in Christ as an opportunity to serve him. That’s the only debt I know of that God smiles upon. Everything else is—at best—a collar around your neck and a chain holding you down. I urge you, with God’s help, to get them off. It’ll feel a lot better, I promise.
Father God, I’ve fallen into the debt trap before, and it’s so easy to fall into it again. Please help me to be free to serve only you and my brothers in Christ. By your grace.