The dangers of covetousness and materialism are exponentially heightened in our society because they are coupled with the curse of easy credit, and the almost universal adoption of a blatant consumerism fueled by debt. Credit cards are peddled to teenagers on every college and university campus, lines of credit are pushed by every financial institution, vehicle leasing is hailed as a brilliant way to “drive more car for the same money,” and homes are being purchased almost entirely with borrowed funds. Most people are living virtually at the limits of their available credit, with little thought of how they will ever repay what they owe, or climb out of the hole they are digging for themselves.
As Christians, we need to recognize that the Word of God is clear and unambiguous in its warnings about debt. Proverbs 22:7 states, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (NASB). The Scriptures do not totally prohibit debt, but they do warn, in no uncertain terms, about its dangers and paint a picture whereby the believer should be very, very cautious about using debt to fund the purchase of material things.
If we view our money and material possessions as a stewardship from God (as we should), then, in some ways, the careless use of debt is akin to blackmailing God. Essentially, debt is spending money that God hasn’t even entrusted to me yet. It’s committing money now that I am assuming God will entrust to me at some point in the future – more or less daring God to step up and fulfill the obligations I have taken on deliberately, but too often mindlessly.
Debt should never be entered into glibly or thoughtlessly. The following guidelines are suggested for every believer, young and old, to carefully and prayerfully ponder before entering into a financial transaction that involves credit or debt.
Do not go into debt for something that will be consumed before you have finished paying for it. This guideline would mean that it may, under some circumstances, be reasonable for a believer to use some manageable level of debt to fund the purchase of a home, an education, or possibly a vehicle (although it would be foolish to use debt to get a “nicer” vehicle than I could afford without it, if the vehicle I could afford would be adequate to meet my transportation needs and avoid debt). Debt should never be used to pay for vacations, indulgences, lifestyle expenses, or other things that are long forgotten after the bills still pile up and cry out to be paid.
Do not go into debt unless you first sit down and develop a realistic, conservative plan as to how you are going to retire the debt. This will preclude almost all impulsive credit card spending. If you do not have the money to pay for a purchase now, there’s little likelihood you will just happen to have it when the bills come due. If you do not have a credible, realistic repayment plan, do not enter into an arrangement involving debt.
Do not go into debt without having prayed about it, possibly discussed it with someone more spiritually mature than yourself, and being convinced that the purchase you are making is necessary for the furtherance of God’s purposes in your life. This may mean that debt is a reasonable course for the purchase of a home that will be used for God’s glory, or the purchase of a vehicle that can enhance your family’s participation at assembly meetings, etc. But this test will preclude ever using debt to buy that motorcycle you really like, upgrade to a faster jet-ski or waverunner, or “invest” in a more modern flat screen TV or home entertainment system.
Admittedly, the above guidelines may seem somewhat radical, old fashioned, and totally out of touch with what is considered “normal” in our society today, even by believers. But before dismissing them outright as being irrelevant to you and your life choices, pray about them, compare them with Scripture, not your peer group, and see if they do not represent a Biblically sound basis for you to avoid the misuse and abuse of irresponsible, credit-supported, unaffordable, barren Christian living.
The concept of “affordability” is not just old-fashioned, it is Scriptural. The Lord speaks in Luke 14:28 of a man planning to build a tower. Before he starts, he will sit down first and count the cost to ensure that he has sufficient funds to finish it. Sadly, “affordability” today has been replaced with “availability,” and purchase decisions are made lightly on the basis of whether or not I have the funding available to close the transaction. “Buy now and pay later” may be the mantra of the rampant consumerism that poisons western society, but it is a flagrantly unscriptural way for a child of God to live.
Why does God provide us with money?
The Grace of Giving
It is doubtful that anyone would say that God gives us money to waste on our covetous desires. It is much more likely that most would say that God gives us money for us to use to meet our needs. Would it surprise you to learn that even this is not a completely Scriptural understanding of why God entrusts us with money and material possessions? Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:17 (ESV) about “God, Who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” If that’s where the Scripture ended, we would be happy in understanding that God has given us everything for our own enjoyment. But in verse 18 the apostle goes on to explain how we are to enjoy the things God has provided for us. We are “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” We see the same teaching in Ephesians 4:28 where Paul writes “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” We may have expected the verse to end with “that he may have what he needs to provide for himself and his family” but that’s not what the Scripture says. It says “that he may have to give to him that needeth.” The main reason God entrusts us with money and material possession is so that we can use them as instruments in his hand to meet the needs of others. Simply put, he gives us money to give!
Maybe you are a young believer who feels that you have nothing to give. Scripture is very challenging in its teaching on giving. Who should give? Those who have plenty? Those who have more than me? No! Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that “every man, according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give.” Notice that he says “every man.” In 1 Corinthians 16:2 he says, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.” Note again in this verse that he says “every one of you.” So giving is the responsibility of every single believer, not just a select group.
We are given very specific instructions in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 regarding principles that should govern our giving. We learn in these chapters that we should give liberally, willingly, cheerfully, and sacrificially.
God has entrusted you with money so you will be able to support others in His work. Are you comfortable with the extent to which you are using this money? Or are you caught in the trap that so many believers find themselves in where every dollar has been committed and spoken for before you even earn it, so that there is literally nothing left to give? If so, then pay specific attention to the principle in the verse already quoted in the previous paragraph – 2 Corinthians 9:7: “Every man, according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give.” If you do not resolve to give deliberately, it is extremely unlikely that there will be anything available to give. It may be that right at this point in time you would find it very, very difficult to increase your giving, as you have no disposable money available for discretionary use. If that’s the case, are you willing to resolve in your heart now that at the first available opportunity, you will determine to start rearranging your financial practices to allow you to give? Possibly when a mortgage is up for renewal, are you prepared to alter the repayment schedule slightly, not to allow you more flexibility to spend money on yourself, but to free up money to direct towards supporting the work of the Lord. Possibly when a car lease is up, rather than just letting the car dealer talk you into a new lease for a nicer vehicle, the answer may be to extend the use of your older vehicle, freeing up some monthly income that can be diverted into the work of God.The hymn is very, very true.
We lose what on ourselves we spend;
We have as treasure without end;
Whatever Lord to Thee we lend!
Who givest all.
This article has not been written to browbeat believers, nor to belittle anyone, or create discouragement or despair. If you have read it and feel that it is so out of touch with where you are financially that you are tempted to just shelve it as irrelevant, please stop for a moment and consider the powerful forces at work in your life when it comes to your perspective on money and material things, especially if you are a young believer just starting out in adult life. Do not allow the world’s approach, mindset, philosophies, and practices to poison your perspective on money and material possessions. Read the Scriptures and allow God’s truth to permeate your soul. Heed the Lord’s exhortation: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21 ESV).