/ debt / Gentle Reformation

Debt Slavery

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

Proverbs 22:7

There is a lot of talk these days about the level of America’s public and private debt.  The incredible statistics, available up-to-date, track the minute by minute increase.  For all the talk, these numbers fail to faze us for the most part.  At the national level, the very concept of trillions does not register in the reality of most people, so it’s easy to shrug off as long as the bill doesn’t show up in the mailbox.  At the household level, everyone has a mortgage, a car payment or two and credit card debt as a way of life.  Massive debt at every level has become a new normal.

The sad, biblical fact is that we have willingly become slaves.  Much of the wealth and progress we see in society has been built with money that never existed.  We have, by and large, given into the greed-fueled notion that we can enjoy the fruits of labor not yet performed and possess now what we have not earned in exchange for a claim on our future productivity.  Thus we become slaves to our lenders, to whom we pay high interest in order to exchange our futures for present gratification.

An even more galling aspect of this system is the “FICO” score; literally a number that estimates how good a debt slave you are.  If you borrow a lot and pay it back regularly at interest you get the privilege of a high score – which means you can borrow more.  Stay on the treadmill faithfully and the banks will take you on a ride that will never end.  Of course your FICO score is held in secrecy and you must pay to see it; and, if you want to protect your debt slave status against identity theft you must pay these companies to protect your information from thieves – the very information that you must pay to see.  Then, ultimately, when you get yourself in too deep, there’s a whole industry of “debt relief” companies who will gladly help you settle your debts – for a fee, of course.  I don’t see how this system can be called anything but slavery.

Think, too, of how this debt slavery system and the greed of the world have crept into the church and presently hinder the work of the Kingdom.  How many Christians pay more in debt interest than tithes?  How many churches struggle and fail for lack of money while the members thereof have their incomes tied up in credit card payments?  And for what?  Most of our debt is from buying eternally useless stuff.  Just lots and lots of stuff.  Most of it is needless clutter and soon forgotten, yet the payments on all those things continue to burden us long after those things are gone, broken or forgotten.  Meantime, we are literally bombarded with advertisements in all the media to keep buying, and we do just as we are told.  Again, I don’t see how this can be called anything but slavery.

I John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things of the world.”  I think this applies to the debt slave culture and the greed that drives it.  This, probably more than any other social sin, has gained a footing among us.  In my humble opinion, God’s people should do all they can to extricate themselves from this system of slavery and the world’s debt-fueled notion of prosperity.

With this conviction, I have these few simple principles written down and sitting on my desk as a reminder.  Maybe they will be of help to you, too:

  1. Make spiritual priorities first in all things, including finances.  “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33).
  2. Stop spending money on eternally useless things.  “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” (Matt 6:19).
  3. Pay off all debts as soon as possible and do not go into any new debt at all.  No exceptions, no rationalizations.  “Owe no one anything except to love one another” (Rom 13:8).
  4. Be content with what God provides.  “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Tim 6:6).
  5. Work hard and use the fruit of your labor to bless others.  “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Eph 4:28).
  6. Save for your children instead of spending on yourself.  “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Prov 13:22).
  7. Radically simplify life from the clutter of too many possessions, needless worries and excessive obligations.  “But we urge you brethren, that you increase more and more, that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (I Thess 4:10).
  8. Find joy in family and Christian fellowship instead of in possessions.  “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).