We are about nine years removed from the beginning of the last recession. New studies have come out comparing the average household debt during the end of the recession and in 2016. Certainly we all learned our lessons... right? The studies reveal that we have not learned a thing. As one of my mentors, Orrin Woodward, often says, “The lesson will be repeated until the lesson is learned.” It appears we are about to have another opportunity to learn. Consider the data from the chart below:
Why am I as a pastor writing on such a “worldly” topic? That question is a huge part of the problem of why we are in this situation. This is not a worldly topic. The Bible speaks on economic issues in explicit detail. God’s concern has always been that his will would be done on earth just as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). The Bible mentions finances over 2,000 times. I am writing on this simply because God has written on it. Here are some things that the Bible says about debt:
All of these verses describe debt in the negative rather than the positive. In fact when the nation of Israel went into debt with other nations it was a sign of judgment. The lender always has the economic advantage over the borrower (Pr. 22:7) and the advantage to exert authority over them (Deut. 15:6).
Debt and Kingdom Investing
The Bible speaks explicitly about debt. Now, let’s consider an implication it has on our ability to invest in the Kingdom of God. Debt hinders us in our ability to obey the Lord by tithing our income to a local church for Kingdom expansion (Matt. 23:23). Christians know they should be tithing and yet these above statistics are just as true of them as they are of the rest of the world. They have disobeyed God’s law in this realm and are just like the rest of the world. The result is the Kingdom work suffers. The average Christian today is spending $1,500 a month servicing their debt (servicing debt is paying just the interest) and $150 a monthly tithing to Kingdom work. The vast majority of money that is earned off interest from the place loans are taken are being invested into anti-Kingdom work. In essence, debt is one of Satan’s ways to disinherit the righteous to give the inheritance to the unrighteous. Thankfully Satan’s plans will ultimately not be realized as, “...the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous” (Pr. 13:22). As of right now in America, though the enemy, is winning the battle as we have mirrored the world and covenanted with wickedness by becoming overextended and in debt. There is good news though... God is a God of second chances.
The God of Second Chances
Many Christians reading this article so far may be feeling overcome with much guilt (I would be more concerned if you are not). Feeling guilt for a season is a good thing as long as we don’t stay there. Guilt should always lead us to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10), restitution (Luke 19:7-10) and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). God is a gracious God and He is a God of second chances. Consider the New Covenant. The New Covenant Church was formed as the Old Covenant community (Israel) committed spiritual harlotry against God by turning away from Him to false idols and ultimately by killing the savior of the world. God divorced them (Rev. 4) and formed the New Covenant Church, which still included the nation of Israel as well as all of the nations of the world. In essence all of the world gets a second chance through the New Covenant. The fundamental principle of the New Covenant is centered upon the resurrection. When Jesus came back to life He resurrected a New Covenant. Here is what this means for us in principle. If we have disobeyed God with our finances and stewardship responsibilities up to this point then we can take comfort in the fact that today is a new day. We have an opportunity for our finances to be resurrected unto Biblical fidelity. Start today. The way we start is by learning about the defense and offense of finances.
Offense wins games and yet defense wins championships. This quote has been reverberated in sports throughout history. It is true here as well. Defense is really getting into the habit of living a debt free lifestyle. This means never taking out debt on anything that has no inherent value (unsecured debt like credit cards and student loans), or on items that depreciate in value (vehicles) and limiting and eliminating as fast as possible any other debt we might have (a house or business debt). The principle verse for defense is, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Pr. 22:7). Here are some simple steps to take to begin your journey to becoming debt free. Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady in their book, “Financial Fitness” wrote about these six principles of developing an effective defense:
Offense and the Dominion Covenant
The offense of finances is an area where the Christian community really seems to struggle. The pietistic camp has embraced a poverty ethic when it comes to money and they have equated poverty with being righteous and prosperity with being evil. The problem with this is that many of God’s people throughout the Bible were people who were given great wealth (Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon, Barnabas, to name a few). On the other end of the debate you will find the prosperity ethic being taught. This ethic teaches that prosperity is equated with being righteous and poverty with being evil. The fundamental problem with this outlook is the only truly righteous person to ever walk the earth, Jesus, was very poor. Paul, one of Jesus top soldiers gave up a pursuit of wealth to plant churches and write. The solution to this problem is found in understanding the Old Testament and in particular understanding the Dominion Covenant, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28). This is a verse teaching that those in covenant with God should be producers and claim dominion over God’s creation. This implies being productive citizens laboring and increasing our wealth for the Kingdom of Christ.
Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady in their book, “Financial Fitness” wrote about this principle in the section on the offense of finances. They did not stop at instructing the reader about defense. They shared how an effective offense is needed for a financial strategy. I would highly recommend reading this book. Another book that gives legs to the importance of having an effective offensive strategy within a Biblical worldview is the Dominion Covenant by Gary North.
The vast majority of Christians should strive to increase their wealth and expect that it will increase throughout their lifetime. There are only two situations Biblically speaking of when this is not true. The first is when God allows a hard providence to come into a person's life. Job is a great example in which God allowed Satan to take everything from him (Job 1:13-22). The purpose of this was so that believers would have the book of Job to look to in order to have an appropriate view of suffering while still being able to praise God saying, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). It should be noted though that at the end of the story Job acquired more wealth than he had begun with (Job 42:10-17). The other time in the Bible when this principle is not true is when men have been called to special ministry assignments. John the Baptist for example was called to be the last Old Testament prophet wearing camel’s skin, living off locusts and honey to eat in the wilderness (Matt. 3:4). His assignment was to live this way so he could preach urging people to repent as the Kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt. 3:2). He was called by God for a specific spiritual task to lead the way for Jesus Christ which lead to an early death (Matt. 14:1-12). Paul was called to plant churches over the entire known world and write many letters for the church throughout the ages (Rom.11:13). This meant that all of his investments were in the planting of churches and writing most of the New Testament. He was called to suffer for this work (Acts 9:16) which lead to an early death for him. He did not get married so he could invest his time and energy into this cause (1 Cor. 7:6-7). Outside of these rare circumstances Christians should expect that if they apply Biblical law to their finances that over time they will not only decrease their debt but increase their wealth as well.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.