Is Debt Inherently Sinful?
By Kyle Pope
Some time back someone asked me
this question: Is it a sin for a
Christian to go in debt? Some within the religious world have answered
this, yes! What does the Bible say?
no question that it is best for a person to avoid debt as much as possible.
Scores of people have allowed their lives to become overwhelmed with the burden
of growing debt to such a degree that their family, faith, and future have
become enslaved to that debt. With that said, the question is this: is going
in debt to any degree sinful?
To answer this we should consider
1. Mosaic law
restricted, but did not prohibit lending at interest. The Israelite could
lend to his fellow Israelite but could not charge him interest. However, the
Israelite could charge a Gentile interest (Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:36; 23:19;
23:20). In either case the borrower became indebted to
the lender, but it is not described as sinful.
2. The Law of
Christ does not restate this law, even though collecting interest is referred
to in parables of Jesus. In the
Parable of the Talents (Matthew) or Minas (Luke) the wicked servant is rebuked
for not depositing his master’s money with the bankers so that he could have
his money back “with interest” (Matthew 25:27; Luke 19:23). This parable
illustrates the importance of the Christian wisely using what God has given him.
The question must be asked, would Jesus illustrate Christian faithfulness with
something which was sinful?
3. Scripture does not absolutely condemn
servitude. Proverbs 22:7 teaches, “The borrower is servant to the lender” (NKJV).
Paul urged the Corinthians, “do not
become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23).
Servitude throughout most of human history came about because of financial
necessity. Being a slave obviously restricted a person’s freedom to live as
they might choose. Yet, while freedom from servitude (or debt) was always
preferable, it was not the only choice open to a Christian. Paul commanded
masters, not to free their servants, but to treat them properly (Ephesians
have seen in Paul’s command in Romans 13:8 a prohibition against debt. He
wrote, “Owe no one anything except to
love one another.” This command must be understood within its context.
Romans 13:7 teaches that we must “render
to all their due” whether it be taxes, customs, or honor. If it is sin to “owe”
anyone then citizenship in a nation of taxation would be sin. Paul shows that
his words are not absolute, in the fact that he offered to pay Philemon (a
brother in Christ) whatever Onesimus (his servant but also a brother in Christ)
might owe him (Philemon 17-19). If Onesimus’ debt and
Philemon’s need for repayment was sinful, would Paul be offering to share in
something that was sinful? The idea is that we must never allow
ourselves to become indebted to anyone or anything to such a degree that it
interferes with service to God. It is in this sense that Jesus taught we cannot
serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
text which is sometimes cited is Luke 6:35. Jesus taught, “lend, hoping for nothing again.” Much of the issue here rests on
Jesus’ use of the word “lend” from the Greek daneizo. Stong’s defines this word, “to loan on
interest; reflexively to borrow: - borrow, lend.” We should note that Jesus
does not say “give” but “lend.” Is Jesus teaching that we can assist someone
else in sin? Obviously He is not! In
Matthew 5:42 He does use the word “give” but we notice that He goes on to say, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who
wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” If going in debt is a sin, how
can the Christian participate in allowing someone to “borrow” from us (thus
becoming indebted to us)? In both texts
the issue is not the borrowing but the attitude of the one who lends. The Christan
is to lend not “hoping” for a return—and must not “turn away” from one who
wants to borrow from us. If debt is a
sin this would be participating in sin.
this makes it clear that going in debt is not inherently sinful. That is not to
suggest that it does not bring with it great dangers and trials. Christians who allow themselves
to get buried in a mountain of debt are often forced to sacrifice time they
could devote to the Lord’s work, service to their family, or to others. In addition to this, the anxiety and
depression that can come from debt can rob the child of God of the joy, peace,
and happiness that God would have him or her to enjoy. We would whole-heartedly applaud the efforts
of those who seek to discourage Christians (and young Christians especially)
from enslaving themselves to crippling debt. Yet, to go beyond that and further
burden those who have incurred debt with a false sense of guilt by telling them
that debt is sin, is cruel, unloving, and unscriptural.