Don’t Do Debt!

Friday, December 11th, 2009

It is easy for me to say, "Don’t do debt!" but not always easy to put it into practice!

However, I’m just as aware that if we begin to follow a set of legalistic rules in this regard, we are in danger of living by fear rather than by faith. If you’ll let me, I would like to be a father to you in this matter. I hope that as we progress through the subject, you’ll hear God’s wisdom, and like the sons of Issachar, will understand the times and know what you should do.

As we approach Christmas – a mere 14 days away – many of us feel the increasing pressure to buy things – things for ourselves and things for our loved ones. We get caught up in the urge to buy gifts; gifts we can’t really afford, and quite often which are not really needed by those we buy them for. We tend to accumulate more stuff at this time of the year than at any other time. A few years ago, these comments appeared in a Sunday newspaper:

"Consumers are set to embark on a record-breaking festive season spending spree despite fears of an interest rate hike…Domestic tourism will be lively, and consumer appetite for trinkets and toys, electronic equipment and fashion apparel will be strong…Rising consumer demand has spurred credit growth, taking household debt levels to eight-year peaks and sparking concern over sustainability."

Today, three years later, we are not faced with rising consumer demand, because times are a lot tougher, but it’s just as easy to give in to the temptation, unless we’re careful. Great danger lurks out there for Christians living in a world that is driven by greed and the need to possess.

I want these words to be intensely practical for each of you to follow. However, I believe I need to teach you about debt off a "wisdom" foundation. You see, there’s nothing in scripture that says "Thou shalt not borrow or lend money". Scripture is actually a bit confusing when it comes to this subject! At first glance, it appears in both the Old and New Testaments that lending is encouraged, especially amongst God’s people. At the same time, there are clear warnings that we should not be indebted to anyone for anything but love.

So I felt God saying, "Teach them to be wise at a time like this!" Listen to the words from Proverbs in this regard:

"My child, hold on to wisdom and good sense. Don’t let them out of your sight. They will give you life and beauty like a necklace around your neck. Then you will go your way in safety, and you will not get hurt. When you lie down, you won’t be afraid; when you lie down, you will sleep in peace. You won’t be afraid of sudden trouble; you won’t fear the ruin that comes to the wicked, because the LORD will keep you safe. He will keep you from being trapped." (Proverbs 3:21-26)

It’s not about a set of rules. It’s about applying some good, sound common sense. Much of what I’m going to say is based on what I have learned and applied in my own life.

Over the last few years we have been speaking about being an ‘apostolic’ people. To my mind, that means we are a People, full of the Spirit and Wisdom, who are called to take the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to our neighborhood and to the farthest ends of the earth. Since the Kingdom of God is all about His rule and His reign, in and through us, it follows that wherever we go, and whatever we do, it should always be with this in mind.

If we are in debt, we are not ruling or reigning, we are actually slaves to our lenders. Therefore, if we’re going to get on with the work God’s called us to, then we are going to have to deal with issues like this.

Apostolic people are those who have learned to overcome the obstacles in life and keep going. You may be a born-again, card-carrying, Spirit-filled, tongue-speaking, miracle-working Christian but, if you’re constantly in debt, you will not be experiencing the fullness of what God intends for you.
And, once you’re in debt, the temptation to do wrong (to sin) increases at an alarming rate. You may find that there is an unhealthy emphasis on money in your life; that you are inclined to lie about your financial situation, and you may even be stealing!!

These may appear to be harsh words but they’re true. My purpose in sharing them, though, is not to bring condemnation but hope. You don’t have to remain like this. And, in order to overcome this problem we have to avoid conforming to the "world’s" ways, and thinking like the "world" does.

An apostolic people are those with a different spirit to that of the world.

"But my servant Caleb thinks differently and follows me completely. …" (Numbers 14:24)

Caleb was faced with a number of disturbing facts – the way into the Promised Land was fraught with obstacles. But his focus was on the Promiser and the Promise and not on the problems. Were the problems going to go away? No! They were not! Was he going to have to face them? Yes! He was! Did he believe God was going to support him? Yes, he most certainly did! So he stepped out in faith.

As an apostolic people we too have our eyes firmly fixed on the Promiser and the Promise. Are our problems going to go away? Probably not! Is God going to be with us as we address them? Yes, he most certainly is! The promise to Caleb is a promise to us too but, like Caleb, we are going to have to THINK DIFFERENTLY to those who are in the world.

WHAT IS DEBT?

Firstly, we need to have a clear understanding of what "Debt" actually is. If you are in debt it means that you owe something to someone. It means that you have an obligation to that person. It can be said that you are "bound" to that person.
Debt has always been around. People have been borrowing from other people for ever, in one form or another. Their reasons for borrowing may have differed over the centuries, but essentially the concept is not something new. It used to be a personal thing between one person and another. It is now global, corporate, and even national as governments borrow from other governments. Though Debt has many forms it almost always involves Money, and this is the worst form.

Let me explain something about Debt:

  • THE CREDIT SYSTEM

The Credit System, as it is most commonly known, really only came about after the Industrial Revolution. It has never been as rampant as it is today. In large parts of the World, it is estimated that the average person is born into debt.

This system has enabled us to have an amazing variety of consumer goods, (microwave ovens, TV’s and cell phones) many of which are not actually necessary. (we don’t need them to survive!) But, we feel we cannot do without them anymore! The problem is that the cost of these goods is increasing beyond our ability to pay for them! And this urge to posses has another unpleasant side-effect – as you buy more goods, you need more space to store them; and so you end up having to purchase bigger and bigger homes, which means you probably have to go more into debt to do so.

This system functions on future expectations. So, – for example, one person decides to make a table for resale. He doesn’t have the money for the wood or the tools to make it, so he borrows it from a bank. He makes the table and sells to another person who promises to pay him for it over the next 6 months. The buyer is a salaried employee and he has to work before he will be paid, and only when he is paid will he be able to pay the manufacturer, who will then pay the supplier of the raw material. During this whole process very little actual money changes hands. It’s all on paper in the form of agreements. It’s based on promises and commitments made about some future event, which may, or may not, happen. If we view this simple example from a national and corporate perspective, you can see very clearly how easy it is for whole economies to exist on the fragile foundation of a ‘paper’ commitment. It has no real substance – it’s like a house of cards – liable to collapse at any moment.

Within this system, we tend to buy things today in the hope that we can pay for them tomorrow, instead of saving today so that we can buy tomorrow.

The Credit system is a weapon which Satan (the enemy) uses very effectively. He uses it to create bondage/slavery to this present age. He doesn’t want us to live our lives today with an end-time, outcomes-based mindset. He wants us weighed down with the cares of this present age, so that our thought life is dominated by care, concern and anxiety, and not on the things of God.

  • BONDAGE AND SLAVERY

The Bible tells us that:

"….the borrower is the slave of the lender." (Proverbs 22:7b)

Slavery has been ‘officially’ outlawed in most places in the world. In the years when it was tolerated, it often meant cruel and inhuman conditions for those who were slaves. Very often, in biblical times, people sold themselves into slavery in order to raise money or to repay their debts. This is the basis for that scripture in Proverbs 22:7. However, Hebrew Law commanded that a man who had become a slave to pay his debts should be freed in the seventh year of his service (Ex. 21:2). (What’s interesting though, is that no such law was given for setting free female debt slaves. Really tough on women isn’t it?)

We see a similar process in our law today. Someone who cannot pay his debts is eventually declared bankrupt by the court. For a period of ten years, he cannot legally purchase anything on credit again. The difference today is that there is almost no real punishment for someone who cannot repay his debts. (Other than having a bad credit record!) In fact, under the New Credit Act, people in debt even enjoy quite a lot of protection under the law. Much more lenient than being sold into slavery, isn’t it?

What many Christians do not realise today is that although physical bondage/slavery does not exist any longer, once we borrow money from someone, it creates a form of spiritual bondage – in other words, it has a supernatural implication. We become yoked (often unequally to unbelievers) to someone else and this bondage is only broken in the supernatural realm when the debt is paid.

Bondage to debt is one of the signs that the Mammon spirit has an influence in your life!

If you’re concerned about your own situation, some of the warning signals to look for are contained in the following questions which we need to ask of ourselves:

  • Do my consumer debts (debt that has been created by buying food and clothing on credit instead of for cash.) total more than 15% of my annual take-home pay? For example, if my net salary is R60,000 per year (R5000 per month) and my consumer debts are more than R9000 in total, then I have a problem!
  • Do I consistently only pay the bare minimum due each month on my credit card? In some cases, Banks allow credit limits far in excess of what we can afford. We can purchase goods for say, R2000, and then only have to pay back R200 per month on that debt. The problem with this is that the interest rates charged on credit cards is so high that you will take years to repay this debt at the minimum amount.
  • Do I tend to add more expenses to my credit card than I can afford to pay off at the end of the same month? If you use a credit card at all, it should only be for security (rather than carrying cash; in this case I would prefer that you rather had a debit card which can only be used if you have money in the account.) reasons – never spend more than you can afford to pay in full at the end of the month!
  • Do I find that I’m charging consumable items that were formerly purchased with cash, to an account? If you find that you’re purchasing food, clothing and fuel on account, in order to carry you through to the end of the month, it’s likely you’re spending more than you earn!
  • Do I have an inner "lack of peace" about my consumer debt situation? Do you wake up at night worrying about how you’re going to pay your debts? Do you feel a real ‘check’ in your spirit before you make any credit purchase?
  • Have I received any letters of demand about arrear payments? When this happens you’re already in trouble, and you need to seek help urgently.
  • Am I able to save at least 10% of my take-home pay each month? We are recognised as a nation that does not save. If we don’t we could end up becoming a burden on others and on the state.
  • TYPES OF DEBT

It is important at this point to explain the difference between "good" and "bad" debt, if there are such things.

Good Debt

  • When you buy something that has a value in excess of the debt raised to pay for it, then one could call the debt "good" debt. A mortgage loan of R80,000, raised to buy a house worth R100,000 is an example.
  • When you buy something which enables you to generate an income as a result. Purchasing a car-washing machine to wash cars for money is an example.

However, it can only be viewed as "good" debt if you

  • Accept that it is not owned by you until it is paid for, 
  • Are prepared to give it up if you cannot pay for it, and
  • If you do have to give it up and it is sold, there should be no balance left still to pay.

Bad Debt.

This type of debt, however, is that which has been incurred in buying consumable goods (food, clothing, fuel, car repairs, music etc) today, with tomorrow’s money. Examples of this are, the "Fly-now, pay later" travel schemes, food and drink on credit cards, clothing on 6-months-to-pay accounts, and for me the worst of the lot, furniture on account. This is also known as Consumer Credit. This means that the goods you are buying are being consumed, used up, and therefore they do not exist for sale or repossession if you cannot afford to service the debt. You could argue that furniture is not really a consumable item and it will be available for repossession if you can’t meet your repayment plan, but in this case, it vitally important that we understand how these furniture shops operate: Most of them advertise that you can purchase, for example, a washing machine, for the sum of R250 per month. They are not just selling you a washing machine – a commodity, – they are selling you a product, which is three-fold:

  • Goods (the washing machine).
  • Finance (at exorbitant rates) and
  •  A ‘warm’ feeling.

This method of marketing is particularly effective to the poorer people (who can least afford it) because it invokes a feeling of success, a form of self-esteem.

Back to the notorious furniture shops: First of all, the product they sell is retailed at a much higher price than what you could pay for it in a discount store. Secondly, they raise finance charges at rates not unlike those charged by some of the Cash Loan businesses. (Loan Sharks). And then to add insult to injury, they also add on an insurance (at a ridiculous premium) to cover unemployment. A lady who used to be in our church was the victim of one of these ‘deals’ and ended up paying over R8000 for an item that would have cost R2000 in a discount store. The worst part of it is that if you can’t repay the debt, they will repossess the goods, give you very little in return for it and then make you pay the balance anyway. And, you will pay and pay and pay and pay – mostly legal costs because they are deducted first – for what seems like forever.

Many people run up enormous amounts of "bad" debt and then find that they cannot afford to service it with their current incomes. Credit cards are particularly dangerous in this regard. They should only be used as a security convenience. In fact, if your credit card is constantly in a red-line situation, I suggest you cut it up!

Quite often, when people get into this situation they start "robbing Peter to pay Paul" and it eventually de-generates into total financial chaos, followed by all sorts of unrighteous behaviour. This just results in ‘black marks’ on credit records, and creates psychological wounds which can take years to heal. Even if you manage to avoid having to repay the debt, because the court declares you bankrupt, you must remember that the obligation remains – the bondage (slavery) remains – in the supernatural sense, until and unless it is repaid, or the lender releases you from that obligation.

The bible is quite clear about the non-repayment of debt – Psalm 37:21 tells us that in the Kingdom, the non-repayment of debt is considered to be wicked. "The wicked borrows and does not repay."

  • GAMBLING

Lastly, in explaining just what Debt is, I believe it is a form of gambling. Gambling is all about taking a chance on some event which or may not happen in the future. If you purchase a lottery ticket, you are purchasing a wish, a dream that you may become rich if your number comes up. If you play the one-armed bandits at the casino, you are also hoping that your number comes up. When you buy on credit, you are also banking on your ability to repay the debt at some stage in the future. You have no knowledge that you may be employed in the future or whether you would even be alive!! You are therefore gambling when you buy on credit!

HANDLING EXISTING DEBT

If you have managed to get yourself into trouble financially, it is important to adopt the following responsible attitude to settling your debt, no matter how impossible it may sound.

  • Step up to the debt. Acknowledge it to yourself (I owe money to this person.), and to your creditor by going to see him.
  • Make an offer to repay the amount due over time. This must be calculated as the same proportion of what you have available to pay, as the specific debt is to your total debt. This may seem a ridiculously small amount in relation to the debt, but most creditors will accept payment terms if they’re going to recover the amount due to them. It is important, to get your creditor to agree to your offer. This eliminates any unrighteousness since a formal agreement will have been reached.
  • Then make sure that you meet this commitment every month. This is all about accountability.

Once you have adopted this attitude an amazing thing happens, – God gets involved! Why? – Because God always gets involves in acts of righteousness.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." (Matt.5:6)

Once that process of righteousness has been activated, the rule and reign of God is introduced into the equation. The debt becomes subject to His supernatural power and He will provide the means to overcome. Not only is the debt very often repaid ahead of schedule, it restores your name, which gives glory to God. In the short term it may put you under financial pressure, but in the long term it will give you peace.

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:16-17)

DOES THIS MEAN WE SHOULD NEVER GET INTO DEBT?

No, it doesn’t! However, Paul said this:

"Do not owe people anything, except always owe love to each other, because the person who loves others has obeyed all the law."(Romans 13:8)

That statement is often used by Christians against any form of debt. Paul, however, is using it in the context of being committed to love one another rather than in the context of going into debt.

You may need to borrow money from a bank to start up a business, so that you can earn an income and employ other people, and fund the apostolic mission at the same time. Businesses which employ large numbers of people and expensive equipment would find it very difficult to finance their operations without the assistance of lending institutions. Banks are able to provide this capital, even though the interest costs can be high.

What is important for everyone to consider is that you never go into a debt situation without first obtaining wise counsel. And there is plenty of wise counsel in the Church! Is your plan to make money going to work, and will it make enough to pay off the debt? You may even need to obtain some form of collateral, perhaps in the form of a suretyship (a guarantee) from someone else, to raise that loan capital. But hang on, you say, doesn’t the bible speak out against suretyships?

SURETYSHIP

This scripture from Proverbs 6:1-2 (and others) is often used by people against suretyship.

"My child, be careful about giving a guarantee for somebody else’s loan, about promising to pay what someone else owes. You might get trapped by what you say; you might be caught by your own words."

However, Scripture does not flatly prohibit suretyship. In fact, it offers several examples which indicate that guaranteeing a loan can be a form of service to others, and even a testimony of love and the self-sacrificial spirit that lies at the heart of the gospel: The patriarch Judah volunteered to be "collateral" for his younger half-brother Benjamin (Gen. 43:8-9). Joseph was overwhelmed by this willingness of Judah to place himself at risk (Gen. 44:32; 45:11). Judah was demonstrating the kind of self-sacrifice that Jesus later urged His followers to practice. Paul became surety for the runaway slave Onesimus (Philemon. 10-13, 18-19). Paul did not incur this risk foolishly. He knew Onesimus quite well (Philemon. 12). Nonetheless, Paul’s act was a marvelous display of the grace of Christ.

In light of these models, there may be times when guaranteeing a loan not only makes sense, but gives us an opportunity to demonstrate in concrete terms the redeeming work of Christ. Please, however, make sure it is done wisely, and after obtaining counsel.

For example, a wise and financially able believer could offer to become surety for someone who needs help in buying equipment or tools to earn a living. He could explain in the process that what he is doing is a lot like what Jesus has done for us. Thus the person providing the guarantee would not only be sharing the gospel, but showing the gospel as well.

WHAT IF YOU’RE THE LENDER?

The bible is very clear about one thing, – we should be prepared and willing to lend to anyone (even our enemies) and without expecting to be repaid.

"If you lend things to people, always hoping to get something back, what praise should you get? Even sinners lend to other sinners so that they can get back the same amount! But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without hoping to get anything back. Then you will have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High God, because he is kind even to people who are ungrateful and full of sin. Show mercy, just as your Father shows mercy." (Luke 6:34-36)

For me, this means that we should actually consider not lending, but GIVING. In fact, as far as Christians are concerned, I would advise that if you are not prepared to GIVE, then you shouldn’t lend either. If I lend money to a brother Christian it can create problems between us. He feels bound to me if he can’t pay for some reason; and I might feel irritated with him. This can create resentment in him, and so on! It can result in broken relationships between Christians.

SO HOW ARE WE GOING TO MANAGE TO LIVE ON A SMALL MONTHLY INCOME?

I would like to suggest that the first and best decision we need to make is this: JUST DON’T DO DEBT!

No matter what (unless lives are at stake) – don’t get into "bad" debt for any reason, and only use "good" debt once you’ve been wisely counseled. If you need a new stove, save up until you have enough cash to pay for it. Better still, take your need to God and the elders of the church, for there should be none among us with needs!

I began this teaching with a quote from Proverbs because I believe that whether we go into or debt or not is actually about being wise.

In closing I would like to quote from the Proverbs again:

"Listen carefully to what wise people say; pay attention to what I am teaching you. It will be good to keep these things in mind so that you are ready to repeat them. I am teaching them to you now so that you will put your trust in the LORD. Have I not written you excellent things of counsels and knowledge? I am teaching you true and reliable words so that you can give true answers to anyone who asks." (Prov. 22:17-20)

THE AUTHOR:

This article was written by Gary Smith for the use of members of Grace Generation Church, Pietermaritzburg. Gary is an elder in the church. The article is drawn from a teaching presented to the church In November 2005 by Gary, a recording of which is available from the GraceGen church office.