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"The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender." - Proverbs 22:7
This is the most popular verse in the Bible about debt. It is often repeated from pulpits and the mouths of Christian "financial gurus" across the country. As a result, many see debt as slavery. But is it really? What else does the Bible say about debt?
What does debt mean?
Although there is a lot of truth to the subservient relationship between debtor and debtee, the word "slave" is a very charged word in our culture. So, it is wise for us to understand the context of what slavery and debt looked like when this verse was written.
The Egyptians enslaving the Israelites is the example that most of us, in the United States, resonate with. It seems most comparable to the ugly history of slavery in our country. But another example is voluntary slavery. It was fairly common for people to approach rich landowners and ask if they could enter into a contract; voluntary slavery over a specific period in exchange for land, livestock, shelter, food, protection, and more. There is even an example in Genesis where Jacob entered into voluntary slavery under Laban for the right to marry one of his daughters. Another cultural phenomenon of that day and age was the Year of Jubilee. It was a year that came every fifty years. In that year people would work to release slaves and fulfill contracts before the year's end.
Because "debt" was such a large part of life, there were many warnings about debt given in scripture.
"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?" - Luke 14:28
This verse is one of the wisest things ever said about debt. It stresses how vital it is for us to carefully evaluate what debt will cost. Sadly, that wisdom is often passed by in our society.
The very first debt I ever obtained could have worked out better if I had counted the cost before I signed on the dotted line. I was a 19-year-old kid sitting in the financial aid office of a college. The debt offered to me seemed like the only option I had to pursue higher education. So, I agreed to it. But I didn't ask what the interest rate was. I didn't ask what the payments would be. And I surely didn't compare those payments and other estimated expenses to what my estimated income would be when I graduated. I didn't count the cost. As a result, the student loans were a burden for my brand new bride and I just out of college.
What other costs are associated with that debt?
Like those who voluntarily entered into "slavery" there are sacrifices to pay debt off. For me, it was additional hours at work, an internal mental frustration, and strain on my marriage. The cost of debt goes far beyond financial. We must consider those costs to ensure we can follow through.
"The wicked borrows but does not pay back." - Psalm 37:21
This verse is a warning against entering into a contract or agreeing to debt without fulfilling that commitment.
Does life happen? Do circumstances arise that prevent you from following through on a promise you made to pay the debt? Absolutely! Do many people look to take advantage of debtees for their own financial gain? Do debtors create excuses and withhold their best effort to pay back a debt? Of course, they do! Either way, the repayment of debt should be taken seriously. It is an obligation, and our integrity as individuals and followers of Christ is at stake!
Again, there are many other verses about debt, and I think it is always a great idea to do your own research, pour over God's word, and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth as you read. But the three scriptures I mentioned above do a great job summarizing most of what the Bible says about debt.
Three main points to take away are:
With all of that said, you would be hard-pressed to find the Bible saying things like "debt is dumb," or "debt is evil." Debt is amoral. It cannot be dumb, smart, evil, or righteous. Debt is not out on the prowl to attack good Christians. This is important to note because if we give moral attributes to amoral things like debt it creates a victim mentality. It prevents us from taking ownership of how we engage with debt, and that is dangerous.
The words God gives us about debt are less about debt itself and more about us as people. God, in His glorious love and wisdom, did not write verses to debt but wrote verses about debt to us. His Word is there to bless us with wisdom in our minds, and to shape the condition of our hearts. God’s will for debt is that it doesn’t distract us from loving Him or His people. He wants us to follow His guidance so our relationship with debt can enhance our ability to carry out the true purpose of our lives.
Husband, Dad, and Sun Valley Community Church student ministry volunteer. A Finance Expert and Founder of Stewardship. Christian Ministries major from Arizona Christian University and bestselling author.