I end up turning to the Bible for a lot of questions in my life. After all, God has a lot more wisdom than I do, so why not tap into that knowledge? It seems that no matter what I’m dealing with I can find some answers within the pages of the Bible.
A few years ago, I’m reviewing our finances and this question randomly pops into my head, What does the Bible say about debt? The truth is it wasn’t a random thought at all. My wife and I were trying to get out of debt so the topic was weighing on our minds. I knew what I thought about debt but didn’t really know what God said. So I decided to give it a look.
What I found was a little surprising and served as a wake-up call. Not only that but at another level, it provided encouragement and hope. I realized there was a better path to take than the one I was on.
What Does the Bible Say About Debt?
Most of the verses about debt are found in the Old Testament, given as instruction and warning to the nation of Israel. While I won’t hit on all the verses in the Bible about debt, there are several major themes we see God addressing. They give us a window into His thinking about debt and serve as positive advice for us today.
If you are looking for a “Thou shalt not…” type of verse about debt, this is as close as you’ll come:
“For the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.”
Similarly, many point to this verse in the New Testament…
“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
It’s pretty clear from the first verse God did not want His people borrowing money. The second one is open for interpretation. While this could apply to borrowing money, there are many other things that one might “owe” another.
The Big Warning
“The rich rules over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender.”
What the Bible says about debt could really boil down to this one verse. It’s a clear warning to what can happen when you go into debt.
Debt puts you into a different position financially. You are no longer in control. You are personally responsible to the lender and are obligated – no matter what – to pay them off. Anything less than paying the lender back harms you financially.
When you are servant to the lender you are subject to their demand and have little if no say in the matter. A part of your monthly income must be allocated to pay the debt. You can’t ignore it without consequences. You have moved from a position of freedom to bondage until the debt is paid.
Clearly God wants you to understand the danger. If you choose to go into debt, then there is no crying about the consequences of your decision. You chose to ignore the warning from Scripture…now you must do all you can to get out of the debt.
Speaking of which…
Your Best Hope When in Debt
“My son, if you become surety for your friend, If you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, you are snared by the words of your mouth; you are taken by the words of your mouth. So do this, my son, and deliver yourself; go and humble yourself; plead with your friend. Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids. Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.”
If you’ve chosen to be in debt, these verses offer some special imagery that might help. What’s the best method to get out of debt? As fast as you can!
You don’t delay or put things off. You don’t hope it will just naturally get better. The Bible says in this instance you run quickly to your friend and ask him to release you from the debt. But notice what isn’t said here.
He (the person or institution you owe) doesn’t have to release you. He is under no obligation to do so. In fact, the odds are not in your favor that he will. If it’s a bank, they probably won’t even be able to. But you should still set out on a course to get rid of your debt as fast as possible. That’s what’s implied in the verse.
Lend, But Not for Profit
While there are many warnings to being in debt, there are instructions that make it permissible to lend. However, lending comes with a caveat. The people were not to profit from their personal lending to a brother as you can see from these verses:
“If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a money lender to him; you shall not charge him interest.”
“If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit.”
“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.
Although it would appear there was some wiggle-room when it came to lending to a foreigner and charging interest:
“You shall not charge interest to your brother — interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest. To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to our brother you shall not charge interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all to which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess.”
The final theme from God about debt refers to cosigning for a loan. The actual word cosign isn’t found in the Bible. Instead we see the word “surety” being used. Surety refers to the act or promise to assume the responsibility for paying the debt of another person if that person doesn’t repay the loan.
When you cosign you become the guarantor of the loan. Usually this is needed when the lender (a bank) has doubts as to whether the borrower will repay the loan. They require a third party (cosigner) – usually someone with solid financial history – to legally enter the contract as a back up to the borrower. This helps the lender reduce their risk of not getting paid back.
The dangers of cosigning are great – a fact God knew and warned against multiple times:
“Do not be one of those who shakes hands in a pledge, one of those who is surety for debts.”
“He who is surety for a stranger will suffer, but one who hates being surety is secure.”
“A man devoid of understanding shakes hands in a pledge, and becomes surety for his friend.”
The Bottom Line
When I came across all these verses it seemed pretty clear to me that God doesn’t speak highly of being in debt or trying to take advantage of other people. There was one clear command against it to the nation of Israel and many warnings about it’s dangers. That was enough to drive me to become totally debt free.
If you are still interested in further study on what does the Bible say about debt, you can click here and see the other verses where debt is mentioned. Of note in particular are two parables of Jesus that have debt as a central character. The focus of the Matthew 18:21-35 parable is on forgiveness and compassion where the emphasis in the Luke 16:1-13 parable is on the wisdom of a steward in paying off debt.
In the end, you’ll have to come to your own conclusions about what to do with your debt. It seems clear to me that God’s not all too thrilled about us being in it. It would seem the wiser path to never go into debt in the first place. There is so much risk to getting caught up in a debt obligation and then having trouble paying it back – a thought highlighted in this final verse:
“When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed — Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”
Questions for Discussion: Do you think the Bible’s teachings about debt still apply to us today? Why do you think God told the people it was okay to charge interest to a foreigner but not a fellow Israelite? What’s your big takeaway from what the Bible says about debt?