Memory Text: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7, NKJV).
One definition of debt is “living today on what you expect to earn in the future.” Today debt seems to be a way of life, but it should not be the norm for Christians. The Bible discourages debt. In the Scriptures there are at least 26 references to debt, and all are negative. The Bible does not say that it is a sin to borrow money, but it does talk about the often-bad consequences of doing so. When considering financial obligations, Paul counseled: “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Owe no one anything except to love one another” (Rom. 13:7, 8, NKJV).
Why is debt an almost international scourge at every level— personal, corporate, and government? Every society has always had at least a small percentage who were in debt. But today a much larger portion of the people are in debt, and it’s almost never to their benefit. This week we will consider the reasons for debt and how to deal with it. You may be debt-free, but you can share this valuable information with family and friends who could benefit from it.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, February 4.
Read Deuteronomy 28:1, 2, 12. What is God’s ideal for His children regarding debt? How can they attain this ideal? And though this context is very different from ours, what principles can we take away from it to apply to ourselves now?
Studies show that there are three primary reasons that people get into financial difficulty. They are listed here in the order of greatest frequency.
The first is ignorance. Many people, even the educated, are financially illiterate. They were simply never exposed to the biblical or even secular principles of money management. There is hope, however! This lesson will provide a simple outline of these principles and how to apply them.
The second reason for financial difficulties is greed, or selfishness. In response to advertising and personal desire, people simply live beyond their means. They aren’t willing to live in, drive, or wear what they can really afford. Many of these same people also feel that they are just too poor to tithe. As a consequence, they live their lives without God’s promised wisdom and blessing (see Mal. 3:10, 11; Matt. 6:33). There’s hope for these people, as well, but it requires a change of heart—and a spirit of contentment.
The third reason people find themselves in financial difficulty is personal misfortune. They may have experienced a serious illness without adequate health insurance. They may have been abandoned by a spendthrift marriage partner. A natural disaster may have wiped out their possessions. Or they may have been born and raised in abject poverty. There is hope for these people too. Though their path is more difficult, their troubles can be overcome. Change may come with the support of Christian friends, the counsel and/or assistance of godly counselors, hard work coupled with a good education, and the blessing and providence of God.
Whatever the reason, even if it’s a person’s own fault, debt can be alleviated. However, those in debt will need to make some changes in their lives, their spending, and their financial priorities.
Read Matthew 6:24 and 1 John 2:15. Though expressed differently, what’s the common theme found in both of these scriptures?
Unfortunately, the love of the world can be so strong that people will get into debt in order—as they hope—to satisfy that love. (It never works; see Eccles. 4:8.)
And because debt is one of Satan’s nets that he sets for souls, it just makes sense that God would like to see His children debt-free. He has given us counsel through the Bible and the prophetic gift that will lead us to financial freedom.
Read Psalm 50:14, 15. What attitude should God’s people live with? What does it mean to “pay your vows” (NKJV)?
We enter into our church membership with praise and thanksgiving to our God, who has created and redeemed us. In point 9 (of 13) in our baptismal vows, we were asked, “Do you believe in church organization? Is it your purpose to worship God and to support the church through your tithes and offerings and by your personal effort and influence?” As Seventh-day Adventists, we all said yes. So, this text (Ps. 50:14, 15) is a promise to those who offer thanksgiving to God and are faithfully paying their vows.
Read Proverbs 22:7. In what sense are we under bondage to the lender?
What can be done to escape from this unfortunate phenomenon? If you are in debt, the following outline will help you begin a debtelimination process. The plan is simple. It has a premise and three steps. The premise is a commitment to God to be faithful in returning His holy tithe to access His wisdom and blessing. He is eager to bless those who obey Him. Step 1 is to declare a moratorium on additional debt: no more credit spending. If you don’t borrow money, you can’t get into debt. If you don’t borrow any more money, you can’t get further into debt.
Step 2 is to make a covenant with God that from this point on, as He blesses, you will pay off your debts as quickly as possible. When God blesses you financially, use the money to reduce debt—not to purchase more things. This step is probably the most crucial. When most folks receive unexpected money, they simply spend it. Don’t; instead apply it to your debt-reduction plan.
Step 3 is the hands-on practical part. Make a list of all your debts, from the largest to the smallest, in descending order. For most families, the home mortgage is at the top of the list, and a credit card or personal debt is at the bottom. Begin by making at least the minimum payment due on each of your debts on a monthly basis. Next, double up or increase your payments in any way you can on the debt at the bottom of the list. You’ll be happily surprised how quickly you can eliminate that smallest debt. Then use the money that you were paying on the bottom debt to add to the basic payment on the next debt as you work your way up the list. As you eliminate your smaller high-interest debts, you’ll free up a surprising amount of money to place on the next-higher debts.
God clearly doesn’t want us in debt. Once the covenant is made, many families find that God blesses them in unexpected ways, and the debt is reduced faster than they had anticipated. By following these three simple steps, many families have become debt-free. You can too! By putting God first, you’ll receive His wisdom and blessing for managing what He has entrusted to you.
The Bible is very clear that God does not want His children to become responsible for the debt obligations of others. In the book of Proverbs, the Lord has warned us against surety—that is, cosigning or being guarantor for another person.
Read Proverbs 6:1–5, Proverbs 17:18, and Proverbs 22:26. What is the message here?
Surety usually occurs when a person with poor credit seeks a loan from a lending institution and does not qualify for the loan. The loan officer will tell the unqualified person that if he or she will get a friend with good credit to cosign with him or her, then the bank will grant the loan and hold the cosigner responsible in the event of a default.
Sometimes a fellow church member will come to you and ask you to cosign. Your response should be: “The Bible says I should never do that.” Please understand that the Bible encourages us to be helpful to those in need, but we should not become responsible for their debts. Parents are sometimes asked by teenagers to cosign for the purchase of their first car. Or older adult children will ask parents to cosign for a business loan. The same answer applies. It is appropriate to help others if there is a real need, but do not become surety for the debts of others. Studies show that 75 percent of those who cosigned end up making the payments!
Read Proverbs 28:20 and 1 Timothy 6:9, 10. What’s the warning here?
Read Deuteronomy 15:1–5. What did the Lord require of His people as revealed in these verses?
In harmony with other seven-year statutes (Exod. 21:2; Lev. 25:3, 4), not only were the slaves or servants and the land regulated but also the lenders. Because the lenders did not want to forgive any debts, the longest anyone could be in debt was seven years. Whatever else we can take from these verses, they do show that the Lord cares about these kinds of financial issues, especially when, at that time, they concerned fellow Israelites. These verses also show that the Lord acknowledged the reality of debt, no matter how bad it generally was. He also emphasized that it was to be avoided as much as possible.
Today, by contrast, people in many parts of the world have loans for 30 and 40 years for home purchases. It seems that one reason houses cost so much is that credit is available to provide loans to purchase them. Meanwhile, many people—parents and students—wonder about borrowing money for an education. As a rule, getting a college degree will enhance a person’s income capability for the rest of his or her life. Some people might have to borrow some money to pay for their education, but keep in mind these factors. You have to pay it back with interest. Try to get all of the grants and scholarships that you can qualify for. Work and save all you can for school. Take only courses that will lead to a job. Have parents help. In Bible times, parents gave their children farmland so that they could make a living. Today that “inheritance” should likely be an education so that they can become independent adults
In an ideal world, there would be no borrowing and no debt. But because we don’t live in an ideal world, there might be times when it is necessary to borrow. Just make sure that you have the best deal possible and the best interest rate available. Then borrow the very minimum that you need and pay it off as quickly as possible to save on interest costs. In principle, however, to whatever degree humanly possible, we should seek to avoid debt, and by following biblical financial principles in our everyday lives, we can go a long way toward avoiding unnecessary debt and the terrible strain it can put on us and our families.
The three-step process of debt elimination is actually found on one page of Ellen G. White’s writings. Emphasis has been added to highlight the points.
“Be determined never to incur another debt. Deny yourself a thousand things rather than run in debt. This has been the curse of your life, getting into debt. Avoid it as you would the smallpox.
“Make a solemn covenant with God that by His blessing you will pay your debts and then owe no man anything if you live on porridge and bread. . . . Do not falter, be discouraged, or turn back. Deny your taste, deny the indulgence of appetite, save your pence and pay your debts. “Work them off as fast as possible. When you can stand forth a free man again, owing no man anything, you will have achieved a great victory.”—Counsels on Stewardship, p. 257.
If you need additional help to become debt-free, try these points: Establish a budget. Make a simple budget by keeping a record of all your income and expenses/purchases over a period of three months. Many are surprised to learn how much money they spend on unnecessary items. Destroy credit cards. Credit cards are one of the major causes of family indebtedness. They are so easy to use and so hard to pay off. If you find that you aren’t paying off the cards in total each month, or that you are using them to purchase items that you would not otherwise have bought, you should destroy your credit cards before they destroy you or your marriage or both.
Begin economic measures. Sometimes we aren’t aware of how much we could save on our monthly expenses just by being careful about some of the small things that we purchase. They quickly add up.
The amount of debt that many nations, as well as individuals, have taken upon themselves is staggering. What has been your own experience with debt and the problems that debt has created for you or others?
What could your local church do to help members learn to manage debt or financial issues in general?
What are some Bible promises that you can claim to help protect yourself from the lure of the world and the financial dangers greediness can pose to us?
Edmond was a troubled child in Mzuzu, Malawi. He refused to obey his parents, teachers, or any other adult. At school, he hit the other boys and even the teachers. He gained such a fearful reputation that children and adults alike were scared of him.
One day, Edmond decided that it would be fun to disrupt the Pathfinder club. He took his unruly friends to Chasefu Seventh-day Adventist Church, and they mocked the marching and singing Pathfinders. Edmond enjoyed seeing the Pathfinders react, so he and his friends returned week after week.
But as the weeks passed, Edmond became interested in Pathfinder activities. He wanted to know more about what the children were doing and what they believed. When the church organized evangelistic meetings at Mzuzu Stadium, he decided to go, but he did not tell his friends for fear that they would laugh at him. He also did not tell his parents, who belonged to another Christian denomination, because he worried that they might punish him.
At the meetings, Edmond fell in love with the God of heaven and the Lord of the seventh-day Sabbath. Even though he was afraid that the Adventist children and adults whom he had mistreated so terribly would reject him, he summoned up the courage and gave his heart to Jesus in baptism.
His parents found out about the baptism four months later, and they immediately disowned the boy. Edmond stayed in the homes of church members, and they taught him more about the Bible until he became wellversed in its teachings. He also worked odd jobs to pay required fees so he could stay in school. Three years passed. Edmond’s parents saw that he was faithful to God. They saw that he had become a new creature in Christ, and they asked him to return home.
Today, Edmond Tchiri is married to an Adventist wife, and they have two sons. He also serves as an elder at Chasefu Seventh-day Adventist Church, the place where he used to torment the Pathfinders. He says that only God could have transformed the troubled schoolboy into a church elder. “Never look down on children, no matter how bad-behaved they may be,” he said.
Thank you for your 2021 Thirteenth Sabbath Offering that is helping to construct a community outreach and leadership development center on the Mzuzu campus of Malawi Adventist University, so more boys and girls, men and women, can learn about the transforming power of Jesus in Edmond’s hometown and beyond in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division. This quarter’s offering will support six more educationa