In three recent articles, we looked at what the Bible teaches about our biblical financial identity, purpose, earning, and planning, what the Bible teaches about generosity, and what the Bible teaches about saving and investing. This week, we’re taking a closer look at what the Bible teaches about debt and spending.
Be cautious in your use of debt
The Bible doesn’t say to never borrow and it doesn’t say having debt is a sin. However, it cautions us in our use of debt, warning that debt can enslave us.
The borrower is servant to the lender. – Proverbs 22:7
Especially in light of Christ’s sacrifice for us, thinking of the enslaving potential of debt should make us very cautious in our use of debt.
You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. – 1 Corinthians 7:23
Because of those cautions, and because of a very practical look at how much people with different size households and different incomes can afford to spend (see the Cash Flow Guidelines) on this and that after factoring in a biblical level of generosity and an adequate level of saving and investing, I’ve come to some clear conclusions about how much we can afford to spend on a house and how to buy a car.
Be intentional about how you spend
It’s relatively easy to find biblical money management articles about generosity and getting out of debt. What doesn’t get so much attention is day-to-day spending from a biblical perspective.
Maybe that explains recent research showing that just 26% of practicing Protestants and 9% of practicing Catholics say the Bible has a lot of influence on what they buy.
But our spending decisions matter—a lot.
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? – Luke 16:10-12
Creating a biblical framework for how we spend can be challenging because the Bible doesn’t get very specific in this area. How large a house should I own? What type or brand of car should I drive? The Bible doesn’t say.
We have much freedom to decide, guided by some big picture principles.
‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. – 1 Corinthians 10:23
Those words remind me of a point made in the book, “Switch,” by Chip and Dan Heath.
Imagine…you had a lucrative opportunity to consult on the toxicity study of a new drug for a big pharmaceutical company. From a consequences point of view, the decision to accept the job would be a no-brainer—the work might pay far more than your university salary. But from an identity point of view, the decision to accept the job would seem less clear-cut. You’d wonder what strings were attached, what subtle compromises you’d have to make to please the client. You’d wonder, “What would a scientist like me do in this situation?
As we consider all manner of spending decisions, ask yourself, “What would a Christ-follower like me do in this situation?”
Other questions are helpful as well.
Why is this product so inexpensive? Where was it made? Is it likely that someone suffered in making this product?
Will buying a product with this logo so prominently displayed do something to my heart? Will it create distance between other people and me?
These are tough questions to answer, which makes them especially important to think about and to pray about.
What other biblical teachings guide your approach to debt and spending?
Next week, we’ll take a closer look at what the Bible teaches about some of the most crucial attitudes to cultivate as wise builders.