How can a wealthy person become poor, a rich person go broke, or someone who is well-off become a beggar? Rarely are questions like that so easily answered with not one but two words; greed and debt. Those two can bring a world of hurt to a once bold and confident financial plan.
Greed and debt may seem at first glance like two different concepts, but they are so inter-related that, at least in my mind, they are often inseparable. Greed is far worse than people think it is and a real grasp requires that it be viewed Biblically. Debt is something that has become so American and every-day that it is hard to get people to see the Biblical truth, debt is a cruel slave-master and a terrible boss.
To get started on a right note, let’s look at each correctly. First, let’s look at greed. A good dictionary definition is that greed is a desire for more of something, almost anything, than is needed. That sounds like a small problem the way that definition is written. However, greed appears far more insidious and challenging from a Biblical view. In God’s eyes, greed is a sin that is a form of idolatry. A person’s greed elevates whatever is sought into a position equal to or above God.
Proverbs 15:27 tells us that greed destroys households, an obvious fact when you look at the families of Hollywood and the ultra-rich. Jeremiah 6:13 shows us that greed and deceit go together, a necessary pairing because greed can’t rule if God is recognized for who He is. Ultimately, greed is one of those dominating sins that by its very nature keeps people from finding God. Ephesians 5:5.
In Luke 12:15, Jesus cautioned those with Him, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke was right and so we can see that greed is an evil master.
Second, let’s look at debt. Debt results when someone buys something without having all of the money to pay for it at the time of the purchase. Debt is an obligation to repay. God does not say debt is a sin, it isn’t that simple. Paul also made it clear in 1 Corinthians 6:12 that simply because something is not sinful does not mean it is beneficial., “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.” While Paul was writing of sexual immorality there, his words are true for many other topics, including debt.
Owing money does create a relationship to the creditor that is strangely close to a master/servant bondage. Debt is an obligation to repay, a duty holding your future work and income in bondage.
Romans 13:8 tells you, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Proverbs 22:7 makes it clear that that the “borrower is slave to the lender.”
Taken together it is easy to see that the combination or team of debt and greed lies to you, places you and your future in bondage, and carries you to a place distant from God and those who love you. And for what? It is for something you want that will likely be worn out and maybe even obsolete by the time you have paid it off.
But if it is worn out or obsolete, that means you need to buy a new and “better” one of whatever it is, and the cycle begins again. By then you are trapped by your stuff and your debt. That is a trap that has the hold of bondage over you.
Can that cause you to lose everything? To really understand why the answer to that question about losing it all may be “yes,” you need to examine the psychology of the indebted. A person in debt may have trouble seeing a way out. Why? Because often the only way out is the exact opposite of the way into debt – it means doing without what you want. However, we are indoctrinated in this country to want what we want, when we want it and not one second later. Delayed gratification is a lost concept for most of the new generation and even for many of the seniors. We are truly a microwave, have it all right now, people.
People don’t fear debt and they don’t fully grasp the cost and the consequences of debt. Those concerns have to be examined. What are the costs and consequences of debt? A lot!
Debt costs money
After the home mortgage, the most common consumer debt is credit card debt. And credit card debt is as bad as it gets. Of course, no one really reads all that fine print in the credit card application. You know the fine print. It’s the fine print “Truth in Lending” disclosure required by federal law that says your interest rate is obscenely high, can be made higher with a simple notice sent to you and that you will owe ridiculous amounts of money if your payment is not in on time. There is no “grace” period.
How high is your interest rate? Forget that “introductory rate” given to get you to sign up. Look for the final annual interest rates. In August 2018 according to Value Penguin, they ranged from a “low” of “only” 13.12% to a high of over 20%! The “low” interest rates are for those with excellent credit. The rest get the high rates, justified by the higher risk of nonpayment.
What does that translate to in terms of cost? Say you have a balance of $1,000 (the average credit card debt in the US is many times higher), and let’s say your interest rate is a modest 17% (many cards will start you at the low introductory rate of 16.9%), and let’s say you are far too smart to just pay the minimum payment amount reflected on your monthly statement. If you pay $100 per month on that debt, you will have it paid off in 11 months – and will pay over $84 in interest. That is over $84 you can’t spend on yourself. You gave it away.
If you paid only the minimum monthly amount on the statement, you would take years to pay off that $1,000 and the cost would be many times greater, you would end up paying hundreds of dollars of interest.
Debt costs time
You can’t stop with just the financial cost. If you stop without considering the time lost, you miss a major component of your life. During the time you are paying that $100, you missed out on the use of your own money along with the extra $84 paid to the credit card company.
That lost time of your ability to use your money has value too. But that cost pales in comparison to the effect of debt of your relationships.
Debt costs relationships
We have already seen that greed is a destroyer of households. Proverbs 15:27. Greed leads to unwise and excessive purchases. That leads to debt and debt, the handling of money, is the greatest single cause of marital strife in America.
A study by Fidelity Investments appropriately named “Til debt do us part” demonstrates the challenge of money in relationships. The study showed that 67% of the couples who are concerned about debt say they argue about money. So do many of the couples who do not worry about debt! Money is a source of marital discord.
Additionally, student loan debt is an increasing problem and now is a major factor in 10% of divorces according to one source. This is bad news for the marriages of the Millennials.
So, a claim that debt costs relationships is Biblically, logically and empirically true. However, there are even more costs. Debt is a gift that keeps on giving.
Debt costs health
Stress is a mind and body killer. Serious negative effects of stress, both physical and mental, may have been subject to debate years ago, but no longer. It is now well established that the elevated adrenaline and cortisol resulting from chronic stress have harmful effects on cardiac and even mental health. Ironically, the desire to appear to “have it all and have it all together” is a major cause in people falling apart. Another irony is that one “stress reliever” that many resort to is … shopping! So, some chose to relieve the stress of debt by going deeper in debt.
Read The Emotional Effects of Debt by The Simple Dollar for details on a growing health crisis resulting from massive amounts of debt. The bottom line is simple, debt and the stress that is inevitable from it is toxic to your health.
So, what is the answer?
As is always the case, the answer lies in God. God has invested a lot in offering to us His Word which has the wisdom of over 2,300 verses on money, possessions and wealth. Why so much teaching on money? Because we needed it and we still need it!
A careful study of money and debt from a Biblical perspective should lead you to a few simple conclusions. They are:
1. Money, and especially wealth, is to be feared.
2. We need constant support and accountability to stay on track.
3. People need to commit to the Gospel and not to themselves.
The story of the Barnhart family on Generous Giving’s website tells about all three of the above conclusions in a setting that would leave most people admitting that enormous wealth is too great a temptation. Rather than allow increasing wealth to become a temptation, they set a modest finish line, a maximum income for themselves, and made a commitment to give everything else, including the ownership of a $250 million company, to God! Why? Because while in college Alan Barnhart studied the Bible and came to realize that great wealth is to be feared.
1 Timothy 6:9-10
9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Making the right commitment before you are wealthy is a wise choice. Alan Barnhart didn’t stop there. He enlisted others, including workers at his business to hold him to his commitment. Enlisting others who will hold you accountable when the pressures of wealth are at their greatest is a wise choice.
But none of that works without a purpose, a reason for the commitment and a goal that matters more than the momentary pleasures of wealth. What goal is that good? The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
The Barnharts committed themselves fully to the Gospel, had a vision of the real future, knew that the temporary pleasures of wealth cannot compare to the blessings God has for us, and stayed strong. They saw what many cannot, a truth displayed in the shortest parable in the Bible, the parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl.
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Is that treasure real? Trust in Jesus and be sure that it is. The real treasure is the one that cannot be lost or stolen. The way to that true treasure is not through that stuff you can buy with a charge card or a home equity loan. It is the only treasure you can have that is freely given to all who ask. 1 Corinthians 2:12.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.