Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” Two disclaimers. 1) It’s not a sin to borrow money. I’m not condemning people with car payments to Hell. However, it’s unwise and should be avoided. 2) I speak from personal experience.
Two and a half years ago, I was $35,000 in debt, and thanks to the Lord, Dave Ramsey’s “7 baby steps,” and a lot of discipline, I’m now completely debt free except the house! Since I never got to do my debt free scream on the air, here’s my chance: I’m debt freeeeeee!! You can be too!
In my experience with dumb financial decisions, I’ve learned that debt hinders Christian generosity. Obviously, God wants us to be generous. “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” (Prov. 22:9). Paul instructs the rich to “be generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18) and “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7).
Debt hinders generosity in three ways.
1) It’s hard to be generous when you’re in debt. Biblically, we’re supposed to help people from our surplus. “At this present time, your abundance is a supply for their need.” (2 Cor. 8:14). But we don’t have an abundance when we’re in the hole. We don’t have a surplus when we owe most of the money we make to someone else.
The average household in America has $6,577 in credit card debt. Student loan numbers are even higher. The average monthly payment for a new car in America is $515 per month over 69 months. For used, it’s $371. Some Christians wish they could be more generous, but never consider how their two new cars and too-gigantic house payments are destroying that chance.
Scenario: A poor family needs $100 to pay their electric bill, but how can I help when that $100 is already spoken for? It’s part of the other $1700 in debt I owe every month. I made up those numbers, but you see my point. If I’m in debt, I’m a slave and I need that money to pay my Master-card back.
“We don’t have an abundance when we’re in the hole.”
2) Money loses its value and generosity loses meaning. Once you reach a certain debt balance, money doesn’t seem real. There was a time when I didn’t care what things cost. If I wanted something, my only concern was, “Can I add it to my loans?” I was so nonchalant about spending because I would just “pay for it later.” I didn’t feel the sting of my purchases because the sting was spread out over years of smaller payments. Generosity lost its meaning because it no longer felt sacrificial. It didn’t test my heart at all.
Scenario: A poor family needs $100 to pay their electric bill, and I give them the $100. Based on my income, that should be self-sacrificial. It should test my heart’s attachment to earthly goods and prove I’m storing up treasures in Heaven, but I don’t feel it because that money isn’t real to me. There’s no sting because I just added the $100 to all the other money I owe. I’ll just pay it off over the next few years in smaller installments.
3) Debt makes us think it’s our money, but it’s not. This is debt’s dirtiest trick. When we borrow, we pretend money we haven’t earned yet is actually ours right now. It’s not. We’re borrowing from money we assume we’ll make in the future to pay for today, but future money doesn’t belong to us!
Scenario: A poor family needs $100 to pay their electric bill, and I give them the $100. The problem is, if I’m deep in debt, that $100 isn’t even mine! That’s money I need to pay my creditors! I’m not giving that $100 out of a surplus of money I’ve saved; I’m using the bank’s money to pay this poor family! It’s akin to using a credit card to pay their bill. The bank is helping them, not me!
Now, in theory we’ll eventually take our actual earned money and pay off that credit card and at that point we will have given that family the $100 out of our own pocket. But what if I just added that $100 to the $2500 I already owe on that card? How long will that take? What if I lose my job and can’t work? Now I’m going to be the poor family in need because I built my life, and even my generosity, on a house of credit cards.
Future money doesn’t belong to us!
I’ll be honest, if I read this article two years ago, it wouldn’t make much sense to me. But now that I’m on the other side of debt, I can tell you it changes everything about generosity when you use your hard earned cash. When you give generously using money you’ve earned and saved up, it’s a totally different feeling. It’s more self-sacrificial, more of a heart test, more honoring to God, more humbling, more personal, and far more satisfying. In short, it allows us to give from what we have; not from what we don’t have (2 Corinthians 8:12).
Have any of you had similar experiences with debt and generosity?