Uncommon Sense— Part One

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I’ve grown weary of so many Christians using the phrase “well it’s just common sense!” I’ve grown weary of it especially when what follows this exclamation is usually ideas which are not compatible with what the Bible says. Take for example “neither a borrower nor a lender be”. I’ve heard that one quoted quite a lot following the exclamation about common sense. This word just in— that’s not in the Bible and it’s not even compatible with what’s in the Bible! It’s from the Bard, not the Bible! It’s something Dave Ramsey might say, but it’s not Biblical. Why not?

In the first place, the Bible is replete with calls to self-sacrificial giving which is even well beyond lending or even tithing. Of course we should lend things to people in the service of Christ, but even more we should just give people things they need, with no thought of return. While we are at it, we should not be lending money at interest! The Bible warns against usury which is what lending with interest means. Take a look at the little story in Mk. 12.41-44. There, Jesus commends a woman who is poor for giving self-sacrificially, probably even putting herself into debt. Self-sacrifically giving can indeed lead to some short term debt. This is not a bad thing. After all, we are not owners of the property we have, we are only stewards of God’s property. God is the owner of all things.

My father was heading up an every member canvas during the pledge season of the year for our church, Myers Park UMC. He had an up and coming young lawyer on his team who drove a fancy BMW dressed in Brooks Brothers suits, and was living the good life. One of the church members that young man was tasked with visiting and retrieving the pledge card of was a widow, living in a trailer on the edge of Charlotte. She was basically a shut-in, particularly during the winter months. When he got to her house with its gravel drive way and concrete steps leading up into the trailer, he began to feel sheepish about asking her for money. He resolved in his mind that he would just give a little extra to the church for her, and not ask for her pledge card. When he got inside she was waiting with sweet tea and some nice toll house cookies. She didn’t have many ‘gentlemen callers’ and so she had prepared for a nice visit. And they had a nice visit. As the young lawyer was rising to leave, the widow said to him “let me go get my pledge card, it’s on the fridge”. The lawyer replied “That’s alright Mam, I know you’re on a fixed income, and so I was just going to give a bit more on your behalf.” She immediately got up into his face and told him “Young man, don’t you take away from me the joy of participating in the ministry of Jesus in what little ways I can do it.” So it was that a lawyer with a sheepish look on his face, left with a pledge card he didn’t expect to be carrying. The point of telling you this story is that the widow understood that staying out of debt was far less important than giving self-sacrifically to the cause of Christ.

This is not because debt is inherently a good thing. There is a reason why we also hear in the Bible “owe no one anything” and “let each one carry his own load” (Gal. 6) and the like. My point however is that getting out of debt is not our number one priority, nor should it be an obsession. Our spending and giving priorities should not have as their number one goal either getting out of debt, or avoiding debt. Why not?

Because when one makes that the number one priority one ceases to listen to God’s constant calling to trust Him, to step out on faith, to give sacrificially, and so on. There are far more important imperatives to heed than ‘don’t have any debt’. Indeed, there are times when for the sake of an education or for the sake of buying a house or a car or for the sake of contributing to an urgent need in the church or in missions, it is in fact a good thing to pay on time and incur some debt. Indeed, there are even tax benefits for doing so in various cases. So, get out of your brain the notion that debt is inherently a bad thing, and avoiding it should always be your mantra. That’s not a Biblical idea.

What we all should do instead is evaluate our lifestyles, and as needed simplify them. No Christian should be living a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. In order to live a good and godly lifestyle that frees up your resources to “do good to all, but especially to the household of faith” you need to sit down and have a hard look at what you are spending money on. What are actually necessities, and what are luxuries in your spending patterns? John Wesley was apt to say that another person’s necessities should come before your luxuries, otherwise your luxuries are taking clothes off the backs of the naked, food out of the mouth of the hungry, and so on. I would urge everyone to read carefully John Wesley’s sermon “On the Use of Money” and then reflect seriously on how they are spending their money, whether hard-earned or otherwise. Too many Christians get themselves into debt because they’ve listened to too many commercials about things they don’t really need but really want, or worse, they have listened to the preachers of the health and wealth Gospel, who provide you with excuses for ignoring what the Bible actually says about greed, accumulating luxuries and the like.

For much more on this subject see my little book Jesus and Money.

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