I’m encouraged when I see believers focused on getting out of debt. My book Money, Possessions and Eternity has a whole chapter on debt. My little book Managing God’s Money has a couple of chapters related to debt. I also talk about debt briefly in The Treasure Principle and again in my newer book Giving Is the Good Life.
According to CreditCards.com, the average American has $5,111 in credit card debt. Slightly more than 40 percent of Americans carry credit card debt month to month, continuing to spend more than they earn and remaining in financial bondage. The average college student graduates with $36,510 in student loans, and some with far more.
Those pursuing the “good life” routinely incur debt, yet psychologists attest that a debt-funded lifestyle leads to depression, anxiety, resentment, stress, denial, anger, frustration, regret, shame, embarrassment, and fear. (That doesn’t sound like a very good life after all.)
If we take God’s Word seriously, we should avoid debt when we can, since “the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7, NLT). And since Jesus tells us we cannot serve both God and money, we should ask ourselves, before undertaking any debt, How will this affect my capacity to give generously?
In rare cases—for instance, when we buy a reasonably priced house that may be a good long-term investment—we should borrow only enough to allow us to make affordable payments and pay off the debt as early as possible. Countless people end up spending more on a house than they can afford, and then for years regret that they “can’t afford to give.”
We must learn to say no to many of our wants in order to say yes to obedience, freedom, and generosity—and the happiness God brings to us through them.
Though staying out of debt to begin with is preferable, I’m all in favor of people working to get out of debt. My one concern is that I see some believers whose whole purpose in doing so is to have more money to spend on themselves. It’s not that making plans for the future and going on vacations are inherently wrong. The problem arises when the end result is these debt-free believers becoming more efficient materialists rather than devoted hearts sold out to the kingdom of God.
I’ve even heard teaching within the Christian community, including personal finance counseling, that encourages people not to give before they get out of debt. That’s not eternity-minded, kingdom-centered advice!
When we give, God is pleased and will honor our efforts to pay off our debts. God says that when His people give Him tithes and freewill offerings, He will “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10, NIV). Even if you don’t believe this passage applies to New Testament Christians, surely these words of Jesus do: “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). Isn’t that exactly what people who want to get out of debt need?
So my advice to those who are in debt and want to get out is this: be a generous giver. And, at the same time, labor to get out of debt so you can invest in God’s kingdom with the money that is freed up. Yes, this won’t always be easy and will take wisdom. But that’s exactly what God promises to give us when we ask (James 1:5). We should desire to become wise stewards and generous givers, rather than self-serving keepers.
Unfortunately, I think many Christians today are getting only half the message about financial stewardship. They grasp the part about the importance of getting out of debt. But they think it’s so that they can have more money to spend on themselves. No! Jesus’ warning applies here: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NIV).
Let’s get out of debt so we can give more money to God’s kingdom, and be financially free, not centering our lives around our debt. Our goal should be a life that mirrors Jesus’ generosity, not a money and possessions-driven life.