Debt

While talking about tithing, the question of debt and its relationship to tithing has been discussed.

First of all there seems to be at least two different types of debt. There is the typical debt of mortgage and car loans and then there are the more personal types of debt. What I mean by personal debt is the $500 loan from “Uncle Joe” for car repairs. Credit card debt falls somewhere in the middle. Sorta like a line with mortgage at one end and personal loans at the other. Everything else falls in the middle somewhere.

The least damaging type of debt is the home loan because that is a set amount with hopefully a set amount of interest and a set schedule for paying it back. Now there are really bad home loans like those with adjustable interest rates or 100% loans, with no money down, or even worse the loans that are for more than the value of the home. Typically a home loan has yielded a home to live in and an investment, although today’s home market is such that there is often a loss instead of an increase in value. But if you look at the real numbers for what you are paying for that $100,000 home at 7% interest you are actually paying $240,000 for a $100,000 home, plus many more expenses like mortgage insurance, etc. So while the debt is damaging to the individual owner it is not damaging to another in the sense that another person is suffering by loaning the money. Lots of businesses thrive, or at least did, off home mortgages.

The most damaging loans are the smaller personal loans to friends, family and small businesses. These often do not charge interest and the loaning individual does not benefit from the interaction and may actually be suffering for it. Loans like this between family and friends can often ruin relationships especially if the borrower does not pay them back in a timely manner. Small business loans are the type of thing where say “Fido” is hit by a car and breaks a leg requiring surgery. Maybe you can’t pay the vet the full price but make arraignments to pay $150 a month with or without interest. What happens here is the Vet is out the money for the surgery and is having to wait to recoup expenses. People often see no problem with defaulting on this type of loan, so the small business suffers.

Here are some atypical verses that are worth considering when thinking about debt and giving. These are just random.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. ESV

While this does discuss money, who would ever admit to serving money? But even the typical home loan can become our master. A home loan requires a substantial amount of money to be paid out monthly no matter what happens. So having a home loan can force an individual to stay in a particular job although they feel called to a new one or to a particular ministry. Having a home loan can also keep individuals from travel for missions. In a real sense, home loans do become our master and they rule what we can and cannot do.

Isaiah 48:11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. ESV

His Name (see For The Sake Of The Lord’s Name) is Holy and the Lord does not desire for His Name to be profaned by unbelievers or believers. I know it is not always true but when I was working often we would have a pastor of a church need services and they would point out that they were a pastor and didn’t make much money, blah…blah (insert sob story). Then they would ask to make payments instead of paying in full. This happened so much that my boss would actually say, “That preachers were the worst about sticking him with the bills and failing to pay.” This is so sad that his experience was like that. What do you think the Lord feels when His followers are profaning His name by having a reputation of not paying their bills?

Matthew 22:21 … Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” ESV

Does a person’s tithe or offering have to be in tangible dollar form? If a person is in debt and has committed to paying off the debt, cannot something different than money be given to the church and to ministries? Labor of our hands or even the wisdom from our education can be even more valuable than money. How about designing and maintaining the church website? Helping caregivers with household repairs? Preparing meals for the sick? Landscaping? Painting? Does giving have to be monetary for it to be a blessing to others and blessed by the Lord?

Job 41:11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. ESV

Romans 11:34-35
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
ESV

If our giving is in expectation of financial gain, we have the wrong attitude. That isn’t to say that the Lord will not necessarily prosper those who give, but if that is the reason we give then we are no different from the “prosperity gospel” preachers and their “seeds of blessings.”

1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. ESV

1 Timothy 5:16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows. ESV

Being called worse than an unbeliever is really bad! This verse is critical of those who allow family to suffer and live off the church’s welfare role. Does this not seem to imply that the Lord would rather us as individuals help our family above and beyond the paying for the new carpet in the sanctuary? What about helping the single mom in your family? The elderly parent struggling to pay for medicine?

Matthew 5:23-24
23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
ESV

This verse is very interesting in relation to debt and giving. Seems to almost say that the Lord doesn’t want your gifts, sacrifices, or offerings if your brother is offended. Would your brother be offended if you owed him $500 and hadn’t bothered to pay it back? Who is our brother?

Mark 12:41-44
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums.
42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.
43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.
44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
ESV

The widow gave all she had. That is a little more than 10%! But that isn’t all. The servant was rebuked for not earning interest on what he was given. See Matthew 25:14-30. Matthew 25:27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. ESV

So what if instead of earning interest we are paying interest?

~ Ecclesiastes 5:5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. ESV

~ Psalms 37:21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives; ESV

~ Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. ESV


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