Pastoral Exhortation

Need is a Frying-Pan, but Debt is the Fire

Written by Rev (Dr) Prabhudas Koshy Sunday, 02 July 2017

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Living in debt has caused not a few lives and families to be cast into horrible pits of disarray and troubles. Have you not seen heart-breaking news headlines, like “Debtridden farmers end life”; “Debt-ridden students opting for ‘sugar daddies’ to pay rent, tuition, etc.”? Before anyone casually responds by saying, “Well, those reports do not really show that loans and debts really affect people at large”, let me assert from anecdotal evidence and my counselling encounters that living in debt is a widespread problem that affects even Christians.

In recent months, I have had conversations with some youths who have been troubled by the burden of bank loans taken by their parents or by they themselves for their tertiary education. This phenomenon of our time is an omen of severe spiritual, financial, familial and social troubles that will oppress and wreck our people in the days to come.

Borrowing pressurises one into hurtful options

Under the intense pressure of debts, young people are increasingly becoming desensitised to and undiscerning of the perils of get-rich-quick offers from cunning men. Desperation to liberate themselves from the shackles of debts is pushing them to look for huge financial rewards. Many of them fall victim to rich, filthy men and women who, having offered enormous financial rewards, take advantage of their vulnerability. They abuse these obtuse youths for their carnal pleasure, and even endanger them for greater material gain. What’s more, some of those youths do not anymore think that such a lifestyle of loose morals is hazardous, and have even adopted for themselves ungodly living for greater material gain!

Certainly, not all debt-ridden youths have fallen into such dangers. Yet, many other kinds of hazards surround them. A young lady, who is a recent university graduate, tearfully shared with me of her many struggles because of the student loan her parents have taken to send her to university. While she desires to be married and be a homemaker, which is also the desire of her husband-tobe, the parents insist that she should not get married immediately, but that she should first focus on earning money to pay off the debt and then consider marriage and family life. Now, that would take years! Oh, the dreadful snare of debt that stops young women from fulfilling the divine injunction – “… that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Timothy 5:14; cf. 1 Corinthians 7:9; Hebrews 13:4a).

Debt is not only delaying some young people from getting married early in their adulthood, it also burdens those who enter marriage life. Many begin their marriage with loans and credit purchases to start off their life together in fancifully-renovated houses filled with expensive furniture, appliances, cars, etc. Lenders often require repayment of debts with their stipulated interests. Interests charged are often high, making it difficult to repay the loans quickly. Repayments of loans are even harder for the poor borrower, adding more trouble to the needy – hence the saying, “Need is a frying-pan, but debt is the fire.”

High financial burdens on borrowers drive them to live a life that is addicted to moneymaking, which soon negatively affects their spiritual pursuits and family unity. Worry and fear, arguments and quarrels, materialism and spiritual deterioration, and suchlike soon overwhelm them. Neglect of family relationships, children’s care, etc. soon bring about many sorrows in their lives.

Even then, sadly, many blindly believe that living on borrowed money is wise financial planning. However, according to the biblical teachings, it is a fallacious notion. Though the Bible acknowledges that the poor may be compelled to borrow in their emergencies, it does not encourage borrowing. More often than not, the Bible warns strongly against borrowing.

Biblical warnings against borrowing

The Biblical wisdom is that we “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another” (Romans 13:8a). Nowadays, many financial pundits will tell you that leverage – the use of borrowed money to buy assets for appreciation – is the way to prosperity. But be warned that such an advice is contrary to biblical wisdom. Absolutely nowhere in the Scriptures are we advised or commanded to use debt to accomplish God-given financial objectives.

Even if one is able to get interest-free loans from relatives or friends, the Bible forewarns of painful consequences. Borrowing money from someone is certain to change the relationship with that person. Proverbs 22:7 cautions that “the borrower is servant to the lender.” Even if one were to borrow money from parents or siblings or children, the relationship will soon sour.

So, the Bible warns us not to put ourselves in a surety situation. Proverbs 11:15 advices, “He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hateth suretiship is sure.” Likewise, Proverbs 22:26-27 says, “Be not thou one of them that strike hands, or of them that are sureties for debts. If thou hast nothing to pay, why should he take away thy bed from under thee?” In other words, if a person puts up security for another, he will suffer, but he who refuses to pledge is safe. The Biblical advice is that we had better not be a guarantor for others’ debts. If you’re in a surety situation, like having taken a student loan for your child, the Bible’s advice is that you had better pay it off and get out of it. It is very unwise to take a huge loan for any enterprise, without having the means to pay back.

Also, be warned that there is no promise in the Bible that God will bail you out of the unwise debts you have accumulated. Some Christians who unwisely borrow seem to think that the promise of Philippians 4:19 – “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” – would solve their debts. That promise is not a divine guarantee to cancel the consequences of unwise borrowing. Those who think that their decision to borrow money is an act of faith should know that God has never said that He will provide for His people’s needs through moneylenders. How sad it is that many Christians look to moneylenders as their provider! They have made moneylenders their god who would allow them to achieve all the desires of their hearts. Rather, the promise of God is that He will provide for all our needs (cf. Psalm 23:1), and not all our cravings and greed. The Bible teaches us that “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Certainly, it is best to bear our troubles with much prayer, and overcome them through hard work and wise planning. Entering into debt, especially borrowing beyond our means to pay back, is unwise and can lead to more severe troubles. As much as possible, be debt-free.