The Christian And Consumer Credit
John Doe is a preacher who went through the great depression. John and his wife will never forget the financial burden of those years. Their home is small, but it is paid for. They have over 100,000 miles on their eight year old car, and John keeps it in good shape by doing almost all of his own mechanical work. John's wife shops the sales and buys food on a budget. The Doe's do not use credit cards, borrow seldom, and then only for short periods of three to six months from a bank. They keep a large savings account against emergencies.
Bill Black is a younger preacher who grew up in the post war boom of the fifties. Bill and his wife bought a house on the G.I. Bill for nothing down and have resold and bought larger homes twice. They owe the bank money on their new car, appliances, and boat. They use several department store credit cards, oil company credit cards, and bank credit cards. They have no savings at all and pay out almost two thirds of their income to their creditors. They live well and worry little that it would take their whole salary for three years to bring them totally out of debt.
Which Way Of Life Is Right?
Consumer credit is an integral part of American culture. Since 1950 domestic American debt has increased from 75.5 billion dollars to over 450 billion dollars. Two thirds of all disposable income in America is owed to someone else. Of our gross national product (the total value of all the goods and services produced in America before overhead or expenses are taken out), 13 percent of it is owed in credit. To give you an idea of the staggering amount of money owed by Americans, if the total domestic credit were divided equally among the population, every man, woman, child in America would owe $2,150. This total does not include the national debt (that amount of money owed by our national government: 396 billion dollars), the public debt of state and local governments (190.5 billion dollars), and the debt of businesses publically and privately owned.
Credit has advantages and disadvantages. Those who save money can expect interest on their savings because people are willing to pay to use their money. Borrowers can enjoy immediately luxuries they would have to wait till they could afford through savings. The borrower enjoys a higher standard of life than would be possible by refusing credit.
The disadvantages of credit, though are immense. The first and most. obvious disadvantage of credit is that it makes everything purchased cost more for the consumer. A house that would cost $10,000.00 if bought outright, costs in the end $15,000 or more. The clothes bought on a store credit card costs 18 percent to 20 percent more by the time it is paid for. Over extension of credit is painfully easy and leads to inflation, extravagance, careless buying habits, and economic instability. Easy credit and lack of discipline often makes it possible to incur so much debt that it is impossible to meet all payments. Default on personal debts results in repossession of goods and loss of credit privileges, to say nothing of the loss to personal esteem and standing in the community. Most economists agree that any person who pays 15 percent or more of his disposable income in installment credit is headed for serious trouble.
Under the law of Moses, Jews were not allowed to lend money at interest to their brethren. While they were encouraged to be generous in giving and lending their money, they could not charge their brethren usury of any kind (Deut. 23:19). They could require a "security" from their creditors to insure a debt would be paid, but it could not be something a man needed, like his clothing. God's anger was kindled, not only at the Jew's unfaithfulness, but their exacting interest from their brethren, and this habit was one reason they were forsaken by God (Neh. 5:1-13). Oppressing the poor by economic means was equally condemned by God (Deut. 24:6-13). Some sociologists believe the primary reason for the professional success of Jews in the world today is traceable to the willingness of successful Jews to help their brethren economically, without usury. Mosaical law made provision for the canceling of all debts every 50 years during Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-55). Indentured servants were to be released without debt after seven years of service (Ex. 2:12ff). The Jew who pleased God was one who gave of what he had to others without thought for repayment or usury (Psa. 112:5). This same attitude is to characterize the Christian today. It is the responsibility of the lender to give. It is the responsibility of the borrower to pay again. "If ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again" (Luke 6:34).
In the New Testament God used the creditor's relationship to demonstrate man's relationship to God and his fellow man. The theme of the parable of the unjust steward was to demonstrate the origin of mercy and all blessings and the arrogance to demand exact accounting of debt, when our debts have been so freely and generously forgiven (Matt. 18:23-35).
Within the church, the needs of the members beyond their ability to provide or pay was met by loving sharing of good and by charity (Acts 2:44,45; 6:1-4; 11:29,30; Rom. 15:25-27; 2 Cor. 9:1-5). Jesus taught plainly that a free, generous, and open spirit brings great blessing from heaven: "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn riot thou away" (Matt. 5:42). "He that bath two coats, let him impart to him that bath none; and he that bath meat, let him do likewise" (Luke 3:11).
The test of love on judgment will be our generous distribution of our abundance in love to those who do not have (Matt. 25:35-45; Jas. 2:15,16;.1 Cor. 13:3). Such a practical application of God's spiritual word will make it unnecessary for any brother to borrow money for the essentials of life.
Credit, Stewardship, And Covetousness
Most trouble that comes to the unwary Christian today because of abuse of credit is a result of covetousness. Few Christians see covetousness as a sin today, or if they do acknowledge it as sin, they do not recognize it as sin in their lives or of their brethren in a practical way. How many brethren give but a small portion 9f their wealth to the Lord because of their overwhelming "bills"? "Keep up with neighbors" is a sin (Ex. 20:17). How many brethren do you know that buy and buy and buy to enjoy the same things their worldly neighbors have. This writer has seen his brethren buy boats, and bigger boats that are seldom used, because of covetousness. Brethren who buy motorcycles, new cars, expensive and overly large homes, ostentatious gadgets, furniture, and furnishings, elaborate and unused libraries or other such collections are playing into the hands of the devil. "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord" (Prov. 30:8,9)? We are to be content with what the Lord has given to us, and a motivating desire for more than food and clothing is sinful covetousness (1 Tim. 6:6-9). The family that is constantly amassing more and more material possessions and going deeper and deeper into debt to obtain them are scripturally covetous (Luke 12:15,33,34).
The Law of Diminishing Return
There is a principle in life that applies to everything of the flesh. It is called "The Law Of Diminishing Return." Briefly stated it is that the more one possesses, the less satisfied one becomes with what one has, and the greater the desire for more. This principle is true as it applies to all temptations of the flesh: Sexual abuse (Prov. 6:20-35), false teaching (2 Tim. 3:12,13). Drinking alcohol (Deut. 29:19), apostasy through marriage to an unbeliever (1 Kings 16:29-33), etc. This principle is even more true when it applies to the "lust of the eye."
Stated in Scripture the principle is expressed in several ways: "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase . . . . When goods increase, they are increased who eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes" (Eccl. 5:10,11)?
"Labor not to be rich; wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven" (Prov. 23:4,5).
Materialism, worldliness, covetousness are all sins. Compromise with sin always brings more sin. Christians are told to rebuke sin, and then to have no fellowship with it (1 Cor. 5:11-13). These sins, as all sin, lead people into situations where they lose control of their lives. These sins compel brethren to buy more than they can afford. As God's servants we are stewards of all that he has given to us, and the use of our resources is to be primarily directed towards spiritual ends (2 Cor. 9:615). When we cannot meet our spiritual obligations to lay by in store with the brethren for the work of the church, for individual benevolence as we have opportunity, for charity towards all men and especially to the household of faith, to support gospel preaching individually and collectively, because all of our substance is wrapped up in "getting" then we stand condemned by God (Luke 16:19).
A Christian's life before the world is the most public way of teaching God's will. Therefore the Christian should pay all of his debts and be honest in his financial affairs. The Christian's life can not include greed for material possessions which lead to unmanageable debt.
Credit is not sinful-but like all things in this world-abused it can cost a man his soul. "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 the bed from under thee" (Prov. 22:26, 27)?
Truth Magazine XXI: 33, pp. 522-523