Eight Arguments Against Debt 1 – Debt Discouraged

There are Biblical grounds for staying out of debt. Any one of these is sufficient reason for people to avoid debt, as much as it is within their power. When put together, they become a formidable array of reasons why debt should be avoided.

1. Debt Discouraged

The first argument against the use of debt is that the Bible tells us very plainly to avoid it. In Romans 13:8(a), the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that we should "owe no one anything except to love one another…"

There are some, however, who argue that this passage is not referring to financial debt. Commentators are divided on the matter, and when the scholars disagree it is often difficult for the layman to form an opinion. Their position, however, is usually presented as a statement without supporting evidence. Mostly, it comes down to the fact that the commentator thinks it is not referring to financial debt, but rarely offers evidence to show why this is so. Commentators, however helpful, are not our ultimate guide to life. Only God and the Bible can hold that position in our lives. Therefore, we need to turn to the biblical text, and not the commentators, for guidance.

In order for us to understand the text, there are several things we should note about this verse to make sure the words are not taken out of their context and misused. First, commencing from verse one in the chapter, we have God's instructions on the nature of the civil authorities. They are God's servants or deacons (Greek: diakonos). In verse seven, St. Paul argues that it is precisely because they are the servants of God that we should pay taxes to them. We are to "render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor" (Rom. 13:7). According to this, we are under obligation to pay whatever is due to another person. Notice that we are not told how much we are to pay at this point: that question is answered elsewhere in Scripture. We are simply instructed to pay what is due. Since the Bible never countenances theft, the amount due here is only that which is legitimately owing. The point being made here for the purposes of our analysis, however, is that this passage is very definitely talking about money matters.

Second, it is clear from verse seven that the things being talked about are far wider than mere money. Note that this verse obliges us to render things such as fear and honor to those to whom it is due. While money is mentioned as one obligation we are to pay, we cannot confine this passage to monetary concerns only. Money cannot be excluded from this portion of Scripture.

Third, that the context includes money and other things is abundantly clear in verse eight. We are to owe no man anything. This is an all-encompassing term that must, at the very least, include the items mentioned in verse seven: taxes, custom, fear and honor. It seems that the great apostle is covering his tracks. He has mentioned four items in verse seven: taxes, fear, honor, and custom. In verse eight St. Paul is making it very clear that what he is saying here cannot be confined only to these four issues. We are to owe no man anything – including money!

Fourth, the Holy Spirit includes an exception in the latter half of verse eight. Debt as a concept cannot be avoided, since there are some things that are obligatory at all times. What is this obligation? We are to owe no man anything "except to love one another." Debt in some form, we might say, is something that is inescapable, since we have a genuine obligation to love one another. The point here is not whether we are to have any debts at all, but whether we may have financial debts. It is apparent here that the Scriptures are saying we are to have no debts, including financial debts, with this exception: we have an ongoing debt to love one another.

The language of Scripture here is useful. In the modern world, we do not usually regard the idea of loving our fellow man as a debt. God is saying that we have an ongoing obligation to love one another. When we go into financial debt by borrowing money we have an ongoing obligation to meet the repayment schedule. So, too, we have an ongoing obligation to love one another. It is not an option: it is mandatory. It is a debt we owe one another.

Fifth, the Bible here even tells us how we are to fulfill this ongoing debt that we have to one another. In verse nine several of the Ten Commandments are quoted and summarized under the concept of love. Love is, as the Scripture reminds us elsewhere, obeying God. "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:3). I love my neighbor when I don't murder him or members of his family, when I don't steal from him or commit adultery with his spouse. I obey this commandment to love my neighbor when I don't tell lies about him or covet anything that he owns. This is the debt that each of us has, an ongoing obligation to love our neighbor by keeping the commandments as they relate to both God and our neighbor.

For these reasons, there seems no valid case to exclude money matters from this passage in Romans 13:8. The context of the passage itself is very clear that it not only includes money (e.g. taxes), but incorporates everything, since nothing is excluded from the mind of the writer of these words. We are truly to owe no one anything – except love.

(This is the 1st of 8 weekly excerpts, from Dr Ian Hodge's book, Making Sense of Your Dollars, available from www.readwriteplay.com/Books.php)

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