Eight Arguments Against Debt 6 – Greed

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.

6. Greed

There is another argument against debt – or if not against debt as such, it at least requires a very careful self-analysis to make sure we are not guilty of simple greed. Debt can do at least two things for people. First, it permits them to buy goods for which they do not have sufficient cash right now. They don't have the funds right now and don't want to wait until they can save it. Or they think they'll never be able to save the required amount, and don't want to miss out on the goods. This has nothing to do with sound management at all. Rather, it is the manifestation of greed in the heart of man. This impatience, a refusal to wait until the funds are saved, is founded on an attitude of laziness and lack of self-discipline, often an inability to save for the future. Neither attitude provides a proper excuse to borrow money.

The desire for goods we cannot afford right at this moment is, I suspect, a reflection of the attitude towards the wealth that other people have. It is the "keeping up with the Joneses" syndrome (better spelt sindrome). However, time and time again we are told not to covet or desire the wealth of our neighbor. We should be content with that which God has given to us in His providence (Heb.13:5). We break this command by desiring, for wrong reasons, to have a similar amount of wealth to our neighbor.

How many can truly say that their borrowing does not have, at its deepest level, the motivations of greed and avarice? Maybe it is not recognizable as greed, but a serious dose of self-analysis in the light of the glorious revelation God has given to us in the Scriptures might surprise many.

Second, there is another aspect of debt and its relationship to greed that has nothing necessarily to do with borrowers. People who borrow are those who want to buy goods and services. But there is always another person involved when someone makes a purchase. He, too, has an interest in debt. He is the seller of goods and services. If he can get a potential buyer to go into debt, it may become possible for him to get a higher price for his goods than he could if the buyer refused to borrow.

Imagine a person selling his home. He asks $100,000 for it. A potential buyer offers him $92,500 cash. Another buyer, however, says he'll pay $115,000 by going into debt for five years so he can get the funds to pay the price. A third buyer arrives and is willing to take on a 20-year mortgage and pay the seller $150,000 for the house. What is the seller going to do? Better still, what would you do if you were the seller? Many people would be tempted to accept the higher offer. But is this the morally correct response in this instance?

Martin Luther saw this side of the debt issue clearer than many, and he had some firm words to say about it. He was concerned that business dealings be governed by ethics, not economics. "Because selling is an act performed toward your neighbor, it should rather be so governed by law and conscience that you do it without harm and injury to him, your concern being directed more toward doing him no injury than toward gaining profit for yourself."1 For Luther, the idea that a seller could, or should, sell for as high a price as possible, was an occasion "given for avarice, and every window and door to hell is opened."2 While this does not totally discount the idea of getting the highest possible price, it does mean that sellers must consider their motivation in attempting to get high prices for the sale of their goods. It does mean that money alone should not be the criterion by which we make the judgment. It is better to get a lower price and not see the buyer "injured" than to get a higher price and "hurt" the buyer.

Greed is the issue here. Greed is an attitude that puts the individual and his desires at the forefront of any transaction (Isa. 56:11). The greedy person is only concerned for himself and what he can get. He gives little recognition to the needs of others. Naturally, the Bible warns us against greed. It was one of the charges the Lord Jesus Christ brought against the Pharisees: "Then the Lord said to him, 'Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness" (Luke 11:39). According to Psalm 10:3, the wicked person is one who "blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord." A greedy person is prohibited from being an elder or bishop (I Tim. 3:3), for ultimately greed gets such a hold on a person that it leads to death (Prov. 1:19). Like a cancerous growth it leads to a slow and lingering annihilation.

Temperance in our business and our demeanor concerning wealth is just as important as it is with alcohol or food. While recognizing that there is a place for a just and fair price that must compensate a seller of goods, it becomes a matter of moral concern, and charity towards others, whether those selling prices are determined by the amount of debt that a potential buyer might be willing to take on.

While there are some who argue that we should always get as high a price as possible, it is a fine line between getting a high price and being greedy. It is better to stay on the side of conservatism than to become greedy for an extra dollar or two in a sale. (There is always someone reading an argument like this who will want to know how to tell where to draw the line on prices. Greed, however, is not a dollar amount, it is an attitude. It is caused by letting money rather than the moral concerns of love and compassion towards our fellow man dictate our actions. It is up to each one of us to know ourselves well enough so that we do not cross the line.)

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