Monday, February 15, 2016

Debt, Freedom, and a Life for the Kingdom

Years ago, while my wife and I were both working at a homeless shelter in Kansas City, one of our co-workers anonymously dropped the audio book “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey into our employee mailbox. I took it home and put it on my book shelf, and there it sat for a year or so untouched and scarcely remembered until one day when we were about to take a very long drive across the country, and I grabbed the few audiobooks I owned just to help keep me from falling asleep on the road. We weren’t really looking to gain anything from the book except a few hours of distraction, but in fact that little book would change our lives forever. I’ve since made it a habit to taking it a bit more seriously when someone sincerely recommends a book, much less thinks so much of it that they buy a copy for all their co-workers.

Now, I am not here endorsing literally everything Ramsey says. The point of this post is not to promote this particular book or author. But the portion of the book dealing with debt, how it harms, and how to get out of it forever, is what set us on a very valuable path to biblically reorienting our finances and challenging many cultural assumptions about money, lifestyle, and purchasing decisions. If these are things you have never paused to really think about, Dave Ramsey really might not be a bad place for you to start, though maybe balance it by spending some time reading guys like David Platt and Francis Chan, just to help make sure you keep the proper goal in front of you beyond money itself.

Having said all of this, what I really wanted to emphasize is simply this: in a culture where debt has become the only way people know, where credit cards and student loans and mortgages and car financing are simply assumed to be the only ways that normal people can obtain things, and where being “able to afford something” simply means being able to make the payments on it each month, we often don’t even pause to think about debt from a biblical perspective. But if we are going to live as people who believe the gospel, and therefor live in a way that prioritizes eternity over now, a life as a sojourning people in a foreign land not tying ourselves down to this world, a life in which the kingdom is held in priority above all else, than this issue simply cannot be ignored. A man who is debt free could quit his job, sell all he has, and move to the mission field tomorrow. He doesn’t have to, but he is free to. Nothing is stopping him. No one owns him, save his Lord in heaven. But a man in debt is a man who cannot quit his job without first securing another, and only one that pays him well enough to make at least his minimum payments each month. He can only go where such limited and restrictive work requirements allow him, and if his debt is tied to property, he may be unable to sell and move and all! How about monthly giving? How hard is it to give freely when one owes each month on so many other things? These are just a couple simple examples of how being tied to earthly matters by debt can hinder our lives from being fully surrendered to the priorities of the kingdom. A man in debt is necessarily forced back to materialistic concerns to a degree that a debt free man does not have to be. Debt is a binding chain on a kingdom man. On any man, really.

Paul tells us in Romans 13:8 that as Christians we ought to owe nothing to anyone except love. Charles Spurgeon commented on this, “Scripture says, ‘Owe no man anything,’ which does not mean pay your debts, but never have any to pay.” If you do have debt, of course you should pay the debt you already have, but what if Christians decided to live so unlike the world around us that we did not borrow money to have the comfort and convenience of things that we don’t actually have money for? What if we saved and payed the full amount for everything we bought, and only bought things that were worth saving up for? We would certainly become a peculiar people, a people unlike the materialistic world, a people quite strange in their sight. But isn’t that what Scripture tells us we are supposed to be? And would it, perhaps, give weight to our claim to truly believe that our comfort and reward is not in the things of this life anyway, but in things to come, so we are in no hurry to obtain materialistic pleasures now and are fine to do without them entirely if need be? Would it aid our proclaiming of a gospel of eternal life in the kingdom of God to come? It certainly would not hurt!

Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that literally all debt is sin. Some debt is, and the attitude behind borrowing certainly can often be sinful, but all of that we can save for another post. My point here is not to call debt sin, but rather to suggest that it holds us back from fully embracing an eternal focus, a kingdom priority, and biblical generosity. Debt is an anchor, and the Christian life is about setting sail and moving forward, not staying put. Why not stop borrowing right now, responsibly pay off the debt you already have over the next several years, and free yourselves to live out the kingdom life like never before? There is freedom in seeing that last check clear, freedom in a monthly budget without monthly payments, and freedom in an unhindered focus on where God wants you to be rather than where the banks will let you be, and I hope and pray that some of you will find it! I will be forever grateful for the co-worker those years ago who quietly bought me a book so that I could find it!

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock

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