Is debt a sin? Romans 13:8 KJV says, "Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law." I have a religious friend who uses this scripture to teach that all debt is wrong because we musn't owe any man anything (bank, house loans etc...) He himself lives his life this way. I am confused.
No, I do not think he is right. But I certainly do respect his conviction, and wish all believers could live debt-free. It has been the practice in our family always to pay off the credit card balance each month. Why should we pay interest to the already-rich lenders? We do have a mortgage on our home, but this is the only debt, and we are working to pay it off as soon as possible. Financial responsibility is a serious Christian duty.
We have to balance all biblical principles. Debt is a heavy burden. Yet there is good debt, and bad debt. Good debt: mortgages (usually), school loans, etc. Bad debt: credit card, buying things we don't need or can't afford, and so forth. Romans 13:8 should not be interpreted as forbidding all debt. Both testaments encourage financial responsibility, and yet borrowing is nowhere forbidden. Romans 13 is saying that we should settle our debts, not that we should refuse non-cash payments in full. We should not always be "owing," but rather we ought to be striving to put ourselves in a position to help others (as Ephesians 4 instructs).
An interesting point about loans: the Old Testament seems to forbid charging interest on loans! Scholars debate whether the prohibition is against usury (excessive interest) or interest of any sort. Since loaning without interest means taking a loss (in view of inflation!), the stricter interpretation does seem problematic. It may be countered that in ancient times inflation was alive and well. True, but since Israel was a nation, not just the people of God, central "banking regulations" could well have led to low or zero domestic inflation -- if the people would obey the regulations. (And there's the rub!)
The scriptures also teach a lot about stewardship and saving and planning for the future. Some religious leaders forbid savings, claiming that saving money undermines trusting the Lord to meet our needs. But what about not making ourselves a burden on others? If we are able and yet we do not multiply the money (talents) God has given us, are we really being good stewards? If we have no plan for our old age or retirement, are we being responsible? I think you see the point.
But back to your question. No, I do not think the Bible says all debts are sinful. And yet keeping minimal debt is an important biblical principle. To do so will require strong convictions. For we will have to stand up against the relentless pressure of advertisers, peer-pressure, and human greed.
Bill Goshorn responds:
I do not believe that debt is inherently good or bad in nature. Our use of credit can be good or bad. Living beyond our means and becoming a slave to our debt is bad. Being mastered by desire to own things on credit that is beyond our ability to pay is bad (even if we can pay for all our earthly desires -- I would be concerned too but that's a different subject).
As an example, I have noticed that many church members own large homes with big mortgages. I am not against that per se, but it is what you would call "bad debt" for some because the mortgage payments have created a situation so they cannot give or give sparingly vs. giving generously to the financial needs of the Church. Not to mention the burden it creates for them. There are many anecdotes I could write about, but the point is I believe our use of credit can be good or bad and we need to be good stewards of our credit resources.
I get very concerned at times for those who own a lot of stuff and desire to own more -- even if they can afford it. Are we being influenced by the material world more than we would like to admit?