‘Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8)’. Do not love money: ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).’
The average debt per person in the UK, excluding mortgage debt, is £8,000! Now, that’s an amazing statistic – more than a statistic, because debt adversely affects people’s lives. 6,000,000 Brits believe they will never be free of debt, and 62% are worried about their debt levels. These figures were recently quoted by Compare the Market dot Com, based on their own research.
10% of these people were ‘maxed out’ on their credit cards, and a similar number were overdrawn within the past 12 months. The Financial Conduct Authority says about 4.1 million people are in serious financial difficulty, and half of the population between 25 and 34 years of age are financially vulnerable.
The Office of National Statistics states that the average household debt in the UK is £12,887, excluding what is owed on mortgages ………. Wow!
What is making things worse is the ease with which people can obtain unsecured loans at exorbitant interest rates; for example, one online loan company charges 1,286% APR, another 1,291% and yet another 1,575%. This is criminal, and evil.
People can get into debt for many reasons, but once in that position they become monetary slaves of those to whom they owe money. This can result in misery, fear and acute worry. However, there are places where help can be found, such as StepChange* which offers free impartial advice for getting debt under control. National Debt Advice** also gives expert help for writing off up to 85% of debt and for facilitating low monthly payments, so that the borrower does not need to take out any more loans while paying back his debt.
Now, how can these things be looked at from the perspective of biblical teaching on the subject of debt?
Firstly, if possible, never take out a loan that you know you can not pay back. In fact, it is better to never borrow money (Romans 13:8).
Borrowing ‘things’ is different, because they can be returned without incurring debt; however, the borrower has a responsibility to look after them (Deuteronomy 22:1-4). In respect of borrowing ‘things’, Jesus commands us to “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away (Matthew 5:42).”
Mortgages are different, too, because one has to have a roof over one’s head, and it makes more sense to buy than to rent. When a mortgage is granted, the mortgagee must satisfy himself that he has the means to repay the loan. I remember back to when I first took out a mortgage, I had to prove to the building society that I had sufficient regular income for making monthly payments over the agreed number of years for paying off the loan and interest.
The greatest debt a Christian owes, but of which he is never required to repay, is his debt to Jesus for dying on a cross in his place (Romans 5:6-10; 8:32), and for giving him eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus sets the believer free of all debt (Romans 6:18), and I am reminded of these words of the Lord’s prayer, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ Matthew 6:12 replaces ‘trespasses’ with ‘debts’: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’. Luke 11:4 goes as follows: ‘And forgive us our sins (Ephesians 1:7), for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.’
Therefore, when it comes to unpaid debts, the Christian lender’s response must be forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35) just as Jesus forgives repentant sinners for their sins (Luke 5:22-24; 1 John 1:9).
* Step Change
** National Debt Advice