A Biblical View of Financial Debt

When a church proposes the possibility of incurring debt we examine what the Bible says about borrowing money. Below are six questions and answers that will help guide your thinking about what the Bible has to say about this important topic.

Question 1: What is a church?

A church is a collection of redeemed Christians, gathered by the Spirit to glorify God by introducing all peoples to Jesus Christ and growing them up to love and worship Him (1 Peter 2:9-10). I start here to remind us that the church is not called to a higher standard of conduct than its individual Christians because the church is a collection of individual Christians. In other words, whatever we find in God’s Word about borrowing should be applied equally to the gathered church and to the individual Christian.

Question 2: Is borrowing money a sin?

God did not want us guessing about what is sinful, so He gave us the Bible to remove all doubt. Once the Bible declares something sinful, we never find God regulating how to commit that sin. For example, after condemning adultery (Exodus 20:14), God never says, “But if you still choose adultery, here are three ways to minimize risk.” God doesn’t regulate what He condemns. He tells us to flee what He condemns. So if borrowing is a sin, we can trust that the Bible will call it a sin, and urge us to avoid it completely. When you read the Bible, not only does it avoid calling borrowing a sin, it even regulates it, something God never does with sin. Here are two examples.

  • In Deuteronomy 28:12, one of the blessings for obedience is that “The Lord will open to you his treasury… you shall lend to many nations, but will borrow from none.” If borrowing was sinful, God would not urge His people to lead other nations to sin by lending to them. On the contrary, Psalm 112:5 says “It is well with the man who deals generously and lends…”
  • Romans 13:7-8 says, “Pay everyone what you owe him. Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another.” To protect relationships, if we owe someone, then we should repay what is owed. Unlike our love for people, which should never be paid in full, our debts should not remain outstanding. Paul does not go so far as to say we should never owe anyone—just that if we do, we should be eager to pay them back.
Question 3: Does the Bible provide warnings regarding borrowing?

Yes! Though the Bible never condemns borrowing as a sin, it warns us repeatedly about its dangers. Let me point out two of the strongest warnings.

  • Borrowing puts us under the hand of another. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). Clearly, this verse is not meant to attract us to debt.
  • Borrowing with no intent to repay makes us like the wicked. “The wicked borrows but does not pay back” (Psalm 37:21). Clearly, borrowing exposes us to the risk of not being blameless or above approach if we are not able or willing to repay our debts.
  • In addition to these clear biblical warnings, borrowing money has the potential of leading God’s people to trust in the wrong source, to be presumptuous, discontent, and greedy. But since the Lord has included regulations for borrowing within the Bible, this must mean that borrowing can be done at certain times under the authority of His wise counsel.
Question 4: What regulations does the Bible give for borrowing?

When the tool of borrowing is being considered to help accomplish the purposes God has called us to fulfill, He gives regulations, or safeguards, to protect us from the dangers noted above. For example,

  • We must count the cost before borrowing. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28).
  • We are not to lend to other believers while charging interest. “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him” (Exodus 22:25).
  • We are to avoid becoming surety, by cosigning, for another. “Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm” (Proverbs 11:15).
  • We are to make restitution if what is borrowed is lost. “If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution (Exodus 22:14).
Question 5: What are potential occasions to borrow?

Given the fact that God gives warnings and regulations, here are some scenarios that I can imagine permission being granted to borrow money. (In each of these cases, the regulations of counting the cost and having the ability to pay back the loan must be kept.)

  • When other biblical principles compel us to borrow. For example, 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” If a family doesn’t have cash to pay for a child’s emergency surgery and the hospital is offering a payment plan, borrowing is permitted.
  • When poor stewardship results from not borrowing. If it is more costly to pay for something by waiting than it is to pay with borrowed money, it could be poor stewardship not to borrow.
  • When the fulfillment of God’s calling requires more immediate funds than are available. This can occur when part of the body does not give or when the immediate need surpasses the generosity of the people who do give. When the Temple was being built, the provisions ran out before all the work was completed. Consequently, additional money was raised through trade with foreign lands and even an apparent loan from King Hiram in 1 Kings 9:10-14.
Question 6: What parameters have the elders of Providence established for borrowing funds? 

The elders of Providence have established an upper limit of the cost of borrowing to be no more than 12% of the annual operating budget.

Brian Frost serves Providence Baptist Church as an elder and as senior pastor.