Thursday 3 March 2011

Indebtedness: What the Bible has to Say About Debt & Saving

Issue 26 of Case magazine will tackle the tricky subject of money, and in particular, 'debt'. Our lead article in the issue has been written by Dr Paul Mills an economist who has worked in London and Washington on global financial stability. He frames his contribution to Case with two seemingly contradictory pieces of biblical advice:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth ... Look at the birds of the air: they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." Matthew 6:19, 26

"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! ... it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest." Proverbs 6:6-8

He writes:
Which is the more 'spiritual' province of the animal kingdom – the 'birds of the air' who trust in Providence, or the ants who make provision for the future? The question sounds frivolous, but it highlights one of the most difficult issues that each Christian must address when applying biblical teaching to everyday life – just how much wealth is it right for me to own? The dilemma arises because the Bible contains two strands of teaching on the subject that seem to run counter to one another. For instance, Jesus explicitly enjoins his followers not to accumulate treasure on earth (Mt 6:19); yet elsewhere the Scriptures commend prudent foresight and the responsible stewardship of possessions.

Given the prominence of this seeming paradox, one might have anticipated that Christians would be well versed in its practical resolution. However, while the issue of the personal ownership of wealth has provoked heated debate throughout the church's history, it is now largely ignored by Western Christians.

We have been infected with the mores of our age that regard personal finance as too sensitive a matter to be broached outside the confines of the cash dispensing confessional. It is only on the question of giving that the Christian can be guaranteed frequent financial instruction!

In this thought provoking article, he argues that:
  • The foundation of the Scriptures’ misgivings about the ownership of wealth is that material possessions are an idol competing with the true God for our worship. As Jesus said "No-one can serve two masters." (Matt 6:24a)
  • Wealth is a barrier to faith in providence.
  • Wealth is deceitful and fails to deliver on its promises.
  • In spiritual terms, "the long-run return on worldly savings is worse than non-existent". Wealth is a bad eternal investment!

But the above is not to suggest that saving is wrong, just that we need a proper attitude towards saving, and a right view of the purpose of such savings. He concludes:
"Both the 'birds of the air' and the ant teach valuable spiritual lessons. The Christian is both to trust God wholly for material security and to be ready to save prudently when the circumstances require it."

Contents of Case # 26

The articles that address the theme include:

'Faith prudence? Christians and financial security' - Dr Paul Mills
'Christians and Personal Debt' - Gordon Menzies & Susan Thorp
'The Disastrous Distancing of Debt' - David Höhne
'Debt Forgiveness for Countries: What is our framework?' - Catherine de Fontenay
'How Our Understanding of God Helps Shape a Response to Consumerism' - Ben Gooley

CASE Associates should receive their copies of Case #26 in 2-3 weeks.

You can purchase single issues of Case Magazine from the CASE website (HERE) or become a CASE Associate and receive four editions each year for $55 as an individual. There are specific deals for Christian schools, churches, students and institutions (HERE).

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