By President Randall A. Bach
Many years ago, I helped students at Open Bible College obtain bank loans for their college expenses. This was before the college gained eligibility for federally funded student grants and loans. The college had an arrangement with a local bank that allowed us to write up documents for loans, within predefined parameters, and send students to the bank to formalize the contracts. In essence, the college co-signed for the loans, which meant we assumed the risk if students defaulted on their loans. A few did default, but thankfully, most students did not.
After performing this service with students for a few years, I found that the experience began gnawing on my insides. That is because many of the students were straight out of high school, so naïve, so excited to move forward with the big step of entering college, and willing to sign on the line for virtually any amount of money they could borrow. I looked into their young faces, recognizing that many of them were unprepared to deal with the cost of repaying that debt. For many students, it never occurred to them that they would have to invest time and labor to pay back money they borrowed. They had little to no experience in managing their own finances. To them, payback was way off in the future. Everything was OK for today; let tomorrow take care of itself. Some students were more mature as they diligently monitored their debt and kept it to a minimum. My concern was for the students who, even after hearing my explanation about what would be involved in paying back a loan, seemed oblivious to that reality. I could tell that my counsel went in one ear and out the other in terms of awareness. Eventually, of course, they would all learn about the discipline and time necessary to service debt they had assumed. In many of their cases, no one else would be standing by to pick up the responsibility; they owned it.
In that era, I was bothered by what I saw as naivete about debt in some of the young students. Yet today I still see people, not just young ones, willing to embrace enormous debt without reluctance. That naivete has not changed.
The Apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 13:8 (NIV), “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” Clearly, we are to work at eliminating financial debt. One of the greatest blessings that occurs because of faithful personal stewardship of finances, which includes meeting and reducing debt obligations, is freedom to be obedient to the Lord with tithes and other generous giving.
Debt is not automatically evil. Entering into debt to purchase an asset that can appreciate in value, such as a home, can be a good investment if it does not exceed one’s capacity to service the debt. Unexpected loss of income and unanticipated expenses such as medical bills can place a family into an unhealthy debt position. They may be hard-working and conscientious people caught in a situation beyond their control with no choice but to assume debt in response. However, irresponsible financial stewardship of resources, whether those resources are large or small, is a choice that can lead to disastrous debt that can feel like a millstone around the neck for much of life and lead to financial downfall. Sadly, it isn’t always low-income people who struggle with excessive debt; there are also people with adequate incomes who spend beyond their income.
Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University teaching is a product for our time. His instruction is in demand because the need is great; many Americans are carrying the weight of heavy debt! Ramsey’s approach is to train people to tell their money where it should go rather than letting their money tell them where it will go – simply powerful because it is powerfully simple. Ultimately, we must assume responsibility for and take control of personal financial management.
The Bible presumes people will have debt. The Apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 13:8 (NIV), “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” Clearly, we are to work at eliminating financial debt. One of the greatest blessings that occurs because of faithful personal stewardship of finances, which includes meeting and reducing debt obligations, is freedom to be obedient to the Lord with tithes and other generous giving. Psalm 37:21 (NLT) instructs us, “The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers.”
The key consideration is not how much money we make but what kind of stewards we are with the money we have. We should not view debt as an inevitable burden of life. It is something we should undertake only with great caution, with the intent of repaying it as quickly as possible. Our goal should be to reduce or to completely break free of debt and its burdensome interest payments, which can imprison us. It may take some time, but consistent stewardship of finances really can enable your family to embrace financial freedom.
About the Author
Randall A. Bach delights in opportunities to serve the Lord, including his current assignment as president of Open Bible Churches. He earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Regent University. Randall and Barbara, his wife, have been in ministry almost as long as they have been married. They are grateful to have celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2021. Randall loves the church, pastors, and church leaders and is convinced that God loves to work through them to make disciples, develop leaders, and plant churches. A voice for Evangelicals, his work has been featured in several publications, including Ethics: The Old Testament, The New Testament, and Contemporary Application. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Randall has produced and edited several publications and other resources, including the Message of the Open Bible, We Believe: Core Truths for Christian Living, and a doctrinal course for youth called We Believe for Kids! He also led the creation of Acquire, Open Bible’s online leadership development site.