Sabbath School Lesson for March 10-16, 2018
Most of us don’t have a problem with debt. Debt incurred for certain reasons, such as buying a house or a car, or getting an education, is understandable, but even then it must be done judiciously and with utmost caution.
Having a personal financial record riddled with indebtedness, however, does have an impact in our ability to honor God with the generous offerings of a faithful steward. Not only that, but studies have shown that it may lead to our divorce, suicide, and/or depression, certainly not conditions that foster spiritual growth and a healthy relationship with God.
We must learn the principles of debt that will help us avoid the unwanted condition of being in constant anxiety over how we will meet our financial obligations. Perhaps the best way to prevent having too much debt is the same as we might recommend for those who take up smoking or drinking alcohol. The best way to avoid an unhealthy situation of this kind is not to start in the first place.
But for those who have, for one reason or another, found themselves in the unpleasant position of having too much debt, there is always hope for a better future, especially when God is factored into the solution. We must work on building our trust in Him and our contentment with the life He has designed for us, in order to follow a different path that leads to the debt-free existence we all desire.
Remember this: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor; then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:7, 8 NIV
Let no debt remain outstanding. In other words, pay off your financial debts as soon as possible, or better yet, avoid getting in debt entirely (“give to everyone what you owe them”). When this is achieved, we are free to show our love for each other as God intended. In fact Paul reminds us that the only debt worthy of a Christian is to pay each other with loving words and kind deeds.
This kind of debt (to love one another) brings satisfaction, not discontent and anxiety. The easiest way to pass the love around is not to be consumed with constant worry over our own monetary status, making us unable to see the needs of others and help them in tangible ways.
Sunday: Borrowing and Spending
A good example of the risk we take when we borrow was illustrated in the story of Elisha and the lost ax head. He and the students of the school of the prophets were cutting some timber by the Jordan River, when an ax head flew off and landed in the water nearby. The student was particularly anxious about it, because the ax had been borrowed. Despite this, a miracle happened when the ax head floated to the surface for easy retrieval. See 2 Kings 6:1-7.
Since the future is unknown to us, there is always risk when we choose to be in debt for something, in addition to the added responsibility to repay what is owed. But there are also other results that can make debt a curse, rather than a blessing:
- Debt puts us at the mercy of someone else. It puts lenders above borrowers, fostering inequality for the parties involved.
- Borrowed money allows us to live in ways that we simply can’t afford, causing the spiraling nature of indebtedness.
These and other factors demonstrate the insecurities of borrowing and the need to repay our current debts as soon as we can. Spending and borrowing wisely in the first place must be our goal, if we are to keep out of the debt cycle.
Read Psalm 37:21 and Ecclesiastes 8:7. Is it wrong to be in debt, or just not to repay your debts? What makes debt of any kind a risk?
Read Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5. Why is it important to remember that a debt always comes with a vow to repay? How does this verse justify not getting in debt in the first place?
Read Deuteronomy 28:43-45. How does borrowing change relationships? What makes credit card companies in our modern times seem less like a lender to those who borrow from them, which might also make it easier not to repay as we should? Which of the commandments are we breaking when we don’t repay our debts, even to credit card companies?
Monday: Stewardship and Instant Gratification
We find three prominent stories in the Bible that show us what instant gratification looks like.
- Eve’s downfall came when she decided that eating the forbidden fruit, which was supposed to make her wise, was simply too good an opportunity to pass up.
- Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentils, desiring a temporary remedy for his raging appetite, in place of the spiritual blessing he should have been given as the firstborn.
- David chose instant gratification for his sexual appetite, when he couldn’t resist Bathsheba’s beauty, after seeing her bathing on the rooftop of her house.
These and other examples abound, not just in the pages of the Bible, but in real-life experiences of our own and those of our friends and loved ones. Our senses just can’t take the pressure sometimes, even though God has promised a way out of temptation, whenever we think to ask for it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Remember Jesus’ resistance to Satan in the wilderness, even though He was weakened by fasting there for forty days. We need His strength to overcome the same temptations today. When we are confronted with things we desire that seem overwhelmingly hard to resist, we mustn’t let our senses and emotions control our management of God’s bountiful blessings.
Read Genesis 3:6, Genesis 25:34, and 2 Samuel 11:2-4. What do these stories have in common? How can we use them to see the results of instant gratification? How does Satan use this tool to ensnare us even today?
Read Philippians 3:19 and 1 John 2:16. In what ways do our senses and our pride cause us to spend and borrow unwisely?
Read Romans 8:17, Titus 3:7, and John 14:2. How should being God’s heir affect our stewardship? Do we really need all the things we desire on this earth, when a heavenly home is being prepared for us?
Tuesday: Living Within Your Means
People with plenty of income worry about sustaining their wealth, in order to keep up with their comfortable lifestyle. People living paycheck to paycheck, on the other hand, worry about sustaining life, in order to just have the bare necessities, like food on the table.
In both cases, wise budgeting, a learned skill, is a necessary tool that must be used in managing whatever income we have, preventing our tendency to worry. Luke records Jesus expressing the importance of “considering the cost” when deciding whether to be a disciple. He likened it to a builder of a tower, not being able to finish the project because of not considering the cost in the beginning. Or a king who unwisely chooses to wage war, not considering the massive army his country would be up against, and their likelihood of failure. See Luke 14:27-33.
Besides budgeting, a determination to live within our means is vital to financial success. This calls for contentment in life, no matter what level of income we find ourselves. It also calls for setting priorities in life. Fortunately, contentment is one of the blessings we enjoy when we make Christ our number one priority.
When Christ’s kingdom becomes our most prominent goal in life, we are somehow able to find joy and satisfaction in the simplest of pleasures. This is perhaps the best way to achieve the goal of living within our means.
Read Luke 14:27-33. How is “considering the cost” a simple way of looking at our family monetary budget, and why budgeting is needed?
Read Proverbs 14:15 and 22:3, 4. Why is being prudent so important to our successful stewardship? What is needed to make our budgeting work (Prov. 22:4)?
Read 1 Timothy 6:7-9 and Matthew 6:33. What are the only things we need that should make us content in life? For what are we seeking when we want more in life than these basic things?
Wednesday: Saying No to Debt
Simply avoiding debt, in any form, even not co-signing for another’s debt, is a wise path to choose. Although indebtedness is not immoral, it affects our spiritual life in ways we may not have considered. For example, it has the potential to…
- impact our ability to fund God’s work
- reduce our opportunities to help others in need
- cause friction among friends and family members
- affect our self-esteem and confidence
- even make us question or blame God, instead of trusting Him
If we do find ourselves walled in by debts, sometimes not of our own choosing, such as when catastrophic illnesses or long periods of unemployment occur, we may still rest assured that God can and will partner with us to overcome these bothersome barriers in life. Only He can give us the self-discipline and incentive to deny self and work toward a better financial future.
Staying close to God will enable us to discover ways to overcome our difficulties, and even to live at peace with them, if that is His will. After all, a future in heaven is always in store for those who remain faithful and true to God, no matter what our trials on earth have been.
Read Deuteronomy 28:12, 13 and 23:19, 20. Why did God set limits about charging interest? Would God be pleased with any kind of oppression shown by lenders, even to foreigners?
Read Proverbs 17:18 and 22:26. What are the dangers of co-signing, or being a surety for another’s loan? Although not forbidden, why is caution so forcefully recommended? When might being a co-signer be appropriate?
Read Proverbs 22:7, 9. Do the rich have a choice in how they use their wealth? Does this make it a sin to be wealthy, or even to be poor? By what means does God judge us?
Thursday: Saving and Investing
Once again, the Bible contains wisdom for us when it comes to our finances. Proverbs 6:6-8 provides us with the example of the ant, which works hard to gather supplies, saving them for later use. Indeed, there are many other creatures in nature who function this way, saving provisions for when they are needed in the future.
Men and women have proven that saving and investing are worthy habits as well. Putting some income aside for a purpose, either wanted (such as a vacation) or unexpected (such as an illness or other family emergency), has proven to be part of good money management. Savings programs and stable investments which grow in value are both evidence of wise stewardship we should explore.
We must keep our priorities sharply on the best investment of all, however. God’s heavenly kingdom will always be the most secure place to invest our capital. Above all, we must remember the God who gives us the ability to have wealth of any amount. He should always be at the forefront in any of our financial planning efforts.
Read Proverbs 6:6-8 and 13:11. Does it matter how we get our wealth?
Read Proverbs 13:18 and 21:5. How does not accepting financial advice (correction) affect our likelihood that we will make hasty decisions? Why is diligence necessary, in order to have the funds for savings and investments? Is it always possible to save something?
Read Ecclesiastes 11:1, 2, Deuteronomy 8:18, and Luke 12:33. What principles for saving and investing are found in these verses?
Although a discussion of debt may seem a bit too personal for most of us, we should be humble enough to look at the principles outlined in the Bible and apply them as needed in our individual lives.
These principles fall in the following categories:
- borrowing and spending–what makes it a curse to many (Sunday)
- instant gratification–how pride and our senses play a part (Monday)
- living within your means–being content with what you have (Tuesday)
- saying no to debt–why borrowing is not a good idea in the first place (Wednesday)
- saving and investing–a valuable safeguard for avoiding debt (Thursday)
Anyone who has been through the procedures of bankruptcy recognizes the threat of unwise choices when it comes to our debts and investments. Although there are emotional and spiritual ramifications involved with any kind of indebtedness, we can become free of this burden by partnering with God to change our unfortunate circumstances.
We must constantly be on guard to…
- seek God first, put all our trust in Him
- become self-disciplined through God’s Holy Spirit (making and adhering to a tangible budget)
- be content with what we have by denying self and looking to our heavenly reward
All these things will make us not only successful stewards, but faithful ones. When our faith is involved in this process of stewardship, we are assured of success. It all boils down to our faith in God’s providence.
God is not looking for more of our dollars; He’s looking for more trust from His children. Let Him be your financial guide by following the counsel given to us in His word.
Next Week’s Lesson: The Habits of a Steward
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/