Theme: The Christian and Money
In this week’s lessons we see how the wicked and righteous are contrasted, and learn how the mature Christian approaches all of life to the glory of Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 37:21-40
Yesterday we said that in the second part of this psalm there are four contrasts concerning the wicked, the Lord, and, for the last two, the righteous. In this third section the psalmist continues with three more contrasts, dealing directly with the wicked and the righteous.
1. “The wicked borrow and do not pay their debts, but the righteous give generously” (v. 21). There are two ways of looking at this contrast. Since the psalm is speaking of the overthrow of the wicked as opposed to the blessing on the righteous, who will inherit the land, some writers think of this not as a moral failure on the part of the wicked but rather as a failure to pay debts because they have not prospered and so cannot repay them. H. C. Leupold writes: “The one borrows and has not the wherewithal to repay, but the other is so well blessed by God that he can always repay his honest debts.”1
The trouble with this view is that the specific words of the verse do not seem to stress ability and non-ability, but rather what we would call the difference between a selfish and a generous spirit. This has inclined other commentators, including myself, to a second view, namely, that the contrast is between what Peter C. Craigie calls “perpetual takers” and “constant givers.”2 The wicked are always out for themselves. They borrow because they want to get ahead quickly and see this as a short road to success. They are slow to repay because they want to keep their capital as long as possible, and often do not repay, either because they think they can get away with not repaying or not paying all that is due or because they overextend themselves and are unable to meet their obligations.
With the righteous it is not a question of getting ahead or borrowing or repaying at all. For them money is a gift of God to be used to help others. Therefore, they are essentially generous rather than being essentially selfish and acquisitive. They are for others, rather than being only for themselves.
I need to say something very practical about our own culture at this point—and about Christians who are caught up in it. Our current economic system is trying to achieve short-term prosperity at the cost of long-term debt. The government is doing it by borrowing against the future. Government debt is astronomical. But the really frightening and corrupting thing is that individuals are also doing it and are being encouraged to do it more and more.
If you have any regular job or any credit at all, you know what I mean. You receive mailings from your credit card company assuring you that your credit is so good that they have raised your borrowing limit from $3,000 to $5,000, or higher. And companies you have not even heard of try to get you to apply for their cards, having given you a “pre-approved” line of credit. When you put these limits together you find that it is possible for you to borrow tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps getting as much as $100,000 or even more in debt.
You don’t have to be a Christian to realize what is happening. Who is foolish enough to think that he or she is so select a customer that the credit card companies have carefully sought him out or are courting her because the credit is deserved? The banks want you to borrow on time because they can make more money lending to you than they can commercially. The commercial prime rate is now about 9½ percent, but they can double that to 18 or 20 percent or more by getting you to buy on credit. As I say, you don’t have to be a Christian to understand that for what it is and to know that consumer debt is a very foolish bargain.
There is only one reason why anyone ever gets caught up in our credit-debt system besides stupidity, and that is greed. It is a desire to have what we covet immediately and unwillingness to wait and work for it.
But that is where the difference between the unbeliever and the Christian comes, or should come. Christians must not be covetous. Greed breaks the tenth commandment, which tells us not to covet (Exod. 20:17). More than that, the believer must be generous, first by being content with what he or she has, and then showing generosity to others. I am not saying that it is wrong for Christians to use credit cards, since it is obviously impossible to carry around the large sums of money that are necessary to do business in our culture. But here are the guidelines. I call them the first and second great economic commandments.
First, never charge more than you are able to pay off immediately when the monthly bill comes, avoiding interest entirely. Second, never charge so much that you are unable to meet your Christian obligations first, and always have some additional money left over to be able to help others.
Remember that Paul praised the poor churches of Macedonia because “their overwhelming joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Cor. 8:2). The reason they were so generous is that “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (v. 5). That is the character of the righteous. The spirit of our age, which is trying to catch us and keep us in an ever escalating cycle of debt, is the spirit, not of Jesus, but of the wicked.
From the lesson, how is verse 21 explained?
What does Dr. Boice recommend for a Christian’s use of credit cards?
Reflection: Are there any ways in which the culture’s materialism poses a temptation for you? Can you change your buying practices in order to give generously to others in need?
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 303.2Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 298.