One of the biggest challenges facing you and our country is the looming, growing national debt. How can the Bible help in the quest to tame the beast?
As I studied Proverbs, the Holy Spirit turned my attention to what Solomon, the world’s wisest man who ever lived, would have to say regarding this if he visited the Hill. If you had coffee with Solomon what would he share with you? If you approach the book of Proverbs with this question, you might be amazed about what it says.
Remember that Proverbs is written by the head of a nation to advise his son who would soon take over his duties. What principles can we glean from the king’s advice to his son regarding how to best manage a country’s budget? I think you’ll find this study worth the time. Here is God’s help and advice on how to tame the beast.
Read on, my friend!
The Scriptures speak of God’s creation and ownership of the world in numerous passages. For instance, God states in Psalm 50:10, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills.” Psalm 24:1 states, The earth is the LORD’s and all it contains; the world, and those who dwell in it.
God’s Word also declares His sovereignty, a theological term describing the unlimited power and control of God over nature, history, and the affairs of mankind (cf. Isaiah 45:9-19, Romans 8:18-39). In truth, God owns and controls everything!
Furthermore the Bible states that God made you and me to be His stewards to manage His creation for Him (cf. Genesis 1:26-28). This is an awesome responsibility. Stewardship, as the word is used generally in the Bible, encompasses the idea of managing another person’s property, finances or household affairs. Good stewards realize that their time, talent and treasure should ultimately be used to please the one who entrusted the responsibility to them.
Biblically then, you and I are the stewards of God’s creation. For those who have trusted in Christ, an attitude of stewardship is a necessary requirement of obedience. Paul portrays this in 1Corinthians 9:17, stating, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. Earlier in the same epistle he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, In this case, moreover it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy (4:2). I hope you have come to the nation’s capital with this motive and understanding! Do you clearly see yourself entrusted by God with a stewardship responsibility, not only in terms of your personal and familial life — but in terms of how you manage the state?
All of the aforementioned stands in stark contrast to the personal motives of self-aggrandizement, which is a hyphenated word encompassing the meanings of self advancement and personal enlargement. Unfortunately, too many have come to our capitol with these wrong motives. They possess a “what’s in it for me?” mentality. Unfortunately for the nation, stewardship and servanthood are far from their motives. Such attitudes are the root of all fiscal problems.
WHAT FOLLOWS ARE EIGHT GUIDING PRINCIPLES THAT SOLOMON WOULD ADVISE YOU TO IMPLEMENT IN ORDER TO GET OUT OF DEBT
Having stated these foundational basics, how a legislator handles the money God has entrusted to him — in both a personal, familial, and legislative sense — is critically important. Decisions on the use of money stem from and reflect one’s beliefs and character. How then does God want you to handle the money He has entrusted to you?
II. BALANCE THE ANNUAL BUDGET
When Romans 13:8 states Owe nothing to anyone, … Paul is not prohibiting borrowing per se. Notice he didn’t say “borrow from no one” because Scripture does make allowance for borrowing in other passages (such as Matthew 5:42 and Luke 6:34). Furthermore, Capitalism, as we have seen in other studies, is scripturally based. And for Capitalism to work there must be good borrowing practices. Paul’s prohibition on owing relates to the inability to fulfill one’s financial obligations. Accordingly, to be a good steward, one must be wise and plan well to avoid overextension, be it personal or national.
Similar to Paul, Solomon says in Proverbs 22:7, The borrower becomes the lender’s slave. This passage too is often misinterpreted. It doesn’t mean that borrowing is sinful. Its instruction is aimed at lenders more than at borrowers: It is warning against abusive lending practices. Informed by this passage, America has laws that prohibit lender abuse; borrowers should not (and in America cannot lawfully) be exploited. Solomon is saying to Rehoboam his son that without governmental oversight, lenders will often take unfair advantage of those to whom they lend: they will make borrowers their slaves if they don’t watch out.
Having explained what Romans 13:8 and Proverbs 22:7 do not mean, it is appropriate to point out the obvious: history is replete with people and nations who became overly extended, and then when the unforeseen occurred, had neither a sufficient buffer nor the means to acquire further credit, and financial ruin resulted. They were found characterized by what Paul called owing.
When one’s desired “lifestyle” requires more money than one’s income provides, it is extremely unwise for an individual, a family or a nation to borrow in order to maintain that “lifestyle” instead of cutting expenses to a level below income. It is bad stewardship and downright foolishness for an individual, family or country to borrow in order to cover expenses that far, far exceed income! Those who borrow in this way not only disappoint God who appointed them — but the voting populace who elected them. The first biblical principle then, is for Public Servants to balance the annual budget, lest they immediately or eventually end up owing — and if not a slave in the fullest sense of that word, a person or nation of much lesser status.
HISTORICALLY, MANY DIVORCES ARE ATTRIBUTABLE TO DEBT: BOTH IN TERMS OF HUSBAND TO WIFE AND LEADER TO CONSTITUENCY
Don’t reach the degraded status of being someone who is in arrears by your misuse of credit. Witness those with owing attitudes who have been defeated in recent American elections. Aptly and in large part, alert voters have been on a quest to replace fiscally irresponsible Public Servants.
The first principle then that Solomon would share for eliminating a $20.5 trillion debt is to balance the budget. Public Servants must first give attention to plugging the accumulating fiscal leakage before any of the biblical remedies that follow can be enacted successfully. What follows will not do much good if expenditures remain out of control.
III. INCENTIVIZE WORKERS AND JOB CREATORS
The next priority Solomon would share to reduce the debt would be to incentivize those industries that provide the basic building blocks for creating a much larger economy. We all know that for industry to compete on a worldwide scale, a country must possess adequate raw materials, energy and capital, taxation and regulation, all at extremely low costs and levels respectively. Those are the foundational elements to creating value added products and services competitively and in abundance. And most importantly, all of the aforementioned stem from Public Servants who possesses the biblical perspective of God commanding those He created in His image to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28).
More fundamental to incentivizing basic industries in order to create a vastly larger economy is the necessity of incentivizing the personal industriousness of the leaders and workers in those industries. Note what Solomon says in Proverbs 10:4 in this regard:
Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich.
Industrious, diligent individuals have made our nation rich. It follows that nations whose governments incentivize people to be industrious will have more wealth than nations whose governments do not. This is the major reason why Socialism always fails. Solomon states this necessary principle of personal industriousness also in 13:11:
Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, But the one who gathers by labor increases it.
Biblically, wealth is related to labor. The result of laboring hard — by the sweat of one’s brow (cf. Gen. 3:19 ff ) is wealth creation. Proverbs erates this principle:
He who tills his land will have plenty of food, But he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty.
Accordingly, if this is God’s formula for wealth creation, Solomon would say that government leaders must incentivize individuals and industries (which includes unencumbering them from the unnecessary burdens of governmental regulations) in order to create a vastly larger economy. You can’t have one without the other!
By so doing the current $20.5 trillion debt would become proportionately reduced and less difficult to pay off. By way of illustration, if the economy were to increase by 7% a year (a realistic goal if job creators are incentivized and unshackled from governmental regulations) the American economy would become twice as large in just 10 years and the $20.5 trillion debt would be proportionately one-half its present size relative to the gross national product. In 20 years the national debt would become relatively one-quarter its present size, even if it were not reduced by a single penny in that time span. And assuming tax rates were not reduced, but indexed, Treasury income would be four times as great! Assuming budget increases to be less, there would be ample money to pay off the debt (and this does not take inflation into consideration). Solomon would say that the first thing a Public Servant must accomplish is to balance the budget and then secondly to grow the economy.
IV. INCENTIVIZE POPULATION GROWTH
In reference to having many children, both King David (Psalm 127:5) and God (Genesis 1:28) said the following respectively:
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”
A full quiver was commonly understood to mean five. Scripture is pro-growth and pro-large family. Consider this: any debt is easier to pay back if there is a large number of responsible cosigners. The equation is similar to the previous point: in this case, there is less per capita debt when the population is larger. It follows then that Lawmakers would be wise to incentivize marriage of procreation-able couples, and reproduction. Would not Solomon therefore advocate for much larger tax credits relative to the same?
V. INCENTIVIZE GAINING KNOWLEDGE
In Proverbs 24:4 Solomon speaks to the value of education — and how gaining knowledge is directly connected to wealth creation:
And by knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches.
America’s education system with its world-renowned research universities is a major component of its economic genius; the seedbed of innovation is the laboratory. It follows that wise Public Servants will even more so incentivize education. Laws that enable vouchers and tax credits to fund tuition, create competition and capitalization for the same, which in the long run creates a smarter, more competitive, productive and efficient workforce: Knowledge via education is a huge aspect of creating value-added products — a necessity to the functioning of the two previous points as they relate to the objective of national debt reduction.
VI. INCENTIVIZE OBEDIENCE TO GOD
Obviously the institution of government cannot cause an individual to be obedient to God in his heart, but it can incentivize the institution God has ordained to accomplish that: the Church.
Take note of the following Proverbs (8:18-21) and what results from wisdom (wisdom here, is personified by Solomon) and obedience to God:
“Riches and honor are with me, Enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, And my yield better than choicest silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice, To endow those who love me with wealth, That I may fill their treasuries.”
The blessings of God on individuals as well as their nation’s treasuries stem from wisdom! It is not the pursuit of wealth that makes a nation great, it is the pursuit of wisdom: wealth then is a residual by-product.
Much of the Old Testament, and especially Psalm 1 and Joshua 1, indicate a definite connection between a people living in obedience to God’s commands and their being the recipient of His blessings. In other words, when the individual’s first action is to honor God — which includes good stewardship — a person is in a position to receive God’s blessings. To increase your acumen in stewardship ask yourself these questions when contemplating financial decisions:
IS IT WISE?
IS IT UNSELFISH?
IS IT RESPONSIBLE?
These simple questions will help you to make good, prudent financial decisions that will bless and prosper you both personally and in the affairs of the state. It is obedience to God, not riches, that needs to be the clear focus of a nation which God determines to bless. Notice Proverbs 11:28:
He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.
Again, it is the consequences of righteousness that produce wealth, not the pursuit of wealth. This is the same idea proffered by Jesus in the Beatitudes. Notice Matthew 5:6 in this regard:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Satisfaction in life is not gained by the pursuit of satisfaction; it, too, is the result of pursuing righteousness. Again, the highest objective of a nation must be righteousness not wealth. Add Proverbs 13:13 and 21 respectively:
The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, But the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.
Adversity pursues sinners, But the righteous will be rewarded with prosperity.
These Proverbs are akin to the well-known Proverb (14:34) that says, righteousness exalts a nation. America has been blessed because our nation has historically revered God’s commandments. It follows that Solomon would advise Public Servants today to further incentivize religious institutions via tax deductible giving and by other creative means in order to encourage such institutions to evangelize, reconstitute, build and maintain citizens of character — for sure, do not remove their tax-deductible status! To do so would damage a basic, necessary engine in American society. Solomon attests in the aforementioned Proverbs that without character in the citizenry a country will never prosper (or get out of debt). And since the institution of government is not equipped to create the inner character of citizens (the Church is causal and the government is reflective), government must therefore incentivize all not-for-profits for its own preservation and betterment.
This critical need and perspective to incentivize obedience to God is further dimensioned and illuminated by Solomon in 28:2:
By the transgression of a land many are its princes, But by a man of understanding and knowledge, so it endures.
This is a huge, further insight! There is a definite cause and effect relationship between the overall transgressions or else righteousness of a nation (14:34) and its leader(s) that God chooses to give it. (Keep in mind Psalm 75:7 states, But God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another; cf. Acts 17:26). This is the nationally applied principle of sowing and reaping: Solomon says that when a nation as a whole, i.e. its culture is set on transgressing God’s ways that nation will end up with a leader or leaders who are lacking in God’s understanding and knowledge! Such is certainly the case in America today. Another plain and simple way of saying it is that:
A NATION AND ITS PEOPLE GET WHAT THEY DESERVE
God sees to that. It follows then that Public Servants are wise to incentivize a nation’s citizenry to be obedient to God! Make no mistake: A disobedient nation ends up with disobedient leaders that will make worse, versus curing its debt crisis.
VII. LEGISLATE GOVERNMENT SAVINGS
Proverbs 6:6-8 is clear about the wisdom of preparing for the future — and being a self-starter in that regard:
Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest.
Like a wise individual or family, a responsible government should save resources for the future. My favorite insight into the above verse is that the ants save and invest habitually, without someone having to tell them! Most of us are familiar with the principles of compounding. Those who have the discipline to save and invest benefit from compounding — our money works for us, versus having to work for your money. Those who are foolish are constantly over budget, borrowing and paying interest to someone else! As blessed as the United States is in terms of income and wealth, we should possess huge savings to draw from on a rainy day — versus running huge deficits.
TO ILLUSTRATE THE DISCIPLINE OF COMPOUNDING, IF CONGRESS SET ASIDE A HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR AND INVESTED IT WITH AN AVERAGE YIELD OF 7%, IN 40 YEARS IT WOULD BE WORTH $1.6 TRILLION!
Think of what would happen to our national economy if we simply set aside that amount every year for the future! By saving a very small fraction of the Treasury’s income, in just one generation taxes would be obsolete — all because as legislators you took seriously Solomon’s advice to observe the ant! In such a world, think too about how much more disposable income individuals, families and churches would possess to help the poor!
WHICH OF YOU WILL LEAD OUR NATION INTO A GOVERNMENT FUNDING GREAT AWAKENING?
Setting money aside for the future is something that is practiced in God’s other ordained institutions: wise couples, families, businesses, and ministries endow themselves. Why not the government also? Only fools spend every dime and borrow to support lifestyles. Wise people observe ants.
VIII. INCENTIVIZE GENEROSITY
The following are passages that reveal God’s compassionate heart to meet the needs of the poor — and how He expects us to assist in that regard. Closely examine the context of the passages that follow; they are not speaking about the institution of government meeting the needs of the poor; that is not what Solomon is instructing Israel’s next leader to do. Rather, these passages are addressing the generosity God demands of and from individuals — and as that relates to this week’s study, how such obedience leads to material blessing. It follows that when a nation is full of individuals, families and churches who God is blessing, that the whole of the nation is blessed as well.
22:9 He who is generous will be blessed, For of his food to the poor.
28:27 He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.
Psalm 41:1 How blessed is he who considers the helpless; The LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble.
1John 3:17 But whoever has this worlds goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
In fact, nowhere in Scripture does God command that His institution of government meet the needs of the poor. Rather, He tasks individuals, families and churches with that responsibility.
1Timothy 5:8 thru 16 is a significant passage of Scripture that uncovers God’s mind, via His sequential commands, regarding how He expects the needs of the poor to be met:
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
… If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it [the church] may assist those who are widows indeed.
Notice the progression of institutional responsibility for meeting the needs of bereft people (in this specific passage they are bereft widows).
The responsibility to meet the needs of the poor lies first with the husband in a marriage, secondly with the family (if the husband is absent) and thirdly the church. Again, nowhere does God command the institutions of government or commerce to fully support those with genuine needs. As a matter of fact, Scripture states that the limited role of government is for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right (1Peter 2:14; cf. Rom. 13:4). This is God’s design.
It follows that government leaders best serve the needs of the poor by providing incentives to individuals, families and non-profit institutions to fulfill their God-given responsibilities to the same. (That helps explain why I have used the word incentive in my outline points — incentivizing the other institutions to do what they do best is the most efficient means for governmental leadership of a State, versus directly taking on responsibilities it cannot accomplish efficiently). Since God blesses individual generosity, it follows that if you were having coffee with Solomon that he would advise you to further incentivize individual generosity — since that comes back in multiple forms to help the State.
IX. INCENTIVIZE AND PENALIZE BUDGET STEWARDSHIP
Since getting out of debt requires consistent planning and execution over periods of time that are generally longer than election cycles, I think Solomon would say that self-imposed laws that incentivize a balanced budget and the creation of policies that lead to economic growth are good things. Notice what he tells the future leader of Israel in Proverbs 21:5:
The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.
In fact, the keepers of the budget should tie their remuneration to the achievement of the aforementioned — both in an upside and downside sense. To illustrate: if Congress passed a balanced budget and policies that led to a 7% increase in GDP, then every legislator should receive a 7% bonus the following fiscal year. The reverse should be the case as well. Such would lead to better diligence in planning and national advantage.
All eight of these Solomonic advisements are steeped in Scripture. When Solomon led Israel with this kind of wisdom, they were part of the reason Israel was in her glory days.
Perhaps this is best summarized by the words of the Queen of Sheba when she visited Israel during Solomon’s reign. Notice 1 Kings 10:6-9 in this regard:
Then she said to the king, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard. How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.”
Likened to the glory of Ancient Israel, America too, can become a fiscally stable nation once again — if we enact biblical wisdom in order to tame our debt. This cannot and should not be equated with spiritual renewal; that is another subject. But such fiscal reforms will not inhibit that greater need. Here then in review are the eight pieces of advice Solomon would afford us over coffee if he visited the Hill today. Which ones will you work to enact in 2018? They are:
Each of these eight biblically based principles, if enacted, will garner God’s blessing and help us to tame the beast we have created (largely by our past ignorance of them). May God give you the strength for the journey, the victory, and the personal and corporate blessing as a result. Amen!