Lessons from three men in a tub of debt


I know of three Christian businessmen who began their careers using heavy leverage—meaning they borrowed a lot of money. Each learned the biblical warnings and dangers of debt. Each responded. Then their stories diverge.

Tom bought his company with $100,000 down and $4 million of borrowed money. Shortly he learned of God’s warnings against debt and was petrified. His strategy was built around borrowing. He prayed, asked for advice, listened, and did a U-turn. It took him 11 years to correct his mistake, but God honored his commitment to change. His initial strategy died a sudden death and his business never grew into what he’d originally hoped, but Tom grew in closeness to Christ.

Dick built a company dependent on borrowing large sums of money to finance expensive equipment. The market was hot, borrowing was easy, and for many years the strategy worked. Dick knew the dangers of debt, but he pragmatically didn’t think it applied to his business. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” he said. Not listening to God in one area led to ignoring God in others. Warnings about being unequally yoked and the prohibition against personal guarantees went unheeded, with him rationalizing and ignoring those, too.

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Then the hot market fizzled, easy borrowing dried-up, the business shrunk, and the partners turned hostile. But the loans and personal guarantees remained. Under severe financial pressure, Dick behaved in ways even he didn’t like. On our own we are all “monsters of iniquity.” Dick saw it, sought help, and stepped onto a path to recovery.

Harry began his business career as the strongest Christian of the three, coming to faith earlier, making wiser decisions, and always putting God and family first. He was a paragon of what a young Christian businessman should be.

After years of entrepreneurial success, the “big one” came along, “the once in a lifetime deal.” Harry performed magnificently in the deal, accomplishing what no one else could in less time than anyone imagined. But the deal also required mountains of debt and a personal guarantee. Harry learned of the risks and warnings against debt and guarantees, but the lure of the monumental payoff deadened his hearing.

You can guess the rest: The market died at exactly the wrong moment, the deal went belly up, and guarantees came due. But that wasn’t the worst: Harry didn’t learn anything. The pain of failure brought depression and hiding. God didn’t leave Harry, but Harry hid from God, and continues to do so.

Tom listened, Dick rationalized, and Harry hid, and we can learn lessons from all three:

  • God’s warnings are for our good. Ignoring them is a choice, but when we do so the consequences are our responsibility. And this applies to more than just debt and personal guarantees.
  • Obeying God’s warnings does not guarantee or maximize earthy success, but it does bring a settled peace and a path to spiritual growth.
  • Ignoring God’s warnings may work on this earth for a time, maybe even a lifetime, but this always comes with unforeseen consequences—the most serious is a loss of closeness to Christ.
  • There are no unforgiveable sins. God always brings consequences designed to bring us back to Him. We may not like His method, but we should never doubt His heart.

What about you? Are you listening, rationalizing or hiding?

Bill Newton
Bill Newton

Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He also serves as a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.


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