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A CONFLICT OF CONSCIENCE

Heather was only trying to save a few bucks. She understands how these things work, so she doesn’t feel like it is something to get upset about.

Heather was only trying to save a few bucks. She understands how these things work, so she doesn’t feel like it is something to get upset about. Yet, Nathan is horrified. Why would his wife open a store credit card instead of buying their son’s new school clothes with the cash they had saved? He doesn’t care how much money Heather saved. With all they have been through financially, it feels wrong to him to start borrowing again.

Nathan and Heather are working through a different kind of conflict than discussed in the previous posts. And yet, as they process through Heather’s decision to open a store credit card in order to get a discount, the moral triage can assist them in resolving this argument.

Is this issue explicitly addressed in the Bible?

The issue of financial debt is addressed in Scripture in various ways. While much of the biblical record on the matter provides guidelines for just lending (e.g., Exodus 18:8, Exodus 22:25‒27, Leviticus 25:35‒37, Deuteronomy 23:19‒20), several passages speak directly to the decision to take on debt. Proverbs 22:7 teaches, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender.” Romans 13:7 instructs believers to “pay to all what is owed them,” including “revenue to whom revenue is owed.” While both of these passages discourage debt, neither seem to explicitly prohibit it as sinful in every situation. Thus, it would be hard to argue that Heather has sinned by opening a store credit card to make a purchase, particularly if she pays it back before incurring any interest.

Are there any biblical prohibitions or prescriptions that apply to this issue?

One passage in particular speaks to Heather’s decision to make a purchase on credit rather than using the money they had saved for school clothes. Proverbs 3:28 warns, “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’—when you have it with you.” According to this passage, Heather should have simply paid for the clothes with the money in her pocket rather than billing her purchase to a line of credit. However, if Nathan brings this passage up, Heather could respond by appealing to the discount and her plan for paying the debt before she incurs interest. If she uses the same money three weeks later to make the payment, has she really done anything wrong? For the sake of the illustration, let’s suppose that Nathan grants this concession.

Does the Bible suggest this action could lead a person into temptation?

As noted above, the Scriptures discourage borrowing or taking on debt (Proverbs 22:7). God commands his people to wisely steward their finances in a way that honors him as the true Owner of all (Psalm 24:1‒2) and debt is cited as evidence of God’s judgment (Deuteronomy 28:15,43‒44). Debt that leads to poverty can also bring temptation toward sin (Proverbs 30:7-9). While more could be said about this topic, the discussion thus far points toward the conclusion that debt is generally considered foolish. However, Heather’s rebuttal about the discount and her plan for repayment is still viable. Even if the Scriptures generally discourage debt, many Christians concede that it can be appropriate in certain situations. Does Nathan then need to concede the argument and grant that Heather is free to do whatever she wants? One must consider an additional factor in the illustration in order to properly triage this conflict.

Is there anything in a person’s experience (or their spouse’s personal experience) that might lead either of them to be tempted into sin by this action?

At this point, Heather and Nathan reach the heart of their conflict. Nathan may be able to recognize Heather’s logic in buying the clothes on credit for the sake of a discount. He may not consider it wise, but he cannot condemn her decision as sinful. Yet, he is bothered by it nonetheless. Why did this decision grieve Nathan so much? As noted in the illustration, Nathan was particularly surprised by Heather’s actions given their past financial struggles. His concern is rooted in a past experience when they chose to foolishly take on debt that eventually wrecked their credit and nearly destroyed their marriage. Thus, Heather’s decision about a simple store credit card is a big deal to him because it violates his conscience. This situation is similar to the one in first-century Corinth discussed previously. Because of “former association” with sinful spending habits, Nathan’s weak conscience “is defiled” by Heather’s actions (1 Corinthians 8:7). This couple has a conflict of conscience.

Develop a biblical plan of action together.

Having narrowed in on the key issue, Nathan and Heather can now begin to address it biblically. How do believers live in unity when they have conflicting convictions about a matter of conscience? Thankfully, several chapters in the New Testament address helping Christians attain unity in such circumstances.

1 Corinthians 8‒10 is particularly relevant to this discussion because the disagreement over eating meat in Corinth had to do with the different personal experiences of the people involved. After acknowledging the believer’s freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, Paul gives the following command to the Corinthian Christians: “Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). In this context, the “weak” are those whose consciences are defiled by their former association with idols. Paul’s point is striking. Even though a Christian has the right to exercise freedom in this area, they should restrain themselves for the sake of others. He goes on to say that to do otherwise would be sinning against the weak and against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:12). In this way, an issue of conscience can actually become sinful. The action itself is not sinful, but the unloving manner in which it is carried out is condemned.

The application of this passage to Nathan and Heather’s situation should be clear. In this case, Nathan is the weaker brother, whose conscience has been wounded by Heather’s decision to make a purchase on credit. Even though her decision was not inherently sinful, Heather sinned against Nathan by failing to care for his conscience. At this point, she should repent and seek his forgiveness. At the same time, Nathan must avoid overreacting. He should clearly explain his convictions on the matter and she should consider them for herself. Each of them should acknowledge the other’s freedom in Christ to hold a different opinion on this matter. Yet, due to the principles of conscience discussed in this section, Heather should submit to Nathan’s conscience and cancel the store credit card. In this way, the couple can work through their conflict and restore peace to their marriage.

 

This post is in a series on Marriage Conflict.

Further posts from this series will be released throughout the month of September.  

 

Matthew D. Haste, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Ministry Studies at Columbia International Seminary and School of Ministry in Columbia, SC, where he leads the 5-year B.A./M.Div Program. He is married to Cheyenne and they have three kids: Haddon, Anna, and Adelyn. He is co-author, along with Robert L. Plummer, of Held in Honor: Wisdom for your Marriage from Voices of the Past (Christian Focus, 2015). 

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