(By Rob McLeod) Over the years, a close relative of mine has occasionally remarked how Scripture seemingly refers more often to money than it does to important topics such as the lake of fire, heaven, etc. In a certain sense this is true. Money allows us to not only obtain the things we need but also the things we want. It is a potential master of the greedy soul or a tool used by the Lord and His faithful followers to invest eternally in the work of the kingdom of heaven. In this article we will consider the purpose for, and proper handling of, money.
What we do with the money that we have reveals our heart’s preoccupations. We may improperly pursue money for the fear of not having enough to meet our basic life needs. We may also pursue money in a quest to satisfy our selfish wants. In the world’s perspective, money provides its owner with the ability to acquire peace of mind for the future, as well as power, prestige, relationships, and a comfortable life. As believers we may also struggle with related questions such as:
How much money is enough?
If I buy this will I feel happier?
Is this purchase a good deal?
How much debt is acceptable?
How can I get my finances ‘under control’?
I first want to outline four foundational issues concerning money that Scripture addresses. I will then propose a number of practical guidelines for wise decision making in our financial decisions.
(a) The Lord will provide for our needs when we seek the Lord above all else
Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:31-34:
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles [the nations] seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Jesus clearly declares that when we pursue Him above all else we will have our needs met; He will give us the employment and funds that we need. If we perceive that our needs are not being met, perhaps we need to examine whether or not we are pursuing the Lord above all earthly pursuits. I also want to point out that the Lord’s financial blessings, though sometimes coming to us via miraculous and unexpected means, are most often obtained via work. To be abundantly clear, the Lord is not asking believers to detach themselves from society and merely expect some sort of heavenly handout apart from work. We are warned in 1 Timothy 5:8 that a man not providing for the basic needs of his family is behaving “worse than an unbeliever.”
(b) It is the love of money that we are warned against
Money is not inherently evil. Indeed it has the capacity, if submitted to the Lord, to accomplish much for the kingdom of God. Rather it is the love of money that causes us to pursue things other than Christ (1 Timothy 6:10).
(c) Contentment is learned as we mature in Christ
No baby arrives toilet trained and walking upright. Similarly, no new believer will be perfectly content in Christ. There are initial high points, to be sure, when we come to Christ but inevitably circumstances in life will test our growing faith. Contentment is acquired over time as we obey Him and humbly apply the instructions of Scripture in response to life’s circumstances. Paul remarked that “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11) Over the years, Paul definitely came to know the highs and lows of life that a believer may experience in the pursuit of the kingdom. But in this process, he saw the providing hand of Christ meet his every need. As a result, he could authoritatively write that “I have learned...”
(d) How we handle our money has eternal implications
Along with other God-given resources such as health, natural abilities and time, our financial decisions are to be made with eternity in view. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 instructs us: “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
Practical considerations concerning the use of money
(a) Make a budget and live within your means
The fleshly temptation is to pursue the next purchase that is just outside of your reasonable financial reach. It will be very useful to make a budget that clearly outlines your (say, monthly) income and expenses. This isn’t rocket science, but your monthly expenses, on average, needs to be less than your monthly income. With that said, a budget doesn’t have to bring you into another bondage where every dollar and cent is accounted for, but it should serve as a useful guide. Lastly, stick to your budget! Many people make a thorough budget but fail to heed it.
(b) Beware of debt
The topic of debt can be a sticky subject. Some interpret Scripture as teaching that all debt is wrong. Others would teach that if your amount of debt is financially ‘manageable’ then it is reasonable. I think it is useful to consider a few cautions and then you may go before the Lord and see how He guides you in this matter.
When borrowing money you are, to some degree or another, presuming upon the future. This should at least produce a caution in one’s considerations before making a purchase. By incurring debt, you are assuming that your present income stream is at the very least sustainable, if not even growing in the future. You are also assuming that future interest rates on your debt will be manageable. For the last number of years, interest rates in North America have been incredibly low, thus causing many to incur debts to such levels such that if interest rates were to increase, they would find it difficult to meet their monthly payments. Be wary.
I personally believe that debt has a bit of a spectrum. Some debt (for example, home mortgages) may present an opportunity to avoid renting while simultaneously potentially yielding long term investment gains. Other debt appears to offer no benefit. For example, credit card debt is almost always associated with high monthly interest rates and seemingly perpetual minimum monthly payments. Many people, seeing their inability to control their credit card spending, have given themselves ‘plastic surgery’ and rid themselves of their credit cards. Sometimes drastic steps must be taken in order to bring things under control. Nevertheless, without the spiritual fruit of ‘self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23) credit cards can be easily re-obtained and abused. It is only the Lord who will truly give us victory over our lusts.
(c) Consider buying gently used items rather than new
We live in a disposable society. From clothing to electronics to vehicles and tools, most people prefer to buy new and replace often. With a little searching, said items can often be purchased gently used at a significant discount. Learning to fix or mend broken household items can also save money and provide a useful learning experience. Over the past couple of years, one of my sons has become quite proficient at fixing our older vehicles and yard care equipment. I believe that our family has already saved several thousand dollars as a result and my son has become a competent mechanic in the process.
(d) Don’t improperly compare your ‘stuff’ to others
The eye of man is never satisfied (Proverbs 27:20). Advertising preys upon this fact and entices us to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’ Cultural peer pressure can also play a role. Just because our neighbour recently bought a new ‘toy’ does not necessarily mean we should too! Quite frequently we are content with what we have until the time we see a newer version of it. Again, the Lord promises to give us what we need not what we want.
(e) Beware of impulse purchases and ‘too-good-to-be-true’ deals
It is rare that we truly need to make a large purchase decision on the spot. If I followed my every feeling and whim I would be in a sorry financial state indeed. Beware if you feel pressured to make a quick decision! Pressure tactics and impulse buys are not the mark of a Holy Spirit led purchase. A fair seller will give you time to make a rational decision. Goods that are priced significantly below market value should be investigated a bit further before taking the plunge and making the purchase. It is possible that drastic underpricing implies damaged goods, poor material workmanship or other long term drawbacks for the new buyer. A God-given sense of self-control and peacefulness should surround our decisions.
(f) Listen to the cautions of your wife (or parents, or brothers in the Lord)
If you are about to undertake a major purchase, strongly consider receiving advice from others. It is a real red flag if purchases do not allow time for outside counsel. Sadly, we may not seek advice from others simply because we think they may frown upon our purchase. Our wives should always be consulted on major purchases. The Holy Spirit often grants our wives wisdom on these matters even if they don’t possess the area expertise concerning the purchase. Spiritual authorities in our lives or Godly brothers that will give us a true word (and not just what we want to hear) may also be consulted. Many ruinous financial decisions have been made for the sad reason of not seeking, or heeding, Godly counsel!
(g) Look to the (eternal) future
Will the purchase I so desperately want to make in the moment have any value a month from now? Three years from now? Ten years from now? It can be useful to ask ourselves these sorts of questions. Many expensive purchases (for example, electronics and new vehicles) depreciate extremely quickly. Extrapolating my (dis)satisfaction from these goods into the future often brings me back down to planet earth and yields more sober decision making.
Finally, Luke 12:16-21 records the parable of a rich man who sought satisfaction from his worldly goods during times of increase. It did not end well for him.
“Then He [Jesus] spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”