Life is not money. However, what we do with the resources God has entrusted to us plays a major role in writing the story of our life. The management of money not only colors this life, it also impacts our eternal future (1 Timothy 6:17-19; Luke 12:32-34). Therefore, thinking clearly and biblically about money and possessions is critical to the Christian life. The Bible gives us much help in this, as over two thousand verses in the Bible, including fifteen percent of Jesus' own words, speak directly to this topic.
A Critical Choice
As believers in Jesus Christ, we recognize that all we have comes from God. He owns everything (Psalm 24:1). We simply manage the assets He has entrusted to us. He has delegated to us the job of handling His resources in a way that acknowledges His ownership and purposes (Romans 11:35-36). What we call "our" assets are really His and should therefore be employed to honor Him and accomplish His work. Unfortunately, money and possessions can easily become a snare and an idol. Each of us faces a critical choice: Will we serve God with money, or will we just serve money? We can't do both (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).
Money is a Heart Issue
We answer this critical question through the choices we make with money. In other words, what we do with our resources is a reliable barometer of the condition of our hearts. What we do with money not only indicates where our heart is; what we do with money also determines where our heart goes. Our heart always goes where we invest what God has entrusted to us (Matthew 6:19-21).
Financial Spiritual Warfare
It should come as no surprise, then, that a fierce spiritual battle rages in our hearts around the topic of money. We have an enemy who works to keep people in bondage.
In light of this, we must unmask the schemes of Satan, the enemy of our souls. He masquerades as an angel of light, but he is really a hungry lion, prowling around looking for people to devour (1 Peter 5:8; 2 Corinthians 2:11). Satan wants to usurp what is God's and use it for his own deceitful and enslaving purposes. We see this clearly in the area of money and possessions.
One of Satan's schemes is to use money and possessions to neutralize the spiritual effectiveness of believers. Satan is pleased when believers focus on things rather than people and when they idolize money rather than manage it. He tempts us to find our security in stuff rather than in God. He distracts believers from thinking about rewards in heaven by luring them into preoccupation with the things of this world. He enjoys seeing believers hamstrung with consumer debt, so that they are neither free to be generous nor free to give themselves fully to God's service. This is "financial spiritual warfare."
Clearly, the issue of "treasures" is neither neutral nor peripheral. Rather, the stewardship of financial resources demands our attention and calls for both sober judgment and radical commitment.
A word of hope
Victory is possible, as we learn the soul-freeing joy of wise stewardship and generous giving. God has equipped us with biblical principles to be wise and generous managers of His money. We can avoid the devil's traps by living out the truth of who we are as followers of Jesus. Our security comes from our identity as sons and daughters of God, not from our possessions. We can guard our hearts to insure we do not live for the things of this world, but rather use them for God's purposes (Acts 4:32-35). Biblical stewardship begins with the recognition of Christ's lordship over us, our money, and our possessions (Luke 16:13).
We are stewards, not owners, of everything we have and use. It all belongs to God. As stewards, we are entrusted with the job of investing what God has given to us into the work of Christ's kingdom, which is eternal (Matthew 25:15-30). We do this because we know that heaven, not earth, is our home. Good stewardship manages the resources of this life in view of eternal realities which begin now and continue in heaven. Getting too focused on this life is a symptom of materialism.
Materialism undermines good stewardship. Materialism is the desire to acquire and live for material possessions. Our consumer society grows out of a value system which regards social status as being determined by affluence, as well as the perception that happiness can be increased through accumulating and spending material wealth.
For the believer who understands that all things belong to God and come from Him, giving is a spiritual expression of love and gratitude to God and dependence on Him.
Generous giving is an act of worship. Generosity is a response to the reality of who God is and what He has done for us. Giving is one of the clearest outward signs of a heart that is enthralled with God and motivated by His grace and love. Rather than asking, "How much can I keep?" the follower of Jesus asks, "How much more can I give?" This mentality stems mostly from joyful gratitude, but it also comes from a solid belief in an eternal reward that far outstrips the temporary, earthly gains of wealth. Disciples know that we rob ourselves of blessing when we do not give generously (1 Corinthians 9:6).
Generosity involves giving to God's work a part of what we have received from Him. The precedent for generous giving was established in the Old Testament. Historically, the people of God gave back to God's work at least a tenth, but as much as 23%, of what they received. This "tithe" was also called "first fruits," because it was an offering of the first and best of the harvest. This tithe, or tenth, was the minimum expectation of those who belonged to the community of God. As an expression of thankfulness to God for his goodness, people gave additional "free will offerings" above and beyond the traditional tithe.
We have plenty of motivation to be generous. God "emptied his pockets," so to speak, in giving us His Son Jesus. Jesus paid the ultimate price by giving His very life for us (2 Corinthians 8:9). As those who have experienced the fullness of God's generosity and grace in Jesus Christ, our generosity should at least equal that of the Old Testament saints. The fact that we live by grace and are no longer under the law does not mean that we should give less. Instead, our joy in Christ should motivate us to be even more generous. The New Testament does not prescribe any specific percentage for giving. Generosity is the standard. However, biblical precedence leads us to consider ten percent, or a "tithe," as the foundation upon which we build a lifestyle of generosity. Ten percent should not be a static goal or end line. Giving ten percent of all our annual income to God's work should be an initial goal to aim for and to launch from.
No matter what percentage we give, there is blessing in stretching ourselves to greater generosity. God is not looking for the same amount from each person, but rather for proportional generosity. There cannot be equal giving; however, there can be equal sacrifice.
God is also honored through the intentionality of our giving. Spontaneous giving can be a great joy. However, planned, systematic giving promotes substantial giving. Giving becomes a holy habit when we intentionally make it a discipline of our lives.
Materialism promises great benefits, but leaves the soul unsatisfied
Materialism is one of the most deceptive snares of the enemy of our souls. Materialism promises great benefits, but leaves the soul unsatisfied. Materialism has penetrated the American church perhaps more than any other sin. The love of money or possessions is a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5), of which we must confess and repent.
Materialism, however, is not measured by the possession of material things. We become materialistic when these things become the focus, or even the passion, of our lives. It is not money, but the love of money which is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Hebrews 13:5 says "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have."
Materialism can be as present among the poor as among the rich. When material things, whether their possession or their absence, become the object of our preoccupation, we become materialistic.
The fundamental remedy for those who are inflicted with the love of money is to be filled with love for the Lord. When He is the object of our affection, we are freed from being enslaved to material things (Colossians 3:1-2). Material things then become the means of manifesting our love and service for Him. In other words, love for God leads to generous giving, which is the antithesis of materialism. Giving, it turns out, is the best antidote for materialism.
Helping Those in Need
We are to compassionately and wisely use our abundance to physically help the poor and those less fortunate, while simultaneously sharing Christ's concern and solution for their eternal inheritance. We are blessed in order to be a blessing. Giving to ministries of compassion should be an intentional part of our systematic giving (James 1:27). We should also be ready to spontaneously follow the Spirit's lead in giving compassionately (Luke 14:13-14). Being wise in our giving to needy people means that our giving should engage in ways that help alleviate the problem but that don't create dependence or entitlement. We strive to show compassion while also preserving the dignity and responsibility of individuals. The local church is responsible to care for its own. In addition to this, we demonstrate the love of Christ through compassion for those in the world (Galatians 6:10).
One reason many believers don't know the joy and blessing of giving generously is because they are paralyzed by debt. We forfeit our freedom to give generously when we allow debt to control our lives.
The Bible is not silent on the topic of debt. Proverbs repeatedly sounds an alarm against debt, describing it as bondage and warning those caught in debt to get free as soon as possible (Proverbs 1:13-15; 6:1-5; 17:18; 22:26-27; 27:13). Along those same lines, Paul writes, "Give everyone what you owe him . . . . Let no debt remain outstanding. . . “ (Romans 13:7-8). "You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men," concludes Paul (1 Corinthians 7:23).
Credit is an obligation to pay later for what's received in the present. Whenever a person goes into debt, he obtains money he hasn't earned. In exchange for the money or possessions he presently receives, he mortgages his future time, energies, and assets. In other words, he obligates himself to men and material things rather than to God and His purposes. Debt enslaves us to others so that we are not fully free to serve God.
Certain kinds of debt are hard to avoid. For example, few are able to purchase a home without a mortgage. This kind of investment debt does not have to be harmful if entered into wisely and with moderation. However, one of the
dangers with credit is precisely that it tempts us to overstep moderation and acquire what is beyond our means. Before we dive into such "normal" investment debt as a house mortgage, college tuition, or church expansion debt, we need to slow down and ask ourselves serious questions, such as: Is not having enough resources to pay cash for what I want God's way of telling me it isn't His will for me? Would I do better to forgo this until–by God's provision and my diligence–I save enough money? Is there a compelling reason outside of myself to go into debt? How will this impact the kingdom of Christ (Matthew 6:33)? Will this obligation prevent me from doing what God wants me to do for His purposes?
Other kinds of debt should be diligently avoided. Using credit (getting into debt) to purchase consumables (food, clothes, gasoline, electronics, toys, etc.) which have no sustained or investment value is a dangerous step toward financial bondage. The excessive consumer debt carried by so many people shows that we have bought the lies that we need more than God has given us and that it is acceptable to live beyond our means.
Even when debt isn't an issue, we need to think carefully about our spending. Just because we can afford something doesn't mean God wants us to buy it. Increased income doesn't necessarily mean that God is saying, "Spend more." More often, his real message is: "Give more!" (2 Corinthians 8:14; 9:10-11) God prospers us not to raise our standard of living but to raise our standard of giving. This is freedom.
If all evangelical Christians were out of debt, hundreds of millions of dollars would be freed up for God's kingdom.
We need a renewed vision of financial freedom. If all evangelical Christians were out of debt, hundreds of millions of dollars would be freed up for God's kingdom. Our families would be stronger, because they would be freed from the pressures, worries, and stress caused by indebtedness. Our churches would be healthier because Christians would have more time and freedom to serve. Believers would find a
contentedness that doesn't come from more and bigger things. Contentment, it turns out, is the greatest gain (1 Timothy 6:6).
The Scriptures provide illustrations of investing (Matthew 18:14ff). Investing, as with all life, involves risk. The wise steward carefully evaluates opportunities in light of the ultimate purpose. Scripture teaches an investment principle of steady plodding as opposed to hasty speculation (Proverbs 21:5). Appropriate goal-setting will help to eliminate unnecessary emotional risk-taking. Being a life-long learner about investment basics is wise financial stewardship. The best investments are those that reap eternal rewards. These investments have to do with people and the spread of the Gospel.
Purchasing insurance can be wise stewardship, since it is a protection against financial loss. A believer must take care, though, to not allow insurance to be a substitute for trusting in God. Over-insuring can be poor stewardship of God's money and can take the place of dependence on God and others in the event of a trial or loss.
True retirement begins at the grave. As long as we are alive, we have opportunity to store treasure in heaven. Retirement is a prime stage of life to invest money, time, and abilities into eternity. Wise living prepares for a later time of life when earning potential will change. However, we must not allow a retirement plan to take precedence over God's desire to work in and through us. Spirit-given balance is required here.
Good stewardship includes planning well for ministry with one's assets after death. We have the responsibility to choose now where our assets we leave behind will do the most good. This includes having a will, leaving end-of-life instructions, and consideration of leaving the bulk of an estate to churches, parachurch ministries, missions, and other kingdom purposes, leaving only a portion rather than the entirety to children, in obedience to Proverbs 13:22. We should not transfer wealth to our children unless we've successfully transferred wisdom to them (Proverbs 20:21).
Teaching Children about Money and Possessions
As parents and as a church, we are stewards not only of money but also of our children. We must teach our children about money and possessions, and we must do it by example. We should involve them with our decisions about budgets, money, and purchases, so they see what we are doing and why. We must also model giving, sharing, and hospitality, if we want our children to do the same.
"I can do everything through him who gives me strength," writes Paul to the Philippian believers (4:13). This famous statement, which is often misapplied, fits perfectly our discussion of finances. In the context, Paul is talking about being content. The strength God gave Paul is the ability to be content "in plenty or in want." As we focus on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, God will also give us strength to learn contentment. Out of the freedom of contentment in Jesus flows joyful generosity, which holds promise for both the present life and the life to come.
Some material edited from Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn, Tyndale, 2003.