As Christians, we have been taught fairly often about giving generously to worthy causes, but sometimes not much is said about how to faithfully handle the money we spend for our own needs—and the needs of our families.
God is not only concerned with the amount we give to support various ministries; He is also concerned with what we do with our entire income.
I was born in 1930. The Great Depression in the United States came in October, 1929. Money was very scarce in those days. My mother washed clothes on a scrub-board. We had no indoor plumbing, no bathroom, not even a drain in our kitchen sink.
During my youth, I never rode a school bus; we walked or rode a bicycle to school. Every Wednesday my sisters and I were each given one penny to buy candy on our way home from school. Our food was mashed potatoes, baked beans, peanut butter crackers, mush and milk, and fried mush the next morning. We had vegetables and fruits during the summer growing season, and that was largely our diet. We generally had meat at meal-times only on those Sundays when we had company for the noon meal. I worked during the summer (in early teen years) picking up potatoes for 50 cents a day—and in a hardware store (in mid-teen years) for 16 cents an hour—and while in college, I worked for a plumber (in the office) for 40 cents an hour.
But actually, I had it pretty good compared to the masses of people who inhabit the earth.
- We think it is a sacrifice to live in a trailer rather than a more substantial house—but more than half of the people live in huts of mud and straw, or in shacks made of cardboard, plastic, or tin.
- 90% of the people on earth do not have an automobile.
- We learn to read, and go to doctors, and eat nutritious foods—but millions of refugees in Pakistan, Mozambique, and Sudan live day after day on fruits and nuts, and on broth made by boiling tree-roots.
- More people go to bed hungry each night, than there are people who have sufficient food.
- More people have a life-span of less than 45 years, than there are people who have a life-span of at least threescore and ten.
- More mothers of the world see half of their offspring die in childhood, than there are mothers who see their children reach maturity.
- More people live and die without the help of a single doctor, than there are people who have plenty of medical care.
- While we search the refrigerator for an extra serving of dessert, many search daily to find just a bit of food to survive. While we search for an unneeded Christmas gift for a friend, many search for the bare necessities for their families. We feel handicapped without electricity for two hours, but many people in the world will never have access to electricity—for even five minutes!
Some of what we say about money management is based on Bible truths—some is based on common sense, and some on practical experience. I don’t insist that every statement made in this lesson is like the laws of the Medes and Persians (which could not be changed). Some of the thoughts expressed on the subject of money are open to a variety of opinions. Some of the ideas are debatable.
The major point of the lesson is that, as Christians, we are to be thrifty without being stingy.
1. Principles of Good Money Management
There are some basic principles that should govern our use of money.
a. Acknowledge God’s Ownership
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).
All that we are and all that we have belongs to God. God owns everything; we are stewards of that which belongs to God—and a steward is to be a faithful caretaker of that which belongs to another. We don’t own anything. All that we have is on loan, and God holds the note. When we check out of this life and go into the next—there’s going to be a final accounting.
b. Avoid Careless Indulgence
“And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8).
Lots of families spend money to co-ordinate the furnishings—to match the colors of carpets and furniture and curtains—all of which seems unnecessary.
It seems obvious that the advent of the supermarket and the common use of the credit card have had a tremendous impact on the buying habits of multitudes of people. The endless shopping sprees often lead to careless indulgence. Some American families are spending more each year than they earn—and that, down the road, will lead to disaster.
c. Prepare for Unexpected Decreases
“I know both how to be abased, and . . . how to abound” [speaking of money, good times and bad times] (Philippians 4:12).
We must be alert to the fact that our income could be reduced because of an economic slowdown, a physical injury, a company’s change of hands, a fire that burns a property, or a death in the family.
The best preparation for any possible future financial stress is to try and stay out of debt, share generously with others, and trust God for His provision even in hard times.
d. Have Peace about Your Purchases
“Let the peace of God rule (be an umpire) in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15).
This means that most spur-of-the-moment decisions to buy should be avoided. Jesus says that when we contemplate buying (or building), we should sit down first and count the cost (Luke 14:28).
Each time we have an urge to spend for another item, it is a good idea to put it on an “impulse list”—date it, wait 30 days, pray about it, and then see if you still want to buy it. Most people who do that generally only buy about half of what they earlier wanted. (If you are considering buying a lemon at the grocery store, I doubt that you should struggle over that decision.)
e. Consider Your Witness to Others
“Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
We should avoid extravagance in our daily living, for if we live in luxury and dress in the very best garments—where is the self-denial? Where is overcoming the flesh? Where is nonconformity to the world? Where is setting our affections on things above?
Certainly, having closets full of clothes that are seldom used, and living a lifestyle characterized by luxury—is a tragic mistake for God’s people. Most people would likely do well to take steps toward simplifying their living standards.
2. More Bible Teachings Related to Money
Over 450 Bible passages deal with the subject of money. It is the second most dominant theme in the entire Bible—second only to the subject of idolatry. Jesus spoke more about money than He did about Heaven or Hell or sexual immorality. His parables present wealth as a great temptation, and danger, and even a hindrance to a proper relationship with God.
Every Christian has probably read that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25). Yet many of us find it easy to pursue more and more wealth, instead of striving to live on less.
Money is one of the most unsatisfying of possessions. It does take away some cares, but it brings with it many additional concerns. One writer says of money: “There is trouble getting it, anxiety in keeping it, temptations in the use of it, guilt in the abuse of it, sorrow in losing it, and perplexity in disposing of it” (J. C. Ryle in Practical Religion, “Riches and Poverty,” page 327). One can be surrounded by all kinds of material things, and still sense that something is gnawing a hole in the heart.
Many Bible passages deal with the use of money and our attitudes toward money. We look at a portion of 1 Timothy 6.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and rainment let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
In verses 6-8, Paul lists four results of desiring to be rich:
a. A lack of simple contentment (verse 6)
We are told that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” There is a satisfaction which ought to characterize the child of God. We must not be satisfied with what we are (for there is always room to improve our character), but we should constantly work at being satisfied with what we have. Contentment does not come from having all our wants supplied; it comes instead from reducing our desires to include only the essentials of life. We are not to covet (Tenth Commandment). We are not to be caught up with the craving for more and more.
b. The notion that we can take it with us (verse 7)
We “brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”
Every person comes into the world without a penny in his pocket; in fact, we come without a pocket in which to put a penny. And all of us will leave the world without taking any material goods with us. Before Alexander the Great died, he said, “When I am dead, see that my hands are not wrapped in cloth, but are placed with the palms up, so that all who pass by can see that they are empty.” We can gather little or much between birth and death, but in the final hour, we will leave it all behind.
c. An excessive desire for unnecessary things (verse 8)
If we have “food and clothing,” we are to be content. The word “clothing” is plural and means “coverings.” It refers to both clothing and shelter. If we have food, clothing, and shelter, we should be satisfied. Contentment consists of being satisfied with the basic necessities of life.
The self-centered Adamic nature seems to want more. From the time we could crawl on our knees, we wanted a little red wagon, and then a tricycle with a bell—and then a bicycle, a car, and a house—and dozens of other things. Today it’s cell phones and elaborate computers and snowmobiles and minibikes and digital cameras and video games, and lots of snacks, including a lot of rich desserts. Jesus says we should not “lay up for ourselves treasures upon earth”—and yet for many, those words might just as well not be in the Bible!
It is easy in this age of plenty to become obsessed with the desire to gorge ourselves with unnecessary things—many of which soon become more stuff to sell at the next garage sale. Material things can really get a tight grip on us. It is easy to think that we must have expensive furniture, sleek automobiles, restored antiques, extravagant holidays, up-to-date hunting equipment, etc. One of the best-selling board games today is called “Mall Madness” (a Milton Bradley toy), which demonstrates how much materialism has gripped American Society.
The two factors that have a tremendous impact on the buying habits of multitudes of people in the western world are the supermarket and the credit card. Two cautions will help us to be wise in responding to these blessings.
(1) Don’t shop at the supermarket when you are hungry.
(2) Don’t use a credit card unless for convenience and then pay the balance in full each month.
There is the story of the frugal Amish couple who were working outside when they saw a moving van pull up next door, hauling the earthly goods of their new neighbor. Among the many items unloaded from the truck were a deluxe refrigerator with a built-in ice maker, a state-of-the-art stereo system with a compact disc player, a remote-controlled television with a DVD player, and a whirlpool hot tub. The following day the Amish couple welcomed their new neighbors, and stopped by with a welcoming gift. After the usual greetings and a cordial conversation, the Amish man concluded their visit by saying, “If anything should go wrong with your appliances or equipment, don’t hesitate to call me.” The neighbor said, “That’s very generous of you; Thank you.” “No problem,” the Amish man said, “I’ll just tell you how to live without them.”
d. A path toward spiritual destruction (verses 9-10)
Those who have a craving to be rich, fall into many harmful desires (1 Timothy 6:9). What are some of the evils of which the love of money becomes a major cause?
A long list could be given. Greed for money leads to selfishness, cheating, fraud, perjury, robbery, envy, quarreling, hatred, violence, and even murder. Greed lies behind pushing drugs, pornography, the exploitation of the weak, the neglect of good causes, and the betrayal of friends.
The desire for riches is one of Satan’s snares. Following after riches has brought many to spiritual destruction. People sometimes deceive, and defraud, and cheat—all to get more money. Verse 10 clearly states that it is not necessarily an abundance of money, but the love of money, which often leads to lying, stealing, and prostitution. And so indeed, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Greed for money has lured people into gambling, fraud, arson, perjury, theft, and even murder.
Multitudes who violate God’s laws to get money and material things, have “pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (verse 10b). Those sorrows include the tragedy of a wasted life, the sorrow of losing children to the world, and the grief of seeing wealth vanish overnight. All of us must guard against becoming obsessed with material comforts, and with a desire to gorge ourselves with trivial things. A good philosophy is this: “Use it up; wear it out; make it do; do without.”
In 1 Timothy 6:17-21, Paul gives some admonitions to those who are wealthy.
The dedicated Christian must come to recognize that his wealth is for sharing, and not primarily for hoarding. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In the earlier verses of 1 Timothy 6, Paul addressed those who were seeking wealth; now he speaks to those who are already rich.
Those who are rich in this world are not to be “high-minded [haughty], nor to trust in uncertain riches” (verse 17a). Not all of the early Christians were peasants and slaves; some were people of great wealth. They were not rebuked for being wealthy, nor is it suggested that they should give away all their possessions. They are simply instructed not to trust in them. One of the great snares of riches is that it’s difficult to have them without trusting in them.
The term “uncertain riches” means that they are here today and gone tomorrow. The word “haughty” means “to be proud of themselves”—as if they deserved the riches. God often gives riches as a reward for thriftiness and hard work. The person who increased his five talents so that they became ten talents (Matthew 25:14-30), was rewarded for his diligence—and just so, the Lord often blesses those who are diligent and frugal. But the people who love money, even if they earn it honestly, can easily become a slave to it. It’s easy to stray from the faith and backslide from God.
The clause, “who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (verse 17b), means that good and proper things in life are to be used and appreciated without feelings of guilt. This includes food and exercise and nature and vacations and rest and family life, etc. The statement is not intended to condone luxurious living, but it does provide balance to those who might want to use verse 8 to insist that we must live in mud houses and walk barefooted in summer-time so that we don’t have to buy as many shoes.
The wealthy are exhorted to “do good” and to be “rich in good works.” They are to be generous with their giving, using money to do good works—supporting missionaries, spreading the Gospel, and helping the needy. Those who give generously to support the cause of Christ will lay a foundation for the world to come. It will bring blessings in both worlds. “Eternal life” (verse 19b) is life everlasting—life that is really life—life that goes on forever!
Each of us needs to strive for a happy median regarding material things, seeking to be thrifty without being miserly. Proverbs 30:8-9 provides a good balance. If one is poor, there may be a temptation to steal; if one is rich, there may be a tendency to think he can get along without God, and perhaps deny any need for God. It is best for most of us just to have the simple necessities of life—no more and no less. So it is well to pray, “Lord, help us to escape the dangers of prosperity, and save us from the desperations of poverty.”
Nothing impresses an individual with the emptiness of materialism like a trip to a junkyard or a dump. Take a look at everything in these places—all of it was once someone’s treasure.