Several times a year my wife and I sit down for a more formal discussion of our finances. We consider what we are going to give to the Lord, what we should be saving for retirement, what we should be saving in general for things like eventually purchasing a house, what we’d have available for an eventual vacation, what our general expenses are, and as a “self-employed” worker we have to calculate what I’m going to be paying in taxes, etc. The Bible is pretty clear that all of this would fall into God’s will for responsibly managing the gifts he entrusts to us.
The other night we had one of these discussions. Time wise, it happened somewhat in conjunction with a reading I was reminded of as I was going through our “through the New Testament” (NT90Challenge) that we’re doing this summer at Resurrection & Life. The same day we had this discussion, I read through the Apostle Paul’s first letter to his younger ministry companion Timothy. At the end of this letter, 6:17-19, the Apostle Paul writes: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” I was pretty struck by it when I read it.
The newest financial reports continue to send mixed reviews regarding the state of our economy and where we’re heading. And yet, I just read another report last week that highlighted how China, as of this quarter, has surpassed Japan as the world’s #2 economy, following only……the United States. Yep. We’re still richest on the planet.
The reality is that the bottom 1/3 of our country often lives with amenities that would have made king’s jealous a century ago. The reality is that we’re a country where you can be both “impoverished” and “struggle with obesity” at the same time. As an American, my cushy life is nice. I just pray it won’t hurt me in the long run.
There’s nothing wrong with the blessing of wealth. If you read through the book of Ecclesiastes, you gain the impression that wealth makes life easier as a great blessing from God, i.e. that it is better to have wealth than not. You also gain the impression, however, that wealth is meaningless and even detrimental if it causes you to lose dependence on God.
As I read through the last chapter of 1 Timothy 6, especially the words “nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment“, I couldn’t help but think about the economic fear in our country in the past 2 years. I’m certainly sympathetic with those who lost a good chunk of their life savings as a result of a crippled market. To differing degrees, it affected all of us. God-willing there was a lesson learned, however, that we can’t really put a price tag on. As Americans have gotten accustomed to calculating what they need to retire with in savings in order to continue to “live comfortably” for the rest of their years, I wonder how much confidence was perhaps placed in the financial portfolio and retirement savings to provide ahead of the One who provides us with everything.
I remember numerous times throughout my life hearing Christians use that phrase “live comfortably”. Often it was used in such a humble-sounding context as “I don’t need/want to be rich, I just want to live comfortably.” Hmmm. I understand the point. But maybe it’s comfortable enough to know that God promises he’s going to meet all of our needs. Perhaps this “live comfortably” phrase would be something worth eliminating from our vocabulary.
There’s a fine line here. Christians are undoubtedly called to be responsible with their money. I have a good Christian friend who is a certified financial analyst who lives by the phrase, “You pay God first. You pay yourself (savings) second.” I’d probably use a little different phrasing myself, but for the most part, it’s sound Christian financial advice.
Giving our firstfruits to God is wise. Saving is wise. Placing our confidence in our savings, however, is NOT wise. Christians place their confidence in their provisional God who binds himself to his promises.
How does this confidence practically affect Christian lives? For starters, it helps us to panic less when Wall Street is collectively downing Pepto-Bismol. Thank goodness our ability to be fed is not based on man’s stock tips but on our loving Creator’s capacity to generate life from the earth. Next, I don’t have to be such a tight-wadded pinch-penny anymore. Hoarding is NEVER recommended in Scripture. However, using your wealth to serve others, make friends, and store up treasures in heaven are all advised. Jesus says, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).
The goal is never to blow through our money to see how God might provide for us. Frivolous or prodigal money management doesn’t appeal to biblical OR conventional wisdom. But becoming storehouses for wealth isn’t how God looks for us to manage our gifts either. If that’s the case, these gifts from God might just disappear – why would God allow us these good gifts if we’re not going to manage them faithfully (see Matt 25:14-30)? Christians, in general, are to be distribution centers for all sorts of goods (motivated by the saving gospel and ultimately in goal of sharing the saving gospel).
As Christians grow in maturity, what they come to understand is that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). In other words, why would I continue to hoard my1984 Atari, when God has in mind a 2010 Nintendo Wii for me, free of charge? The treasures of heaven are not worth comparing with earthly treasures. Knowing that allows me to release my tight grip of, as well as my confidence in, this world’s wealth. Knowing God was willing to pay the most valuable substance there is, his own Son’s blood, so that I may experience eternal wealth in His Kingdom, I feel pretty silly worrying about dollars and cents in this lifetime.
We are SO rich! Despite our problems, we are so incredibly blessed to be born into a country that affords us religious freedom AND happens to be the wealthiest in the world. Boggles the mind that I can ever muster up the audacity to complain. All of this isn’t the principle reason we’re rich though. By God’s grace shown through his Son, we’re rich in being able to call Heaven (paradise) our home. Man, do I love being that rich.
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