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How Christians Should Spend Their Money

06 Jul
How Christians Should Spend Their Money

Jesus says in Luke 12:29-34 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

What on earth does he mean by this?  As a pastor, I’m expected by many to have ‘the answer’ when it comes to biblical and theological questions.  The question of money is one that has been keeping me up at night recently and here’s why…

When I read Jesus’ words here, and see the general way he lived his life, it makes me think we have missed the boat as American Christians on what Jesus wants us to do with our money.  I’ve taken two trips to Haiti, and keep up on what’s happening globally and honestly, it’s hard to imagine that Jesus would rather us purchase a new car, a bigger house, a new iPad, or a new flat screen TV over giving these large chunks of money to organizations sustainably alleviating extreme poverty from people around the world, and on top of this, doing all of their work through the existing local churches in these regions.  I’m talking about children who are born into situations where there is no food, shelter, clothing, or employment and their only chance at survival is to become sex slaves or sweat shop workers, if they are lucky.  I see this and it makes me want to sell everything I have, and give it to World Relief, to aid these victims of injustice.

I wonder when we get to heaven if money is one area that, when we can finally see things from an eternal perspective, we will realize that we totally missed the boat on.  We will see the children who died because we bought the newest gadget instead of giving.

I’ve never sold everything I have.  Honestly if I wasn’t married, I wonder if I would.  But life is typically much more complex than this.  And the Bible is as well.  While Jesus did tell one rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor (Mark 10:17-31), Jesus walked alongside many other rich people and he never gave this command.

The fact is, I feel guilty when I spend money on things for myself.  And I’m not sure what to do with these feelings.  And I enjoy life more (and feel less depressed about my guilt) when I free myself (and my wife) to spend some of the money we have earned on relaxing evenings and/or on things we enjoy.

The prevailing thought in America is that you’ve earned what you have, so you shouldn’t feel guilty if you spend it on yourself.  You chose to work hard, to do your homework in school, and to study a certain field in college.  You made these sacrifices, with a certain lifestyle in mind, and there’s nothing to feel guilty about.  You made a choice and you’ve earned it.  You give a percentage of your income away to the church and to charities and you can enjoy the rest of what you’ve earned.  And there certainly is some truth in this.  The ability to experience God’s awesome presence in a sunset over the ocean, or from a breathtaking view in the Rockies, requires the money to pay for these types of vacations.  Money that you earned from choosing to study a certain thing in college and/or choosing to work hard in life.

Is it really a sin to have air conditioning?  Because you could give this money to those in extreme poverty.

Once you start going down this road, it is never ending and can quickly become the path of legalism and intense judgmentalism.  Yes I drive an old car, on purpose.  But I could drive an older one.  Or I could take the bus and get rid of my car and its insurance payments.  Yes I live in an smaller house, on purpose.  But I could live in a smaller (cheaper) one (and get rid of my window AC units, gasp!).  Yes I have old electronics, on purpose.  But I could get rid of them altogether.  And give this money to those in extreme poverty, or to missions (or both).

And then there is the wing of Christianity that sees personal financial inflow as the direct blessing of God (because why wouldn’t a loving Father want to bless his children?), and they structure entire church ministries around how God wants you to be rich.  Typically their pastors model this through mansions, private jets, and the top-of-the-line luxury cars that they own.

Is money a tool to bring life to others?  Or is it an avenue for us to enjoy life more?  Is it a sin to enjoy life more?

Can you see why this keeps me up at night?  It would be easier if Jesus just said, “It’s okay to buy these types of things, but don’t buy those types of things.”

But I wonder how many of us never even stop to consider this.  We just buy buy buy our pile of earthly treasures with no thought of the eternal implications our money could have.  Rather than using Luke 12 (or anything else in the Bible) as our guide, we simply go with the flow of the American idea of what money is for.

It’s confusing.

It’s complex.

I want to obey Scripture, and teach others to do the same, going against culture if needed.  But where do we draw the lines?

I don’t know.

Jesus tells me his grace is enough for me, and that it’s okay that I don’t know.

Please post your thoughts on this topic in the comments section, with the heart of giving instruction and help to me and other readers who are wrestling with the realities of the Bible’s teachings on money.

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9 Comments

Posted by on July 6, 2012 in Theology

 

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9 responses to “How Christians Should Spend Their Money

  1. Amanda

    July 6, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    the story of Jesus telling the rich man to sell his posessions is more complex than face value. I think the point is to check your heart. If your money is where your heart lies then you need to take whatever drastic measure necessary to change that. This could be related to any obsession in your life… It’s bringing you down spiritually, emotionally, physically, however and christs saying go all in and tear the issue out.
    Also, as soon as we start thinking of all of the blessings (including money) in our life as gifts from God it helps loosen the hold those things can have.

     
    • Noah

      July 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm

      I really like the line, “Also, as soon as we start thinking of all of the blessings (including money) in our life as gifts from God it helps loosen the hold those things can have.”

      I don’t think of the things in my life as BLESSINGS as I should. I think I typically fall under the “I earned this” mindset, whether that’s money, talents, etc. Blessing is grace, and grace frees us. And to remember there are many different types of blessing, none necessarily more important than others.

       
      • Amanda

        July 6, 2012 at 7:04 pm

        Amen! 🙂

         
  2. jrogerw

    July 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    On average, the American Church gives less than it has in the past. Tithing is less common. On big issues with money is about security; people trust what they can earn, save, and invest, partly because our society emphasizes that. As someone with a lifetime in ministry who has virtually nothing, I sometimes wonder if I went to far to the other extreme. You have a family to provide for, and it’s responsible to consider them, in the event of your untimely death, among other things. “Love your neighbor as yourself” must be an unforgotten guide, but God also ordered a clearly expensive temple built for worship. I have little doubt that congregations often spend way to much on facilities that stand vacant more than not, but OT .Jews didn’t have “house synagogues,” either.

    If we allow ourselves to become mostly self-centered in our attitude, then all you say applies; but if we live in the tension of our obligations to our responsibilities and to others, motivated by love, I don’t think God routinely desires our poverty. Then it’s a question of balance. We shouldn’t buy the biggest house we can manage, but neither must it be the smallest. If you’re not a mechanic, a new or well-maintained, late model car might be better than a beater. Newest toys? Probably not. I started buying a lot of used books, now that they’re so accessible online (books being one of my things). I bought two new cars, one when I was just out of college, the other more recently, and I drove both of them into the ground (Another question is borrowing at high interest or for too long a repayment period, wasting dollars on interest).

    I think Jesus said the poor would always be with us, not to malign the poor or suggest we opt out of helping them; instead, he knew we couldn’t fix all the poverty. Modern communication enables us to see poverty all around the world, leading to guilty feelings for sensitive folks like yourself. Only God can lead you to the balance appropriate for the individual–for you–but don’t wallow in guilt over it. I’m convinced that he doesn’t intend for all of his children to be rich, because riches are often deadening to the spirit. Yet he uses some who are rich who have learned to follow him without losing him in the process.

    You’re a good man, Noah. Keep letting the word challenge you, and you’ll stay where God wants you, and your readers and listeners will get the challenge they need. Just try to trust yourself enough to allow you to sleep…most nights! :- }

     
  3. Amanda B.

    July 8, 2012 at 4:03 am

    I, too, have recently struggled in understanding my finances and how God wants me to use them mostly because I recently have been lacking in them. The less I worry about how I manage my money the easier it’s become because I’m letting God take control of it. And I’ve also begun to tithe for the first time. I’ve found a system (form Dave Ramsey) that allows me to spend the money I need to on certain things and God provides the rest. Like how my worship director willingly filled my tank after I gave him a ride, or how I got three babysitting jobs back to back, or found an extra $10 in my pocket.

    How are we letting money define us? I believe ultimately one of our greatest possessions is our time. Yes, money does help us use time in certain ways, but just time with the ones we love, or more importantly, with the God we love. Spending time in His word and in prayer for others. Money will help alleviate a problem for the time being, but what happens to that person’s life once that money or resource runs out. Ultimately our prayers for that person or population will do more work and any amount of money can do. American Christians, including myself, have allowed money to control too much of how we relate to others and to God. Money does hold a certain importance in our lives but let us be careful not to let it take too much. It’s a different mindset but one worth pursuing.

    ““Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-9

    The first step to following God’s will to to have our hearts and minds transformed by Him. The more we do that the more we will begin to see how God wants us to use the resources He has so graciously supplied us with.

     
  4. Alyssa

    July 8, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Every time I leave the country, I’m hit overwhelmingly with the realization that things like training programs, volunteers, missions what have you are more often much more appreciated than donations. You see a common criticism we hear in development work is that we ought not to be simply “giving a man money to buy a single fish, but teaching him how to”. This dilemma has been getting to me a lot. I certainly believe that my personal mission is capacity building (that’s what makes me feel happy and useful, too!). But what I have begun struggling with a lot in Kazakhstan, is the realization that these communities cannot discount donations all together, and that its donations from selfless people (or in some cases, governments) that help those communities buy their fishing poles and bait, and feed their families until they get a hang of casting. (Okay, enough with this analogy, but you get my point!)
    Anyway, my point is that I think that this a dilemma more than worthwhile…speaking from the international prospective, a few dollars can change someone’s life. Take for example microloans from a site like Kiva–where a donation of $25 can help someone who couldn’t otherwise do so start a business or pay their college tuition in a country where traditional lines of credit are not available…

     
    • Noah

      July 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      You bring up a great point Alyssa that throwing money at something doesn’t solve it, my wife reminded me of this yesterday as I was yet again wrestling feeling guilty over spending money. What I want to see is more people giving money so that training programs can be funded, and staff to run the programs can be funded. This is what I like about World Relief. The money given to them goes toward training programs in the communities that bring sustainable relief. It’s pretty obvious at this point that giving handouts does nothing but enable people to be dependent, making their longterm poverty worse. Microloans are a great example of a real way to help people. World Relief specializes in these as well. And this is my dilemma, instead of buying XYZ (a new shirt, a dinner out, etc.), I could have bought a microloan!

       
      • jrogerw

        July 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm

        You cannot single-handedly solve the world’s problems. If God had enabled you to remain single, you could have lived in rags in a hovel, ride bicycle, eaten on the cheap…and you still would have made much of a difference, probably less with lacking any leverage that comes from being a normal part of a community.

        A modest lifestyle that is one of influence multiplies what you contribute and will have a much greater impact on the problem, while allowing you also to care appropriately for your family and yourself, whom I don’t believe God wants impoverished.

        Beware of obsession. Guilt produced by obsession isn’t healthy thinking. It doesn’t come from God. I try to give Satan as little attention has possible, but he would love to mess up a potentially powerful life for God through overly focusing your mind on one thing. The love of money is the root of many kinds of evil, but a little twist can turn a rejection of money into evil, too (ever read “The Screwtape Letters?”).

        God tells us to make wise use of mammon, money; I’d call that strategic thinking. How can a person make the best use of dollars reserved for helping others, while leaving a modest amount for our necessities and for some pleasure (shirts are necessities, if you’re not a clothes hound; dinner out with your wife is a toss-up, IMHO! unless she really is happy without).

         
  5. Noah

    July 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Thanks Roger, those are good words. This statement is especially helpful: A modest lifestyle that is one of influence multiplies what you contribute and will have a much greater impact on the problem

     

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