When John D. Rockefeller (the richest person in the US) was asked by a reporter “How much is enough?” he responded, “Just a little bit more.” His response reflects how many in America live their lives, wanting to get more in the hopes of bringing happiness.
But is that the appropriate response for a Christian? How should we balance material blessings with our faith?
This post will examine what the Bible has to say, some of the issues surrounding this question and provide practical points to consider.
Living in the US, we have lost touch with our financial reality. Oftentimes we compare ourselves to others in the US, but miss the fact that our financial situation is not the norm in the world. Here are a few statistics to bring our situation into focus:
- The current International Poverty Line is $1.90 a day. This line represents extreme poverty, and 1 in 10 people in the world currently live below this threshold.
- More than 85% of the world’s population live on less than $30 a day.
- According to the US Census Bureau in 2019 10.5% of people in the US lived in poverty (earning approximately $71.03 per day for a family of four).
No matter how much you have, if you live in the US you are considered rich by the rest of the world. Maybe you don’t think you are rich, but compared to the rest of the world, you are.
Whenever I read the Bible passages regarding warnings to the rich, it has been easy to gloss over them because I think that I am not rich. However, in light of the above statistics, these verses are speaking directly to us.
In Matthew 19:23-24 Jesus was speaking with the rich young ruler who wanted to know how he could have eternal life, and said: “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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.”
Jesus’s point wasn’t that rich people couldn’t be saved, but rather they have a tendency to put their hope and faith in their material possessions, and not in God.
James 5: 1-3,5 says “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days… You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”
We need to be careful to not live self-indulgent lifestyles that place greater value on our comfort and the luxuries of this world, over the Lord.
What Does the Bible Say?
The Bible does not tell us what kind of car to buy, whether we should purchase a vacation home or if we should spend money on designer clothes. We are given freedom to decide how to use the blessings that God gives us. However, the Bible gives us principles to help us:
1. We are Managers (Stewards), Not the Owner
As God owns everything, we are given the responsibility to manage what God has provided for His purposes, not our own. I would encourage you to read the Biblical Stewardship post for a deeper explanation of this point.
If God owns everything, does our lifestyle and spending reflect that?
2. We Can Only Have One Master
The Bible challenges us to look at our hearts and see if we are replacing God with money or stuff, which is called idolatry.
When you read the Old Testament and see the nation of Israel returning repeatedly to idol worship and forgetting the goodness of God, it can be tempting to feel self-righteous because we would never do that. Yet in our materialistic culture, our idol worship is much more subtle. We try to pursue what the world values, while also trying to honor God.
Matthew 6:24 says “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Who is the master of your life?
3. Responsibility is Required
Because of the financial blessings God has given us, Jesus’s words in Luke 12:48b are a challenge: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
As we have been blessed with much, we have a responsibility to use it wisely.
4. Be Content
Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
1 Timothy 6:6-10 “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Our contentment should not come from material possessions, but from the Lord.
Invariably, we all start our careers with more bills, hopes and dreams than income. But over time, as our income grows, the temptation is to allow our lifestyle to grow along with it. Due to the rampant materialism in our culture, this can be very difficult to recognize.
As our lifestyle grows, it can be easy to think more about acquiring and maintaining more stuff, rather than asking the hard questions about what being a steward means in our culture. Here are a few to consider:
- When was the last time you increased your giving?
- Does your vacation home, car collection, regular vacations etc take you away from your church body regularly? Are you closer to the Lord and His people now or before you pursued these things?
- Do we use what God has provided for His glory or solely for our own enjoyment?
- Does God own everything we have or just the amount we give? Does our life reflect this?
- Do we judge others by the lifestyle they pursue or the amount that they give?
At points we can become so distracted by the stuff of our society that we don’t realize we have turned it into an idol. How can we break this cycle of materialism?
How to Live Wisely
We need to honestly wrestle with these questions and how to apply those principles to our lives. Here, there are some points for consideration:
1. Set a Standard of Living and Stick With It
Over the years of working with clients, it is interesting that few people consider their standard of living. The tendency is to allow their standard of living to increase as their income increases, as this is the norm of our culture.
However, I would encourage you to set an appropriate standard of living (and adjust it as conditions change, such as having children) and stick with it as your income increases. As God owns everything, we are stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Therefore, we should be careful with what He has provided and not spend it all on ourselves. Rather, if we keep our expenses in check, it provides an opportunity to give more to support His work throughout the world.
2. Be Rich Towards God
There is a tendency for a steward to scrimp and save at an extreme level, where money becomes more valued than God. In the parable of the Rich Fool Luke 12:16-21 the fool decides to tear down his barns to build bigger barns to selfishly house the material blessings God provided him. Verses 20-21 contain a warning “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Though few of us have barns today, they have been replaced by our retirement accounts. Are we saving so much for retirement that we are neglecting the privilege of giving to support the Lord’s work? As you manage God’s blessings in your life, are you tempted to keep more for yourself or give more?
3. Set a Financial Finish Line
Determine a reasonable amount you will need to provide for your needs until the Lord takes you home. Yes, it requires math, and is very complicated, but it will provide an idea of how much you will need to save for your needs in the future. I would encourage you to consider finding a Christian financial advisor to help you with this.
No one can tell you definitively what the weather will be like tomorrow, so projecting what your finances will be like in 30 years is impossible. However, financial advisors have software that can provide a general idea of how you are doing and what needs to be done to prepare for the future. If you do this every few years, it can help you stay on track and quantify the surplus that God has given you that can be given away.
4. Invest in Relationships
We are reminded in 2 Corinthians 5:20 that we are to be ambassadors: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
An ambassador represents one country to another, having a tremendous responsibility to reflect the values of their home country in their official capacity. As Christians we have the opportunity to be perhaps the only glimpse of Jesus people will see in their lives. Investing in relationships with the lost in the hopes of winning them for the Lord, or fellow believers to encourage them in their walk with God has an eternal impact.
Do we have a balance in our lives between our hobbies/interests and reaching the lost and encouraging the saints, or are we focused on our leisurely pursuits?
It can be easy to think that God is prohibiting us from owning a luxury car or buying a vacation home. However, God has provided blessings to be enjoyed by His people. If you decide that having a vacation home fits into your stewardship decisions, you can use it to be a blessing to others.
It is not so much about whether we buy something or not, but our mindset in how it will be used. Will it be used only for my enjoyment and draw me away from the Lord, or will it be used to bless others and draw everyone closer to the Lord? Our heart motivation is the key to all of this.
I hope you will take the time to consider this question (and review it regularly), as your answer will define the financial trajectory of your life.
Points to Consider
1. Every day we are given the opportunity to invest in people or stuff. Stuff will rot, rust etc, but relationships can have an eternal value. What will you choose?
2. We need to be careful to check our hearts and not compare our lifestyle decisions with others, as that can lead us to judgmentalism, pride and disappointment.
3. How are you using the financial blessings that God has provided?
4. Money and possessions are wonderful tools to have an impact for eternity, but horrible masters. Who/what is the master of your life?