How can I become financially healthy without worshipping money?

We live in a unique time. For those who live in the United States, our nation is presently one of the wealthiest nations this earth has ever seen. Historically speaking, we have a very high standard of living. Even many of the poorest people among us enjoy a standard of living that would have been unthinkable to those in poverty decades earlier. But even with our high standard of living and cultural riches, many of us still feel like we're struggling financially.

Financial struggles are both a symptom and an effect. They can be a symptom of the choices we make, or they can be the effect of choices others have imposed upon us. Our financial health can impact the quality of our sleep, our relationship with our spouse, and the amount of time we have available to spend with our family. But regardless of what our present day financial situation looks like, there are some principles found in Scripture that can help us understand how the Lord wants us to manage our finances.

I should also say before we look at these Scriptures that while I believe the Lord wants us all to make wise financial choices, I don't believe He wants us all to be financially rich. For some of us, that would be too much of a temptation. For others, it might become an idol that they worshipped instead of Him.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't aim to improve our financial health. So how can we become financially healthy without worshipping money?

I. Honor God with your wealth

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
— Proverbs 3:9-10, ESV

If it's been a while since you've read through the book of Proverbs, I would encourage you to take a fresh look at the book. Throughout Proverbs, we're given wise counsel on how to navigate life while being sure to honor the Lord who gave us life to begin with. One wise piece of advice that we're given in Proverbs 3 is to honor the Lord with our wealth.

What does it mean to honor the Lord with our wealth? I think the answer to that question is multi-faceted. First, I think we're being called to acknowledge that He is more valuable to us than earthly riches. Second, I think we should prayerfully consider how He would want us to use the wealth He entrusts to us. Third, I think it's His desire that His people invest heavily in the redemptive work He is accomplishing on this earth.

Our understanding of these verses will become quite obvious when we look at our budgets. The Lord knows we have needs. We need shelter. We need food. Many of us need transportation to get to our place of employment. But how much of what the Lord entrusts to us is invested in our amusement when compared to what we're investing in His kingdom? I can't speak for others, but I don't want to get to the end of my life and discover that I invested more in Comcast, Netflix, or Verizon than I did in the kingdom of God.

It took my heart a while to get here, but the Lord has convinced me that even though there may be lean seasons now and then, He truly will take care of my needs. Having come to believe this to be true, the first thing our family now budgets is what we give to the Lord's work. We believe in tithing our income (giving the first 10% of what we earn as the "firstfruits" of our produce). We also try to keep our budget lean, live without debt, save methodically, give generously, and invest carefully so our money grows.

And I'm grateful to be able to say that the Lord has honored His promise to us in these verses. Serving in ministry, there have been many times when I have had to go without a paycheck, sometimes as long as a month or two. Each time that has happened, we have watched the Lord supply what we needed through other sources that seemed to "activate" right when we had a need. Sometimes I'd be offered temporary work or a speaking opportunity. Sometimes a book I had written would all of a sudden spike in sales. I don't think that's accidental. I think that's evidence that the Lord was meeting our needs and proving to us that He deserves to be honored with our finances.

II. Don't be afraid of hard work

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”
— Proverbs 13:11, ESV

I know a man who stopped working, by choice, quite a few years ago. All he does is watch TV and mess around online. He has a family, but he doesn't care for his children or contribute financially. Instead, he decided to set up an online campaign to raise money to pay his bills. After several weeks of running his campaign, he was able to raise a total of zero dollars and zero cents.

Our church pays $20 per year to register the domain name for our website. Recently, we received an odd-looking invoice to register our domain for $228. I knew it was a scam right away, but out of curiosity, I looked into it further. The company that sent the fake invoice was trying to trick non-profit organizations into thinking it was a legitimate bill so they could collect hundreds and thousands of dollars for doing nothing.

On the other hand, I also know several teenagers who have spent their Summer working three different jobs, paid cash for their cars, give 10% of what they earn, save 70%, and use the remaining 20% for their daily expenses. Their savings accounts continue to grow, and they're developing a strong work ethic that is going to benefit them the rest of their lives.

Wealth gained hastily doesn't stick around. It falls right through our fingers like picking up a handful of sand. But those who aren't afraid to work, and aren't adverse to putting away a little at a time, discover that their hard work wasn't a waste and their savings begin to multiply.

III. Learn to be content

“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.”
— 1 Timothy 6:6-10, ESV

In the fifth century, a man named Arsenius determined to live a holy life. So he abandoned the conforms of Egyptian society to follow an austere lifestyle in the desert. Yet whenever he visited the great city of Alexandria, he spent time wandering through its bazaars. Asked why, he explained that his heart rejoiced at the sight of all the things he didn’t need.

Those of us who live in a society flooded with goods and gadgets need to ponder the example of that desert dweller. A typical supermarket in the United States in 1976 stocked 9,000 articles; today it carries 30,000. How many of them are absolutely essential? How many superfluous' -Our Daily Bread, May 26, 1994

Scripture teaches us that godliness with contentment is great gain. If we have received new life through faith in Jesus Christ, we already have everything we truly need. We have been made a new creation in Christ and are made holy in His sight. We can have have hearts that are at rest - knowing that we have Jesus. He is our true, lasting, and ultimate source of satisfaction. There is nothing in this world that can truly satisfy our hearts like Him. Possessions, careers, spouses, and money cannot do what He can do. There will always be a part of us that is dissatisfied until we acknowledge that this world cannot fill the void in our hearts that only Christ can fill. In Him we find true contentment.

That's why we're encouraged NOT to love money. "Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!" (Ecclesiastes 5:10, NLT)

Money is a useful tool, but a terrible god. And if you spend your life running after money, or allowing yourself to become convinced that it can bring you peace, you'll end up hurting yourself (and your family) in the end. The love of money can lead us to forget that Christ is always to be our primary object of affection.

IV. Practice generosity

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
— 1 Timothy 6:17-19, ESV

Back when my children were little, I was invited to join a few of my friends from college for dinner. I was looking forward to getting together with them, but I was really struggling financially at the time, so much so that I was feeling stressed about having to pay my portion of the bill. At the end of the meal, however, one of my friends generously paid the bill for everyone. I will never forget how grateful I was in that moment for his selfless act.

Scripture teaches us to practice generosity. As Christ has been generous to us, so too should we be generous toward each other. If the Lord has blessed you with the financial means to bless others, don't hesitate to do so. And don't do so for your own glory, or with the desire to be acknowledged. Do so for Christ's glory, and as much as possible, remain anonymous.

It's easier to be generous with earthly riches when our hopes aren't set on them. If our true hope is in Christ, everything else feels secondary in importance. If we're content in Christ, we can remain content whether we're rich in earthly wealth or not.

And keep in mind the way in which wealthy people are described in these verses. They're called, "the rich in this present age." It's interesting to see the rich described that way because it's also indicating that those who are presently rich may very well not be those who are "rich" in the age to come. I'm convinced that there are many people who are presently poor by worldly standards, who are quite rich in faith, and their faith will be amply rewarded in Christ's coming kingdom.

V. Understand where your real treasure is

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
— Matthew 6:19-21, ESV

What is the goal of your life? Is it to accumulate more and more, or are you able to see beyond your current circumstances and into the promised eternal kingdom Christ has assured His followers is coming?

At present, the richest people on this earth have net worths in the tens of billions of dollars. I recently heard of one of those billionaires who got caught cheating on his wife. Now he will be giving her (and her lawyers) some of those billions. He might as well because even though we might accumulate a fortune on this earth, earthly treasures are not designed to last.

Our real treasure is Christ Himself. Our lasting treasure is heavenly, not earthly. For that reason, Christ teaches us to examine our hearts to see what we prize most. Do we prize Christ, or are we still convinced that the world's temporary riches are what we truly need? What do we desire more, an eternity with Christ, or a few decades of earthly accumulation?

I believe the Lord wants us to have a healthy perspective toward wealth. He teaches us to honor Him with it, but He also makes it clear that our hearts will never find true contentment through it. Christ is our sufficiency. Christ is where our hearts find lasting satisfaction. Christ is the source of our greatest joy.

© John Stange, 2019