“Money isn’t everything in life, but it’s far ahead of whatever is in second place.” That famous quip is wrong; money is not life’s most important ingredient. Nevertheless, the significance of money should not be treated lightly. Some Christians consider it unspiritual to be interested in money; the plain truth, however, is that we cannot live without it and the Lord’s work cannot continue without it. If Christian people used more of their money for evangelistic outreaches, the gospel of Jesus Christ would make a far greater impact on this needy world. For the sake of the gospel, as well as for our own sakes, we need to learn how to manage money.
Our Christian testimony depends in part on the proper management of money. The Christian who does not pay his bills is a poor testimony to the saving power of Christ. The believer whose finances are a fiasco is a poor testimony to the wisdom and guidance of God. The husband and wife who are at war over money are a poor testimony to the love and peace of the Holy Spirit. Money ranks high on every family counselor’s list of problem areas in marriage. Some one has estimated that at least sixty percent of all married couples have had some degree of conflict over money. Since so much hinges on our ability to handle our finances properly, we need to learn what God’s Word has to say about this subject.
The Bible never suggests that it is a sin to be rich. On the contrary, some great men of faith have been among the wealthiest people of their day—men like Job, Abraham, David, and Solomon. It was the Lord Himself who gave these men their riches, for it is He who holds the reins of wealth.129 However, while money itself is not sinful, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.130 People who set their hearts on getting more money may eventually stoop to anything to achieve their goal.
It is this love for money and the things it can buy that destroys many a marriage. The Bible says that people who determine in their hearts to accumulate wealth create a trap for themselves.131 Their dissatisfaction with what they already have creates tension, giving rise to repeated conflicts with those around them. The trouble they get into by trying to make a fast dollar brings shame and remorse to those dearest to them.
The problem is basically a matter of heart attitude. We have all met people who lived in the barest of quarters, ate the plainest of food, and wore the simplest of clothing—yet were perfectly happy! They had learned to find happiness in the Lord and in each other, and to enjoy with thankful hearts the few things they did possess. They refused to let their minds dwell on what they did not have. They were thoroughly convinced that “real life and real living are not related to how rich we are.”132
On the other hand, we have all met people who perpetually want something more. Happiness always seems to be just one more gadget away. They think they could be happy if only they had another bedroom, a larger kitchen, carpeting on the floors, a swimming pool, a boat, a cabin on the lake, a second car, a color TV, or a fur coat! But when they finally get that “one more thing,” they find that they need just one more thing to be truly happy. Before they know it, life is gone and they have missed its true joys after all. Enjoy what God has given you! Forget what you do not have. Then you will learn the real meaning of happiness.133
It is certainly difficult to keep our hearts away from material things in this age of the ad man. Hucksters of fancy new trinkets are harping at us everywhere we turn, assuring us that we can increase our popularity, insure our social acceptance, and enter into a glorious and carefree world of ecstasy if only we will buy their products. Before long they have convinced us that their products are no longer luxuries, but necessities! We simply must have them! And so Satan succeeds in diverting our affection from “things above” to “things on the earth,”134 thereby applying still another stress to our already burdened marriages.
This “must have more” attitude is labeled for what it is in the Bible—sin. The sin of covetousness is listed with such other sins as fornication, stealing, and drunkenness.135 Paul teaches that covetousness is equivalent to idolatry,136 a sin vigorously denounced in both the Old and New Testaments. If we want God’s fullness of peace in our marriages, we will have to conquer our covetousness. “You cannot serve God and money.”137 When we get victory in this attitude of living, many of our other money problems in marriage will also be solved, since most of them are traceable to the selfish craving for material things on the part of one or both partners. Most money problems can be solved by learning to manage properly the money God has entrusted to us. In addition to telling us what our attitude toward money should be, the Bible presents certain basic principles regarding the administration of our money.
The first principle we should mention is that we are to give our government and our God their part first. We mention our government first because our taxes are usually taken out of our paychecks before we ever get them! We pay them first whether we like it or not. Christ mentioned government first, too: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”138 Even though many of us gripe about paying our taxes, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself sanctioned the government’s right to levy them. The Apostle Paul added this inspired exhortation: “Pay your taxes, too … Pay everyone whatever he ought to have: pay your taxes and import duties gladly, obey those over you, and give honor and respect to all those to whom it is due.”139 Paul also said that we ought to provide things honest in the sight of all men.140 This would involve completing our tax forms as truthfully as if the Lord Jesus himself were looking over our shoulders! As a matter of fact, He is!141
After our government obligations are met we turn to God’s part. If you’ve been saying, “When we get these debts paid off, we’ll be able to give as we should,” or “When we get our raise we’ll be able to give the proper percentage,” then you’ll probably never give as you should. You have your values reversed. The most important thing on earth is the work of Jesus Christ, and it must be first in our lives if we want to be in step with Him. This means that his work must be first in our paychecks, too. God should get his part before anything else is paid, even if we must sacrifice something we would like to have in order to give Him his part.
Some professing Christians spend more on dog food, tobacco, recreation, or hobbies than they give to the work of the Lord. Christ said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”142 He was establishing the fact that we come to love the things we pour our money into. For example, if we spend every spare penny on our houses, then we will come to love those houses more than we love the Lord, and that is idolatry. It is as nauseous to God as bowing down before an image of wood or stone. If we are living to increase our assets, sinking every possible dollar into stocks and bonds, it will not be long before we will love those pieces of paper more than we love Jesus Christ and His work.
Conversely, if we give sacrificially to the Lord’s work we will grow to love that work. We will live to see souls come to Christ; we will take a keen interest in the needs of missionaries; we will participate in the prayer service, where the power for their ministry is generated. Where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also!
Maybe you are wondering how much you should give. This matter is entirely between you and the Lord. The Bible says a great deal about a tenth, and that may be a good place to begin. It is hard to imagine that most people in this land of affluence could not give at least that much to the Lord’s work if they planned their budgets wisely. If you try giving a tenth, you will probably make an exciting discovery. You will find that the remaining nine-tenths will go farther than the whole paycheck went originally! The Lord has a way of making sacrificial stewardship enjoyable for the people who practice it with the proper attitude.143 Of course, in this age of God’s boundless grace we should never set a tenth as the limit of our giving. Many Christians can do much better than this. Our giving is to be proportionate to God’s blessing,144 and for some of us that would involve much more than a tenth. But the real point is to give whatever amount you prayerfully decide upon, and to give it first.
The second biblical principle for the administration of money is to lay aside a specified amount for savings. This will include, first of all, money to buy the things we believe God wants us to have. It is far better stewardship of the Lord’s money to put it in the bank, where it earns interest, than to buy on time and pay interest. All of our money is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for how we use every penny, not just the amount we give to his work. It is not a sin to buy on time. It is usually necessary with something as large as a house. Those who refuse to borrow money for a house usually quote Paul in their defense: “Owe no man anything.” But Paul is simply saying that we should not continue to owe anybody money; that is, we should pay our debts. This does not prohibit buying on time. Before you buy anything on time, however, evaluate the whole situation before God. “Do I really need this now, or will I be a better steward of God’s money by waiting a little while and saving for it?” There are many things we can easily do without until we save enough to pay cash for them.
Our savings might also include long-range investments. I have known Christians who do not believe in saving for the future. They say that the Lord will take care of them, and that there is therefore no need to save. But the Lord may want to provide for us through wise planning and Spirit-directed investments. Paul mentions parents laying up for their children.145 He also reminds us of our responsibility to provide properly for our own households.146 Savings can serve as an emergency fund, provide for the children’s education, or pay for a family visit to a mission field. Regular savings, wise investments, and adequate life insurance will be particularly helpful if the Lord should allow the husband to be taken away from his family. A wise steward of God’s money will also be sure to prepare a will. No matter how young you may be or how little you may own, a will can save your loved ones untold heartache and loss. You might also investigate the advantages of remembering the Lord’s work in your will.
Christ’s parable of the talents certainly condones the policy of investing money to gain interest. “You should at least have put my money in the bank so I could have some interest.”147 The condemnation of usury in the scriptures does not prohibit earning interest on our money. The word “usury” indicates the charging of excessive interest rates, particularly toward those who are least able to pay.148 It makes good sense to put the Lord’s money to work, earning more money to use for His glory.
How much should we save? Again, this is between each individual and the Lord. I would think that less than ten percent of our total income for all these different facets of saving would not be of very much help. If the percentage gets too high, however, we must face the accusation of hoarding dollars that could be used more beneficially to spread the gospel now. Decide on a reasonable and realistic percentage, one that will leave you enough to live modestly without anxiety, then lay that amount aside faithfully.
Establishing this figure at a moderate level will keep you from becoming a slave to your bank account, too. Some folks are so afraid of what the future may hold that they become miserly, pinching every penny and making themselves and everyone around them miserable. Like the people who need one more thing to be happy, these people need a little more money in the bank to feel secure. Life has passed them by before they realize that they never really enjoyed living or the good things God has given them.
After giving our government and our God their part, then laying aside a small sum for savings, the final principle for managing our money is to live within the rest of our income. We must make sure that our regular living expenses do not exceed the amount we have left. The exhortation to owe no man anything would obviously require this.149 If you feel that the Lord would permit you to buy on time, make sure the payments can be made without exceeding the amount you have to work with. Refuse to let yourself buy anything that will cause your expenses to exceed the funds available. A budget will be helpful, but do not be so tied to your budget that you become upset whenever it must be adjusted slightly. Buying at sales will help you stretch your money. Planning menus and buying only the food you need can save you dollars at the grocery store. While you are there, remember that some brands are less expensive than others. You need not buy the best. There are many books available to help you get more for your dollar. Take time to read some of them as part of your Christian stewardship.
It would also be advisable to keep accurate records, so that you will know where your money has gone. Whether the husband or the wife actually writes the checks is not nearly so important as agreeing on what the money is to be spent for and knowing where it has gone. The only exception to this rule is a small amount which both husband and the wife should enjoy free of mutual accounting. Sometimes husbands feel free to spend money on personal pleasures but deny their wives the same privilege. Be fair with each other.
If you follow these simple principles of finance, your bills will be paid, your testimony will be protected, your marriage will be enhanced, and your Savior will be honored!