Lesson 1: Financial Freedom (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
Preachers are notorious for preaching about money. Maybe it’s because their income depends on the generosity of God’s people. But I hope it’s for a different reason, namely, that they’re preaching the Bible, which has a lot to say about money. Of the 38 recorded parables of Jesus, 16 deal with money or possessions. In the Gospels, one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
Perhaps the reason the Bible puts such an emphasis on money is because, in Jesus’ words, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). I would have thought He would have said, “Where your heart is, your treasure will be also.” But your heart follows your treasure. If you put your treasure in the things of this world, your heart will be in this world. If you put your treasure in the kingdom of God, your heart will be there. Since your heart and your money are so inextricably bound together, it is crucial to your spiritual life to study what Scripture teaches about money.
We begin today a brief series on “God, Money, and You.” In the next five weeks, I want to develop four qualities which God wants to enlarge in the life of every believer. Each quality is in opposition to the world’s perspective:
- Freedom (from bondage to greed and debt). The world says, “I want more and I’ll go in debt to get it.”
- Integrity. The world winks at cheating and dishonesty.
- Faithfulness. The world is marked by irresponsibility.
- Generosity. The world says, “Hang onto it!”
Because your attitudes toward money are closely tied in with your heart, I’ll probably offend you at some point in this series! If I do, before you stomp out mad, please stop and consider that: (1) This stuff applies to me as well as to you, so I’m struggling to apply it just as I hope you are; (2) It may be God, not me, stepping on your toes. If it’s just me, I apologize. Feel free to disagree with me. But if I’m true to Scripture, please don’t shrug it off. God calls us all to be doers of the Word, and there are few of us who don’t have room to grow on this important topic.
Today I want to talk about financial freedom. God wants us to be free from bondage to money which takes two forms:
God wants us to be free from bondage to greed and debt.
Greed and debt are two main ways we become enslaved to money. God’s answer to greed is contentment; His answer to debt is control.
1. God wants us to be free from bondage to greed.
Greed is a major danger whether you are rich or poor. Many who are rich got that way because the love of money was the driving force in their lives. Many who are poor love money just as much as the rich do; the problem is, they don’t have any! Of course the root problem which causes both rich and poor to be greedy is the love of self. Money (including the power, prestige, and possessions it brings) is just the means through which the person who loves himself more than God and others thinks he can live comfortably. Since we all battle the love of self, we all must be on guard against greed.
A. Greed enslaves all who do not master it.
Jesus drew the line and put us all into one of two camps when He said (Matt. 6:24), “You cannot serve God and mammon.” (“Mammon” comes from an Aramaic word meaning “wealth” or “property” and refers to material riches.) If Jesus is not Lord of all your life, you are enslaved to money and greed! That sounds extreme, but Jesus didn’t allow for a middle camp, where God is sort of your Lord, where you can drop $10 in the plate whenever you feel generous, or even where you can give ten percent, but the rest is yours to spend as you please. Jesus was quite radical: “No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Either God or greed is your master; not both.
The main way greed enslaves us is through deception. If it marched up and diabolically said, “I am greed and I want to control your life,” few would fall for it. But Satan uses the desire for riches to appeal to our love of self and gradually entrap us. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained the seed sown on the thorny ground as “the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19). The thorns of greed can choke out the seed of the Word and make you unfruitful. This deception operates in at least four ways:
(1) Greed can deceive us by gradually becoming our master. In Jesus’ parable, the thorns are different from the birds that stole the seed and the sun that scorched the plants in that thorns grow more gradually. The birds steal the seed immediately. The sun can scorch the young plants in a day or two. But it might take weeks for the thorns gradually to strangle the plant.
None of us would say, “I’m going to make money my master.” Rather, it is a gradual, subtle process. “As soon as I get the business on its feet, I’ll have more time for my family and for the Lord. But right now I need to give it some extra time.” Sure! Each one of us needs to ask ourselves honestly: Is God or is mammon my real master?
(2) Greed can deceive us by making money our focus for happiness. Paul said (1 Tim. 6:9-10), “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.” Note the deception (“snare”; “pierced themselves”; “wandered away”). Nobody deliberately steps into a snare, pierces themselves through, or gets lost. They get trapped or pierced or lost before they know it.
The delusion is based on a desire--to get rich. People often want to get rich because they think that if they just had more, they’d be happy. But how much do you need for happiness?
One of the best modern parables on this is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl [Bantam Books]. A young man on a Pacific island dreams of finding the perfect pearl and of the happiness it will bring him and his family. One day he finds it, but he discovers that instead of happiness, it makes life miserable. Everyone is after him to steal his pearl. It almost costs him his life; it does cost him his son’s life. The pearl becomes the dominating thing in his life, his master, until ... (you’ll have to read it!).
(3) Greed can deceive us if we make money our present source of trust. (See Deut. 6:10-12; 8:11-14, 17-18.) When Israel was in the wilderness, they were forced to trust God. If the manna stopped, or if God didn’t bring water from the rock, they all would have died. The spiritual danger increased when their economic danger subsided. It’s easy when you have plenty to trust your plenty instead of the Lord who can give or take away your riches.
(4) Greed can deceive us if we make money our future hope for security. “As soon as I get enough for the future, then I’ll kick back a bit,” we say. “I just want myself and my family to be financially secure.” But what is financial security? How much is enough? Those are questions every Christian must ask honestly before God and in light of His Word.
It is not wrong, and, in fact, is quite right, to save for future contingencies and needs such as retirement, illness, emergencies, and death. But how much is enough? Larry Burkett reflects the balance when he writes, “Those who make no provision for their families are clearly outside of God’s plan and suffer as a result. Those who hoard and live lavishly are also outside of God’s plan and suffer accordingly” (Christian Financial Concepts, p. 67).
Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). He then told the parable of the rich man who thought he would obtain financial security by building bigger barns to store his produce. But God required the man’s soul that very night and called him a fool because he didn’t plan for riches in heaven.
A modern version of that story is told, where a businessman had an angel visit him who promised to grant him one request. He asked for a copy of “The Wall Street Journal” one year in the future. As he was studying the stock prices and gloating over the killing he would make through his view into the future, his eye glanced across the page to the obituaries, where he saw his own name. Suddenly, that financial killing lost its significance.
The Lord is our only true source of security. With that in mind, we should prayerfully and prudently answer the question, “How much is enough?” Greed can enslave us through deceitfulness. You are either the servant of greed or of God. Be on guard!
What is God’s answer to the bondage of greed?
B. God wants us to develop contentment in Him.
After warning of those who think that godliness is a means of financial gain and before warning of the danger of pursuing wealth, Paul states (1 Tim. 6:6-8), “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” In Philippians 4, Paul says that he had learned to be content in all circumstances.
I must be brief, but contentment counters each of the four ways greed can subtly enslave us:
(1) Make God the master of all you are and have. We do not have the right to use anything as if it belongs to us. All our money and everything we have belongs to the Lord; we only manage it for Him. His Word gives us the wisdom we need to be faithful in managing His resources. If we constantly reaffirm God as the owner, we will avoid the gradual encroachment of mammon as master.
(2) Make God your focus for happiness. We are to rejoice in Him whether we have much or little (Phil. 4:4, 10-13). If we think, “I’ll be happy as soon as I get ____” (fill in the blank), we’re serving mammon, not God. If we rejoice daily in the Lord, then we can be happy with much or with little.
(3) Make God your present source of trust. If you are doing well financially, be especially careful! That’s when the danger is the greatest of shifting your trust to your bank account. If God is your trust, you won’t anxiously be seeking the things the world seeks (Matt. 6:25-34) nor will you be resting comfortably in your financial security.
(4) Make God your hope for the future. Hebrews 13:5 commands us, “Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you.’” Scripture directs us to make reasonable financial plans for the future (Prov. 6:6-11). I believe that providing for our family (1 Tim. 5:8) includes carrying a moderate amount of life insurance, having a will, and enough savings or liquid investments to cover normal emergencies. But God must be our hope for the future, not our investments or financial planning.
If we will develop contentment in the Lord, we can remain free from the bondage of greed. But there’s a second form of financial bondage:
2. God wants us to be free from bondage to debt.
A. Debt enslaves us to the lender and hinders the development of key Christian character qualities.
Proverbs 22:7 states, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” First Corinthians 7:23 instructs us not to become slaves of men. Romans 13:8 states, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” Going into debt puts you in bondage to pay off those debts. It makes you the tail, not the head (Deut. 28:43-44). While it would be too strong to say that the Bible forbids all debt, it does strongly caution against it.
There are a lot of definitions of debt (take your pick). I’m referring to spending more than you are taking in. If you are paying monthly installment interest on credit cards (half of American families do), in my book you’re in debt. A 1980 survey disclosed that the average American family in the 25-35 year-old bracket was spending $397 a month more than they earned. A 1975 Reader’s Digest article stated that one-sixth of married couples in the U.S. owed (apart from home mortgages) more than they earned in a year.
Debt goes hand-in-hand with greed, because it feeds off greed and self-gratification by giving us what we want now, rather than making us wait for it or work for it in advance. It reflects impulsiveness and hinders the development of discipline and self control (a fruit of the Spirit). Debt runs counter to waiting on the Lord in prayer and faith to provide what we need, reflecting a lack of pa-tience. Debt presumes on the future (our ability to repay), which the Bible says is arrogance, since we don’t control the future (James 4:13-16). Debt often reflects mismanagement and irresponsibility with the Lord’s resources. And debt creates unnecessary tension in your life and marriage. It truly is a form of bondage!
Debt also prevents us from giving generously to the Lord’s work. Ten years ago Larry Burkett stated that the average American family paid $1,000 a year in interest (not counting their house mortgage). If they were out of debt, they could give that money to the church. If only 40 families in this church gave $1,000 more per year, we could pay off the mortgage on the property next door the first year and then have more for ministry and mission needs every year after that!
If you get so far in debt that you can’t repay what you owe, it’s a bad testimony (Ps. 37:21). How can you default on your debt and tell your creditor about your Savior? Bankruptcy may be the easy way out (due to our legal system), but it doesn’t honor the Lord. What is God’s answer to debt?
B. God’s answer to debt is control.
Here’s a simple principle: You won’t get into debt if you don’t borrow! Control your spending habits so that you live within your means. I can’t go into detail on the pros and cons of borrowing for a home mortgage or other expensive purchases, such as a car. But on home loans, be very careful; on cars, avoid borrowing unless it’s absolutely necessary (which it seldom is). A lot of things we think are necessities are really luxuries. Christian financial counselor Ron Blue states, “Getting in debt is as easy as getting down an ice-covered mountain. Getting out of debt is just as difficult as climbing that same mountain” (Master Your Money [Thomas Nelson Publishers], p. 59).
If you’re already in debt, the only way out is to discipline yourself to spend less than you make and to use the difference to systematically meet your obligations until you’re free from debt. You can also sell off needless items and use the money to pay down your debts. Then you must continue living with self-control so that you can build up a surplus for expected future needs. If you can’t control credit card spending, do plastic surgery: Cut all your cards in half and throw them in separate trash cans so they can’t spontaneously reunite!
If you can get free from the bondage of greed and debt by developing contentment and control, you will realize a number of benefits. Here are three:
(1) Personally, you will be free from anxiety and pressure over money matters. Jesus showed the anxiety that results from living for things--worry about moths, rust, and thieves (Matt. 6:19-33). Debt and the pressure of how to hold off your creditors also causes anxiety. You don’t need that! It’s great to be free from money worries.
(2) Maritally, you will be free from strife and tension over money matters. Money is one of the leading causes of domestic unhappiness and divorce. There are enough pressures in marriage and the family without having money pressures.
(3) Spiritually, you will know that you are pleasing the Lord as His faithful steward. Pleasing God (not the other benefits) should be the primary motive for developing contentment and control in the financial realm. Also, you are free to give generously to the Lord’s work. There is the satisfaction of knowing that you are laying up treasures in heaven as you give. God promises to bless the effectual doer of the Word (James 1:25).
Are you financially free from the bondage of greed and debt? Do contentment and control characterize your financial life? If not, the only way to please God is to confess your sins, turn to His way, and begin to walk in obedience. It may take a long time and a lot of work, but you can commit yourself to begin the journey today.
- Does being content mean that I shouldn’t work toward improving my financial condition? What does it mean?
- How much is enough? At what point do we violate Jesus’ command not to lay up treasures on earth?
- Is it wrong for Christians to live in luxury? How can we tell if we have a problem with greed?
- Since God is to be our security, are things like insurance or investments wrong?
- How can an impulsive spender develop self control?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation