Question: How should Christians think about saving money? How should we balance offerings to church, financially supporting overseas/local ministry work, money spent on daily living (e.g. expenditures from gathering with brothers and sisters, raising a family, etc.) and saving? From a purely financial standpoint, it is shrewd to save, but doesn’t saving also raise issues of:
1. making money your source of security, rather than God?
2. detracting from the potential of our money to go further God’s kingdom and His church?
3. lessening our generosity to people around us?
I guess this also raises my second question. Should we/How are we to spend money on ourselves? How do we find the fine line between necessity/comfort vs. excess? For example, since COVID-19 began, people have been forced to work from home and realise that their chairs weren’t that great quality and have begun to cause back pain. Chairs with good back support could cost upwards of $200. Is there wisdom in buying these items? Is this an item of necessity/comfort or excess? Wouldn’t it be better to stick to using the old chair and investing this money in furthering God’s kingdom? Thanks!
All money is God’s money. That seems like a no-brainer for most Christians. Yet, it is hard to overlook the plethora of ways that Christians have displayed immensely poor stewardship of their God-given gifts. From squandering their bank accounts on consumeristic goods to cash hoarding excessively to the point of stinginess, it is clear that so many of us are illiterate in the ways of faithful financial management.
Poor financial stewardship may indeed be a unique problem in the Western world, given the fact that living in a society of immense wealth opens up an array of possibilities for how our wealth is to be used. Therefore, we need to adjust the way that we perceive money if there is to be any hope in us adjusting the way we use it. Money is powerful and it can be utilised effectively for the enjoyment of our lives and for the further advancement of the Kingdom if we understand how God perceives money.
Is saving biblical?
Some Christians are skeptical about the concept of saving, since they believe that storing money reflects an idolatrous and ungenerous heart that loves money more than God (Matt. 6:24). Saving may also seem to detract from giving to potential ministry causes in order to see the Kingdom grow. Therefore, some are driven to spend every cent that they make in the name of “faithful stewardship”.
But it would be quite wrong to adopt such a view, since the Bible (oddly enough) actually teaches that saving is a good activity that all wise Christians are encouraged to do.
When Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of the entire country of Egypt (Gen. 41:41), he quickly got to work storing all the grain during the “seven plentiful years” in preparation for the seven years of severe famine ahead (see Gen. 41:56-57). Joseph’s wise decision to stockpile all the food in their storehouses over the course of those seven years provided sustenance for the whole country and even for the neighbouring countries who were severely impacted by the widespread famine. Egypt never fell into a food crisis and the lineage of Jacob was preserved – a fruitful decision that was made by a man who was “discerning and wise” (41:33) and in whom “the Spirit of God” dwelt (41:38).
There are also multiple nuggets of wisdom found in the Proverbs, where the sluggard is exhorted to learn from the ant by observing its ways to avoid falling into poverty; storing “its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Prov. 6:6-8 NIV). A diligent man who plans well should expect to prosper abundantly (Prov. 21:5) and part of good planning also includes saving up for anticipated needs in the future (see also Prov. 21:20).
Saving is a wise activity to do and it is certainly possible for Christians to save for the future in a manner where their hearts reflect their allegiance and submission to God, and not to money.
How should we save?
Here’s the real question. How should we save then? Biblical saving honours God by pointing to the God-intended purpose of money, serving and doing good to others. So here are some practical insights that may guide you in how you decide to save:
1. It is wise to save money to prepare for unforeseen emergencies. Life is often unpredictable. Many of us will experience moments in our lives where we may be unable to work for various reasons, whether it is deciding later on to commence further studies or being made redundant and experiencing unemployment. Since we cannot know what the future holds, it would be wise to reserve some savings in the bank to prepare for these contingencies, in order to continue to “be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:12).
2. It is wise to save money in order to make big purchases that we couldn’t afford otherwise. Proverbs 13:11 says that “wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” Perhaps another encouragement in this direction is to heed caution on borrowing money, and thereby incurring debt. Though the Bible does not prohibit borrowing as per se, it does place borrowers in rather compromising positions where they lose a bit of their freedom to use their money for other purposes (see Prov. 22:7).
3. It is good to invest your money in avenues that can benefit other people. Now I must confess that I’m no expert in the stock market. But I would recommend Christians to consider how their savings can play a role in enabling businesses to deliver goods and services for customers and providing jobs for people. In the Parable of the Talents, the wicked servant was obliged to, at the very least, invest his master’s money in the bank in order to accumulate some interest (Matt. 25:27). Depositing money into the bank vault means that banks can lend more money to other people, who will use that money for productive and beneficial activities.
4. Always examine where you are laying up your treasures. As you abide by all the principles stated above, we must recognise the sheer power that money possesses. No one is immune to greed or to the deceitfulness of wealth. It is often tempting to save far beyond what is necessary, and to rationalise our stingy saving as “faithful stewardship of God’s resources”.
But don’t kid yourself. Examine your heart carefully, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). If you save out of a desire to be independent from God, you have lost the plot. Don’t buy into the consumerist lie that your savings will offer you the satisfaction and security you are looking for.
What about spending or giving?
If you are here looking for answers on exactly how much you should be spending on yourself, spending on others, or how much you should give to kingdom causes, the Bible does not specify any particular percentage or amount. But nevertheless, that doesn’t mean Scripture is silent on the matter, and there are some principles to help you ponder what wise spending or giving will look like for you:
1. You have Christian freedom to decide what causes to give to and what percentage your giving should be. There are many great causes to give to and there is freedom to choose where that money should go towards. It is certainly good to give to the ministry work at your local church, to support your pastors and those who are leading and doing the work of teaching (1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 14:12). It is also great to support other parachurch organisations; university campus ministries, mission agencies, Christian colleges, and the like. These organisations all play a great role in advancing the work of the Kingdom within the broader network of the body of Christ, and so we are encouraged to consider supporting their causes.
Now since there is no specific percentage of giving, there is a fair degree of liberty Christians have with regards to the amount that they give. Many Christians adhere to the 10 percent principle as a good guideline for giving, and I think that is a helpful guideline – it is quite sizeable, yet not excessively overbearing for people. You can start there!
Yet, we must remember that it is a guideline for giving, not a mandate. We do not know people’s financial circumstances, so we must withhold judgment on those who decide to give less than what we expect. We must allow them to determine how much of their personal freedom and wealth they are willing to sacrifice.
2. Take on the challenge to consider giving when it begins to hurt. Scripture does not command anyone to give all that they have to the point of living close to poverty. But when we read of the remarkable examples of generosity amidst material poverty in the New Testament, such as the poor widow in Luke 21 and the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8, perhaps this is a call for us to reconsider our spending. Let us remember our relative affluence and the freedom or privilege it gives us to be generous! One simple way of doing this is to forgo some of the pleasures or luxuries that we, probably, take for granted and don’t really need. Consider whether you really need that artisan boutique coffee, that holiday to Japan, or those shiny new R.M. Williams!
3. Give cheerfully, generously, and regularly. Give with a cheerful heart – that is what pleases God the most. If the amount you are giving is causing you to give with a sense of unwillingness and hesitation, you are free in your heart to decide how much you are able to give (see 2 Cor. 9:7).
However, learn to trust in God that He is able to produce in you a generous heart by His sufficient, transforming grace, to empower you to give abundantly in every good work (2 Cor. 9:7-8). If by God’s grace, the impoverished Macedonians were able to joyfully give what little they had, then God is certainly able to help you “excel in this grace of giving” (2 Cor. 8:7).
The apostle Paul also taught all his churches to establish a regular rhythm of giving (see 1 Cor. 16:1-2). By implication this means Christians should also set up regular payments to their churches to demonstrate our love and commitment to our pastors who care for our souls.
4. Giving is a tremendous blessing. God does not call His people to be generous because He is a poor peasant who needs our small change. God doesn’t need your money or anything else you own, since He himself is self-sufficient. Everything in creation belongs to Him and that includes all the money we own (see Acts 17:24-25).
God calls us to give because He invites us to participate in the advancement of His heavenly kingdom. What a tremendous privilege that is! Through our wise stewardship of His resources, we get to witness the kingdom grow in miraculous ways: more unevangelised souls get to know Christ, to become disciples of Christ, and to grow in spiritual maturity to be more like Christ.
What a joy it is to invest into ministries to see others know and grow to be like Jesus! This is why he said that “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). And King Solomon also understood the blessing of self-sacrificial giving when he writes that as ‘one man gives freely, yet gains even more… The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.” Yes, my friends, those who give will receive, too.” (Proverbs 11:24-25).
1. Actually spend your money. Don’t hoard and be stingy with it. I have distant relatives who are quite well off. Yet, despite their fortune, the mother still strongly insists that her family refrain from turning on their heaters, even in the middle of winter. Her family would sleep most nights freezing in the cold, for absolutely no particular reason other than to save a few dollars a month on electricity expenses. That is not wise financial stewardship. That is foolishness. Don’t hoard at the risk of being unfruitful with your unproductive use of money, and at the risk of causing a disservice to those you care about. Spend your money on necessities that you and your family need! What else is it meant to be used for?
2. We have Christian freedom to decide how much we should spend on ourselves. Should you spend $20 on a chair from Ikea? Or should you spend over $200 on a comfortable gaming chair? How do we determine whether an item is an absolute need or simply an excessive want? My answer: I don’t know.
What I can say is that Christians are given liberty to choose how they spend their money on goods and services for their personal use and enjoyment. Therefore, on matters that are not expressly forbidden in Scripture, we cannot pass judgment on our fellow brothers and sisters whom we perceive to have made some rather questionable purchases with their God-given money – let God be the judge of that (see Rom. 14:12-16).
As I’m typing up this article, I’m standing at my 160 by 75 cm motorised height adjustable standing desk, which I bought online about a week ago for over $400. Most people wouldn’t find good reasons to be spending that amount of money on a study desk. But I chose to spend that much on a desk that would let me stand and sit for productivity and health reasons (I have awfully tight hip flexors from sitting long periods of time). Some of my fellow believing friends just won’t ever understand it.
There is a degree of mystery to which a lot of us won’t always understand the reasons why others make particular purchases. So we should do well to refrain from judging them, lest we fall into a sort of legalistic and ascetic lifestyle where we start placing caps on the quantity and amount of goods we are spending on. There is no scriptural evidence that God has prescribed these spending limits. And that is liberating. Think about it. How terrifying would it be if we were allowed to own only one pair of boxers?!?
3. Your spending choices reflect what you most care about. This is another no-brainer. It is no secret to those within my friendship circles that I’ve spent hundreds jacking up my office setup; with multiple monitors, an ergonomic chair, height adjustable desk, a powerful PC – all of which communicates something that I deeply value: productivity (…or gaming perhaps).
When you scan through your bank statements, what are your biggest purchases? And what do they reveal about what you value? What you do with every cent says something about what God means to you. That is something worth pondering, as this leads to my very last point.
4. We can be a witness to the world in how we spend our money. Do you want to be known as someone who lives a rather unsophisticated life, but a life that nevertheless makes much of Jesus as your greatest treasure? Or do you want to be known as someone who lives a grade above everyone else, and makes much of his bank account?
Hear me out – I’m not saying living for Christ and living luxuriously are two mutually exclusive pursuits. However, as I stated in the previous point, what we adorn ourselves with communicates what we most treasure. And as living ambassadors for Christ, this is something we need to seriously think about.
The apostle Peter instructs women to not let their adornment be merely external, but to let them show their beauty by their godly character (see 1 Pet. 3:2-5). Peter does not prohibit the braiding of hair or wearing of jewelry, but he makes a clear general point that the most effective method of witnessing to Christ for women, especially in the context of witnessing to their unbelieving husbands, is how one conducts themselves in a godly manner! (1 Pet. 3:1).
How are you generally perceived by others? Do your friends find it difficult to distinguish between whether you care more about the gospel or your lavish lifestyle? If so, would you consider giving up your Christian liberty to spend loosely on enjoyments and pleasures, in order to make less of yourself, and make more of the risen Christ who has given you all the riches of the world?
The world is watching, folks. Our reputation as Christ’s ambassadors is on the line. Our goal as disciples is to magnify God’s glory. How are we showing that Christ is our greatest treasure by the way we save, spend, or give? Our financial stewardship says a lot about what we deeply value.