David L. Goetsch
Developing a Biblical Perspective on Money
Updated: Jan 5, 2020
Few challenges in the Christian life are more difficult than gaining a Biblical perspective on money. Frankly, the cards are stacked against us in this endeavor. To gain the kind of perspective on money that honors God, we have to overcome a lot of obstacles. The first is our own sinful nature. Because of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, we are hard wired to like money and want a lot of it. Then there is the money-obsessed society we live in. The kingdom of man, unlike the kingdom of God, revolves around money. We are a buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend society. Frankly the world does everything it can to encourage you to amass a lot of money, and then separate you from it.
The world obsesses over money. Divorces, heart attacks, and even war are often caused by money. Studies have shown that at least 50 percent of the typical American’s time every day is devoted to thinking about money. We fret over how to earn, spend, save, and invest it. We fret over whether or not to borrow it, and how to make it stretch further every month. Most of all we fret over how to get more of it.
Is it any wonder then that gaining a Biblical perspective on money can be a challenging endeavor? With this point made, here is what I do in the remainder of this blog: 1) explain what money is and what it isn’t, 2) dispel several common myths about money that have grown up in the Christian community, 3) summarize what God expects of you and me when it comes to money, and 4) close with a true story that will help you gain a Biblical perspective on money and Godly giving.
WHAT MONEY ISN’T AND WHAT IT IS
Let me begin with what money isn’t. Money is not a measure of your self-worth. Proverbs 22:2 dispels any questions about this issue. This verse from Scripture reads: “The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all.” The world may categorize people on the basis of wealth, but God doesn’t. Money does not make you good, worthy, or important nor does a lack of money make you any less so. It is important to understand this Biblical truth because the world tells you just the opposite every day. Often your importance in the eyes of other people is a function of how much money you have. We tend to put wealthy people on a pedestal while looking down on the poor. But God is neither impressed by how much money you have nor turned off by how little.
In spite of what some within the Christian community claim, money is not a reward for Godly living. Living a Godly life does not necessarily mean you will prosper financially. Some of the most righteous brothers and sisters among us have very little when it comes to material wealth. At the same time, some of the wealthiest people on earth are scoundrels.
Money is no guarantee of happiness or contentment. Some of the unhappiest, most unfulfilled people in the world have plenty of money. Ecclesiastes 5:10 tells us: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income…” Human nature is such that enough is never enough. We always want more, and when we get more we want yet more. Philippians 4:11-13, the quintessential verses from Scripture on contentment, read as follows: “… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The message in this passage of Scipture is clear. The contentment we seek will be found in Christ, not money.
Finally, contrary to what the world tells you, money is not a measure of success. Not surprisingly, God’s view of success differs from that of the world. God’s view can be seen in Joshua 1:8 where we read: “This Book of the Law will not depart from your mouth, but you shall mediate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” This verse makes clear that a successful life in God’s eyes is a life that comports with his teaching in Scripture, not one characterized by material wealth.
Now, a few words about what money is. First, money is a tool that can be used for accomplishing God’s purposes in your life. Among other things, God wants us to provide for our families, support our church, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Money is a useful tool for accomplishing all of these purposes. Second, money is a good measuring stick for determining where our loyalties lie. Are you loyal to God or to material wealth? Luke 16:13 puts the issue of loyalty into perspective very succinctly: “No servant 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.”
Money is a tool and like any tool, it can be used for good or evil. A hammer can be used to build a home for a disabled veteran or to break into a home and burglarize it. If our loyalty lies with God, we will use our money as a tool to honor him, meaning we will be good stewards of the money he has given us. Jesus made this point in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.
MYTHS ABOUT MONEY IN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
There are several myths about money that must be dispelled if we are going to gain a Biblical perspective on this subject. Perhaps you have heard it said that money is the root of all evil but is it really? In Matthew 6:6-12 we read it is not money per se but “the love of money” that is the root of all kinds of evil. The difference is subtle but important. We also read that people who obsess over getting rich fall into a trap that can plunge them into ruin and destruction. We go astray not by having money but by worshipping money, letting it become an idol in our lives, and letting it separate us from God. This is the first myth we need to dispel: it is not money per se, but the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.
Perhaps have heard that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven? Does this mean you cannot be wealthy and go to heaven? The camel metaphor comes from Matthew 19:16-26 where Christ was approached by the rich young ruler who wanted to know what he had to do to have eternal life. You know the story. The rich young ruler was willing to do anything to follow Christ; anything, that is, except part with his money. For him, money was a deal breaker. Unfortunately for this young man, it was also a deal breaker for Jesus.
A myth has sprung up around these verses that Jesus condemns money and that those with money have little or no chance of going to Heaven. This myth contends that the only way you can live in eternity with Christ is to get rid of your money; to sell everything you have and give the proceeds to the poor. Let me dispel this myth right now. God does not condemn money; he condemns the love, worship, and idolization of money. Yes, he told the rich young ruler he had to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, but that was because he knew the young man’s heart.
He was speaking specifically to the rich young ruler because he knew that money was the one thing separating that specific individual from God. This is why Jesus told the young man to give his money to the poor. Jesus knew money was the one thing separating him from God. In this parable, Jesus is speaking to people who are allowing money to separate them from God. Only you and God know if the parable applies to you.
Perhaps you have heard that money corrupts? There are certainly plenty of people with money who are corrupt; there is no question about that. For example, did you know that when Fidel Castro died, he was worth two billion dollars? Yet Cuba was and is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere? On the other hand, there are plenty of people with money who are not corrupt. These are people who come by their money honestly and use it in ways that honor God. Money does not corrupt, but it can reveal the corruptness that exists in the hearts of people who worship money instead of God.
WHAT DOES GOD EXPECT OF YOU AND ME CONCERNING MONEY?
I have made the point that God does not condemn money, but this does not mean he isn’t concerned about it. So, what does God expect of you and me when it comes to money? Let me suggest several things. First and foremost, God expects us to worship him not money. He wants us to rid our lives of anything and everything that separates us from him. This means ridding our lives of the LOVE of money, not money itself.
God expects us to come by our money in ways that honor him. If we work for a living, he expects us to personify the Christian work ethic in which work is viewed as a gift from God for which we should be thankful. We show our gratitude for the jobs and careers he provides us by working hard and working smart; by being honest and dependable; by treating coworkers and customers with patience, kindness, and respect; and by committing to getting the job we are paid to do done right, on time, and within budget every time. And in all we do, he expects us to reflect the image of Christ for those we interact with at work and elsewhere.
God expects those who derive their income in full or in part from investments to invest wisely, honestly, and responsibly and to be good stewards as shown in the Parable of the Talents. This can be a challenge in today’s global world. For example, investing in a Chinese company while the government of China is persecuting Christians is not likely to please God no matter how large the return on your investment may be. God expects us to use our money to take care of our families, church, and church families. It also means he expects us to use our money as appropriate to carry out his admonition in the Greatest Commandment.
Finally, God expects us to be good stewards of the money he provides us, whether the amount is large or small. To be a good steward, it is necessary to understand that your money is not your money; it belongs to God and not just the Biblical ten-percent but all of it. This means we are expected to use the money he gives us wisely and in ways that please him. Remember, that every spending decision you make, whether it involves giving to charity or buying groceries—has spiritual implications. Consequently, it is important for you and me to guard against living above our means. We must guard against confusing wanting something with needing it. Being unable to help others because you are living too extravagantly is not good stewardship, nor does it honor God.
EVEN THOSE WHO HAVE NO MONEY CAN GIVE
I close with a story that illustrates an important point: even those who have little or no material can still give; they can give of themselves. I tell this story to counseling clients who claim they cannot afford to help fellow church members or neighbors who are struggling. This is the story of Cindy and Isabella.
Cindy resented every minute she had to spend doing community-service projects, but it was either that or lose her driver’s license. After being pulled over for speeding three times in less than six months, Cindy was fortunate the judge hadn’t imposed a harsher sentence. If Cindy could not drive, she could not support herself. Her job required both in-town and out-of-town travel. Consequently, she made a point of being on time for her Saturday morning community-service work, although her attitude toward the work was hardly positive.
While picking up roadside trash one Saturday, Cindy struck up a conversation with a member of her community-service group named Isabella. She asked her, “What did you do to be stuck out here on the side of the road on a Saturday morning?” Isabella responded she wasn’t there because of any kind of legal offense. “I am a janitor at the courthouse. I clean the judges’ chambers every night. On Fridays I check to see what kind of community-service projects the judges have assigned, and I join in with one of them every Saturday morning. I am just a volunteer.”
Cindy was astounded. “Do you mean to tell me you don’t have to be here doing this?” Isabella smiled. She had gotten this reaction from a lot of people who were sentenced to community service. They could not understand why anyone would waste a perfectly good day off from work doing stoop labor. Cindy asked, “I have to know; why in the world are you out here on a Saturday morning if you don’t have to be?” Isabella said, “If you are really interested, I will tell you when we break for lunch.”
At lunch Cindy sat with Isabella. While eating, she looked at her and said, “Well?” Isabella explained she had immigrated from Haiti after enduring years of abject poverty and seeing every member of her family die of diseases that in America could have been treated easily. She felt so blessed have a job and be an American citizen that she wanted to give back, but as a janitor she earned barely enough to support herself. Since she had no money to give, she volunteered every Saturday doing community-service projects. The judges knew what she was doing and even encouraged her.
Cindy asked, “What makes you want to give back? In your position, I would be doing everything I could to better my own circumstances.” Isabella assured her she was trying to better her circumstances. She had recently received her GED diploma and would soon be enrolled at the local community college. “I hope to be able to donate money to good causes some day, but for now this is all I can do. As to why I feel the need to give, it comes from the Bible. The Bible teaches it is better to give than receive. I have received so much I want to give something back. The Bible also teaches we are to give with a cheerful heart, not out of obligation but because it’s the right thing to do.”
As they continued the discussion, Isabella told Cindy that everything she gives is returned to her many times over. “Picking up trash today will bless me more than it will the people who will enjoy this nice clean road when we are done. Tonight, I will sleep well knowing I spent the day honoring God, and I will feel better this Sunday when I have so little to put in the offering plate.” When they finished for the day, Isabella invited Cindy to join her at church the next day. Enthralled by her new friend, Cindy accepted.
It took time, learning to pray, and studying the Bible but Cindy eventually came to understand the things Isabella told her that Saturday on the roadside. But it was only after one of the judges arranged for Isabella to have a better-paying job that the full weight of her friend’s lessons dawned on her. Because Isabella was willing to give to others, her giving had been returned to her in the form of a better job. The truth of Proverbs 11:25 hit Cindy like a thunderbolt. This verse says, “Whoever brings blessings will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” After reading this verse, Cindy’s whole attitude toward giving changed. When you use your money to honor God, it will be returned to you too in ways impossible to predict.
When her community-service sentence was completed, Cindy asked the judge if she could volunteer for other projects. He just smiled and said, “I see you’ve met Isabella.” If you struggle with gaining a Biblical perspective on money and giving, think about Isabella. Her story will put Godly giving into perspective for you.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com