Many Christian financial books have attempted to answer the question: “What is the Biblical way for managing personal finances?” Probably the best book ever written on the subject is Randy Alcorn’s “Money Possession and Eternity.” If you haven’t read it you should. It provides the wisest approach for Godly management of money. Although this and other wonderful books are really great at giving people the solid foundation they need, at the end of the day they leave me ‘wanting,’ as my 11th grade English teacher described some of my writings. This isn’t a criticism at all, but an opportunity, I think, to dig deeper into what Jesus thinks about money. You see, it seems to me that Jesus brings a lot more to this conversation. I guess that is why I’ve titled my blog “JesusMoney.”
I counsel people who are trying to survive financial crisis, such as job loss and too much debt. There are two questions I try to steer towards: What is the Biblical way to manage finances? What is the path? A road map can simply, but not easily, be put together. There is a third question: What is Jesus doing in this mess? He is often right there in our quagmires, comforting and guiding us through them all. However, there is often heart surgery and healing to be done with his help.
At this point I wonder in my mind: “Jesus, what is your philosophy on money?” As with most direct questions, he wisely doesn’t answer simply. This is because his answers spider out into so many more areas of life. Also, he knows we would try to formulate some Biblical equation for financial success—and many try. The following is my attempt to formulate how I think Jesus would answer this question.
- Not self centered: Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. Jesus declared in Luke 17:33 his radical departure from a life centered on concern for self. Jesus’ approach is often incompatible with the American culture of consumerism, self-satisfaction and fulfillment.
- Grace-filled. Jesus blessed countless people (sometimes setting them free from demons, raising some from the dead and healing others), and rarely did he justify his blessings on the performance of those who were blessed. Sometimes Jesus recognized their faith, but grace and forgiveness ran cross current to the “cause and effect, reap what you sow” rule of life. Jesus knows we have difficulties and failures with money, and he extends grace to us so that we can make progress despite them.
- Kingdom oriented. A majority of Jesus’ teaching did not center on reaching a personal dream of prosperity, but on getting in line with his plan for humanity. He wants us to have this as our main plan.
- Holy Spirit led and empowered. Jesus prayed for direction and strength, and he followed God’s will all of his days. We have the same connection to God, so we are not left to our own energy and ideas to handle the financial challenges and stresses facing us today.
- God is the provider; money and the things it brings are not our comfort. He wants us to seek him and his kingdom for our needs. Matthew 6:18-21, 28-33: 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
- Miraculous. Jesus did many economic miracles (bread, fish and wine), as well as hundreds of healings, and he also walked on the water. He has the power to provide us with financial miracles and set us free from things like materialism and debt. Jesus wants us to ask for these things too.
- Participatory. God chooses to work with and through us to redeem creation and all of its institutions, including government and business. We are to consider that we are active players in this co-creation, and our personal finances and business practices are key elements.
- Eternal reward. Jesus exemplifies in the Parable of the Talents the blessing “Well done good and faithful servant.” In Matthew 25:23, he promises to bless those who are good managers/stewards of the things he entrusts to them. Therefore Jesus wants us to have eternal focus, to recognize that we will be asked to give an account. He will reward us for good, wise, entegrity-filled management.
- Generosity: Jesus life was full of giving things and not accumulating anything for himself. He loved, healed, saved, led, taught, and participated in community. He didn’t set up his own castle. He didn’t teach directly to tithe, but he indicated that tithing is a practice we should continue. Jesus people are naturally generous, especially to those in need. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23
- Financial success? God provides no Biblical formula or guarantee of riches; in fact we may go through bad financial times, sometimes not caused by our own actions. Jesus promised that rain would fall on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45 and John 15:20), but financial freedom and peace is a form of contentment (Philippians 4) whether we have an abundance of money or not. Many who apply the right principles will do well financially, but at the end of the day either way, he wants us to have the right approach.
The above list isn’t complete.There are three other foundational principles regarding personal finances: (1) God is the owner and we are temporary stewards, (2) Wisdom: There are hundreds of principles throughout the Bible that we are to follow with regard to the wise use of money. (3) How we manage our personal finances can lead us to reap blessings and curses, sometimes in a cause and effect fashion, but considering the 10 principles above we can approach this challenge not self-centeredly or with fright, but in a new way.
For me having this balanced Jesus point of view towards money helps me to have a solid basis for approaching this difficult and stressful subject. This also helps me when I consider things I read about finances, or take classes, whether they be from Christians or others. I am able to filter things out, using the good aspects and leaving the bad behind.
I also need this filter because there are all sorts of preachers teaching erroneously. There are those in the vein of health and wealth, or positive thinking (e.g., Robert Schuler, Joel Osteen, or Norman Vincent Peal), or faith and financial success (Gary Keese), or generosity ‘give-to-get’ theologies—but at the end of the day, following Jesus in my finances will give me the freedom and peace he promises.