I once heard a wealthy and generous philanthropist say that if it were his money, no one else would get a dime. Instead, he saw his wealth as belonging to God; he was only the steward.
That should be the normal way to see one’s wealth if you’re a follower of Jesus. And it should have a profound impact on how you give, spend, save, and invest.
First, giving. I believe the historic Christian stance on the tithe, i.e. give away at least 10 percent to the church, is compelling. I know some people think that’s an Old Testament thing, but I don’t buy it. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for being punctilious about the tithe – tithing even one-tenth of their spices – while neglecting “the more important matters of the law -- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Tithing is necessary but not sufficient to be a faithful disciple.
It can feel hard to give away 10 percent, especially if you don’t feel rich. But if you live in the U.S. and make at least the median income of $56,287 (supporting a family of four), that puts you in the top 10 percent wealthiest income earners in the world. And if you’re single and making that kind of money, you’re in the top one percent. I suspect most readers of this blogpost are among the richest people in the world – regardless of how you feel. And if First Century laborers in Israel were instructed to give away at least 10 percent, what should that mean for you? I can’t answer that question for you, but you and the Lord should have a chat about it.
Second, spending. We’re a nation of consumers. Our economy is built on spending and debt. Before I make a purchase, I ask myself two questions: 1) can I afford it, and 2) should I afford it? Often the first question is easier to answer than the second one. It’s not like the Scripture says, “you shall not drive a Tesla.” And it seems the Lord has different answers for different people. The point is that if you’re only stewarding the Lord’s money, the question is what the true owner wants. Figuring that out is more art than science, and it requires prayer, Bible reading, counsel from godly people, and wisdom. There are things I would like to buy for which I don’t sense I have the Lord’s permission (including a Tesla). I could be wrong, because it’s not as though God speaks to me audibly. Yet the Holy Spirit does have a way of making His voice heard when we listen for it. The threshold question is whether the Lord or you rule over your spending. It’s dangerous to have any area of your life where you are the ruler, especially if it’s not yours to own.
Third, saving. Americans’ personal savings rate is around five percent, compared with 18 percent in the European Union. Proverbs 6 instructs us to emulate the ant in storing up resources for the future lest we be impoverished. It’s dumb not to save. We presume on the future – or on the government – when we don’t have a safety net. A good rule of thumb is to have at least three to six months' worth of liquid savings, not to mention savings for kids’ college and when we are no longer able to work. (I’m not using the word “retirement” since I don’t think that’s a biblical notion. We were made to work, even if that includes volunteering.) Americans’ low savings rate is a reflection on our unrestrained appetites.
Fourth, investing. Where we invest reflects our values – or it should. For many people, investment decisions are simply about risk and rates of return. Many of us think too little about whether our values align with our investments. Are you investing in companies making abortifacients or pornography? It’s getting easier to invest in funds that have negative screens against immoral investments, and now more and more funds have positive screens – looking for businesses that produce healthy products and treat workers and customers and the environment with respect and dignity.
God owns it all, including you and all you have. If we believe that and act on it, it may be very disruptive. You may have to rearrange your investment portfolio, change your spending decisions, sock away more money in a rainy day fund, or forgo some purchases. God has an irritating way of thinking that He owns us and all we have, and He has no problem upending our lives.
Because He’s God, our Creator, Savior, Lord, and Lover of our souls. He’s good, and He wants to re-order our lives with Him at the center. He doesn’t just want to be important – He wants to be our all-in-all, including Lord of our money.