A popular magazine pointed out that some Hollywood celebrities, each earning more than $35 million per year, were deeply in debt. A newspaper article similarly reported that a popular musician had to drastically reorder his finances because his personal spending had grown to an average of some $400,000 per week.
At the same time, many nations are mired in serious financial trouble, carrying enormous deficits, in spite of their industrial, business and agricultural productivity and know-how.
Following these same patterns, personal bankruptcies are soaring upward, and many families owe so much money they have very little hope of getting out of debt.
It is ironic that our materialistic world, which prizes the acquisition of wealth over almost everything else, is so heavily burdened by it. It's not hard to see that something is fundamentally wrong and out of balance. Instead of being a blessing and source of stability and security, money has come to be a curse that often produces great stress and anxiety because people have not learned to properly use it.
Man's focus on materialism
We live in a world that does not seek the knowledge of its Creator—including His financial advice. Few people are aware that the Bible contains an amazing amount of information about how to accumulate and manage wealth. God wants us to be prosperous and happy (3 John 1:2), and He offers guidance to make that possible.
Most people feel they are able on their own to handle their personal affairs, including monetary decisions and allocations. They don't realize they're making a grave mistake in this, unwittingly cutting themselves off from God's favor and guidance which would lead to the financial success they seek.
For example, contrary to human inclination, God tells us not to set a high priority on the accumulation of wealth and material goods. Instead, even though we have physical needs, He tells us that spiritual values and objectives are more important and lasting and that we need first to seek His Kingdom rather than the things of this world. If we do this, He promises to supply the physical necessities we require (Matthew 6:19-34).
However, because people are naturally inclined toward acquiring as much as possible for themselves, many find God's approach difficult to accept and pursue. But if we want to attain real financial stability and security—with peace of mind—we must recognize the importance of putting God first. After all, He is the primary source of our blessings. Covetousness, along with lack of discipline and self-control, is a root cause of much personal and national economic trouble (1 Timothy 6:10).
God's Word sternly warns against covetousness. God's Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17) forbids coveting—intensely or obsessively desiring something that we could not legitimately obtain or afford.
The prophet Jeremiah indicted the kingdom of Judah for its citizens' covetousness (Jeremiah 22:17). Jesus Christ warned of its dangers (Luke 12:15-34). Hebrews 13:5 tells us, "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have." Too many people fail to recognize the perils of yielding to their desires and cravings, especially when they are out of reach.
The source of all wealth
Many have forgotten—or never considered—that it is God who gives us power to obtain wealth. Although diligent effort is a necessary part of anyone's success, God reminds us that when we say in our hearts, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth," we need to "remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).
As 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 tells us: "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; . . . Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all."
Psalm 24:1 adds, "The earth is the LORD's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein."
These verses give a critically important godly perspective that we need to consider. It is God who gives us our life and capacities and who has created the earth's raw materials from which commodities and wealth originate.
Acknowledging God for His blessings
Because God is the creator, life giver and sustainer of every living being, it follows that He has the prerogative to ask something in return from those who live as tenants on His property. Thousands of years ago He instituted the financial principle of tithing—giving 10 percent of one's increase to His representatives—as a way of acknowledging Him as the source of our blessings. Tithing also provides a means for allowing His truth to be shared with others.
Scripture shows us that the Old Testament patriarchs Abraham and Jacob tithed (Genesis 14:18-20; Genesis 28:22). God commanded the entire nation of Israel to tithe (Leviticus 27:30). Jesus Christ endorsed tithing (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42).
People who think tithing is a humanly contrived scheme to obtain wealth fail to see that this financial practice was ordained by God, not man, for a great spiritual purpose. They also fail to see that being willing to acknowledge and obey God in this matter is an important step toward attaining personal happiness and financial success.
God promises material blessings to those who obey Him and acknowledge Him with their wealth (Proverbs 3:1-10). Through the prophet Malachi, God warns that withholding His tithe amounts to robbing Him but says He will bless those who tithe (Malachi 3:7-12).
God gives us "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:17). Giving a 10th back to Him, along with offerings that express our gratitude, is a basic financial obligation. Putting God first in your financial planning shows you are getting your priorities straight and willing to follow God's instruction. The first 10th of our increase is holy to God (Leviticus 27:30) and should be set aside for His purposes and desires rather than our own.
What is our highest priority?
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 shows the futility of seeking worldly pleasure, wealth and materialism. In the end such pursuits are empty: "He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance with increase" (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
This illustrates again the importance of putting the things of God and His Kingdom first because they alone give lasting satisfaction and fulfillment.
Jesus Christ tells us we cannot successfully focus on and place the correct emphasis on both God and "mammon"—material wealth (Matthew 6:24). Therefore, the choice between the two is an important one.
To help us consider and evaluate these alternatives, Jesus contrasted the value of each. Earthly treasure is easily destroyed or stolen, He said, while heavenly riches are not vulnerable to loss or theft and are therefore more enduring and substantial (Matthew 6:19-20).
Later He continued this theme by showing that being overly concerned with the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches can strangle the influence of God's Word, preventing spiritual growth and maturity (Matthew 13:22).
In Matthew 19:16-26 and Luke 12:13-34 He gives additional examples of the greater importance and value of setting our heart on spiritual priorities rather than material and earthly concerns.
Responsibilities toward others
God's Word offers many other financial principles and truths we should study and follow to gain wisdom and guidance from God's mind.
One sound bit of advice is to pay your taxes. Romans 13:1-7 teaches we should comply with governmental tax requirements. Some wrongly think they are above and exempt from government authority, but this is not what the Bible teaches (except in cases where God's laws conflict with man's—see Acts 5:29).
Failure to pay taxes can result in severe penalties because it is against the law of the land. Jesus Himself told us to pay taxes but not neglect what we owe to God (Matthew 22:17-21). We should pay first that which belongs to God as well as that which is required by the government.
The apostle Paul teaches that we should be willing and generous in contributing to the needs of others (2 Corinthians 9:6-15). He amplifies this by explaining that we should work so we "may have something to give him who has need" (Ephesians 4:28).
A key to contentment
Paul's words bring into focus an unusual concept of the purpose of wealth. Most people view work and money as the necessary means of satisfying their personal needs and wants, which can often be selfishly oriented. But a righteous viewpoint embraces the spirit of God's law of love, which is concerned about the welfare of others in addition to oneself. We should keep this in mind when contemplating how to use money and other material wealth.
By examining the example and words of Paul, we see that he learned to be content with what he had during various periods of his life (Philippians 4:11). Sometimes this was almost nothing.
Paul tells us that "godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content" (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
Considerable spiritual danger lies in wanting more and more. Paul recognized this: "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life" (1 Timothy 6:9-11).
Because of constant pressure to buy and satisfy our every urge, such contentment and focus is difficult for us to achieve. But the closer we come to contentment, the better off we will be. We need to learn to focus on our genuine needs rather than the frivolous things advertisers have convinced us we need.
Taking personal responsibility
Paul encouraged Christians to work hard, mind their own business and be self-sufficient (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). He set an example of carrying our own load and not taking advantage of others (2 Thessalonians 3:7-13).
In line with this, he instructed that families should take care of their own households and elderly relatives (1 Timothy 5:8) and share their material blessings with those less fortunate (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Because God will judge each of us for what we do in this life (2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:17), we need to set our hearts on God's instruction and do good whenever we can. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, so we must learn to apply now the principles and teaching here (James 4:13-17; James 5:1-5).
Some final thoughts
As we have seen, money can be used for either right or wrong purposes. The challenge we face is learning to put first things first and practice the financial principles that are pleasing to God.
Although it is wise to set up a personal savings account as a buffer against the uncertainties of the future (experts suggest putting aside as much as the equivalent of six months' income before investing in other ventures), we should not become so self-focused and greedy that we lose sight of our important financial responsibilities toward God and the needy.
Also, we must never forget that it is much easier to get into debt than to get out of it. Being in debt, especially for depreciating goods purchased at a high interest rate, makes us vulnerable when troubles come. Paying as we go, as much as we are able, is a much safer and sounder way to live.
What about buying a house? In contrast to most forms of indebtedness, buying a house is generally a good investment because of its tax benefits and tendency to hold or even increase its value. But it is a huge commitment and something each household should carefully evaluate
on the basis of its individual circumstances.
This view of the Bible's financial instruction will help provide the knowledge and balance to manage your income in a way that honors God and benefits yourself and mankind. (For a more in-depth view of the Bible's instruction on wealth and finances, be sure to read the booklet Managing Your Finances.