When it comes to money, God has had a lot of words put into his mouth. So it’s time to set the record straight on six things that the Bible doesn’t say about money – despite what you might have heard. For each faulty view of money, there’s a wonderful truth to replace it with – truths that will help us get on the front foot with our finances at the start of 2016.
1. God gives prosperity
The ‘prosperity gospel’ comes in a variety of forms, but essentially this form of teaching states that God blesses our obedience by making us materially better off. So live for God, and he’ll make sure your bank balance goes up.
A favourite prosperity gospel text is Malachi 3:8, where God says his people are ‘robbing’ him by not bringing the tithes and offerings he had specified in the law. God challenges their disobedience. But he also holds out a wonderful promise: if they obey him and bring the ‘whole tithe’ (v10), then he will pour out his blessing on them: they won’t have enough storage space for their harvests!
The prosperity gospel says, ‘Honour God with your money and you will know this blessing.’ Of course, the flip side is that if you are not doing well financially, it must mean that you are disobeying God.
The great mistake of the prosperity gospel message is to ignore that this promise of financial blessing comes under the old covenant. We are not under the old covenant today! The new covenant relationship we have through Jesus does not work the same way. Jesus says his followers are blessed when they are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted and rejected (Luke 6:20-22).
Financial blessing simply is not promised to Christians today. But it’s true that a general principle does remain: God will still bless our obedience. Jesus said: ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life’ (Mark 10:29- 30). God is no one’s debtor. You cannot give to God and end up feeling like you’ve got the rough end of the bargain. God blesses our giving. But the question is: what sort of blessing does he give?
Jesus can’t mean that if we give up our home we’ll own 100 more homes; it’s hard to see how that works literally for brothers and sisters. He must mean that God will give us blessing in 100 homes being open to us, and knowing new family in the Church.
Notice also that Jesus adds we will receive ‘persecutions’. He is not saying that life will be one of luxurious blessing, but rather blessing alongside hardship. The point is that there is no sacrifice you can make for Jesus that you will end up regretting.
So the prosperity gospel is an ugly thing. But there is a beautiful flip side. God does honour our giving. Sacrifice a holiday for the sake of church finances, and you may find greater richness in unity and love in your church. Give generously to someone in need, and you may find people giving you gifts. I use the word ‘may’ because I don’t know what sort of blessing God will give – but I know he will bless. We can never out-give God
The prosperity gospel is an ugly thing. But there is a beautiful flip side
2. God loves poverty
The opposite error to the prosperity gospel message is to preach a ‘poverty gospel’. This is a belief that you should be poor if you believe the gospel message. The attitude is ‘since money is so dangerous and deceitful, it’s better simply not to have any’. This view often goes under the name ‘asceticism’. In particular periods of Christian history, ascetics deliberately denied
Escaping the debt trap Many of us have an overdraft; most of us have a mortgage and it’s not uncommon to be paying off a car month-by-month. All of this is debt but at what point does this become a real problem and where do you start when you want to put it right?
1. Take your financial temperature. Spend an evening with your (and your partner’s) bank statements. Work out what is coming in and where it is going out. Acknowledge together that this is challenging stuff, especially if you feel ashamed at the state things are in. Honesty and clarity, without blaming, will get you through this faster.
2. Begin to work out a game plan and some tactics, prioritising the roof over your head and the basics like food and heating. Remember, credit card companies, loan companies and firms who manage store cards (secondary debt) often shout the loudest. Negotiate with them, but let them shout if it means keeping your home.
3. If you have multiple debts with different creditors, contact one of the free not-for-profit debt agencies rather than one that promises to consolidate your debts (which will actually increase what you owe). An unemotional third party, who are experts at debt, will often get a better result than an individual. Much like poor health, if it’s keeping you awake at night, it’s a fair indication that you must tackle it or it will worsen. capuk.org
There is no such thing as financial independence
themselves enjoyable things such as certain foods, sex or possessions. They would often withdraw from normal society and even make life deliberately uncomfortable.
The problem with asceticism is that it denies the goodness of creation. But 1 Timothy 4:4 says: ‘…everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving’. God ‘richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment’ (1 Timothy 6:17). Food, sex, sport, music, TV and art are not bad in principle, and nor are money and possessions. We are not to shun them. A godly approach to money does not justify indulgence, but neither does it outlaw enjoyment.
3. God approves of my approach
Perhaps you were sitting comfortably as you read the previous two sections. But we can easily create our own category where we believe that God likes what we do with our money.
Lots of factors affect our view of money and spending. Our background and upbringing will be very significant. Some will have grown up with money on hand and so presume they can buy what they like when they like. Others will have counted every penny, and naturally be cautious about overspending.
I can easily think that my particular approach is the right one, the godly one; the one that God likes. For example, I tend to buy clothes in the sales rather than at full price. So I can very easily make my discountseeking approach part of godliness and look down on those who do things differently. But of course there are things I do spend money on, such as drinking decent coffee or going out for a beer – which other people might consider an unnecessary luxury.
We can all fall into thinking that God likes what we happen to choose, and then look down on other approaches to handling money. But we must not equate our personal financial decisions with godliness and use them as the yardstick by which to judge – because while we may be able to see what others are spending, we almost always can’t tell why. What we need is a good deal of self-awareness and honesty, respect for other people doing things differently and the ability to talk about financial decisions with love and straightforwardness. It’s worth asking ourselves some questions:
- What do I consider good use of money? Why?
- What in my background or personality shapes my use of money?
- Who do I look down on for their use of money? Why?
- Where am I proud or self-righteous over finance?
What is the positive other side of the coin (so to speak) here? Simply that it is perfectly possible that God does like my approach because I have tried to be honest, generous and selfaware. Of course, that should mean I acknowledge that God can like other people’s approach as much as I like mine.
4. God likes financial independence
This tricky concept cuts to the foundation of how we see the world. Does God approve of the hardworking man or woman who pays their own way through life?
We should begin by saying ‘Yes’! People should earn their own living (2 Thessalonians 3:10). God does approve of hard work and earning a living. In some circles that needs to be said, because people may feel embarrassed about it.
You can probably tell that there is an exception around the corner, however. Yes, God approves of us working and earning, but not without the right attitude. In many cultures, paying your own way is usually assumed or admired. The person who starts their own business and is successful is thought well of. We refer to them as a ‘self-made’ man or woman.
It’s not the success that’s the problem; it’s the view of how the world works. All we have comes from God in the first place: our time, our energy, our gifts, the natural resources we work with, the power we use, everything. So there is no such thing as financial independence. We are and will always remain dependent on God. As King David prays when the people have given gifts to God:
‘Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand’ (1 Chronicles 29:14). Everything we have is from God’s hand, rather than merely earned by ours. Anything we possess is from him, and anything we give to him is only returning it to him. We are never self-made.
So, yes, God does indeed like us to work and earn, and not be dependent on others if we are able to work. But we must not think we are ever independent of God.
5. God likes big givers
It is great when people give lots of money! Many rich Christians have done great things with their money down the years.
But according to Jesus, it is just as fantastic when people give very small amounts of money: when a widow put two small copper coins into the Temple treasury, Jesus said she had put in more than everyone else (Mark 12:41-44). For Jesus, the quality of the gift is not to do with how large it is. It is both to do with the proportion we give and the heart with which we give.
I know I can easily be impressed and think well of someone if I hear they’ve given a very large gift to mission or ministry. Some churches speak about their ‘top givers’ – meaning those who contribute the largest sums. Or we can easily feel proud or self-assured in our own hearts because we’ve been generous. But surely this is not taking Jesus’ words seriously.
The wonderful upside here is that we can indeed please God and honour him with our money, no matter how much of it we have. The person on income support who is struggling to make ends meet can please and honour God with their giving just as much as the financially comfortable middle-class family. God notices all giving; and joyful, sacrificial giving pleases him, no matter the number on the cheque.
6. God doesn’t mind as long as…
This is where we set ourselves (and sometimes others) a certain bar to reach or an expected quota, and then say we are being godly with our money.
Perhaps the most common is: ‘God doesn’t mind as long as…I give 10%.’ Once I’ve given my 10%, I can do what I like with the rest of my income. The danger of this approach is in thinking that once I’ve ticked a certain box, then God’s claims on my money, priorities and values, and what I give myself to, all evaporate.
Here are some other examples of this approach: ‘God doesn’t mind as long as…’
- …I’m not extravagant in what I buy
- …My spending is similar to those around me
- …I don’t spend money on certain areas, for example, eating out, cable TV or designer clothes
- …I don’t fall into debt
All of these can fulfil a basic requirement we have set ourselves and then give us freedom for everything else. But it is not what God says about how to handle money. It is, to be blunt, both selfish and grudging. And God has a claim on all our money, all our possessions, all our time and all our energy.
We should be asking ourselves, ‘How can we honour God with all our money?’ Our whole life can be dedicated to him and we can learn how our giving, spending and saving is all part of our discipleship.
Wrong thinking always leads to wrong living. That’s as true with money as with anything else. Our thinking on money can go wrong in all these ways and that will change how we live. But wonderfully, the opposite is true, too: right thinking leads to right living. And when we get our thinking about money right – when we grasp what God does say about money – we can find real joy through our finances.
Graham Beynon is minister of Grace Church Cambridge and on staff of Oakhill Theological College. His new book Money Counts: How to handle money in your heart and with your hands (The Good Book Company) is released in January.