What Does the Bible Say about Money?
by Ellie Gustafson
Money is an important and necessary part of the human community. Without barter or cash, we could not acquire everything we need just to get by. The Bible takes money seriously, and so should we. The misuse of money is plainly seen on the nightly news, the TV programs we watch, to say nothing of the damaged people among whom we live. There is a better way, and those who have taken it find joy and satisfaction in the use of their money.
I have been writing for publication since 1978—a number of articles, short stories, and six novels—one of which was endorsed by Eugene Peterson (see below).
Jesus had a knack for turning money on its head.
First, He upended the tables of the temple moneychangers—an economic disaster for the business community. Then, He spoke approvingly of a woman who put only a couple of pennies in the offering plate. And His sermons: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24
The Bible has a lot to say about money.
Tithes and offerings—Leviticus 27:30
Lending— Exodus 22:25, Deuteronomy 23:19, Psalm 15:5
Love of money—1 Timothy 6:10, Hebrews 13:5
Paul’s end-of-life money statement (Acts 20:33-35): “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Eugene Peterson—a man after my own heart—speaks on the subject of money as seen in the book of Philippians. Paul had just received a purse of money from his Philippian friends, who had taken up an offering and sent it with Epaphroditus to Paul in Rome—a named friend, willing to take a long trip on foot to bring it to him. Peterson says:
I have heard people complain that they hear too much about money in church. . . . I would like to hear less of it outside the church and maybe a little more inside. Why? Because I want to be with people who take all of me seriously, not just my soul. I want to know that the nitty-gritty of my life is taken seriously by the gospel, not just the state of my soul. I don’t want a religion that consists of soupy verses on Hallmark cards. I don’t want a religion of neat little slogans about sunsets and heartthrobs. I want something practical that gets into the working parts of my life, into my wallet and pocketbook, and leaves evidence on my check stubs. And named persons who know my name. People I can serve and who will serve me when I am in need.
The gospel of Jesus Christ creates a community in which people take care of one another, respond to others’ needs, take people into their homes, give them beds, feed them meals, collect money to meet their needs. ‘It was kind of you to share my trouble,’ said Paul. How did they share it? They gave him some money. Christians don’t separate body and soul, the material and the spiritual. The Philippian congregation didn’t. And then one of their number, Epaphroditus, volunteered to take the money to Rome. (Taken from As Kingfishers Catch Fire, p. 302, 303 and Philippians 4)
This is heavy-duty stuff in regard to money. Hard enough to assimilate personally, but how can we teach it to our children? Here are some practical tips, borrowed in part from Kevin Leman’s books on raising kids.
Top of the list—model a sound, Christian lifestyle. If you don’t live it inside your house, your children have super-sharp noses for smelling phonies.
As soon as they begin to understand the purpose and use of money, give them an allowance suitable to their age. Explain in detail that the amount will come to them each week, but there will be no extras.
Lay down no rules for their use of the money, except for tithing. Enough coinage or small bills should be provided for them to physically put their tithe—right up front—in a special container that you control.
If they shoot their wad the first day and then see something they want—badly—you explain again, with kindness, the principle of saving. Under no circumstance should you become a lending organization. The money’s gone; wait till you have more.
Allow them to fail! Be sympathetic and non-judgmental, but keep your goal of financial responsibility clearly in mind.
Teach them how to write checks, how to set up a bank account—checking and/or savings—but again, don’t fall for any tearful pleas. They may want something that you approve of and would like them to have, but Christmas and birthdays usually come each year.
Take or send them on short-term mission trips where they will see the devastation of poverty and learn, as Peterson says, that sharing the troubles of others has its own reward.
By the time your child reaches college age, he or she will know how to manage money. Many children flounder financially when they leave home, never having learned the basics of fiscal responsibility.
Isaiah 55:1-2 tells us that money is not the be all, end all of life.
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
Ellie Gustafson grew up in Branchville NJ, in a county that had more cows than people. She attended Wheaton College in Illinois as a music major, then married a pastor/college professor/tree farmer/organist/writer. Life for them has been . . . interesting!
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