By Dr. Jim Newheiser
One question some might raise is, “Why do we need another book about money?” Dave Ramsey has built an empire with his radio show, bestselling books and seminars. He has created a curriculum which is being used in many evangelical churches. He even has a network of affiliates through whom his fans can invest their savings, buy insurance, purchase a home, obtain a mortgage, create a will, and even plan their meals. What else can be said that hasn’t already been said?
We need to ground financial principles in careful exegesis and sound theology. While I appreciate some of the practical wisdom offered by the financial gurus (i.e., “Make a budget and get out of debt!”), most of the popular financial books by Christians are somewhat shallow in their use of Scripture. In my book I have sought to explain financial concepts in light of the big picture of God’s dealings with His people. Our economic activity can only be properly understood in light of the fact that God created us in His image in order to glorify Him as we exercise dominion over the earth (Genesis 2:15). While God made the world to be abundantly fruitful, our fall into sin has caused hardship in our labor – including scarcity and disruptions to our productivity (Genesis 3:17-19). Our redemption in Christ restores meaning to our labors as our focus returns to pursuing our vocations to the glory of God (Ephesians 6:5-9). While the wisdom of Scripture (especially Proverbs) sounds a lot like the conventional wisdom of the world (for example, “Live by a budget”), there is a huge difference. The wisdom of God’s Word is in the context of a covenantal relationship with God (Proverbs 1:7)
The Bible speaks wisely, comprehensively to financial issues. The timeless truth of Scripture equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). What God revealed thousands of years ago still applies today (Isaiah 40:8). I have sought to show this through carefully expounding how God’s word speaks to issues such as:
- How to wisely acquire money – work hard and work smart for success (Proverbs 10:4 22:29). And beware of greed which can tempt you to illegitimate and foolish ways of pursuing wealth (Proverbs 28:20). I address the questions of whether gambling and multi-level-marketing are legitimate ways to make money.
- How to wisely spend money – budget/plan, live within your means, and be generous (Proverbs 21:5,17 3:9-10). We offer online budgeting forms to get you started.
- How to avoid the folly being enslaved to debt, including the folly of making yourself liable for the debts of others –especially family members (Proverbs 22:7,27).
- How to wisely plan for your financial future – it is wise to plan and save for anticipated future expenses, including retirement (Proverbs 6:8 21:5).
We need to distinguish between what the Bible commands, principles of wisdom, and matters of freedom. Some financial advisors don’t adequately distinguish between what we must do in order to please God and their particular way of doing things.
- Scripture contains many commands pertaining to economic matters; i.e., don’t steal, but instead work hard at your vocation (Ephesians 4:28). Failure to obey these is sinful and could be grounds for church discipline (2 Thessalonians 3:10-14 1 Corinthians 5:11).
- The Bible also contains principles of wisdom, such as the dangers of incurring personal debt and the great risk of co-signing for someone else’s debt (Proverbs 22:7,26-27). While it may dangerous or foolish to violate these principles, it is not necessarily sinful – If you want to cosign for your brother’s debt, realize the risks and be prepared to lose your money.
- Financial counselors often promote ways of implementing the wisdom of Scripture which may be good, but are not necessary for all Christians. For example, Dave Ramsey teaches the debt snowball – getting rid of your smallest debts first and working from there. An equally valid alternative would be to eliminate the highest interest debt first. Another example is that some teach an envelope system for budgeting and spending. These techniques may help certain people, but Christians are free to choose among them as long as they are fulfilling their obligations to God. It would be legalistic to require people to follow certain methods of financial management which are not required by the Bible.
We need to keep our focus on what matters most. What matters most in life is glorifying God (2 Corinthians 5:9). Money is a nbsp;means by which we can do this as we fulfill our earthly obligations and show love to others. As we devote ourselves first to the Lord, we gain treasure in heaven which can never be lost in an economic crisis (Matthew 6:19-20). How we manage our finances is a telling expression of what our heart loves and values. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Money brings us back to the gospel. The basis on which Paul appeals to the Corinthians to be generous to their needy brethren is Christ’s loving generosity towards us in our need. Proverbs reminds us that it is very costly to take on the debt of others, yet that is what Jesus did for us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthian 8:9). Jesus not only took on and paid the debt of our sin, but He enriches us with His perfect righteousness.