The last three weeks we've been talking about God's economy. Remember that the economy is the sum of forces that determine what's valuable and what we will pursue. The world's economy tells us that accumulating possessions is a worthy pursuit. Sure, there will be people here and there who catch on and teach something different, but there's no doubt that our economy drives our society, not the other way around.
But as Christians, we are called to be citizens of a different economy--God's economy. God's economy tells us that people are valuable, that knowing God is the greatest good and that we should gladly use money as a tool to work for his Kingdom. Jesus also tells us that buying into the world's economy (loving to accumulate) can have disastrous consequences on our life, family, and faith. It can destroy us.
So, what is the Bible's solution? Godliness with contentment (1 Tim 6:6) In our second week, we talked about how we learn contentment, which is a healthy emotional detachment from money and possessions. It's healthy because we understand the value and usefulness of money, so we don't squander it. It's detachment because we will gladly part with money or possessions for the sake of something greater.
Money is notoriously bad at buying happiness, but it is good for some things:
It's good for meeting basic needs like food, clothing, shelter. So we should be willing to part with it to meet those needs, first for our family (1 Tim 5:8), then for the family of faith (Gal 6:10) , then for others.
It's good for Church and Kingdom ministries. One on one ministry to friends typically doesn't take money, but many of the ministries we do together need money to operate. Whether it's a church building where we meet, curriculum that has been developed by gifted teachers or technology to be able to communicate effectively to our society or employing staff like pastors and administrators to lead and teach the church and make sure it runs smoothly, ministry takes money.
It's good for showing God's love and hospitality to our friends and neighbors. Taking someone out for coffee or lunch and investing time in them is a great use of the tool of money.
So, putting it all together, what are the keys to living in God's economy?
First, remember that money matters to God. God is not indifferent about your purchases. In fact, the Bible consistently tells us that what we do with money and possessions are a good indicator of the state of our soul.
Second, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it." (Psalm 24:1) We own nothing. Everything is God's and he has given us care of it. While he does care about our basic needs (Matthew 6:25-33) and gives it to us for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17), he also expects us to use it for the good of others and the sake of the Kingdom.
Third, simplify. Most of us in middle-class America have too much stuff and too many emotional attachments to that stuff. Some of it is because of it's monetary value, some is because of the reputation it gives us, and some is sentimental. Any of these can be ways to buy security or significance rather than finding our security and significance in God alone. So, go through your house or your closet and start to purge. Give it to Goodwill or Hidden Treasures. If it's really valuable, sell it and help a friend in need or give it to an organization that serves the poor or builds the Kingdom (like Together for Good, Prison Fellowship or the church).
Fourth, be intentional about your giving. Most people (even many Christians) give their leftovers. But God's principle has always been generous giving of "firstfruits"--giving the first and best of what you earn. The Old Testament standard for the people of Israel was the tithe or 10%. While the Old Testament Law isn't legally binding on us, I believe it is a helpful guide for where to start. When we give 10% right off the top, we force ourselves to live on less and rely less on money and possessions.
Giving to the church has always been a non-negotiable for Christians (by the way, my salary doesn't increase when the giving increases). You can designate to three areas:
The General Fund is our general operating budget. If you don't designate your funds anywhere, they will automatically go here.
The Missions Budget goes toward our international ministry efforts, supporting our missionaries abroad, humanitarian aid organizations like World Hope and the Pineapple project.
The Benevolence Fund is money that is specifically set aside to help those in need, whether in the church or outside the church. It will most often be used to give interest-free loans for people facing emergency situations, but is sometimes given as a grant if that's what is needed.
Many people like to give in the offering, but we also have an online giving option. You can give one-time or on a recurring basis and you can designate your giving to any of these funds or other special designations. In order to set up recurring donations, you must have a login to our church site. You can request one here. When you set it up, it's helpful if you use a direct bank draft rather than a debit card because there are fewer fees associated with it.
Many times a need comes up that you would like to give toward, but don't have the money. One suggestion is that as part of your intentional giving plan, you can simply take some of your "firstfruits" and put it in a giving account. Dave Ramsey tells us to have an emergency fund and we have couch funds, but how many of us have a fund specifically dedicated to money that we will give away. Having this money available will allow us to be able to listen when the Holy Spirit prompts us to give.
Fifth, as you make more, don't raise your standard of living, raise your standard of giving. In John Wesley's first year of ministry, he earned the equivalent of about $30,000 in today's money. Each year after that, he committed himself to living on that same amount and giving the rest away. After a few years, he became an author and prolific speaker and one year earned the equivalent of $1.5 million. Even that year, he lived on $30,000 and gave the rest away! Imagine being free to give like that!
Finally, expect a blessing. Now, I'm not telling you God will make you rich. He certainly could bless you financially--it's not unheard of. But God will grow your faith, he will start to free you from worry, he will help you see the world from a different perspective. How God blesses is not the same for everyone, but that God blesses is!
Of course, there's so much more to say about money, but these are the basics. I challenge you to sit down and determine in your heart--make a plan--for how you will use God's money over the next year and see if God won't bless you in many unimaginable ways.