I have a love-hate relationship with money. I love the good things money can accomplish. I love how it can be used to provide for my needs and the needs of my wife and children. I love how it can be used to support God’s work in the world. I love being the contributor and the recipient of financial generosity—there is much joy in cheerful giving and grateful receiving. Yet I hate the way money can hold me captive, the way it subtly promises what only God can deliver. I hate how quickly it leaves my hands in an endless torrent of bills, payments, and expenses. Money is a joy and money is a burden.
In this series for Christian men, we are examining life through the biblical metaphor of a race. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul asks, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?” He then provides an obvious application, a charge: “So run that you may obtain it.” We have been learning that victoriously running the race of life involves a wide array of skills and character traits. To our growing list we now add this: If you are going to run to win, you need to master your finances.
What You Own
The bank account may be in your name, but it’s not actually your money. The deed to your home may have your first and last name printed at the top, but your house doesn’t truly belong to you. You came into this world naked and empty-handed, and you’ll leave this world naked and empty-handed. All that you enjoy between birth and death is a gift. It belongs to God but is assigned to your care.
This is known as stewardship. God is the creator of all that is and, therefore, God is the owner of all that is. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). He owns your home, your car, your money, and everything else. You relate to these things as a steward, as one who has been given the responsibility to use them on behalf of the owner. A steward is a manager, a person responsible for skillful management of resources.
Jesus illustrated the stewardship principle in one of his best-known parables, the one we know today as “The Parable of the Talents.” He tells the story of a master who is going on a journey, and before he departs, he distributes his wealth to his servants for safekeeping. To one he gives five talents, to another two, and to another one. Then he goes away, and the servants set to work. Two of the servants use the money wisely and double it; one of them buries it in the ground. When the master returns he demands an accounting. The two who have shown wisdom are rewarded, while the one who had been frugal and unwise is rebuked. Jesus provides this application: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29).
Rights and Responsibilities
God owns all things and distributes things to you so you can use them well and wisely. All money is God’s money, and while he has rights over it, you have responsibilities. He answers to no one, but you answer to him. You bear the responsibility not to squander your money, not to use it in ways that fail to carry out his purposes or even contradict his purposes. Conversely, you are responsible before God to use your money in ways that are pleasing to him, in ways that carry out his will on earth. God gives every dollar in trust and has the right to demand an accounting for it.
This is a weighty and sacred responsibility. You might think, then, that the only noble purposes for money are giving it to churches and charities and Christian ministries. But it is not so simple. God is a loving Father who “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). He does not equate stewardship with austerity. Rather, he instructs you to find an appropriate balance between what you keep and what you give, between what you use for purposes of comfort and what you use for purposes of kingdom advancement.
God addresses your heart’s relationship with money both negatively and positively. Negatively, he warns you that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) and insists that money offers more than it can deliver: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). You must be very careful with money, knowing that it has the power to hold you captive.
Positively, God promises joy to those who hold their money loosely and give with generosity. Solomon observes, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:24-25). There is also joy to be had beyond this life, for even though you cannot take your wealth with you, you can, in a sense, send it on ahead (as Randy Alcorn is so fond of saying). “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). Those with wealth are “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
God has given you money so you can put it to work in his world and for his purposes. This will involve the day-to-day financial management of paying bills, buying groceries, and making payments into a retirement account. It will also involve giving generously to the church and to believers who have needs. It will involve a constant awareness that money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master, that it all belongs to God, and that it is to be used to bring glory to him.
Do It Now!
If you are going to master your finances, you need to take action. Here are some places to begin.
- Read a good book on money. For some reason, few of us are taught financial management in school, in church, or even in our parents’ homes. Thankfully, we are well-served with excellent books that explain God’s view on money. Perhaps begin with Managing God’s Money by Randy Alcorn, a personal favorite and an excellent primer on the subject.
- Budget your money. Few things make a bigger difference to your diligent stewardship of money than maintaining a budget. There are hundreds of different ways to maintain a budget, but the important principle is this: Account for every penny. A good budget will force you to understand how you spend your money and call you to account for where you are spending poorly. When it comes to budgeting, that you do it is far more important than how you do it.
- Enjoy your money. While God calls you to be a faithful steward of your money, God is pleased when you enjoy it. As Solomon says, “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19). You can buy items that make you comfortable and travel to places that are restful. Sometimes the wisest way to spend money is to spend it on something that brings you joy and blessing.
- Ask questions. Consider the four questions John Wesley asked of any expenditure: In spending this money, am I acting as if I own it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee? What Scripture passage requires me to spend this money in this way? Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord? Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?
- Plan your giving. Many people form a plan to increase their retirement savings or to increase the amount they are saving for a new car. Few people plan to increase their giving to God’s work. Consider how you will give more next year than you did this year. Why not plan to add a small percentage each year? If you give $200 a month this year, plan how you can make it $220 a month next year. If you give $1500 a month this year, make every effort to up it to $1600 next year. Don’t allow your income and expenses to grow without also growing your giving.
Run to Win!
You, like me, may have a love-hate relationship with money. You may love all the good it does and dread all the evil it causes. It helps to know that the hand of God is behind our money: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). Your money is actually God’s money, and through the Holy Spirit he equips you to use it well, to steward it faithfully, to someday hear the words of the grateful master: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). In the meantime, if you are going to run to win, you must master your finances.