As Christians, we sometimes stand under the Word of God, and sometimes we stand over the Word of God.
We are currently hearing two types of financial advice. The first is coming from financial gurus, and the second comes from the Word of God. I’m amazed at how often those to bits of advice agree. However, there are clearly times when the biblical advice differs from the advice of financial gurus.
For example, the financial guru will say to get yourself into a healthy financial position and then help others. I’m not sure if this is biblical financial advice. There is one verse that seems to support this notion – 1 Tim. 5:8. However, there are many cases where people did not care for their own family first:
- James and John walked away from the family fishing business. In this case, they directly neglected their obligation to care for their father. Instead, they put Jesus first.
- The widow of Zerapheth cooked a loaf of bread for Elijah instead of herself and her child.
- Jesus himself is the ultimate contradiction, as he did not care for his family. He did not assume his father’s business (but, he did take on his Heavenly Father’s business). He did nothing to financially contribute to his family.
Yet, we interpret 1 Tim. 5:8 as saying help yourself first, and then help others. Hmmm. At the very least, we should be able to say there may be cases where God calls people to help others before they help themselves.
Interpretive Dangers: Listening to God Only After We Listen To Human Wisdom
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)
When we read the Bible, we tend to bring our world view and insert it into the text. What we have been taught to know as good and right, we naturally expect the Bible to affirm that those things are good and right.
The problem is that when we read our Bibles, we encounter a very, very strange world.
- A world where a man like Naaman can say he will follow God, but asks for forgiveness for the fact he will continue to enter a pagan temple and bow down to a false god. The man of God says, ‘”Sure, no problem.”
- A world where a man like Abraham lies about his relationship with his wife and pushes her into the bed of another man – twice.
- A world where a man like Sampson – a man inflamed by anger and unchecked passion – can be God’s judge.
- A world where a man like Solomon can have hundreds of wives, yet he is a classic example for us on marriage. How many books on marriage use Solomon as the example? Strange, eh?
As I continue my journey though the Old Testament in my personal readings, I’m continually struck by the fact that this is a very, very different world.
Assumption: We only look for alternative explanations when a first reading offends our current assumption.
People from North America are taught that saving is virtuous. Don’t believe me? A penny saved is … Thus, we naturally gravitate to Bible verses that promote saving.
People in Papua New Guinea are taught that saving is greedy and selfish. Thus, they naturally gravitate to Bible verses that promote giving.
When I write about the Rich Young Ruler, we (Westerners) automatically begin to look for the exit door. What is the easiest possible explanation that allows me to (1) keep my wealth, (2) honor God,and (3) sleep at night. So just as soon as we start reading, we start to seek out alternative explanations because the first reading (give everything away) offends our cultural presuppositions about money.
Why? Because we have money. We believe money to be good. And thus, must make the Scriptures support us.
When I preach about the Rich Young Ruler here in Papua New Guinea, I get Amens, smiles, and people who go and do likewise.
And here’s the kicker – I try to stop them.
I’ve had two separate conversations with guys who each have a family to support, and they make about $20 US per week. Both give $4 to the church on a weekly basis. Last I checked, that is 20%. You know what I did? Tried to encourage them to give less. But, to no avail. If someone who can’t afford to give 20% wants to give 20%, should I try to stop them? Should I open my Bible to 1 Tim. 5:8 and condemn them? Or do I tell them that if God can provide for the ravens he will also provide for them?
Does God Ever Give Bad Financial Advice?
Here’s the deal. I don’t think God is as concerned with math as we are.
In fact, sometimes we totally latch on to the idea of stewardship and say that means we must always make choices that bring the greatest return on our money. If I do something and end up with more money, that is good stewardship.
But, is there ever a case where I can do something, end up with less money, and that be considered good stewardship?
In 1 Kings 17, the text talks about a famine in the land. Elijah is providentially led to the Kerith Ravine where he drinks from a brook and is fed by ravens. After some time, the brook dries up – providentially.
If God can coerce a group of ravens to bring supper, don’t you think he could have kept the water flowing?
Then, he sends Elijah to a widow who is starving. Wouldn’t it have been better for God to send Elijah to a wealthy man? So, why this widow?
God wanted to teach the widow and Elijah about his ability to providentially provide.
I often wonder what I would have said to this widow if she came to me for financial and spiritual advice. The Bible does say that anyone who does not care for his own family is worse than an unbeliever. So, is the point of this story that this woman is worse than an unbeliever? No, I think she displays something called faith.
She makes a bad math choice. A bad stewardship choice (how we define it). And is blessed as a result.
So, what’s the point?
- The dollar is not the be all and end all of every financial decision.
- The ends do not always justify the means.
- God’s ways are not our ways.
I’ve been subscribing to so many personal finance blogs that my financial knowledge and my math is getting better. However, I’m wondering if I’m ever getting closer to understanding what God wants me to do with my money. The reason I started this blog was to explore what God expects of us from our money. I don’t want to offer Biblical sound bits to already preconceived notions about what God teaches about money. The world of the Bible is a strange one. To fully understand what God teaches about money, I think we need a fresh look, a deeper understanding, and (most importantly) the humility to say I might be wrong about what I assumed about money.
I’m not sure if I’m at that point yet, but I pray that God will help me to mature to the point that I can really come to know his will for me and my (actually, his) money.