What To Do When God Gives Bad Financial Advice

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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.



  1. says

    Great article, Craig! You’re hitting some major key points on what the Bible says about money. On my website, I’ve written that you should care for your family’s needs (which are often over-stated in America) first before giving.

    But I also make the exception that you do – sometimes God calls the poor (those who can’t meet their family’s needs) to give generously and sacrificially. My caution was simply that 1 Tim 5:8 makes it clear that we better be sure it’s God talking if we’re going to give at the cost of our family’s needs.

    Too often we can get guilted into giving by men and their teaching. Sometimes that guilt can be legitimate and from God, but other times it may not. It is our duty to seek God’s will when we experience such feelings and then act on what God directs us to do. We must commit ourselves to the Lord first, and then to whomever He would have us give to.
    .-= Paul Williams´s last blog ..Raising a Cow for Beef: Month 8 =-.

    • says

      Guilt is never a good motivation for giving – agreed.
      God does sometimes call the poor to give generously – agreed.
      We’d better be sure God is talking – agreed.
      Thanks for the good comment.

  2. says

    Love this!

    I just try to acknowledge God when I spend money and pre-spend money (make a budget). I know for a fact that if people saw how much we give they’d be telling us not to, asking us if we can afford to give that much, etc. The people (family) who know now do it all the time. I’m just going to focus on acknowledging God in it, and letting Him be my guide and compass. Hopefully I get it right for the generation that I will bring up.
    .-= lencib: Falling into Favor´s last blog ..Stop & Listen =-.

  3. Gary H says

    This is one of my favorite topics, and I have struggled with this issue for my entire marriage. Now at 59, my wife of 20 years is a Native American, and I am from the midwest. Our views of money and material belongings are miles apart. My family saved and scrimped for every penny we could and were considered poor. We attented church every service, and tithed. I thought compared to the other kids in school, we were average. My wife on the other hand grew up very poor in a very small village above the Arctic Circle. She never saw herself as poor, although they often lived on dirt floors when it was 45 degrees below zero out side. When I married her she was a professional, and commonly would take her entire check on payday and buy what ever she wanted. I appalled at this behavior, as I would mathmatically take the tithes our, then figure how much was needed for groceries, gasoline, etc. From her I was reminded that when God took the Israelites through the desert for 40 years, their instructions were to gather Mana for one day only. Those who gathered more ended up with rotten food. On the day before the Sabath, God instructed them to gather enough for 2 days. I don’t know about you,but I like my cabinets and pantry full of food. I like a bank account full of money incase of an emergency. I like my gas tank full also. I struggled with this and I still do. When I asked my wife what would happen if she needed the money later for food, she always replied God will supply, and he always did. When my sons were growing up, I couldn’t afford health insurance, so I was forced to trust in God. They did fine, but it was conscious trust every day. I can say I didn’t like it though. Since that time of my children being young, God has taken us from poverty to riches. Our three sons are all doctors or engineers, and we live in a 6000 square foot house with plenty.
    I heard once a minister tell about a man who tithed regularly while he was poor. At $500 per month he found it easy to pay $50 per month in tithes, once he made $5000 per month it became harder to tithe $500 per month, but he did. When he made $50,000 per month, he found it almost impossible to give $5000 per month. I completely understand that now. Although I still tithe regularly, paying tithes now is a lot harder than when we were poor, and accepted God’s provisions. Basically now that we have money, I find myself trusting it rather than God.
    Craig, you are right, God is not a mathmatician, but “he owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”

    • says

      Thanks so much for your comment. I really enjoyed your perspective as it does share the unique giving situations in plenty and with little. I like how you use the word trust as I do think that is an important aspect of the giving journey.

  4. says

    Great post. I loved your examples of our strange world. I was thinking of Hosea marrying a prostitute, and Judas whining about the Mary’s “waste” of expensive oil.

    My take away on it is this. If Christian Personal Finance is about living according to biblical financial principles that we lift from the Scriptures, it may make us better off financially, but we have missed the point.

    Please forgive my alteration if you find it offensive. “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you find the answers on how to plan and manage your financial life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.”

    We follow a living person, not a set of principles or teachings. Sometimes that person asks us to follow him in ways or places that don’t make sense in our earthly wisdom. Paul writes that each one must give as he has purposed in his heart. There is no law there. It is full of grace.

    If you are seeking to follow Jesus, live in the way God has put on your heart to live and you cannot go wrong. Even if you are mistaken in some ways, who am I to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (See Rom 14:4)

    • says

      Thanks for the comment. Your right the world of the Bible is a strange one.

      I love the idea of following the person of Jesus Christ. When we do that then we need not worry about the least of these …

  5. says

    Wow, Craig, this is such a POWERFUL post! It is full of wonderful advice and great information. I have to admit, though, your title is what brought me here, because when I read it I was thinking, ‘Whoever wrote this is out of his/her mind and surely does not know much about the Lord!’ LOL! :0)

    My husband and I have been tithing for almost 10 years and then began following Dave Ramsey’s ‘Total Money Makeover’ about 3 years ago. We are now debt free except for our mortgages (one on our primary residence and the other on an investment property we already owned before we started our debt snowball). I also have medical bills that arrive frequently due to a very serious neurovascular illness that has left me 100% disabled, homebound and bedridden. Regardless, we feel exponentially better about our financial situation than we ever have in our 20 years of marriage! God is SO good!

    Thanks for your inspiring posts. I can’t wait to read more. Have a great weekend!


    Teresa <

    ♥ Too Many Heartbeats ♥

  6. KineCarer says

    The Holy Bible does not describe a very very strange world. It describes the people of God as they were then and amazing it is very similar to how we are today. I doubt you are sinless or fully aware of all the underlying meanings of the Holy Bible and yet you write a blog presenting yourself as an expert by publicly expressing your opinion on it. Does it not seem curious that you don’t consider that strange? I do!

    When reading the Holy Bible many often try to make it confirm to what they are taught by those who hate them. If that wasn’t the case then there wouldn’t be confusion about Biblical content.

    As for what to do with ‘your money’ or ‘God’s money’. Since your business is preaching the Bible; I’d first suggest that you learn and internalize that money is imaginary. It doesn’t actually exist. It is an artificial construct concocted by some unknown person in history. It does not facilitate transactions and does not store value but only allows a third party, not actually involved in the transaction, to extract a portion for themselves. If you can ever accept and understand that then you might be getting nearer to understanding that Holy Bible you call so strange and you just might find that book stops being quite so strange to you.

    Otherwise all your efforts for learning of money are just clever ways to manipulate others more efficiently and effectively with money and the false promise of money to gain a better rate of return. Even giving can fall into this profit model.

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