Lesson 4: Spending
“Can a man be poor if he is free from want, if he does not covet the belongings of others, if he is rich in the possession of God? Rather, he is poor who possesses much but still craves for more.” - Tertullian
As we look to scripture to inform our understanding of the way we should spend money, the doctrine of sin continues to be at the center. Money is often presented as a neutral tool. We know that mankind is not. When placed into the hands of the sinful person, money loses its neutrality. Ever since the moment sin entered the world, man has looked upon God’s blessings and sought a way to corrupt those blessings for sinful pleasure. Money is no different. Since we use money to get whatever we want, our spending is a very reliable barometer that reveals our heart’s desire. This is why we need to understand sin, how it has corrupted the way we spend our money, and how all of this can be redeemed for God’s glory.
The Sinful Heart
Sin entered the world through the acts of Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis 3. In that chapter, we see Satan’s first recorded conversation with man and woman. In that conversation, he tempted them to pursue what God had forbidden by diminishing the character of God through a lie. Satan’s words led man to believe that God kept the best from them. Satan’s twisted words then, like today, promised life but delivered death instead.
Adam and Eve fell for the lie and we see Eve look upon the fruit, which delighted her eyes and so they ate it. Romans 1:25 reflects this truth in New Testament times, “…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” This pattern of sin continues today. We believe a lie, sight gives way to desire, desire is justified through our reasoning and then we perform the sinful act of rebellion.
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” - James 1:14-15
This fallen world has developed a consumer’s life, chasing the passions and desires of our flesh. Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, we have chosen to be ruled by a life chasing “what I want” rather than a life following “what God has said”. We have exchanged the life of true freedom for a lie chasing our desires, ultimately leading us to bondage and death.
There are several characteristics of sin that we need to keep in mind as we reflect on the way it impacts our financial lives.
- Sin is progressive – Sin starts out as a single act, but when we allow it in, it leads us to more and more sin. Each continuous, unrepented sin gives way to another. Consider the life of David as seen in 2 Samuel 11. David’s sin began with adultery. That sin led to murder and then in the following chapters we see the death of his son, rape and war within his family, his wives being taken and humiliated, etc. Sin must be battled and stopped. When we allow it a foothold, even a seemingly harmless sin will lead to chaos, destruction and death.
- Sin affects other people – Financial sinfulness not only affects us personally, it will affect our children, our neighbors and others in our church. Just consider how prevalent finances are as a reason for divorce. As we reflect back on David’s sin, we see it impacting him, his whole family, as well as the nation of Israel well into the future.
- Sin is deceptive – Sin is crouching at the door and Satan is like a lion looking to devour us.1 Sin always looks attractive and our hearts are deceptive, sick,2 and looking to rationalize our desires. We need to be grounded in God’s Word, cultivating a pure heart that desires Christ above all things.
Despite our sinfulness, God remains faithful. Even before Genesis 3 ends, we see God coming to man, clothing them, and even promising a savior in Christ as the solution to their sin.
How Sin Affects Our Spending
Augustine famously described sin as love that is attached to the wrong things. Idolatry is love that has been misplaced in something other than God. We see this in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 when Paul was warning Timothy about the difficulty he would encounter in these last days. In it we see a description very similar to our world today. He warns Timothy that people in the church, who “have the appearance of godliness” would be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, ungrateful, unholy, unappeasable, without self-control, not loving good, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (and much more).3
Let’s consider some of the sins contained in Paul’s list and how these play out in our spending:
- Lovers of self – A person that loves themselves will spend money chasing things that feed their desires for power, pleasure and possessions. Their financial lives will be characterized by consumption seeking their own glory with little regard for God or others.
- Lovers of money – Scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.4 It is a gateway to many sins and through it some have wandered from the faith. The love of money is a life of futility trying to satisfy a craving that can never be satisfied. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income…”5
- Proud, arrogant, ungrateful – The proud and ungrateful fail to recognize God’s sovereignty. They constantly question God by asking “Why have you made me like this?”.6 They are characterized by discontentment and will use their money in an attempt to change their circumstances because they feel they deserve better. This is one of the reasons why so many people choose to live a lifestyle that requires more than they make. Satan can easily use discontentment to tempt most people into financial sin. Humility, thankfulness and contentment are marks of a true believer.
- Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – The classic sin narrative says we are free to do whatever we want as long as we’re not hurting anyone. The lover of pleasure will twist scripture to appease their conscience. For example, 1 Timothy 6:17 says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” This is a common verse used to justify self-indulgent spending in the pursuit of pleasure.
This argument comes up short when taken into the broader context of this passage. In the verses leading up to this one, Paul is speaking on the value of contentment and warning about the desire to be rich and the love of money. The most clarifying verses of all are the ones that follow verse 17:
“They 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
All of these sins have a common theme, they are chasing some form of earthly pleasure. It’s only natural that these sins would be reflected in our spending since money is the medium of exchange we have to purchase whatever our hearts desire. God does want us to enjoy our money, but true and pure enjoyment will only be found when we enjoy it the way He has designed it to be enjoyed.
Sin would have us take God’s blessings and pervert them for sinful pleasure apart from Him. In doing so we never experience the true joy found when money is used in the way God intended. Those who have discretionary money (the rich), should not be seeking new and creative ways to indulge their sinfulness. As Paul said, they should be generous, performing good works, sharing with those in need and always looking forward to an eternity where things will be enjoyed in fellowship with God without the corruption of sin.
Enjoying Money Faithfully
The way we choose to spend money is a crucial factor in our stewardship of God’s resources. We want to be careful to avoid the pitfalls of the materialist and the ascetic, who are either spending to satisfy their worldly cravings or falsely denying themselves. But how exactly do we go about making faithful spending decisions?
I think we need to move away from the world’s budgeting approach, which focuses on consumption, to one built around the idea of investing for God. As stewards, our goal is to manage what God has provided in order to bring Him glory. This includes making investments that proclaim the Gospel and further His purposes, as well as ones that make us more available and useful servants in the future. So, just like a strategic investor, we need to look at how to best use our limited resources with those goals in mind.
Let’s start by considering what scripture teaches us:
- Sinful Spending – We absolutely need to avoid spending that is characterized by sin or providing an open door to temptation or addiction in the future.7 Even developing a taste for luxury can lead our families down a dangerous pathway. Imagine the internal conflict in a young person that’s grown to enjoy luxuries, but is unable to afford the same lifestyle when they’re out on their own. While these spending gray areas may be permissible, we need to remember that not all will be helpful.8
- Indulging the Sinful Heart: We’re told not to “love the world or the things in the world”.9 It is necessary at times to deny ourselves and flee from spending that could lead our hearts astray. Are we buying things out of pride and our desire to impress others or are we buying them because we have a need or see an opportunity for investment? Our sinful hearts can rationalize just about any purchase. In an effort to be truly objective, it’s also very helpful to seek wise counsel from others that aren’t emotionally tied to the situation.
- Presumptive Spending – It’s good to trust in God’s provision, but that doesn’t mean that we should make decisions that would obligate God to pay for them. Scripture reminds us that we don’t know what tomorrow brings.10 Instead, we should be working to free ourselves from financial obligations so that we can be available for whatever good works God has prepared for us in the days ahead.11 God has prepared us for good works and we should be working to free ourselves from the bondage of debt so we can be available to serve.
While avoiding these dangers, we can also be searching for ways to strategically invest God’s money. God has provided freedom and grace in the way we make spending decisions. This means we’re going to rely less on God’s specific commands and more on biblical wisdom as we apply the principles of scripture to our everyday lives. Here are a few of the many ways we can invest for God’s glory through our spending:
- Provide for our families – The most basic purpose for God’s money is to provide for those in our care. Anyone who fails to meet this obligation “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”.12 God has promised to meet our daily needs and that is often through spending the money he has provided.
- Invest in Relationships – God created us for fellowship and we need to be intentional to invest in our relationships. What good would it be if we gave all our money away, but neglected our kids, our marriages, our church and our neighbors? Sometimes this will require us to spend money, but relationships are critical for Christian community, discipleship and evangelism.
- Multiply our Talents – God has blessed each of us with skills and abilities that we can develop and multiply for His glory by investing in things like education and training. We should also consider how we can best do this for our children as we try to grow them into the next generation of stewards. Stewardship is a lifelong endeavor and it’s okay to invest money in ourselves so that we can maximize our service to the Lord.
The world tells us that spending money on our desires will bring happiness, but sinful and wasteful spending often leaves consumers with nothing more than guilt and disappointment. The natural response is to believe we didn’t do enough, so like an addict, we double down and spend more hoping for a different result. Rather than taking our own journey, we should learn from the writer of Ecclesiastes who proclaims that he denied himself nothing his eyes desired and refused his heart no pleasure.13 At the end of his journey, he concluded “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income”.14 At some point, we will have spent enough on ourselves and need to consider a better use for the money we’ve been entrusted to manage.
- There are two dangers in spending. We can either spend without consideration for the Lord and look like the world or we can be burdened with guilt every time we spend money out of fear of being poor stewards.
- How do we flee the spending pattern of the world to better reflect our faith in Christ?
- How does the guilty spender find freedom and joy in spending their money in a way that glorifies God?
- Since we’re still sinners, we’re never going to be perfect in our spending, but how can the tools of scripture, prayer and community help us to grow in the discipline of faithful spending?
Endnotes: Scripture References
1) Genesis 4:7 - If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it."
1 Peter 5:8 - Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
2) Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
3) 2 Timothy 3:1-5 - But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
4) 1 Timothy 6:10 - For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
5) Ecclesiastes 5:10 - He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.
6) Romans 9:20 - But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?"
7) 1 Thessalonians 5:22 - Abstain from every form of evil.
8) 1 Corinthians 6:12 - "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything.
9) 1 John 2:15-17 - Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
10) Proverbs 27:1 - Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.
James 4:13-16 - Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"-- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
11) Ephesians 2:10 - For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
12) 1 Timothy 5:8 - But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
13) Ecclesiastes 2:10 - And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.
14) Ecclesiastes 5:10 - He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.