1 Timothy 6:6-10
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Like anything in life, money can be used either for God’s purposes or for our own. It can be either a tool or a trap. When used as a tool for building God’s kingdom, money bears testimony to both to our hope in Jesus Christ as Savior and to our delight in Him as the great reward of life. But when money becomes a trap, it replaces God as our master.
In our efforts to think of money as a tool, it is imperative that we understand that what we think of as our money is literally God’s. Money is loaned (not given) to us, that we might invest it for the kingdom as good stewards of our master’s wealth.
Though the word “stewardship” is thrown around a lot in Christian circles, let us be clear: stewardship is godly only insofar as building God’s kingdom is the aim. Because God’s kingdom is not of this world, stewardship may bear little resemblance to practical earthly wisdom. In a kingdom that is built one believer at a time, godly stewardship means funding the work of discipleship.
Kingdom-focus drives contentment. We work honest jobs1, avoid burdensome debt2, and plan for future expenses, not because we want to build bigger houses or put more into our retirement accounts, but because we want to free up more for God’s work. We determine our needs not on basis of comfort or financial security, but by how our possessions increase or decrease our ability to share and image the gospel to those around us. Then we pass along the rest to others.
What We Use Money For
The money we give away can be divided into roughly two categories, though the categories are far from being mutually exclusive. First, we use wealth to supply God’s army in the war for souls. We find where there is need – locally and globally – and we give. This giving is not an afterthought; it requires sacrifice and planning.3 Second, we use money to help meet the needs of those who do not have enough.4 Even as our needs for food and clothing are being accounted for we do our best to make sure others have those things too.
God purposefully provides for some of His people in abundance. It is not so they can build bigger barns, attics, and garages to store it all in. Nor is it so that our stuff can sit around collecting dust and being eaten by moths. Our addiction to material wealth is always satisfied at the expense of compassion and justice for the under-resourced in our world. Rather, God gives generously in order that his disciples can show the world what Christ-like love looks like.5
Money as an Idol
While money is not inherently evil, it can easily become a trap and a distraction. Whether we have a little money or a lot, it can occupy our thoughts to such a degree that it becomes an idol and chokes out the fruit of believers.6 We can fall in love with its ability to provide comfort and security and power. When that happens our eagerness for money replaces our desire for God. The sobering reality is that while you cannot earn your way into heaven, you can certainly misuse money in ways that land you in hell. 7
The Bible speaks of many financial sins that accompany money idolatry. These include being continually torn between whether to obey God at financial loss or disobey God in order to retain wealth (as with the rich young ruler),8 giving from pride so that others will be impressed with your generosity and praise you,9 getting into the slavery of debt,10 enviously coveting the success and possessions of others rather than rejoicing with them,11 a diminished fear of the Lord,12 laziness,13 not providing for one’s family,14 poor financial planning leading to poverty,15 not leaving a generous financial legacy to your children and grandchildren,16 becoming a heretic because it is profitable,17 becoming selfish and therefore a bad friend,18 and robbing God by not giving to the cause of his ministry.1920
What about you? Greed is real and plagues even the best-intentioned Christian. In what way is money an idol in your life? Are you falling into any of the financial sins listed above? Step back from yourself, for a moment, and ask a few questions of your life:
- Do you find yourself thinking that money is yours – earned by you, to be spent by you, and for you?21
- Does God get the first and best of your money or does he get the leftovers?
- What resources do you need to effectively bear God’s image and make disciples? Are you content to have just these needs met?
- Do you purchase things for utility or for status?
- Do you worry about money or providing for yourself what God promises to provide?22
- Do you use things until they wear out or do you constantly “update”?
- Are you addicted to buying things? Or, can you enjoy things without owning them?
The Danger of Prosperity Theology
Sadly, money is one area that the church gets wrong all the time. Jesus knew this would be hard for us, which is why about a quarter of His recorded words are in reference to resources that we are to steward.23 Paul, likewise, warns us against greed. In contrast to the godly and content in 1 Timothy 6:6 are the false teachers Paul speaks of in the verse below.
- 1 Timothy 6:3-5
How it must grieve our God to see the false churches and false ministers of our day that encourage greed under the guise of Christianity. In this so-called “prosperity theology,” God is about you getting yours. He becomes a means for getting what you wanted before you came to Him, a way of satisfying your desire for other gods.
Some say that, “by receiving Jesus Christ, obeying the Word of God, and meditating on this important truth about abundant living, prosperity can become a reality. I’m not just talking about having a lot of money in the bank, even though God does want us to prosper financially. I’m talking about a quality of life that is marked by an overflow of peace, health, wholeness, and provision.”24
This sounds nice enough; an ego stroke for a fallen humanity bent on making gods of ourselves. But God does not promise our faith will lead to an overflow of physical “peace, health, wholeness, and provision.” The abundant life promised us in Scripture has nothing to do with our possessions.25 Nor does God offer us a formula for worldly success: do A + B and get C. Such a mindset puts us in control, not God. When we start speaking material and physical blessing into existence, ex nihilo, we are playing god and the glory goes to us and our exceptional faith.
Such a human-centered mindset requires a great deal of forgetfulness with regards to Scripture. Forget, for instance, that Scripture condemns the desire to get rich and warns us again and again of the deceitfulness of money. Forget also that Scriptures tell us to store up treasure in heaven and not amass wealth on earth.26 Forget the direct connection Paul makes in the passage above between the corrupt minds of false teachers and treating godliness as a means to financial gain. To be so forgetful is to lose sight of God as the goal. It is to make much of money and what money can get us here and now. The focus in greed is on the temporary and visible, rather than the unseen and eternal reward of Jesus Christ. Remember, though, that godliness is content with having its basic needs met. This is for God’s glory and our good.
We can be content with the necessities of life because the deepest, most satisfying delights God gives us through creation are free gifts from nature and loving relationships with people. After your basic needs are met, money begins to diminish your capacity for these pleasures rather than increase them. Buying things contributes absolutely nothing to the heart’s capacity for joy.27
The Rich Young Ruler
Simplicity and generosity are our safeguards against the deceits of wealth.28 This is precisely why when Jesus called others to seek His kingdom first, the call sometimes came with instructions to leave behind or sell one’s possessions. Consider the story of the rich young ruler found in the following verse:
- Matthew 19:16-25
Some Christians do not have to seek wealth out in order to have it. Whether through family ties or natural talents, they simply have money. While it is possible to have wealth and seek Christ, it is, what theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls, an “ultimate possibility” of the Christian life.29 We cannot assume that we have the grace of inner detachment from wealth unless we have first literally left all of it to follow Christ. Only in doing so can we know that we truly do hold loosely to wealth.
For those who consider their wealth as a testimony to God’s pleasure with them, consider the man in the passage above. His riches were not proof of his faith. They were what kept him from single-minded pursuit of Christ. We do not glorify God by having possessions or talents. We glorify God by enjoying Him and investing our earthly treasure in ways that bear eternal returns. Obedience is the only measure we have of God’s favor in our life.30 Bonhoeffer continues:
The difference between ourselves and the rich young man is that he was not allowed to solace his regrets by saying: ‘Never mind what Jesus says, I can still hold on to my riches, but in a spirit of inner detachment. Despite my inadequacy I can take comfort in the thought that God has forgiven me my sins and can have fellowship with Christ in faith.’ But no, he went away sorrowful. Because he would not obey, he could not believe. 31
This is not a call to voluntary poverty. Christ never extended such a call generally, so we cannot either. While the love of money is evil, making money is not. We need to be pursuing employment and making money in order to pay for food and shelter and clothing and to fund ministry opportunities (both ours and others). In this process, some folks will become wealthy and others will not. Some will sell everything while others will not.32 In either case, our decision is to flow from our preeminent focus on Christ and desire to see his kingdom expanding in times and places.
Like the shrewd servant in Jesus’ parable,33 disciples are to use everything at our disposal to make ourselves friends for eternity. We do so by inviting folks into the family of God. We cannot take anything with us. So, while we have earthly resources, we should be using them to fund the efforts of holistic discipleship.
The first step in bringing your finances under God’s rule is to analyze your spending. What you do with your earthly treasure says a lot about where your heart is. Write down your current income and expenditures. Revisit the questions above and consider a few more. Are you spending more then you make? Are you enslaved to debt? What are you spending your money on? Are there changes you can make to free up money for ministry (your own and others)?
Rather than asking, “How much house, car, television, cell phone, computer, etc. can I afford?” we should be asking, “Where is God moving and how can I put my resources behind those efforts?” God’s people have always been expected to give him back their first and best. If you add up all the “tithes” in the Old Testament, the Israelites were giving upwards of 25% of their income back to God.34 Nowadays, we set ourselves a much lower bar, if we set one at all.35
In offering our first fruits,36 we are also demonstrating trust. By giving the first part of every paycheck to work aimed at building God’s kingdom, we show the world that our hope rests on God’s ability to provide for our clothes and food. If we are honest though, we often refuse to give our first and best because we cannot stop worrying about providing for our daily needs. Such worries are easy to justify in our mind. After all, who can do life with out food to eat or water to drink? But to Jesus, such worries are a symptom of an unbelieving heart. He told His disciples not to worry.
- Matthew 6:31-33
Notice that Jesus does not dismiss our needs as unimportant. He actually intends to provide for them. But our needs are not the most important thing, God’s kingdom is. Absolute, unflinching trust in God as a capable and desiring provider is paramount to stewardship. Which is why, when God wants to show what giving to His kingdom looks like, He uses the poor as His example. Consider Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian believers.37
- 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
The goal in all of this is not poverty, but that there will be equality.38 To achieve this equality, Scripture challenges all believers towards rich generosity. And the metric that we are given to measure our generosity, is the example of those who gave “beyond their ability.”
Though it may seem strange at first, we ought to budget in such a way that allows for our generosity both through established ministries and for our own direct acts of compassion to our neighbors. Those of us who have more than we need would do well to set a cap on our expenditures at or slightly above what is required to maintain our own ministry, including the daily needs of food, shelter, and clothing. Invested everything else in God’s kingdom. This is not a rule, just a thought. The cap can be adjusted as your ministry and the ministries you give to change.
Christian stewardship will look strange indeed to the world around us. We will be considered fools for our squandering of resources on others, who may or may not be grateful for what we offer them. Even within the church at times, folks will not understand us. They will call us irresponsible for giving until it hurts, well beyond what the world considers our ability. Yet, they will be getting a glimpse of God’s generosity through us. We will become as the Macedonians to the Corinthians.
Principles for Giving
- Aim for Holistic Ministries. By ‘holistic,’ we mean those ministries that are committed to meeting both physical and spiritual needs. When we give to ministries (including our local church) that are more committed to one than the other, we end up reinforcing a very harmful dichotomy with the Body.
- Start with Your Community. Take time to get to know your community. Find out what its particular needs are – literacy, trade skills, stable housing, or financial wisdom – and focus your energy on those. If Christians are already working holistically on those issues, join them.39 Do not waste time or energy or resources reinventing a ministry, just to get your name on it.
- Go to the Nations. Other countries have needs too, often even more pressing than our own. In addition to a lack of gospel witness there may be inadequate food, education, infrastructure, clean water, or basic health care. Support efforts through local bodies in these countries both individually and with your local church. If helpful go, but consider whether the money it takes to get you there and back would be better donated directly to the body of Christ in that country.
- Join Hands for Sustainable Change. Though handouts are easy to give and meet acute needs, over the long run these can become degrading and disabling. Consider pooling together time and talents to start viable businesses that meet the basic needs the needs of the body and the poor. These ventures can be for-profit or not-for-profit, but the goal should always be developing people rather than increasing return on investment.
- Stay the Course. Change takes time. Bringing a new believer from rebirth to reproducibility may take years. Are you prepared to put in that time? Are you prepared to give others that time? Will you commit to ministries that are faithful to meet physical and spiritual needs, regardless of the harvest?
Next, take an inventory of your possessions. What things do you need to minister to your local body and community? Compare that to what you actually have. Do the things you own add or detract from your ability to image God and make disciples?
When you have taken these steps, let a trusted Christian friend take a look at your finances and your resources. Invite him or her to speak truthfully; to critique your budget and offer advice. Take their input and come up with two or three concrete applications that you can put into place over the next one to two weeks.
For most, if not all of us, putting God-first in the area of resources will involve giving something up. Our spending will change and our joy-sapping load of possessions will be lightened. Whatever you choose to make that a reality, my prayer is that you would eagerly anticipate the sacrifice as an opportunity. God asks a lot of us, but He promises so much more—both now and in the life to come.
At every turn, we must fight to maintain the tension between accountability and legalism. While we ought to guard against extending our individual applications into a requirement for others, we still hold other Christians—particularly our leaders40 —accountable to be free of the love of money. Only through generous application of the Lord’s grace and love can this tension be maintained.
In spite of the dangers, it is imperative that you apply God’s word to your life. Truth which is first born in our hearts, is proven by our concrete actions. We cannot say we believe in God and then not seek to honor him with every part of our life, especially money. Consider writing your applications down and asking that same trusted Christian friend who reviewed your finances to keep you accountable to implementing your ideas.
Remember a few key points: our time, talent, and treasure are on loan from God with the purpose of being invested in ways that advance God’s rule in the lives of men and women. Our basic needs are defined by our ministry, not our survival. Gospel-advancing generosity is the key to maintaining godly contentment. Faith is demonstrated by giving back to God the first and best of what he has given to us regardless of our circumstances.
- What should money be used for?
- Is money an idol in your life?
- What can you give away or sell to provide for the needs of others? For example, are there clothes you are not wearing, tools you are not using, cars you are not driving, or houses you are not living in?
1 Timothy 6:6-10
How does this study reinforce your belief in the gospel?
- 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12
- Romans 13:8
- Deuteronomy 18:4, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2
- Deuteronomy 15:11, Luke 6:35, 2 Corinthians 8:13-15
- 2 Corinthians 9:8-13
- Matthew 13:22
- Matthew 25:14-46; James 2:16-18; 1 John 3:16-18
- Luke 18:18-30
- Matthew 6:1-4
- Proverbs 22:7
- Ecclesiastes 4:4
- Proverbs 15:16
- Proverbs 13:4
- 1 Timothy 5:8
- Proverbs 15:21-22; 21:5
- Proverbs 13:22; 19:14
- 1 Timothy 6:3-10
- James 4:1-4
- Malachi 3:8-10
- p. 375 Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears. Crossway 2010.
- Deuteronomy 8:8-10
- Matthew 6:25-34
- p. 374 Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears. Crossway 2010.
- Creflo Dollar. Total Life Prosperity: God’s Will. http://www.creflodollarministries.org/BibleStudy/Articles. This quote is used, not because Mr. Dollar is alone in his thinking, but as a representative of thousands of churches and pastors who have lost sight of God as the goal and see “godliness as a means of financial gain.”
- Luke 12:15
- Matthew 6:19-20
- John Piper, from a sermon entitled Money: Currency for Christian Hedonism delivered on October 9, 1983 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota
- 1 Timothy 6:17-19
- p. 82 Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1st Touchstone edition 1995
- Matthew 3:7-10; 7:15-23; Luke 3:7-9; 6:43-45; John 15:1-6
- p. 80 Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1st Touchstone edition 1995
- This is determined through reflection on how, through Christ’s power, your resources can be best used to advance his kingdom. See Luke 12:32-34; 18:22; 19:8, and Acts 4:37. The people in these passages gave varying amounts, yet they were each approved. If your wealth stands between you and God get rid of it entirely. Otherwise, continually pour it into the work of the kingdom over time.
- Luke 16:1-8
- p. 393 Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears. Crossway 2010.
- To put things in perspective, only 27% of evangelicals clear the traditional 10% bar in their tithing. More than 1/4 of American protestants give nothing. Median giving for a Christian is $200 (= 0.5% of after tax income). Things are not getting better, they are actually getting worse over time. Info taken from pages 396-397 of Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears. Crossway 2010.
- Ex 23:19; Lev 23:10; Nu 3:13; Neh 10:35; Rom 8:23; Jam 1:18; Rev 14:4
- See also Jesus comments on the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44
- 2 Corinthians 8:14-15
- Matthew 19:27-30; 2 Corinthians 4:16-17
- 1 Timothy 3:2-3; 8-9