Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The subject of money is addressed more often in the Bible than almost any other. Yet Christians still struggle to make wise financial decisions.
The most recent economic downturn illustrates the lack of financial understanding and poor financial decisions of millions of North Americans. During the last decade, many homeowners refinanced their homes to take advantage of increased values. When housing prices dropped, they lost equity, and many found themselves underwater on their mortgages. Job losses and spending cuts have had a negative effect on local and national economies. Surely many of us have missed the boat of good stewardship.
Meanwhile, Christians have turned for advice to a variety of financial advisors whose counsel runs along a continuum from asceticism to materialism. On one end of the continuum are those who promote a simple lifestyle and who view the ability to create wealth negatively. Purchasing anything more than necessities is frowned on, as is saving large amounts of money for the future. On the other end are those who define success and happiness in terms of material goods. Accumulating wealth becomes the overarching rule to live by. This position is characterized by a lack of concern for those who are left behind by the process of wealth creation.
Dave Ramsey’s popularity as a personal financial advisor has increased greatly in this tight economy, especially among Christians. Ramsey’s mantra is “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” The “living like no one else” he is talking about focuses primarily on material well-being, although he also acknowledges that achieving material success allows more choices in other areas of life. Ramsey advocates cutting spending, ridding yourself of all debt, and saving. He urges followers of his money makeover plan to take on extra jobs to get rid of debt so later on they can have fun. Ramsey often depicts the millionaire as the paragon of success. Although following the “baby steps” of his plan has undoubtedly had a positive effect on the financial condition of many believers, it may not result in good stewardship.
Focusing on our own material future to such a great extent can make us miss opportunities to help others. Instead, Matthew 6:33 reminds us that we are to seek God’s kingdom. Our money is not our own. Our decisions about personal finances ought to be shaped by our call to be excellent stewards, accountable in all things to the Giver of all good gifts. Recognizing that our ability to work is a gift from God and a way to serve God and others, we do not orient ourselves merely toward seeking wealth but toward fulfilling God’s call for all of our lives. Our consumption can provide others with jobs that in turn supply their needs. Our investments should focus not solely on the economic rate of return but also on non-monetary values. When we follow a values-based approach to investing, we help to advance companies that positively impact the kingdom.
For Christians, personal finance is not just personal—nor is it purely financial. We desire to serve God with all of our financial decisions and love our neighbors as ourselves in our saving, our spending, and our working.
About the Authors
Martha LaBarge, a professor of accounting at Hope College, Holland, Mich., is a member of Daybreak Community Wesleyan Church in Hudsonville, Mich.
Todd Steen, a professor of economics at Hope College, Holland, Mich., is a member of Park Christian Reformed Church in Holland.