Now let me clarify something which my bug some of you. I am a capitalist. I am not against commerce. One only needs to look at history to see how capitalism works where socialism does not. (I know a few people who think they are socialists, but their way of living gives them away.) If you take away a reward system in commerce, the kinds of people who dream big will not pursue their dreams and jobs will not be created and eventually all will suffer in a manner not unlike what happened in the Soviet Union. I think God can use rich people and poor people and you don’t have to look very far to see examples of both. Remember, our perspective on who is “rich” and who is not is pretty skewed in our society. Wealth is not the enemy; irresponsibility is. Rather, the keys to this discussion are more likely motivation and application.
What is one’s motivation in doing what they do? Is it only to attain wealth? There are many doctors and businessmen and inventors and on and on who have been motivated by a desire to help human-kind and in so doing have also achieved great wealth. I am at a loss in how to find fault in those motives. However, there are also many people of means who chose their occupation solely based on the potential income it might provide. I doubt that God wants material blessings to be such a strong motivation (no offense to all you Jabez fans).
Like we discussed in the last post, the question of motivation is not merely a matter of why we make money but also of why we spend it the way we do. I must reiterate that this is a core part of truly denying ourselves and following Christ if we are really motivated to do so. Though it is so often ignored in our society, the concept of opportunity cost is such a crucial consideration in this discussion, which brings us right to application.
How do we apply our faith to our spending? How do we integrate Christ-like living into our finances? Is it as cut-and-dried as Dave Ramsey suggests on his radio program? I doubt it. While I agree with him on some things, there are other things with which I do not agree. For instance, he suggests that getting out of debt is such a critical need that one should work multiple jobs and refuse any and all excesses to accomplish the task as quickly as possible. I have heard callers argue that they want time with their kids and his response is that their kids will learn financial lessons that are more important than attention. I do not think the two are mutually exclusive. I think debt retirement is important but time well-spent is more so. In John 12, Christ’s feet were anointed with an extremely expensive perfume in what some said was a financially irresponsible display. However, Mary may have understood that the value of fleeting time with someone she dearly loved outweighed the opportunity cost mentioned in verse 5.
So with a moving target like this, how are we supposed to know how to properly handle our finances? Well, it is not necessarily easy to identify the absolutely correct way to do anything and it is harder still to implement it. That is why we need to be steadfast in encouraging one another instead of fostering an environment that only makes financial irresponsibility more likely. It seems like you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone that is in a support group for something- sex, eating disorders, anger, addictions, and more. But how many support groups are out there wherein people can talk out their frustrations over money or find strength to overcome temptations of financial irresponsibility? There are not many. How often do we talk about it as a sermon topic? Not very often. When do brag to our friends about how we resisted the urge to purchase some luxury? Seldom.
Maybe that should change.
While I cannot pretend to be a money expert, as a former banker I have seen debt ruin many people and I have counseled several friends in financial trouble. Sometimes the counsel is nothing more than encouragement to stay strong, sometimes it has involved formulating a plan to get back on track. Still, I struggle and try to resist the temptation to measure up to the people around me. Luckily, I am married to someone who is very grounded and extremely wise (except for the one obvious exception where she agreed to marry me).
But I also have these suggestions. First, I recommend a little book called “The Richest Man in Babylon.” It is a very easy read that presents healthy financial advice in story form. Second, I would be more than happy for anyone to use this blog as an open forum wherein anyone can seek input or encouragement. I allow anonymous comments if that helps. And don’t worry if the post has nothing to do with your concern. Leave a comment and maybe the half-dozen or so people who read this can air things out and serve as a helpful community to one another. If that does not interest you, I encourage you to find a small group of trusted acquaintances with whom you can work things through.
I think this topic is a cancer that is being ignored and as a result is spreading. It need no longer distract us from matters of true importance to the kingdom if we are able to do something about it.