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Straight Talk on How You Spend Your Money

[This article was previously published in our September newsletter. Read Part 1 here.]

Why don’t more Christians give according to biblical standards? I’m convinced it’s not because they are selfish or materialistic or lack a spirit of generosity. It’s because they can’t afford it. And why can’t they afford it? Sometimes it’s because their spending habits and debt are out of control.

Many people blame their tight finances on lack of sufficient income, but often the problem is more one of out-go rather than in-come. God has promised to supply our needs, even our need to be generous (2 Cor 8:10-11, 9:11), so if we don’t have the resources to give, the problem may be on the spending side rather than the supply side.

One of the key reasons people spend too much is that they have never learned to budget (just another word for planned spending). We all know it takes a lot to live these days—food, housing, transportation, schooling, clothes, taxes, communication, etc.—and many of these expenses are essential. But if we plan our spending rather than spend on impulse we will find our resources going much further.

Another problem that exacerbates our spending is that too many of us have never learned the art of delayed gratification. When we purchase non-essential items on the spur of the moment, often on credit, we usually pay an inflated price, plus even more for the credit. If we wait until we have the cash, and then shop for the best price, we save twice. An added bonus is that while waiting we often discover we don’t really need the item. Even if we decide to go ahead and buy it, gratification increases because of the delay.

I would suggest that spending is always wrong when one:

1. Spends money one doesn't have (Luke 14:28-30).
2. Spends selfishly with conspicuous consumption (James 5:1-6).
3. Spends on harmful things (Rom. 13:14).
4. Spends on foolish, valueless things (Is. 55:2).

But please don’t think that God is a cosmic kill-joy who demands we scrape by and live on the cheap. As a matter of fact, Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 informs us that it’s OK to enjoy the good things God provides:

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him–for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God.

The same truth is taught in 1 Timothy 6:17. Some of God's choicest servants, like Abraham, Job, David, and Solomon were very rich, but they were rebuked only when they gained their wealth in immoral ways, used it for immoral purposes, refused to care about others, or forgot that God himself was their security.

Here are some wise questions to ask before we spend:

1. What is my motive?
2. Can I afford it?
3. Is it worth it?
4. Did I plan for it or am I acting hastily?
5. Is there a creative alternative?
6. What will it cost long-term?
7. What do I have to do without in order to buy it?
8. Have I sought counsel?
9. Have I prayed about it?
10. Will it honor God?

Some 250 years ago John Wesley offered the following prayer at the time of making a purchase. Do we dare pray something like this today?

Lord, you see that I am going to spend this money on this particular item. And you know that I act with a single purpose to be a steward of your money, spending this portion in keeping with the purposes for which you entrusted me with it. You know that I do this in obedience to your word. Let this purchase be a holy sacrifice, acceptable through Jesus Christ. And give me a witness in myself that you will find this acceptable when you reward me along with every person when you come again.

In about the year AD 960 King Abd-ar-Rahman III of Spain offered these thought-provoking words:

I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to 14.

The point? It is not possible to spend oneself into happiness.

Good stewardship has as much to do with our spending, perhaps more, than it does with our giving. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 4:2 that “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Not successful, not rich, not famous, not brilliant, but faithful. Each of us has been given a trust to manage for God—some larger, some smaller. Being a good manager mandates that we watch our spending to make sure it is in keeping with the Owner’s principles. If we do that we can be confident we will be able to give according to biblical standards.

In our next article we will discuss how so much giving today misses, and even violates, biblical standards.