"Hi, my name is Clare. I'm a materialist."
If there was a 12 Step Group for Materialists that's how I would introduce myself- still in recovery. Two weeks ago I blogged on "Why is Jesus so hard on rich people?" In it I made some honest, but hard observations about how I believe Jesus views how Christians should both use and not use wealth. Money isn't the problem, but as Paul pointed out in I Timothy 6:10 it's "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." Almost no rich Christians I know ever thinks they love money, but just watch how they use it often reveals a different story. And I've received a few off-line comments mostly agreeing with my understanding, but clueless about how to go about addressing the problem.
First, by any measure my wife and I are rich Christians". I was blessed by God with success in business early in life and I've been more than comfortable for close to 50 years. And I like nice things and live well. So I'm not looking down from my "self-righteous perch" at other rich Christians as if I don't have a problem myself occasionally, or a temptation continually.
And I don't believe in legalistic formulas for giving, including the tithe. When Paul used the word tithes, it just means offerings, not the Old Testament tithe. That was part of the Old Testament law he was urging people to reject. Jesus expected more than legalism. He encouraged every believer to not think of anything they owned as belonging to them. Here is a link to a wonderfully written article about New Testament giving (tithing article).
I want to share with you a few great, Biblical ideas I got from a wonderful book by Ron Blue, "Generous Living". His general idea is that if Christians put a boundary on their spending there would be a lot more money left over for Kingdom ministry. It's simple math. Every dollar we spend on ourselves is a dollar less available for others who need it more. As John Stonestreet, president of The Colton Center often says, "This ain't rocket surgery!" 😂 The following ideas which I got from Ron Blue, my wife Susan and I have used for almost 30 years to put a boundary on our spending enabling us to give more generously.
1. How Much is Enough?
Ron suggests before you begin making good money, you set a budget for your family in writing. The greatest temptation to spend money on yourself isn't when you're just getting started in life and have just enough to pay the bills. The problem and temptation comes once you begin making good money and have disposable income. And once you get used to a certain lifestyle, its hard to cut back. The battle for you stewardship has to be won before that happens. So Ron suggests prayerfully identifying how much you believe God wants your family to live on including savings, investing and giving annually early in your career, or right now if you've not done that, then index that number for inflation. In other words if you are Christ' ambassador have you prayerfully considered a budget for your embassy?
Here's a rough idea of what expenses might make up your budget;
Savings for Retirment
Saving for College
Savings for large repairs, replacements of appliances, automobiles, etc
Then give your written budget to a trusted financial advisor or good Christian friend for accountability and ask them to ask you every year to meet and review how faithful you've been. Susan and I did not do this when we were young. It took us until we were 40+ to understand this concept and put it in practice. Here's an honest "clarification" for you. "I know God will meet all my needs. My problem is thinking I deserve what what I do not need.
"Don't love money; be satisfied with what you have." Hebrews 13:5
2. Set up a "Giving Account"
Weekly, monthly, or however you get paid have a specific amount sent electronically to this giving account. It could be a checking account, or a Donor Advised Account. (DAF). The important thing is put it where you won't even think about using it for yourself. That way you are never tempted to "rob God" to pay the bills but you always have money to give to your church, the poor or ministry.
When a friend of mine got out of law school they struggled the first few years. However they began setting aside 5% of their income each year for giving, then they increased that by 1% a year. He's in his 60s now and they are giving away 45% of their income. He says they never missed that extra 1% each year.
3. Set a net worth goal
This is where "how much is enough" really gets serious. The American Christian dream is to make as much money as you can, live well, give generously, but never stop building your net worth. But both Jesus and Ron Blue challenge this thinking. Out of Jesus 39 parables 11 were on money and the dangers of having too much. Ron suggests every believer with the potential for wealth beyond what you need to retire, set a net worth goal and once you achieve it you can give everything above that away every year, assuming some of your assets are in cash, or other reasonably liquid assets.
Here's the danger of not setting a net worth worth goal. You may be judged someday by Jesus for hoarding wealth you did not need and thereby keeping it from those who need it more. The question I have to ask myself all the time is, "Does Jesus truely believe I love my neighbor based how I spend his money?"
Please don't fall for Satan's temptation that if you keep on investing until you die you can be an even a better steward. Both Ron Blue and Randy Alcorn teach that God provides enough in each generation to meet the needs in that generation. There's no New Testament teaching to support that notion and plenty to refute it. Besides, most of the wealthy Christians I've spoken with or to, who do not say "Enough" end up leaving way too much to their children who never earned it, so don't deserve it and probably don't need it and in the end God still never gets all the surplus of this "deferred stewardship plan."
"Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by everything you own." Luke 12:15
There are few Bible verses I can point to to help you figure out exactly how much is enough. That takes prayer, fasting, good godly counseling and you still may not get clarity from God. So then what? Choose to live on less. I find it ironic that wealthy Christians are able to determine how much is enough for all the people who work for them and for the leaders of ministries on which they are board members, but for themselves, how much is enough continues to be some unknowable mystery of the universe! You may not get it exactly right. I'm not sure there is a magic number. But living on less so that others who have little are cared for is always the will of God and the litmus test of true Christians.
"If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother, or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" I John 3:17
Jesus gave us this warning in the form of a parable we call "The rich fool," so we are without excuse. "You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for? This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God." Luke 12:21
For the Rich Fool there never was enough. He was spiritually poor and presumably lost. "What does it profit a man...?"