What we do with money really matters — for the gospel frontiers and for our own families.
Whether we daydream about it, or ignore it and wish it would just go away, or hoard it, or spend it, how we handle money reveals a lot about us. “Where your treasure is,” says Jesus, “there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Some of the Bible’s gravest warnings deal with money. These are some of the sharpest words in all of Paul’s letters:
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:9–10)
If we take the Scriptures seriously, we’re right to be at least a little bit scared about what our sinful souls might do with money.
Tool in the Hands of Eternity
But as tentative as we might be about mammon, avoiding it will not make it go away. Jesus wasn’t too spiritual to deal realistically and honestly with money, and neither should his followers. In fact, we can easily fall off the horse the other way and put ourselves under the condemnation of these equally sharp barbs from Paul:
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)
There are complexities here. Yes, money can be dangerous. “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure” (Titus 1:15). But money itself is not evil, and can be a powerful tool in the hands of eternity. “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).
A simplistic view of money — whether focusing only on its power for good, or merely on its potential for ill — misses the texture of the biblical portrait. How, then, do we move toward getting this balance better in our lives? And in particular, how to we go about using money to magnify our global God while not neglecting or minimizing the temporal needs of those to whom God has entrusted us?
Money and “The Things of Earth”
Providing helpful perspective on this question is one reason (among many) that I’m thankful for Joe Rigney’s book The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts. Rigney tells his own story about growing up in relative affluence, in a typical evangelical church, and coming in college to embrace a bigger vision of God and his global cause.
His simplistic response, he now admits, was a short-sighted version of strategic living. But what passed for a bachelor hit the rocks in marriage. Thank God for his patient wife Jenny who helped him see that there was more to “strategic” than fixating on the immediate cost of a potential purchase. He mentions a “heated discussion” they had over purchasing a desk for their home. He wanted a used, cheap, particle-board piece from Craigslist; she thought it would be wiser and more strategic in the long-term to invest in something more enduring, and wouldn’t need replacing so soon.
Essentially my wife pointed out to me that I wasn’t thinking strategically enough. Short-term thinking is often not strategic. This isn’t to say that you must always choose the quality desk over the cheap one. The point is to stress the great variety of factors to consider in our purchases and not to fixate on one dimension or another. (211)
Rigney fleshes out several of the dimensions worth considering in addition to being far-sighted: having a fitting appreciation for aesthetics and the role of appearances in the home, as well as the value of time, and in particular, what we’re communicating to others by our purchases. His point is that “money exists for people” (205).
As tempted as we might be to think that pinching pennies at every point, and then sending our savings to the gospel front lines overseas, is the inescapably Christian practice, there is something to be said for our generosity beginning at home. Which is not to say, indulge your personal comforts, but forgo them for the sake of demonstrating care and concern for your spouse and children.
Family Is Part of the Front
This doesn’t mean we fleece the nations to pad the homestead. But it does mean that showing generosity to those closest to home, and in our homes, is in fact strategic for gospel purposes.
The front includes people and relationships that are closer to home. Family is part of the front. If we’re parents, our children are part of the front. God has called us to raise them in the Lord, to communicate in word and deed and demeanor what it means that God is our Father through Christ. . . . [G]enerosity with our kids is one of the main ways that we can create kids who are generous themselves. (206–207)
In our sin, we’re prone to cut ourselves financial slack while tightening the purse strings on others, sometimes especially those in our own household. But the gospel turns that on its head. When funds are limited, our inclinations should be to deprive ourselves in order to be generous toward others, especially those under our own roof.
“Generosity with our kids is one of the main ways that we can create kids who are generous themselves.”
It’s a lesson I’ve been too slow to learn in the wake of my own (good) disillusionment with the American Dream, and a newfound heart for the nations and the completion of the Commission. Convinced of the great spiritual and material needs around the globe, I’ve too often overlooked the opportunities for generosity closest to home. It’s convicting that side-by-side with “not a lover of money” is “he must manage his household well” (1 Timothy 3:3–4). Jesus had a name for those who said their finances were “given to God,” while neglecting to care for their own family: hypocrites (Matthew 15:4–7).
It’s easy to justify my own material wants as strategic for the kingdom (like books, certain technologies, and did I mention books?), while being overly skeptical of the material desires of my own wife and children. With Rigney’s help, I’m learning to see money as a tool not only for external ministry and global missions, but also for the ministry of husbanding and fathering, for communicating the love and concern of Christ abroad and at home.
Rigney and I may be in the minority — perhaps most American Christians struggle with very different issues financially — but I’m freshly inspired to apply these words from Paul both to the frontiers and to my own family:
I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. (2 Corinthians 12:14–15)
Money is a tool not only for external ministry and global missions, but also for the ministry of husbanding and fathering.