Most Christians know they should save and invest for retirement or disability. But many find it difficult to adopt a practical theology for managing their money, especially when it comes to saving and investing for a distant and uncertain future.

It’s difficult because there are so many perspectives on this topic. Some promote a life of denial, eschewing any luxuries and savings for the sake of the kingdom. Others suggest budgeting, avoiding debt, and regular saving in order to enjoy greater wealth for giving and spending later in life. In the broader culture, the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) movement emphasizes extreme frugality and saving to be able to retire before age 40.

With all these seemingly inconsistent and conflicting messages, how can you come up with a personal theology of money that balances biblical orthodoxy with practicality in saving and investing for the future?

Here are seven biblical principles that may help.

1. Saving for Future Needs Is Biblical

Some Christians don’t save for retirement because they believe it’s disobedient (usually quoting Matt. 6:19–20), or they feel guilty about putting money away when others are in such great need. Others believe it isn’t necessary because God will take care of them (Isa. 46:4). And some would like to save but spend everything they make (Prov. 13:18).

You may be surprised to learn that saving is actually encouraged in the Bible. Scripture condones saving for known, anticipated needs in the future (Gen. 41; Prov. 6:6–11; Prov. 21:5; Prov. 21:20).

You may be surprised to learn that saving is actually encouraged in the Bible.

The Bible teaches that it’s possible to wisely save and invest for the future while also being “rich toward God” by “storing up treasures in heaven” (Luke 12:21; Matt. 6:19–21).

2. Saving Honors God and Serves Others

It would be easy to think of saving as a purely selfish activity. That can indeed be the case—we need only read about the rich fool in Luke 12—but it doesn’t have to be.

Saving honors God because it rightly values money as a gift that he has given to us (James 1:16–17). Instead of unplanned, impulsive, or foolish spending, wise saving demonstrates the importance of stewarding his gifts (Luke 12:47–48).

Proper stewardship will put you in a better position to help with important needs as they arise (Eph. 4:28). You can respond more quickly and perhaps in a more significant way (Prov. 3:27). Saving may also allow you to leave an inheritance, blessing your heirs so they can then be a blessing to others (Prov. 13:22).

3. Procrastination Is a Mistake

We all tend to put things off. But by failing to save early, you forfeit one of the most potent financial forces: tax-free compound interest, or earning interest on interest.

Most people don’t postpone saving because they think saving is unimportant. Instead, they expect to have more disposable income down the road, or they have more pressing needs that get in the way, including debt payments, low wages, health-care expenses, or the need to save for a child’s education. They plan to get to it later on.

But even if things do change down the road, money saved for retirement later has less time to grow (Matt. 25:27), meaning that you end up having to contribute much more to have the same amount if you started today.

Just start by doing what you can and gain momentum over time.

4. Debt Is Debilitating

The Bible isn’t silent about debt. There obviously weren’t Visa cards or auto loans in Jesus’s time, but lending and borrowing were part of the economic landscape. The Bible doesn’t strictly prohibit debt, but it does characterize debt as a form of bondage (Prov. 22:7).

Beyond that, there is a direct correlation between over-spending and too much debt and a low savings rate. In the context of saving, debt comes at a cost. The money needed to service debt, which goes to creditors, is money that can’t be used for anything else. That is the “opportunity cost” of debt. Compare borrowing $1,000 and paying 12 percent interest ($120) versus saving $1,000 and investing it at 6 percent ($60). The real economic benefit is 18 percent ($180)!

5. Wise Investing Is Right and Good

Investing isn’t stock trading. It’s not about betting the farm on a hot tip from your brother-in-law. Such speculating amounts to gambling on future events, and most of the time you lose more than you gain (Prov. 28:19; 1 Tim. 6:10).

Investing is actually commended if done wisely. It’s about putting money into real businesses that employ people and deliver products or services to customers. Hopefully, the companies we invest in do well and provide a return commensurate with our investment (Prov. 31:10–31; Eccl. 11:1–6).

Most of us would do well to invest in low-cost, passively managed, mutual and exchange-traded index funds (ETFs) instead of individual stocks and bonds. We also need to keep an eye out for high fees and expenses (they can be a big drag on returns), not being diversified enough (assets that balance each other), buying and selling at the wrong time (due to emotion), and a lack of knowledge about your investments (don’t buy what you don’t understand).

6. Saving Can Bring Temptations

We can be tempted to save for wrong reasons—out of fear and greed or a desire for independence from God and others.

If you save out of fear, then you aren’t trusting God (1 Tim. 6:17). If you do it out of greed, you’ve missed the whole point (Prov. 1:19; Mark 8:36; Luke 12:15). And once you’ve acquired some wealth, you don’t want to become like the miser we read about in Ecclesiastes 5:13 or the “rich fool” we read about in Luke 12. The problem with both isn’t that they saved; it’s that they were focused only on themselves and put their faith in riches rather than God.

We can be tempted to save for wrong reasons—out of fear and greed or a desire for independence from God and others.

Hoarders are consumed by the need to preserve wealth rather than risk it for productive uses and the good of others. It also brings curses (Prov. 11:26) and judgment (Luke 12:16–21; James 5:3; Ps. 39:6; Eccl. 5:13; Zech. 9:3).

7. Balance Is Key

Finding the right balance is the key.

On the one hand, we need to set aside something and invest it wisely for future needs. On the other, we want to be generous and remain dependent on God, recognizing that he is the source of our provision and alone controls the future.

Whatever we decide, it must be out of a heart of gratitude to God for his kind generosity toward us—a God who is gracious, loving, and merciful (Ps. 107:8–9)—and based on the biblical wisdom he has given us on this topic.

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