At the beginning of 2020, I asked several regular contributors to TGC who’ve written on the topic of money to answer one question (in two parts) and in less than 200 words: (1) What’s your theology of money, and (2) what practical advice would you give about money stewardship?
Of course, I wasn’t anticipating a once-in-a-century pandemic that set in motion a crashing stock market (which recovered, but it seems we’re now in recession) and employment that is literally off the charts. Now with another downturn that threatens the economic recovery, we think these insights will help shed light on a topic that Christians generally don’t often talk about.
Below you’ll see similar theologies of money with different emphases and practical tips. When it comes to this area of Christian discipleship—especially in this time of financial uncertainty—let’s keep reminding ourselves that Jesus Christ is Lord, even of our wallets.
Randy Alcorn, founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries and author of Managing God’s Money: A Biblical Guide and Money, Possessions, and Eternity
Grasping God’s ownership of everything is the foundation of a biblical theology of money. Faithful money-managing stewards act in the owner’s interests, regularly consulting him to understand and implement his investment priorities. Search the Scriptures, seek God’s wisdom, then give, save, and spend his money well, and thereby love him, your family, neighbors, and a needy world.
Jesus asked, “If you are untrustworthy with worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?” (Luke 16:11). He taught more about how we should handle money and possessions than anything else because our spiritual condition and service qualifications are inseparable from our attitude and actions concerning material wealth.
Jesus gave the best investment advice: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20). We can’t take our treasures with us, but we can send them on ahead!
Happiness, not mere duty, permeates a God-honoring theology of money. Jesus said, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35, GNT). When grace-saturated, kingdom-minded, eternity-oriented disciples lovingly utilize God’s money and possessions, we fulfill the first and second greatest commandments. We thereby store up treasures in heaven and cheerfully “take hold of what is truly life” (see 1 Tim. 6:19, CSB).
My money theology follows the storyline of God’s kingdom: It’s created, fallen, and can be redeemed.
Though not part of creation’s primal elements like the birds, beasts, and creeping things, money was anticipated in the cultural mandate. When man works and keeps his garden, he increases the value of his dirt until it becomes tradable, storable, and monetizable. After the fall, he’s prone to putting his security, comfort, and hope in money not God (Luke 12:19–21; 1 Tim 6:17). After the resurrection of Jesus, he can use it to store up treasure in the kingdom to come—a kingdom that will include valuable stuff that the nations have made (Isa 60; Matt. 6:20; 1 Tim. 6:18–19).
My practical advice is to keep your heart and have a plan. Your heart should have a healthy fear of the love of money. But it should also have a noble vision for how creating capital can lift up others and advance the kingdom. That means we all need a plan. It’ll include things like budgets, investments, wills, and giving. I usually recommend that we start our plans with giving and keep stretching ourselves in generosity. This seems to keep the heart and plan leaning in heaven’s direction.
Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary, and author of Christians in an Age of Wealth: A Biblical Theology of Stewardship and Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions
I hope my theology of money is the Bible’s theology of money. I see five themes running throughout the better portion of Scripture: (1) Money and material possessions were created by God to be good gifts for his people to be used for all of creation’s flourishing. (2) After human sin entered the world, money often can have a powerfully seductive force for selfish ambition and even to be used to harm others and the rest of creation. (3) Perhaps the best safeguard against the wrong use of wealth is to be generous in giving it away. (4) When some people through no fault of their own have so little that their health and well-being are in danger, or even their lives, it means some other people have too much. (5) Stewardship is ultimately a matter of the heart and an indication of spiritual life and maturity.
For practical guidance, my wife and I have tried to practice the concept of a graduated tithe. Each year when our net income rose above any cost-of-living increase, we tried to give a higher percentage to the Lord’s work and to help the poor, the two main purposes of giving throughout Scripture.
Ron Blue, founder of Ronald Blue & Co. and author of Master Your Money: A Step-by-Step Plan for Experiencing Financial Contentment
God is the creator and owner of the earth and everything in it. He appointed us to steward his creation, and money is a key resource we steward toward the accomplishment of his revealed purposes. Our posture toward and deployment of money leads our hearts and reveals where we’ve placed our faith, hope, and trust. When we follow Jesus in the power of the Spirit, we get closer to God. Therefore our financial lives will increasingly concern God’s heart: justice, love, evangelism, and mercy. Simply put, our money and hearts are inextricably linked, so spiritual growth will necessarily involve changes in financial attitudes, perspectives, and habits as we follow Jesus over time.
The journey of a steward begins and ends in relationship with God. It means falling in love with God’s heart for the world. This journey leads us to know God more and to repent in broken areas of our financial lives: greed, fear, confusion, injustice, control, and so forth. We find healing in these broken areas by submitting our use of money to the wisdom of the Scriptures and the leading of the Spirit. Biblical financial wisdom includes living simply, working diligently, and giving generously to care for the church, its mission, the vulnerable, and the persecuted. Through these practices, we keep God’s kingdom in mind as we make financial decisions.
Luke Bobo, director of strategic partnerships of Made to Flourish
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, I heard this passage repeatedly interpreted and (mis)applied, either explicitly and implicitly, as, “money is evil, don’t pursue it.” I think this admonishment stemmed mainly from the idea that many who had money, acquired it at the expense of others (think of U.S. slavery). Fast forward to today, my philosophy of money has been greatly shaped and informed by a biblical worldview and the study of Scripture. I believe the following four principles about money:
One, God owns everything—me and the money he has entrusted to my care. I’m simply a steward of all he has given to me.
Two, I believe earning wealth can be a holy endeavor. Specifically, I think the late John Wesley was right when he said in his 18th-century sermon “The Use of Money”: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” However, I would modify this pithy statement this way: “Earn all you can, and expand it.” That is, we should ethically and wisely find ways to expand our wealth. However, we must do this while being sober and keenly aware of the concomitant temptations and pitfalls of doing such.
Three, the more money we earn or accumulate, the more generous or open-handed we should be.
And four, I must recognize not everyone is afforded the benefit of earning money and expanding it. So, as a Christian, my role is to help remove systemic barriers that prevent others from earning (and expanding), saving, and giving. Tackling these barriers is an effective way to eradicate crippling and generational poverty and relieve economic distress and thereby help grant imago Dei bearers access to opportunity to deploy their God-given productive abilities in the social system known as the economy.
Josh Chatraw, director at the Center for Public Christianity and theologian in residence at Holy Trinity Anglican Church
If we fail to appreciate wealth’s goodness, we deny the structural good inherent in creation. Money allows us to purchase basic needs and enjoy the diversity of God’s gifts. The danger is we end up loving money—the comfort, security, and pleasure it brings—more than we love God, the perils of which Jesus often warns his disciples.
This attitude of both affirmation and warning captures Proverbs’s perspective on wealth: while wealth is a creational good that provides an incentive to work and invest wisely, wealth is relativized. It’s good, but it’s not God. Pursuing true flourishing in a fallen world will at times make us more vulnerable to corrupt practices and disordered structures. Following Christ means we embrace this vulnerability. It’s better to be poor with God than to be rich and spiritually dead. But even then, love for God and others remains the aim; poverty itself shouldn’t be our ultimate goal. If we aim at poverty as a good per se, we’ll fail to use God’s gifts properly and likely harbor animosity to those who have more than us.
In Christ we’re set free to use money to love God, our one true good to which all his gifts point us.
Jamie Dunlop, associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and author of Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry
God is the owner of everything, which makes us not owners but stewards of money. As stewards, our job is to deploy money he’s given us according to his priorities and not our own desires. What is his ultimate priority? To show off the beauty and excellence of his glory through Jesus Christ.
Our money can accomplish this as we use it to obey his commands (e.g., feeding our families, 1 Tim. 5:8; caring for brothers and sisters in difficulty, James 2:16; paying taxes, Rom. 12:13; being generous, Gal 6:10), as we invest and save it to be used for his purposes in the future (e.g., saving for retirement so we need not depend on others, 1 Thess. 4:12), as we fund gospel work (e.g., church, Gal. 6:6; missions, 3 John 6), and as we enjoy his goodness through his good gifts with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4).
Though money is of transitory and temporary value, we can exchange it for what is of lasting and eternal value when we use it to demonstrate his excellence and worth. We do that by deploying money in ways that show our delight in God, our trust in God, and our dependence on God.
For seven years, I helped a billionaire give away money. One of the wisest things he said to me was: “Money doesn’t make things happen. Only people make things happen!” We fall into the trap of thinking money provides security and power, when in fact, money is only a dumb and lifeless idol—made, literally, of wood (paper) and metal (coins). Only image-bearing human beings have agency. We attribute agency to money to avoid confronting both our responsibility for stewardship, and also the impact our use of money has on our neighbors’ agency.
Like wood and metal, however, money is—considered apart from our sinful abuse of it—a good thing in itself. It’s an invaluable tool for exchange, carrying out God’s plan that stewardship of creation should be shared. I make shirts and you make shoes, and I use the money I get from making shirts to buy your shoes, and vice versa. Money becomes an idol when we shift from seeing it as a means of exchange to facilitate shared stewardship, and rely on it as an agency that provides security and power.
Key principles for sound stewardship of money are diligence in earning it, frugality in not squandering it, generosity in all uses of it (not just when giving, although that’s important), and above all, honesty and humility in all things.
Jeff Haanen, executive director of the Denver Institute for Faith and Work and author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement
First, saving is wise (Prov. 21:20). Though we might save for several purposes, we principally save for emergencies and for the day when we can no longer work due to age or illness. Second, God’s call to generous giving couldn’t be clearer (Matt. 6:19–21; 2 Cor. 8:9). We’re called to sacrificially give to the church’s mission, the well-being of the poor, and the critical social, economic, and cultural needs of our day. Third, we believe that God owns everything (Ps. 24:1), including money invested in companies through stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Money that is invested is no less a part of God’s purposes than money that is saved or given. Fourth, God has given us money to be enjoyed and spent wisely. But we also recognize that “godliness with contentment is great gain,” and so we commit to simple living for the sake of more deeply enjoying Christ’s riches (1 Tim. 6:6, 17–19).
Practically, we save money for emergencies, big expenses, and for future needs; we give sacrificially through our donor-advised fund; we invest money that we believe aligns with God’s intent to restore all of creation; and finally, we hold ourselves to a budget and regularly review it see if we could better practice the joy of simplicity.
Our relationship to money is a barometer of spiritual health (Matt. 6:21). What we give, spend, save, desire, worry after reveals our kingdom priorities (Matt. 6:33; 1 Tim. 6:18–19). To take Jesus’s words seriously, we’d have to say wealth is a spiritual liability (Mark 10:23–25). We aren’t #blessed just because we have more money (Matt. 19:24). Having money can be a source of pride and a distraction from eternal commitments (Deut. 8:17–18; Matt. 6:19–20; 1 Tim. 6:18; 1 John 2:16). A materially rich life isn’t necessarily a grateful one; and contentment, in seasons of abundance as well as seasons of want, is a hallmark virtue of God’s people (Deut. 8:11–14; Phil. 4:11–13). We’re warned against loving money because greed catalyzes other sin (1 Tim. 6:10).
It’s undoubtedly true the materially poor are richer in faith; it’s also true that it isn’t sinful to have wealth (James 2:5; 1 Tim. 6:17). Money is a resource God uses both to meet our material needs as well as to further the church’s mission (Phil. 4:14–20). It’s best stewarded with great humility and intentional structures of accountability.
Paul Tripp, author of Redeeming Money: How God Reveals and Reorients Our Hearts
Christians need to think about money differently, and Ephesians 4:28 provides us with that fundamental shift in perspective. Read these words carefully: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
Notice the apostle Paul doesn’t say, “so that he will have a more legal way to provide for himself.” The shift is from stealing (self-focused) to working in order to be able to give (God- and others-focused). The self-centered thief isn’t meant to become the self-centered worker. God’s grace is radically transformative and has the power to free us from viewing money as our means to get and begin to see money as our means to give. God’s primary purpose for entrusting us with money is not personal provision, but generosity toward others!
The money the Lord provides for us is a means of making his invisible generosity visible. May God, in faithful grace, continue to liberate us from our bondage to us, and in so doing, liberate our wallets from their bondage to self-focus—freeing us, with our money, to represent our generous Savior well.
Kristen Wetherell, author of Fighting Your Fears
When I’m tempted to think money is “mine,” Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians 4:7 reorients me: “What do you have that you did not receive?” Finances are a gift from God, and they’re subsequently for him. The most natural question for me to ask is, “How can I save and keep what God has given me?” But a better, biblical question is, “How can I best steward what was never mine in the first place?” When we operate from this perspective, our money decisions tend to result in generosity, peace, and joy.
When my husband and I got married, we had a financial review “meeting” with a money-wise, godly couple at our church. This set us on a good path with clear objectives for giving to church, clearing debt, investing for the future, and monthly budgeting. Our goal is always to live within our means, and we use an app to help us do this. We also communicate each month and year about how we’re doing, about new spending and savings goals, and about ways we might want to stretch ourselves in generosity.
Bottom line: God has faithfully provided for us in his Son, so we can trust him to provide for every other need. Since we can trust his heart, we can trust his hand.