Without a doubt, there is a great need in Christianity to get back to the basics of God's Word. This is true whether we're talking about salvation, sanctification, service, or finances.

In reality, we have only one purpose for anything we do in this lifetime: to glorify God. If our day-to-day lives don't reflect that service, then we're not serving God.

There is a great deal of false service by many who profess to serve God but actually want God to serve them. They will give, but they always expect to be repaid. They will help the needy, but it's to keep God from allowing some tragedy to befall them. The list could go on and on and would eventually touch every one of us. Why? Because I believe so few really understand the function that finances play in our spiritual lives.

The financial principles given throughout God's Word are not there to see if we're strong enough to live by them; they're given because God knows that they are the best for us. God's principles of finances are not an arbitrary set of rules by which to govern us; they are a loving Father's wisdom to those who will listen and trust Him. The problem is that we get so caught up in the material world around us that we follow its "wisdom." If we listened to the world's wisdom about morals or even about God, where would we be? Why then do so many Christians assume the world's values about money? Probably because the world seems to be good at making money. But when any thinking person, Christian or not, examines where we are today financially, he or she has to doubt that this world really has wisdom. We have built an affluent society based on a "sand" foundation of future debt. All that we have is in danger of being wiped out by any financial crisis, even a relatively minor one. Not so with those who observe and obey God's financial wisdom. God's financial wisdom builds to last, not to impress others.

Why did Christ teach on finances?
It surprises many Christians to learn that approximately two-thirds of the parables that Christ used in teaching deal specifically with finances. The reason for this is very simple: He chose a topic with which everyone could identify to use as an example. After all, a parable is a form of teaching in which a well-known topic is used to explain a relatively unknown topic. Christ was describing a spiritual kingdom that is actually more real (and older) than this material kingdom. But in order to relate to worldly people, He had to use a worldly example: money.

Christ never said money or material things were problems. He said that they were symptoms of the real problems. He constantly warned us to guard our hearts against greed, covetousness, ego, and pride, because these are the tools that Satan uses to control and manipulate this world. Christ warned us a great deal more about materialism than He did any other sin. "He said to them, 'Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions' " (Luke 12:15). In fact, in the parable about salvation in Matthew 13:18-23, "the deceitfulness of riches" is given as a cause for unfruitfulness (verse 22).

Satan has taken the very riches provided by God to enhance our lives and bring others to salvation and has diverted them for his use. Today, even Christians evaluate (or value) others on the basis of how much they have and how successful they are in worldly terms. The poor are thought to be losers--less spiritual than the winners. If an affluent Christian family has a child who chooses mission work as a life's vocation, family members try to talk the child out of it, because it pays so poorly. We say we want the "best" for our children, and yet too often the best is measured by temporal values, rather than eternal values.

Is it wrong to be rich?
"Rich" is a very subjective term, but here it's used in context with having enough money to meet all of your reasonable needs and still have funds left over. Clearly, God's Word teaches that many of His people will fit into this category. They not only will be able to meet their needs, but they also will be able to help others who have needs. The entire 25th chapter of Matthew's gospel is dedicated to teaching the management and distribution of a surplus.

Obviously, in God's economy, He must either provide a material surplus to some Christians to meet the needs of others, or He must provide manna from Heaven. God's plan is clearly stated in 2 Corinthians 8:14-15: that our abundance at the present time will meet the needs of others, and later their abundance will meet our needs (a good alternative to welfare within the church).

Christ warned those who are rich to always be on their guard (Luke 12:15-21). There is a great temptation to trust in the security that a surplus can provide. The greater the surplus, the greater the temptation. That's why those who are rich (most of American Christianity) must guard their hearts and minds with the principles from God's Word.

Finances - our spiritual barometer
A definition of "faith," according to Hebrews 11, is trusting God totally. It means trusting God for things you cannot see or manipulate into happening. Most of us truly desire to be able to exercise this faith. But the world around us tells us to do just the opposite. If you don't have the money for what you "need," borrow to get it. If it's too expensive for your income, so what? You deserve it; besides, you have to stretch yourself if you want to be successful in this world.

God's Word tells us to learn to be content and dedicate ourselves to serving God. In Hebrews 12:1 we are told "Let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Instead, we encumber ourselves by following the worldly advice that says bigger and more are better. Just about the time most of our children are grown and leaving home, we can "afford" a big home and more cars, so we expand our lifestyles, rather than simplify them.

The worst sign of worldly values in Christianity is the love of money that is apparent today. This is manifested in fear of the future. This fear dominates the attitudes of most believers today. The evidence of this is the mania over guaranteed incomes and retirement plans. Neither of these is necessarily wrong in itself. Obviously, most Christians would like a steady income to provide for their family's needs, and that's not unscriptural, except when they compromise God's Word for fear of losing their tenure in an education job, or when they fear speaking out against obvious sin. The examples are abundant today in government, medicine, law, sales, or other areas.

Retirement planning so dominates the thinking of Christians who have sizeable incomes that they overkill this area enormously. The fear of doing without in the future causes many Christians to rob God's work of the very funds He has provided. These monies are tucked away in retirement accounts for 20 to 40 years. God's Word does not prohibit but, rather, encourages saving for the future, including retirement (see Proverbs 6:6-11, 21:20), but the example of the rich fool, given by the Lord in Luke 12:16-20, should be a clear direction that God's balance is "when in doubt, give--don't hoard."

The greatest need
The greatest need in our generation is for God's Word to be taught clearly and undiluted. The next greatest need is for Christians who will demonstrate that it works. In Romans 10:14, we are told that for the unsaved to believe, someone must tell them about Jesus. The book of James tells us that we are the walking, talking evidence before the unsaved world that God's Word is true. As I think about our witness before the unsaved, it would appear to be evident that in our most visible area, finances, we don't have much of a witness.

In great part, this is because Christians just haven't been taught what God's Word says. A few examples from the Word should clearly point this out.

Borrowing - We are told to borrow very modestly and cautiously, always repaying what is owed (Psalm 37:21; Proverbs 3:27-28).

Lending - Christians are to lend to one another without interest and are not to engage in lawsuits to recover losses (Deuteronomy 23:19-20; 1 Corinthians 6:1-7).

Sharing - Christians should provide for every legitimate need within their own fellowships. This would include funds for illnesses, unemployment, or old age. (2 Corinthians 8:14-15).

What should we do?
As a teacher, I would be negligent if I concluded this study of how finances reflect our faith without pointing out some simple steps to start applying God's wisdom.
  1. Study the available materials on God's principles for managing finances. You could glean all of the principles out of the Bible yourself, and many Christians have. However, an organized study can reduce the time involved and give additional insights from others who have applied the principles.

  2. Apply godly discipline to your lifestyle. It's clear that God doesn't demand the same lifestyle for any two families. Each of us is to witness to those whom God has placed around us. So there will be Christians at every level of income and society. But God's Word makes it very clear that lavishness and waste are worldly, not godly, values. Each Christian family must look at their spending habits, and particularly their waste, and give an account for their stewardship to God.

  3. Teach your children God's principles. The toll that worldly financial values place on young families today is enormous. More than one-half of their marriages will fail because of unnecessary financial pressures. The vast majority could be avoided or salvaged if they are taught (early) how to anticipate and avoid these problems. When a young couple wants to develop a budget prior to marriage, I work with them and monitor the budget for the first year, and the financial problems are reduced dramatically. Christian parents should never let their children leave home without equipping them with the fundamental knowledge of finances that they will need to survive in a materialistically insane society.

  4. Teach your neighbors. There are now several hundred Christian couples who regularly teach courses on God's principles of finances and basic budgeting in homes and churches around the country. Those who feared they would meet with indifference or disinterest found themselves swamped with requests for counseling and advice. Millions of people are hurting and don't know where to go for help. They will respond, not only to the financial advice, but also to the Gospel message that always must go with it.

    To read other stewardship articles by Larry Burkett, click here.