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Christian financial management can be confusing. Grow your church's wealth and maturity with these 12 crucial questions.
June 25, 2019
Finances are a crucial part of the Christian life.
Christian finances—a Christian approach to wealth building and management—are made clear in the story of Scripture. The Bible teaches at length about how to avoid the physical dangers of poverty, and how to do battle with the spiritual temptations that often accompany wealth.
But many Christians are left wondering:
After all the spiritualization, is there anything real, rational, and practical that the Bible teaches about finances?
Is there any big system regarding wealth-building, generosity, and wise spending taught uniformly in the Bible that Christians can put in place?
The answer is:
There is such a system in Bible verses about money, but it requires that we be humble enough to ask basic questions to understand it rightly.
So, let’s jump right into it.
Here are 12 crucial pieces of information you can use as a Christian financial resource to get a biblical perspective on Christian finances.
Finance is the discipline of managing liabilities and assets measured in terms of their monetary value.
The word “finance” comes from the French finer, which means “make an end” or “settle a debt.” In other words, if you’re bad at finance, you’ll never see the “end” to your debt, and if you’re good at finance, you’re good at putting the “end” of debt behind you as far and as quickly as possible.
The primary means of closing out debt is by generating wealth and using that wealth to close debts—mortgages, school loans, credit cards, etc. If you own a house, but pay a mortgage, the bank could still foreclose on the house if you are delinquent—this makes your house a “liability,” or a risk. You couldn’t trade your house for something or put it up as collateral, because you don’t strictly “own” it.
In order for your house to become an “asset” in your portfolio, you need to pay it off. The same goes for your student debt. Assets are valuable objects that you own. The more valuable it is, and the more it retains its value—especially if it generating value through appreciation or some other mechanism—the higher functioning is the asset.
If you owe debt on an object, then the more it depreciates, and the higher the interest rate on the debt, the worse of a liability it is, and the higher you are at risk for bankruptcy.
So, again—finance is the discipline of managing liabilities and assets measured in terms of their monetary value. Christian finance is the biblical approach to carrying out this management of liabilities and assets through accumulation, wealth generation, and charitable giving.
Capital, simply put, refers to the net value of private property. In other words, capital is what profit becomes after it is earned from a product and enters the private holdings of a business owner, employee, or recipient.
Capital can be generated through legal and illegal methods. Nearly all illegal methods of generating capital can be summarized in one word: coercion.
If you coerce someone to give you money under threat to their physical well-being, this is a criminal act.
However, you can (and should) acquire capital through legal means.
The primary means of acquiring capital legally are through free trade and gifts.
Free trade generates capital at many points—in the product it produces and the value it retains for the consumer, as a percentage for distributors, as a wage for laborers, and as profit for business owners.
Gifts generate capital through inheritance, personal gifts, and non-profit donations.
So, if all your liabilities and assets were given a monetary valuation, your “capital” would be the total amount after all those valuations were added together.
For example, if you only had $20,000 in the bank account and a $25,000 payoff amount on a vehicle, you technically would not have any capital, since your total capital would be -$5,000. In other words, until you own your vehicle outright, it is a liability, since it is at risk of being repossessed if you fail to meet the terms of the financing arrangement made at the car dealership.
This brings us full circle, back to the definition of finances—to close debt. Successful Christian finance does not simply generate capital, but generates it ethically, on God’s terms, recognizing that all assets and liabilities play out on a stage that God has scripted, and in which he is an active, powerful, and wealthy player.
This might sound like an odd question, but it’s important for us to understand whether God has capital, and the implications that this has for a Christian’s approach to finance.
Here’s the simple truth:
God does own capital.
But he doesn’t have a bank account.
He doesn’t have an LLC.
And he doesn’t pay taxes.
Nevertheless, God does own capital. How do we know this? Scripture speaks explicitly to the fact:
"Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it” (Deut. 10:14)
“The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; The world and all it contains, You have founded them” (Psa. 89:11)
“'The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,' declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag. 2:8).
God does own things, which means that, because people are made in the image of God, the biblical approach to human financials is imitative.
In other words, Christian finance principles are not merely abstract or arbitrary “wisdom principles”—they imitate God’s very own character and person.
So, if God owns things, this leaves open the question:
If God owns all the silver and all the gold, then is it possible for humans also to own some of that same silver and gold? In other words, if a human being owns a golden coin, then Scripture teaches that God owns that coin, because God declares: “The silver is mine and the gold is mine” (Haggai 2:8). So, then, in what sense does that golden coin belong to the human who owns it?
Here’s another way of wording it:
In what sense can people own private property if everything is publicly owned by God?
In fact, the very idea of private property is an innately Christian concept.
In the same way that God genuinely owns property, so also human beings made in his image genuinely own property.
There are a few places in Scripture that indicate this quite clearly.
First, human beings can leave an inheritance to their children.
“On the day when [a man] assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn” (Deut. 21:16).
“House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Prov. 19:14).
If they didn’t really own the property, then the capital would revert back to God somehow. But Scripture endorses inheritance, which means that humans own their capital enough to transfer it to their kin.
Second, industriousness and production are a virtue—and moreover, profitability itself is construed as a virtue (Proverbs 10:4; 13:4; 14:23). Speaking of the godly woman, Proverbs 31 says: “She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night” (Prov. 31:18).
Third, the Bible legitimizes the idea of compensation. This stands in contrast to the Marxist notion that profit is theft against the employee by the employer. The Apostle Paul himself makes an argument from nature for compensation for labor:
“For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” (1 Cor. 9:9-11).
Fourth, theft is forbidden by God, which means that he sees private property ownership at the individual level to be a given ethical assumption when Christians relate to one another. The Apostle Paul says: ““He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Eph 4:28).
If human beings own property, and God owns that same property in a different sense, then stewardship is a way for a Christian to manage their property in a way that recognizes God’s greater ownership, not only of that capital, but also of the believer.
The Apostles speak to the stewardship aspect of capital quite clearly:
“This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Cor 4:1-2)
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet. 4:10)
If stewardship emphasizes the God-human aspect of private property and wealth management, then partnership is a way of describing a charitable relationship between two parties that emphasizes the horizontal aspect of the relationship.
The Apostle Paul describes his relationship with the Philippian church in terms of partnership:
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In every prayer for all of you, I always pray with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:3-6).
Partnership highlights the shared bond between two people that doesn’t race to the spiritual aspect. Other words to describe partnership are: fellowship, communion, fraternity, and teamwork.
While stewardship showcases the divine calling behind giving to a church, partnership emphasizes the human effect and purpose that propels the giving as well.
The Bible does prescribe a model of financial management, but just like modern finances, the model is complex and adaptable.
For example—does Scripture allow going into debt? On the one hand, God commands Israel (and supplies in Proverbs similar wisdom):
“The Lord will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow” (Deut. 28:12).
And yet, sometimes it is wise to take out certain loans in order to gain access to wealth-building tools, such as marketable degrees and home mortgages.
A church can absolutely own capital. There are three arguments for this.
First, Israel owned capital in the Old Testament. There as a “treasury of the Lord” (Joshua 6:19) even during the time of the judges. When David wanted to build the temple, he saved money in a national fund, and in Nehemiah and Zechariah, there is extensive treatment of the proper use of the national fund.
Second, the church in Acts managed the collective wealth of its members. Those with items of value to sell “sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:45). Some take this to mean that church members are mandated to sell their possessions when they join a church. But this would be poor financial management.
If God calls a family to liquidate certain assets in order to meet a mercy need in the church, the church is the proper place for this to happen. And yet, this is not a law that all believers must follow, such that the accumulation of assets—even by the church itself—is immoral. Quite the opposite. It is through the application of biblical financial principles that it is possible to acquire such assets and meet such mercy needs in the first place.
Third, when Paul speaks of his supporters, while he names individuals in churches, he never fails to thank the church itself for supporting him (Phil. 1:3-11)—indicating that Paul sees his support as deriving from a capital base that does not rest with the wealthy in the church, but with the elders.
The Bible warns against taking out inordinate amount of debt. The Apostle Paul writes: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). And he is writing in the tradition of the Old Testament: “Do not be among those who give pledges, Among those who become guarantors for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, Why should he take your bed from under you?” (Proverbs 22:26-27).
It is especially tempting to break this principle—or to think of oneself as an exception—when desiring to purchase a new building or addition to the church building.
In general, the church should seek to acquire resources in order to support Kingdom work, but should remain shrewd about what budgetary items consume these resources, since accounting is literally a zero sum game—once the money is gone, there’s no surplus to keep ministries going except to develop a sporadic and debt-oriented fundraising strategy that exhausts eager givers and gives the impression that the church is financially struggling.
Better to give your congregants a sense of financial stability than to overextend your church and have congregants believe the church is on the brink of bankruptcy. This wisdom pays a double dividend—(1) financial records that demonstrate financial stability and (2) a culture of reliability within the church.
It’s often been contested that Christians should never take out debt.
In Bible verses about debt, Scripture certainly warns against it:
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8).
“The wicked borrows and does not pay back, But the righteous is gracious and gives” (Psa. 37:21).
“The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender's slave” (Prov. 22:7).
“Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, But the one who gathers by labor increases it” (Prov. 13:11).
However, as we noted, there are certain situations in which debt is the most expedient method of leveraging wealth to gain wealth-producing assets such as a technical degree or a marketable skill—even a house.
These decisions do not violate any ethical command in Scripture about debt, but rather fall under the umbrella of the Bible’s wisdom. Proverbs paints a picture of an ideal world.
If, in the real world, our best option is to take out school loans in order to get a medical degree and ascend out of the lower-paid tier of wage laborers, then it is still ideal not to have that debt. This ideal guides medical doctors to pay off their medical school loans as quickly as possible so that their education can truly function as an asset for them, rather than a liability.
If, for instance, a doctor is embroiled in controversy that results in his medical license being taken away, he still must pay off his medical school bills, which means that his debt remains a liability until it is paid off—a principle taught clearly in Proverbs.
Therefore, the Bible does not prescribe that we make perfect-world decisions at every step, but rather that we let our conception of the perfect world be guided by Scripture—which is that it is better to be free of debt than to have accumulated things for which we owe money.
Christians should invest their money, because the opposite of investing money is spending money. The Bible is very clear about this: “Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth” (Ecclesiastes 11:2). There is always a reason to invest. The alternatives are too obviously wrong. Overspending. Stockpiling depreciating cash.
The purpose of investing is to put your money in a form that can grow with inflation. If you stick your cash under your mattress, the spending power of that money diminishes over time. This is why if you find $1,000 in cash from 1950, that $1,000 will still only be worth $1,000 today. However, if you found what was $1,000 worth of gold in 1950, that gold would be worth about $38,000 today.
The point isn’t to say you should invest all your money in gold. The point is to say that you should have a diversified investment portfolio that retains your money’s spending power. The higher-risk your investments, the more likely you are to receive higher dividends—and likewise, the more likely you are to experience a loss on your investment.
While you are younger, this is the time to invest in moderate- and high-risk investment portfolios. Later in life, nearing retirement, you don’t want to experience double-digit losses on your portfolio. You want low-risk investment portfolio, with smooth yield skies, to carry you into retirement.
Christians are not obligated to give to the church in any legal sense.
However, generosity is commanded: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). This does not only apply to spiritual burdens, but also to physical needs:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:14-17).
God desires to cultivate generosity in the hearts of his believers. Moreover, the church is the epicenter of his kingdom’s expansion. If there is any institution worthy of charitable giving, it is the institution that God ordained to extend the message of his good news to the nations and to help the poor and needy in our communities.
There is nothing wrong with giving to a non-Christian non-profit institution. But the church should be a top consideration for Christians who are growing in their faith—if not a clear first choice as the recipient of their charitable funds.
Christian financial management comes down to excellently caring for your assets so that you are able to empower the ministry of the church and provide for your own family. Paul himself instructs Timothy to pastor those in his church in this way:
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8)
Providing for one’s own household requires the skill of financial management. Christian financial practices have supplied more wealth for the Western world than any other principles in the past several millennia.
It would do us all well to practice these principles with our families and with our churches.