How biblical principles can help us attain financial freedom
Nobody fancies a life racked by constant anxiety over money. We would like to have some surplus come end of the month — and not have to face the situation where there is “too much month at the end of the money”.
One of the worst case scenarios is when creditors threaten us with legal action; or when our marriage is on the rocks over money issues.
Does God care about our financial well-being? Is God relevant only on Sundays? Does He have any role in our lives as we struggle on weekdays to eke out a living, put food on the table and raise our family?
The Bible not only touches on faith matters but down-to-earth issues, including finances. We need not split our lives into spiritual and secular compartments. God has provided us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Besides this all-inclusive promise, scripture is replete with wisdom, showing us how we can be financially savvy.
No earthly father wants his child to be in want. How much more our heavenly Father loves to supply our needs. *
Here are some biblical insights as we journey along the road towards financial freedom:
No free lunch
Hard work is the first step towards financial independence. We are told to observe the industrious ant and learn from it — how it forages for food in summer ahead of winter (Proverbs 6:6-8). If we emulate the sluggard, we have only ourselves to blame if we face poverty in life (Proverbs 6: 9-11).
Unless we are born rich or marry into riches, most of us will have to work our way up in life. If we don’t work hard while we’re young, we’ll have to work harder when we’re old, which is difficult if health issues arise. “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young” (Lamentations 3:27).
Savings and investment
Spending an entire life putting one’s nose to the grindstone is not a viable option. First we work for money; then we allow money to work for us.
So after giving to God, we should save a portion of our hard-earned money and invest part of our savings in a vehicle which has the potential to appreciate in value. Savings alone won’t generate sufficient returns that will comfortably see us through our twilight years as whatever meagre interest accrued will be eroded by inflation.
In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus chided the one-talent man for burying his talent. Why did he not save? Even if he was not skilled in investing, he could have left his talent with the bankers so that his master could benefit from the interest received (Matthew 25:14-30).
Having faith does not negate personal responsibility. We have to work hard, save and invest to ensure a bright future. Moreover, we have to weigh the potential risks of investment against its benefits. In general, those of us who can stomach risk reap greater rewards. Risk-taking is an integral part of faith.
The one who buried his single talent absolutely refused to take risk. But the other two servants who were willing to take risk — by investing their talents — were commended by Jesus.
Rearing of goats and sheep — which provide fur, meat and milk for the family — is encouraged as a form of investment (Proverbs 27:23-27). This stands in contrast to modern-day investment vehicles such as real estate, stocks or unit trusts.
If we desire to obey God and know His ways, we need to study His Word. God laments that His people are destroyed for lack of knowledge because they have rejected it (Hosea 4:6). Similarly, if we want to be financially savvy, we need to seek knowledge. In this regard, there are resources aplenty to help us — books, magazines, seminars, websites and financial advisers.
We have to be diligent in doing research before investing in something. If an investment scheme is too good to be true, it probably is. Have we delved into all the pertinent facts and figures? Make informed decisions, not rely on rumours or hunches. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).
Sometimes God guides us through a rhema word — how and when we should invest. Long ago, God told Jeremiah to buy a field. Later when his cousin offered to sell his field to him, Jeremiah knew God had been speaking specifically to him (Jeremiah 32:6-8).
Many splurge on exotic vacations, flashy cars, fine apparel and sumptuous meals with nary a thought about their future. They are unable to delay gratification of their desires. One fine day, probably in their fifth decade, they might wake up to fact that their income stream will be drying up soon. And they still have to service a housing loan, support their children’s higher education and build a retirement nest egg. That’s when they start panicking.
The wise, however, are proactive. They realise that, when they stop working, they would need adequate funds to sustain themselves for at least another twenty years. “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (Proverbs 22:3).
The latter recognise that money has a time element which can either work for or against us. If we borrow money, this factor works against us until the debt is settled. However, if we start saving and investing early in our working life, we will reap the benefit of compound interest. Time works on money saved or invested — like yeast quietly working in dough — causing it to snowball.
The Bible warns against going into debt without good reasons. We have to be wary aboutconsumer debt. That’s when we borrow to buy something, such as a car or an electronic gizmo, that depreciates in value over time.
But not all debts are negative. Some debts fund well-meaning goals such as investment in business, higher education or real estate, all of which have the potential to appreciate in value.
We should not bite off more than we can chew. If our debt burden is huge, our lives will be fraught with anxiety. We won’t be able to serve God effectively as the pesky “debt monkey” will always be riding piggy back on us.
Debt is the mechanism that turns the financial wheels of businesses and families around. It is our friend if we use it wisely. But it might enslave us if we misuse it. “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7).
Faith and Planning
Why do we need to follow all these biblical principles — work hard, save, invest, seek knowledge, be proactive, exercise financial discipline and reduce our debts?
Why do we need to plan way ahead? Doesn’t planning negate faith? Since God cares for us as He looks after the birds and the lilies, shouldn’t we just focus on seeking and serving Him (Matthew 6:25-33)?
Our creator is a God of foresight, planning and design. We find ample evidence of this fact in creation and the detailed instructions He gave for the building of the tabernacle and temple of Jerusalem. Joseph too had the God-given wisdom to plan. He stored up grain during good times. And his family and a nation were saved when famine came (Genesis 41:35,36).
Lack of planning may cause us to outlive our finances. We may then have to depend on handouts from relatives or friends. We may have to come out of retirement and go back to work but will our health permit it?
The need to plan our finances differs greatly. Donor-supported ministers mainly depend on God who is their inheritance, just like the Levitical priesthood. Government servants can depend on their pensions and free hospitalisation benefits whereas private sector employees will have to fend for themselves. Singles usually have a lighter financial burden compared to a family man or single parent.
It is important that we trust God and submit to Him in all our plans. The mind of man plans but God directs his steps (Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs16:9).
While we need to have faith in a loving God who provides for our needs, we also need to be prudent— plan for our financial needs.
The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, Feb 2013, issue 45.1
* Promise of material blessing: Deuteronomy 8:18, Psalm 37:11, Proverbs 22:4, Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4:19.
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