In my last two posts, on the “Poverty” and “Prosperity” gospels, we took an honest look at each teaching. We studied why each group honestly believes they have Biblical backing, but also addressed how each gets it wrong. On the narrow road, each stray to one side and the other…
While we touched on the appropriate response to each false argument on those posts, I wanted to write an article that summarizes the truth about how we are to handle our finances in the Kingdom. My hope is to give solid Biblical balance to a confusing debate and leave you with some actions to consider and pray about. While the post may not be comprehensive, given the broad range of financial topics, this will give you a solid foundation to build “Kingdom Finances” upon a bedrock of the Provision Gospel.
How does God want us to live?
Becoming more like Christ should be the ultimate goal of all believers. Let’s begin with a broader view of what this means when applied to our finances.
Focused on Him
Where both the poverty and prosperity gospels get out of line is that they focus on money rather than God. The creation over the Creator.
One of the most famous verses in the Bible is Matthew 6:33:
“But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
When we begin to focus more on our needs than the Kingdom, we’ve shifted our eyes off of Jesus. We begin to be like Peter, who looked away from Jesus and to the waves around him, only to sink.
Keeping our focus on Jesus rather than money is perhaps the single most important aspect of understanding the Provision Gospel. It is a subtle but powerful practice.
Imagine you are going to an anniversary dinner with your spouse. It’s a special occasion so you’re going to your favorite restaurant, which has great steaks.
In the days leading up to the date you start thinking about the steaks. Man, those are some good steaks. Mouthwatering. Perfectly crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. You can cut them with a fork. Even the a la carte mashed potatoes and asparagus are phenomenal.
The more you think about the meal, the more excited about it you become. You are dreaming about it and thinking about what you’ll order when you get there. You research the best wine pairings and make a list of what dessert you plan to get afterward.
Finally, the big night is here! You get to the restaurant and run in ahead of your date to sit down and order. The meal comes and you dive in, barely looking up from your plate till every morsel has been consumed.
Now suppose you take a different approach. In the time leading up to the meal you look up the menu online. You start noticing that the steaks cost $50/ea and the whole bill will likely top $200. You begin wondering if there’s cheaper options. After all, the money could be better used for giving. When the night comes, you are downtrodden and guilty as you order a $22 grilled chicken salad, the cheapest thing on the menu, and water. You barely talk to your spouse as you think and pray about where you’ll give the $150 you saved. The night ends with you feeling holy, but with little joy in your marriage.
Notice what went wrong in both cases here? Rather than there being a focus on your spouse, commemorating the anniversary and spending quality time with them, you focused on the meal.
If you had focused on the relationship you might have had either meal, but it wouldn’t really matter. It isn’t wrong to enjoy a good meal to commemorate a special occasion or eat a small meal to provide more to ministry However, if your focus is on the relationship rather than the output of the relationship, you’ll be content just being with that person in either case.
This is the way it is when we get our financial focus off in the Kingdom. Rather than focus on the relationship with Jesus and being content whether we’re eating steak or a salad, we begin to focus on the meal.
Some begin saying that God has promised we will always eat steak and that we can “claim it”, living in the promise of blessing and prosperity that flows from the Kingdom. Others say that we should always eat salad, so that we can give more money to the poor and needy.
A Kingdom perspective says we don’t really care either way. Sometimes Jesus will serve us salad and other times it will be steak. In either case, we can remain confident that He will always make sure we eat and rejoice in our relationship with Him. We don’t worry about the meal and start rejoicing in the relationship.
While we all agree with this and it sounds good in theory, how do we actually apply it in our finances? What does it look like to seek first the Kingdom?
Romans 14:17 says “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Let’s look at each of these Kingdom attributes in our finances.
When Matthew 6:33 says “His Kingdom and His Righteousness”, Jesus is simply emphasizing something that is part of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is Righteousness.
Righteousness is defined by God. He alone is Righteous. We are then called to be like Him in Righteousness, which is an impossible task…but for grace through faith. Through Jesus we have become the righteousness of God! (2 Corinthians 5:21)
In our finances, pursuing righteousness embodies realizing that it is impossible for us to please God on our own. We must surrender control of our finances to Him in order to redeem them. Our finances are not only an extension of ourselves, but the director of ourselves. Matthew 6:21 says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Where we put our money determines where our heart will go.
Begin pursuing the Kingdom in your finances by realizing you can’t provide what you need on your own. Or, perhaps you can provide your basic needs on your own, but you’ll never provide what is needed to walk in the good works that God has prepared for you.
When we put our focus on the Kingdom, just as 6:33 says, God will provide for our needs. David said:
“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).
God will always take care of those who pursue righteousness. Putting it first is the #1 step in structuring Godly finances.
Another defining characteristic of the Kingdom is supernatural peace. This is the type of peace that doesn’t come just when the water is calm, but a peace that calms the waters. It is deep and wide and restful.What would it look like to have this type of peace in your finances?Philippians 4:6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”To have Peace, we must pray. We must choose not to be anxious, but simply let our requests be made known to God.In His book “Anxious for Nothing”, Max Lucado talks about how crazy it would be if we went to an auto mechanic with our car and then waited around and bugged them every 5 minutes with questions and instructions about how they were going to fix it. Rather, we leave it with them trusting that as the experts, they’ll take care of it.
Your finances will only be marked by peace when you submit your needs and questions to God through prayer. Do you need to pray over every single small spending decision? Perhaps not, but you absolutely should pray over your budget….and then stick to it!
Having a prayerfully created budget is one of the most peace-giving actions you can do with your finances. Because of what we said about Matthew 6:21 (treasure leads, heart follows), deciding where we are going to spend, save, invest, and give our money is hugely important to where we put our focus. That alone is a good reason to pray!
When we know that we’ve submitted the decisions around our finances to God through prayer and then live in that guidance, there is peace. You no longer have to be stressed about how long it will take to get out of debt, when you can retire, if you should buy that new dress, etc. A prayer based budget guides all of those questions and gives such peace and freedom!
Should major or irregular decisions still be submitted to prayer? Absolutely! Just because you have $20k in your car savings fund doesn’t mean you want to make an impulsive decision about that size of purchase! Still pray about the big things, but pray about the strategy (your budget) for all the “small things” as well.
This isn’t something we might really think of as one of the main attributes of the Kingdom. What is interesting is that if we are told to seek the Kingdom, we are told to seek Joy! Joy isn’t just an output of, but a guide to well managed finances.There are two specific ways I want to focus on how joy can help you with your finances.Giving
How do you know how much to give and where? Pay attention to joy.2 Corinthians 9:7 says “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”I absolutely believe you should tithe 10% of your increase (income) as the first check you write. This is done out of obedience. Furthermore, as I laid out in my post “Balancing Giving and Savings”, I’d encourage you to match your offerings (gifts above the tithe) with your long-term investing.
However, as you get above the tithe and start to give offerings, you should start paying attention to joy.
Giving out of compulsion isn’t Biblical. Is it good to stretch ourselves and give? Yes! But that doesn’t mean we should be doing it with grumbling. We should give as much as we can give cheerfully….and no more.
Additionally, paying attention to joy helps us determine where to give. If you get joy from giving $100 bills to homeless veterans, do it! If you get joy from giving to single mother ministries, do it! God has given passions and interests to different members of the body so that all needs will be met. Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t excited about giving to everything or you run the risk of not giving cheerfully. Rather, pray about where to give, keeping in mind that where you do will determine where your heart is, and then give cheerful to the causes, individuals, and ministries that God puts on your heart.
If you’re like me, the hardest spending decisions you have are ones of pleasure (hobbies, entertainment, etc.). I have an easier time writing a $500 check to a ministry than spending $50 to go play golf or shoot guns with some buddies for an afternoon.
Paying attention to what gives us joy and building that in to our budgets isn’t just a good idea, but a Kingdom principle! Does this mean we should be frivolous in our spending and only pursue temporary pleasures? Absolutely not! Many Kingdom principles would be good if they were taken in isolation and pursued without consideration of the entire Kingdom.
Having said that, as long as we are balanced in our other areas (giving and savings) and not living above our means (debt), we should not feel guilty in allocating money to what gives us joy. A nice car, hobbies, travel, good food, etc. are part of God giving us the joy found in His Kingdom through our finances. To make our finances all about rigor and structure, with no room for joy, is dipping back in to a poverty spirit.
Furthermore, having some room for joy in your finances gives you strength! Nehemiah 8:10 ends with “the joy of the Lord is your strength”.
I’ve seen people get a tenacious desire to get out of debt and build a budget that is basically rice and beans for years on end. They are determined not to eat out, go to a movie, travel, etc. until the debt is gone. Unfortunately, like someone who is determined to lose weight by eating dry brown rice and unseasoned boiled chicken with steamed broccoli for three meals a day, they almost always fail. Why? They didn’t leave any room for joy to be their strength!
“But Ira, it says the ‘joy of the Lord’! Not, ‘the joy of hobbies’!”
If you are asking that question, you may be falling in to the poverty spirit with dualism, that says only spiritual things are good and material things are bad. If all our possessions are God’s, is it that unbelievable that God would want us to use some for joy? Isn’t that part of what the joy of the Lord looks like? Just before the famous “joy of the Lord is your strength” part, Nehemiah told the people in that story to go home and have a feast! He said in the first part of v. 10 “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.” The joy of the Lord wasn’t just an abstract concept to be experienced in a worship service, but looked like good food and drink shared with everyone.
Don’t over-spiritualize joy. Build some in to your budget.
Surrendered to Him
What do we do when we find the Kingdom? We live in the Presence of the King! This means we must surrender to Him. Here’s some ways this manifests in our finances.
When you serve the King of Kings, you’re going to be very diligent in your service! Imagine how carefully you’d cook if you were the King’s chef, or how skillfully you’d play if you were His musician.Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”Money is meant to be earned in exchange for our work. When we work, we must do it diligently and “with all our heart”, just as if we were doing it for the King Himself.What work must we do? It doesn’t matter! Our job is to focus on what God has before us today and do it with all our hearts. Do I believe God can give us a vision and that we can make a plan to get there? Absolutely. While that is good, keep in mind that Proverbs 16:9, which says “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”There is nothing wrong with making plans, but the more important thing is to do what you have today with diligence. For more on this, read my post “Find your Donkeys”.
1 Corinthians 4:2 reads “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”Faithfulness is perhaps defined best by consistency. One cannot say they are faithful if they do or say one thing today and the opposite tomorrow. In order to be faithful, we must be in it for the long haul. Each day, regardless of what winds may blow, we keep a keep a steady course.In our finances, this applies to keeping each little decision. When we set a prayerful budget, we need to stick to it. When we determine to give our first 10%, we need to do it even when they raise the property taxes. When we decide to invest for retirement, we have to do it without speculation and haste.A steward is faithful to the Master that gave Him charge of His things. He doesn’t do anything that He knows the Master wouldn’t approve of. Your money is a holy thing because it has been given to you by God. It can be used for His purposes, your purposes, or evil purposes. Choose faithfulness to Him every time.
If you live in the Kingdom and the King owns everything and has it all under His control, you are completely dependent on Him. This could be a scary thought but the good news is that ours is a very good King.Proverbs 30:8-9 says “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
Solomon wrote this as a man who knew what unfathomable riches were. He also knew His weaknesses and that He would always struggle with dependence on God because of those riches.
Should we avoid wealth because of a fear of losing our dependence on God? No! That brings us back to a poverty spirit. However, we should pray this prayer that God only gives us what we can handle. Thankfully, we see that God gives each according to our ability.
Abraham Lincoln said “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Wealth and power as very similar in that they show what a man is when all inhibitions are removed.
Finding someone who can handle wealth and still remain 100% dependent on God and serving Him as a Steward is very, very rare. This is why Jesus said it is impossible without God (Matthew 19:26). As such, it is very, very valuable to the Kingdom. Focus on being just as dependent on God in plenty as in lack and you will have a firm foundation for your finances.
We started this section talking about being diligent, but it is also important that we balance that with being restful.When we know that God is the provider and owns everything, we can give ourselves permission to live according to His commands with no fear of loss or harm.God Himself showed us His nature when He rested on the 7th day of Creation. From then till now, He has been the Lord of the Sabbath. He encourages rest.If you listen to the world, you need to work 80-100 hour weeks to succeed. “Putting everything you have in now is worth it later!” The world rewards the ones who sell themselves completely to their career and shrugs off the ones who take time to rest.Thankfully, your career is not your provider. We live in the Kingdom where the King is our provider and He is encouraging us to rest.
Resting from our labor is like a tithe of our time. It demonstrates that we trust God to provide because we are doing something that doesn’t make sense without Him. 1 Corinthians 3:7 says “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” It is interesting that the busiest times for us are the planting and the harvesting. The time of growth is when we should be resting. Ask any farmer and they will likely tell you that Summer is their easy time, as the planting is done and the harvesting is yet to come. Trying to force things to grow faster doesn’t do much! Trust God by resting and allow Him to bring the growth.
Take a careful look at your time and prayerfully evaluate if you are taking time to rest. A weekly Sabbath where you do not do things to earn money is a good start. Regular quality time with your family is also important, through daily meals, annual vacations, etc. Take a look at the life of Jesus while He was on earth. Although He only had 3 years of ministry to change the world, we see Him pulling away to rest and pray during the busiest times. Pattern yourself after this. As a resource, I highly encourage Mark Buchannan’s book “The Rest of God”.
Given the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is clear that God wants us to live a life of service. When considering our finances, we must keep the focus outside of “me, myself, and I” and on the needs of the world around us. What are some ways we can promote this?
In 2 Chronicles 1:10, Solomon makes his famous request for wisdom. What is interesting is his reason for wanting wisdom. He said:
“Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
Solomon understood the responsibility that had been entrusted to him and was woefully aware of his own inadequacies. As such, he didn’t want any more wealth or power if it wasn’t accompanied by wisdom. His desires were focused fully on his people.
In a similar way, we have been given great responsibility as God’s stewards to manage our finances well. We must seek wisdom. Proverbs 2 speaks about how we must value and seek after wisdom that is only found in God. James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
Become like Solomon in feeling the burden of responsibility that is on you with your finances. Let it bring you to the place of seeking Wisdom. Ask God, and He will give it to you.
- Thankful & Rejoicing
God commands us to be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Ephesians 5:20) and rejoice always. The beauty of this is that there is actual power in rejoicing!Psalms 112:1-3 says:Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in His commands.Their children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in their houses,and their righteousness endures forever.
In whatever circumstances, we should not only be thankful…but rejoice! It is out of this that wealth and riches flow. God loves a cheerful giver, as we spoke of earlier on “joy”. However, don’t just look for things that bring you joy, but choose joy. Practice thanksgiving for every blessing!
When you are successful in your finances, it is very difficult to stay humble. We see this time and time again as great men of Faith fell away from the Lord (Saul, Solomon, etc.). We spoke more on this when we say to remain dependent on the King.
Part of the key to staying humble is remembering that even our ability to gain wealth comes from God! Deuteronomy 8:18 “But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”
When you live with the realization that God alone is the one who has blessed you, it makes it hard to brag. Humble people are the ones that God can use and bless the most, as they’ll always give Him the glory. Stay humble!
In closing, I want to ask “Why does God give us financial blessing?” Yes, it is so that we can be provided for, have joy, meet needs through giving, invest wisely, and more. But what is the ultimate purpose of wealth?
God provides wealth for His Glory and Honor. 1 Chronicles 29:11-13 says
“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.”
God gives us resources and blessings so we can bring honor to Him! He created us to co-labor with Him, bringing the Kingdom to earth. Through this, Christ in you is glorified. Sometimes it is ourselves glorifying Him, or it may be others who are thankful for the provision provided by God’s wealth that we are stewarding.
Don’t be ashamed or afraid of wealth. Don’t seek riches, as that love of money is a dangerous path, but seek God. If and when He blesses you financially, be thankful and stay humble! Remain dependent on Him. Be generous, but also steward your finances to avoid debt, save diligently, and invest wisely. Whether God chooses to give you much to steward or little is not something we need worry about, but only stewarding what we have been given right now.
This is the 3rd of a 3-part series. See my first post on “The Poverty Gospel” here and second post on “The Prosperity Gospel” here!
I hope that this series has been enlightening and encouraging to you. It has been a burden on my heart to study this topic for several months. At the same time, but separately, I was asked by the Stewardship pastoral team to prepare content for a three week Equip class on this very topic at Gateway Church. This was confirmation that I should invest the time to this study and writing these was a way to organize my thoughts and ensure that those classes were impactful and well structured. I am extremely thankful for the platform I’ve been given and humbled by every person who takes the time to read or listen to my thoughts. My prayer is always that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and that my focus remains on serving God by serving you.