How to Handle Money
How to Handle Money
The day after Christmas, many of us may feel rather out of pocket. But this issue does not only arise around Christmas time. Most of us have to deal with money in some way every day of our lives. But we prefer not to talk about it in church. However, Jesus talked about money a great deal. The Bible has a lot to say about it. Money matters. It matters to us and it matters to God. How should you handle money?
Prioritise relationships over moneyProverbs 31:10-20
Relationships matter far more than money. For example, all the money in the world cannot compensate for an unhappy marriage. On the other hand, anyone who has a happy marriage ‘lacks nothing of value’ (v.11): ‘A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value’ (vv.10–11).
As the writer of Proverbs extols the virtues of ‘a wife of noble character’, he begins with a number of areas of her life that relate directly or indirectly to finance. She is a great example of someone who has the right attitude to money. As John Wesley said, ‘Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.’
‘Earn all you can’
She is hardworking and diligent in earning a living: ‘She gets up early and provides food for her family’ (vv.12–15a). She is a good steward. She invests her money wisely. She trades profitably (vv.16–18a).
‘Save all you can’
She enjoys her work and the good things of life (v.13). She saves some of her earnings. She puts money aside (v.16, MSG).
‘Give all you can’
She is generous. ‘She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy’ (v.20). Generous giving is the appropriate response to God’s generosity and to the needs of others. It is the way to break materialism.
Lord, help me to be a good steward of everything you entrust to me. May I always be generous, especially to the poor and needy.
Do not put your trust in moneyRevelation 18:1-17a
In the Bible, there is no ban on making money, saving it and enjoying the good things of life. What is warned against is selfish accumulation, an unhealthy obsession with money, or putting your trust in riches. This leads to perpetual insecurity and takes you away from God.
Money is not a neutral, impersonal medium of exchange. Jesus said you cannot serve both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). ‘Mammon’ was the god of wealth in Carthage. Money has all the characteristics of a god. It seems to offer security, freedom, power, influence, status and prestige. It is capable of inspiring devotion and single-minded preoccupation. Yet, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, ‘Our hearts have room only for one all-embracing devotion, and we can only cleave to one Lord.’
In this passage, John is given a vision of an event that must have seemed inconceivable to his readers – the fall of ‘Babylon the Great’ (Revelation 18:2). In the immediate context, this is a prophecy of an event that will not take place for another 320 years – the overthrow of the Roman Empire in AD 410.
When John was writing, the empire seemed invulnerable. It was at the height of its power. It was enjoying peace and security. Yet, John sees that the characteristics of the city were the seeds of its own downfall.
‘Babylon’ here also represents any power that sets itself up apart from God. John highlights a series of fatal weaknesses that lie behind any society’s downfall:
‘She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit’ (v.2).
‘All the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her’ (v.3a).
‘The merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries’ (v.3b, see also v.7 and v.9). It is probably her great riches that led to arrogance (v.7b).
‘And slaves – their terrible traffic in human lives’ (v.13, MSG). John appears to be pointing out that slaves are not mere carcasses to be bought and sold as property, but are human beings. In this emphatic position at the end of the list (vv.11–13), this is more than just a comment on the slave trade. It is a comment on the whole list of cargoes. It suggests the inhuman brutality, the contempt for human life, on which the whole empire’s prosperity and luxury rested. Today, human trafficking and the resurgence of slavery – with millions of modern-day slaves – points to something desperately wrong with our society.
Riches, splendour and luxury are transient. They come and they go. John warns the people of God not to be contaminated by the sins of Babylon: ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins’ (v.4). The glories of ancient Rome may have long passed, but this challenge and message are as relevant to us today as they were then.
Lord, keep my heart from arrogance and all the other evils that so often can go with relative wealth. Help us as the church to do all we can to fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Thank you that while great empires come and go, the word of the Lord endures forever.
Set an example in handling moneyNehemiah 5:1-7:3
Nehemiah was a leader who set a superb example in handling money. Sooner or later, most of us will go through times of financial difficulty and lack of resources, either in our personal lives or in our churches. What do you do in these situations?
Nehemiah was facing such a situation. Some of the people did not have enough food to stay alive (5:2). Others had to mortgage their fields and homes (v.3). Still others had to borrow money to pay their taxes (v.4). What can we learn from Nehemiah’s example?
First, he thought about it very carefully: ‘I pondered… in my mind’ (v.7a). When facing a financial crisis, it is not wise to rush into hasty solutions. It needs careful thought.
Second, he called a meeting (v.7b). Some meetings are at best a waste of time, and at worst counter-productive. However, some meetings are important and necessary. Nehemiah had the wisdom to know the difference between these two kinds of meetings. He refused to meet with his opponents who were ‘scheming to harm him’ (6:2), despite being asked five times.
However, here Nehemiah calls a meeting. He tells the people that what they are doing is not right. They should not be charging interest. ‘Let the exacting of usury stop!’ (5:10). He orders them to give back the ‘fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them’ (v.11).
The meeting was successful. ‘“We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say”’ (v.12). The people did as they promised (v.13).
Third, and most important, he set an example in his own life:
Out of his reverence for God, Nehemiah did not act like the earlier governors who had placed heavy burdens of taxation on the people and allowed their assistants to lord it over them (v.15).
‘Neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor’ (v.14).
No personal gain
‘All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land… I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people’ (vv.16,18).
Generosity to others
‘Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations’ (vv.17–18).
Single-minded hard work
‘I devoted myself to the work on this wall’ (v.16a). He refused to be put off by the threats of his opponents who were trying to frighten him. Instead he prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands’ (6:9).
Nehemiah finished what he had started (v.15). Many people know how to start things. But often they lack what Pippa’s father used to call ‘carry-through’. Nehemiah had the stickability to complete what he had begun.
The success of the project was the perfect answer to the critics: ‘So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God’ (vv.15–16).
Lord, give me wisdom in how to handle money. Help me to set an example in my own personal life – to live a life of integrity, with no preoccupation with personal gain, and a modest lifestyle, hard work and generosity to others.
I feel rather inadequate when I read about this ‘do it all’, ‘have it all’, ‘be it all’ woman. Actually, I don’t think we have to be all this – what really matters is our relationship with God and doing what he has called us to do.
Verse of the Day
‘But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands”’ (Nehemiah 6:9).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (SMG, 1959; Pocket Books: 1st Touchstone Ed, 1995) p.176
John Emory (Ed.), Sermon 50 ‘The Use of Money’ in The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M. (1840) Vol. I, p. 446.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.