My Sunday school class recently finished the book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan. I think it’s an excellent look at the dangers of being a lukewarm Christian, and Francis shares some valuable insights into the awesomeness of God’s love for us and how we should respond to that love.
For the most part, I thought Francis was spot on in his assessment of lukewarm Christians and how we need to be obsessed with serving God. But one particular aspect of his ideas bothered me. Specifically, this part from page 78 concerned me:
Lukewarm People do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens – they have their savings account. They don’t need God to help them – they have their retirement plan in place. They don’t genuinely seek out what life God would have them live – they have life figured and mapped out. They don’t depend on God on a daily basis – their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God.
from Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan
Francis then quotes the parable of the rich fool from Luke 12:16-21. Along with some other parts of the book, Francis seems to be hinting at the fact that Christians shouldn’t save money at all. They should be giving everything away.
Make no mistake. I firmly believe that Christians should be marked by radical generosity. But I think the flaw in Francis’ ideas is that they ignore the counsel of Scripture as a whole.
Treasures in Heaven
I think some people are quick to say Christians shouldn’t save because of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21:
19 “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21 (WEB)
I’ve heard some comment on this passage as though Jesus is condemning anyone who saves up money. Their logic is that if you’re saving up money and not giving it away, then your heart is attached to that money rather than to God.
But think for a moment about the word “treasures”. We’d hardly use that word to talk about just enough to meet our needs. Rather, it denotes the idea of wealth – an abundance that far exceeds our needs. When we look at the whole of Jesus’ teachings about money, we see that His warnings were targeted at greed and selfishness rather than prudent money management combined with contentment.
I say this with some confidence because Jesus never contradicted Scripture. And throughout Scripture we see admonition and teaching to wisely manage our affairs while still trusting in God.
Prudence and Responsibility
Consider the numerous verses in Proverbs that commend wisdom in handling money and our affairs. Here are just a few:
The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
Proverbs 22:3 (WEB)
Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.
Proverbs 21:20 (WEB)
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard. Consider her ways, and be wise; 7 which having no chief, overseer, or ruler, 8 provides her bread in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.
Proverbs 6:6-8 (WEB)
Additionally, the New Testament speaks to our responsibility to care for the needs of our family (including ourselves) so that we will not burden the Church.
But if anyone doesn’t provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8 (WEB)
If any man or woman who believes has widows, let them relieve them, and don’t let the assembly be burdened; that it might relieve those who are widows indeed.
1 Timothy 5:16 (WEB)
11 …and that you make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, even as we instructed you; 12 that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and may have need of nothing.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (WEB)
Clearly, we are to do what is wise and honorable so that we can provide for our family and our needs within reason. This would also include saving, since we know that the unexpected happens. Car repairs, medical expenses, job loss – they often come without warning and we should be prepared for them. That doesn’t mean we aren’t depending on God or trusting in Him. We’re simply fulfilling our responsibility to do what we ought to do.
The Danger of Saving
Despite the fact that we are encouraged to save and handle money wisely, we must still be on our guard against trusting in money. This is what Jesus was warning against. In our efforts to provide for our family, we can go overboard. We can save too much.
But the Christian who is seeking contentment in Christ and the heart of God will be concerned for the poor as well as responsible money management. That’s where our total walk with Jesus works to help us understand our true needs, meet those needs through work and saving, and generously give away as much as possible. I think Paul’s words to the Corinthians summarize the basic idea of Christian giving well:
13 For this is not that others may be eased and you distressed, 14 but for equality. Your abundance at this present time supplies their lack, that their abundance also may become a supply for your lack; that there may be equality.
2 Corinthians 8:13-14 (WEB)
The goal is not to live on the edge but to give generously from our abundance so that we can meet the needs of others. The idea is almost communistic except that it is not forced. This is the kind of giving that flows from love. We restrict our standard of living by not satisfying all of our wants so that we can show love to others through generosity. That’s the key to Jesus’ message on wealth and giving.
Do you think Christians shouldn’t save money? Why? And if not, have you ever encountered someone who felt this way? How did you approach this issue with them? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
(photo credit: Liz West)
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When you ‘treasure’ something, you place value on it above other things you own. It’s the attitude you have towards the possession that we were being warned about in Matthew.
Planning and saving is Biblical and you’ve provided great verses to show that it is wise to save.
Your reasons for saving is what makes it right or wrong. Making a 6-12 month emergency fund = great. Not giving to those in need or your church because you’re trying to build your ‘net worth’ = check your attitude.
Great post today!
Right, Tim – attitude is paramount on this issue as with most others Jesus taught us about. Saving money should never become a replacement for trusting in the Lord, but reckless generosity (unless accompanied by a clear call from God) goes against many things taught in the Bible. I think it’s important to check our attitude on either end – saving too much or giving too much. I know it sounds weird to hear me say that since I’m generally encouraging people to give more, but Jesus was clear that our attitude in giving matters just as much as our attitude in saving up. Giving to get glory and praise from men would not please God. I think that’s equally true of giving in an effort to earn salvation or out of pure fear of being sent to Hell. Thanks for commenting!
Well said, both Tim and Paul!
Some thoughts. There’s a startling painting by Heronomous Bosch called “Veronica’s Veil”. In it Christ is painfully dragging His cross, in the midst of a jeering crowd, while a woman turned slightly from Him holding a cloth in her hands with the imprint of His face on it.
We are so like Veronica. The extremist giver who doesn’t save enough to meet his family’s needs (in violation of scripture), considers his gifts to God a means of gaining God’s favor, thus substituting his own efforts for the finished and sufficient work of Christ for them. The person who collects riches to himself, thinking monetary rewards indicate a higher spiritual standing, has also substituted money for Christ and fellowship with Him. Money instead of Christ protects him from the bumps in life. Since we have both tendencies in ourselves, we have to tread carefully in pointing out error in others.
This is a long way of saying “yes” to your question.
I’ve tried to point this problem out to another who cuts their lives down to nothing. They responded by saying I lacked faith (because I didn’t do the same), and that God spoke to them to give everything away. As long as this person’s mom was able to bail her out, it worked after a fashion, now that her mom has nothing, the next crisis will be difficult.
Those who live very comfortably without sensitivity to others can forget the limits poverty puts on a person. The narrowing of educational opportunities, the lessening of social interaction, the lack of common stuff. It’s like you’re speaking another language.
The problem is slippery to address because it is an internal attitude manifesting itself in external actions. Idolitry. There is hope. The examples of those who gave out of poverty like the Macedonians, and those who gave out of wealth, like Barnabas and Boaz, show us as we’re drenched in gospel truth we’ll become more Christlike in our attitudes.
This topic seems to be very popular on Christian financial blogs with the downturn in the economy over the last three years or so.
When things were financially popping, so to speak, and the collection baskets were full, few preachers harped on the issue of attitutde as it pertained to giving.
Attitude should always be important no matter the state of the economy. We, therefore, naturally question the motives of those who suggest saving money is a questionable activity and also naturally question the motives of those who attempt regulating the behavior of others through the use of guilt.
Isn’t saving too much money invariably an evil act we, ourselves, are not guilty of. It is always our neighbor who saves too much and doesn’t give enough. We, on the other hand, save just the right amount and give just the right amount :-).
Attitude is vitally important. If we have true gratitude for our abundance and its ultimate source, there is no amount of money that is too much to save. If you buy your son a brand new bike for his birthday and he shows his gratitude for it by taking meticulous care of it even after getting an accidental scratch or two on it, aren’t you inclined to entrust him with more responsibility? Conversely, if your son showed no gratitude for what he received and left his bike out to rust in the rain, what would be your inclination when considering entrusting him with more responsibility? Would not the parable of the talents influence our decision to some degree?
It may be that religious leaders will have to lead the faith-charge themselves and become more dependent on God rather than the contributions of their flocks.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Olivia. You’ve done an excellent job of pointing out the dangers on both sides of this question. I completely agree with you about the importance of the Gospel in transforming our internal attitudes and giving us the strength and power to change our actions as well.
Thanks for commenting, Steven and Debra! I didn’t write about this topic because it’s popular. It’s just something I’ve heard some people hint at over the years and I feel like it ignores much of Scripture. Very astute observation about how we never consider ourselves guilty of saving too much. Jesus’ words about taking the log out of our own eye first ring very true here. We must take time to examine ourselves carefully in all matters.
I just found your site and found it refreshing from a church planting point of view. I specialize in helping Christian business owners and Ministry leaders grow through their unique identity. I read Crazy Love and loved the passion he shared and the appeal to move out of lukewarm Christianinty. However,I had the same thoughts you did when I read it and frankly find it frustrating to consistently hear from my clients that they feel like they have to compromise their passionate puruit for evangelism and kingdom in order to build their businesses and create financial stability. (As if it is either or)Thanks for the post and I look forward to book-marking your site and visitng it more often.
Thanks for commenting, Becky! I’m glad you’ve found my site useful. I agree that building a business and passionately pursuing the kingdom do not have to be at odds. However, it can be difficult to continue faithfully following Christ when you achieve success. The deceitfulness of riches then leads many away from Him. But that doesn’t mean it’s either/or. It just requires more reliance on Christ and continual communion with Him.