I was reminded again today that the subject of how to approach the subject of money, from a Christian perspective, and given some of the tetchy responses, can be controversial. It is one where good Christians, including those who think theologically, might differ widely. It is a subject that significantly affects all of us in various ways. Whenever I think how to approach money, I think of that song from the musical Cabaret: “money makes the world go round”.
I got in a discussion earlier about tithing: should Christians tithe or not and I concluded “not” as we are under grace not law, while recognizing that since we should be generous we might well do more than tithe. As to who we should tithe to e.g. the church we belong to and where does giving to good causes come into all this, that is an open question. In another discussion, this time based on the meme below that encapsulates some of the teaching of John Wesley on the subject, there were different views as to whether or not he was right.
Besides checking further the teaching of the great man, which as I recall was pretty profound and seemed to get to the heart of the matter, it got me thinking about what does the Bible say on the matter of money. To do that it will be back to the study and the good book, which will be the focus of part 2 of this article. But since my observation has been even the best and most worthy of Christians are often influenced by their own experience and how they have been taught, I should begin this part 1 with my testimony, mindful seekers after the truth should not depend on feelings, biases etc.
I grew up on a Council estate. My dad was a laborer and often unemployed. My mum worked as a home help to supplement the family income. We did not have much in the way of luxuries although we were well looked after. I became a Christian aged 15 and joined the Plymouth Brethren. I don’t recall any sermons on money and expect those in charge were anti tithing. However, they did believe in the need to be good stewards and ever since that has influenced my attitude to money. One quirk of the PBs was not having paid ministers but an army of often full time workers that “lived by faith”. While generally not into tithing as they did not see the biblical warrant they did reckon we should be looking to the Lord for our daily needs and took seriously the need to support those in need, especially if doing the “Lord’s work”, and I reckon many would have given beyond the 10% required by the law relating to tithing. Living and working away, I got involved with other churches that were into tithing. One common notion was to give 10% of income to the church (whether before or after tax was a moot point) and if we wanted to give to other good causes that would be extra (sometimes this was referred to as “offerings”). I rejected that teaching and sometimes it got me into trouble. Early on I cottoned onto the notion of tax reclaim on charitable giving and went out of my way to avail myself of the opportunity (I find it disappointing still and bad stewardship when Christians don’t employ Gift Aid or the like). During my working life, I found myself accumulating an assortment of good causes to give to, including missions and missionaries, on top of what I gave to the church, and it was usually more than 10% of my income. I also reckoned that while we should support our local church as a matter of importance there are many other worthy causes we should also support, but in the final analysis it is down to the conscience and judgement of the individual who to give to and how much, as well as how to use the remaining income providing they realised that it really belonged to the Lord. I maintained this principle and pattern for much of my working life.
As for work, I was generally well paid and had good jobs. I lived fairly frugally and being single until I was well into my forties helped augment my disposable income. While I gave quite a bit away, I also invested although looking back I could have done better than I did. Even so, I made some wise investments so when I stepped down from being a computer consultant running my own company, aged around 50, I was fairly well placed to adapt to a big drop of income compared with my well paid positions. If I hadn’t saved and invested that would not be possible, especially as some of that work, the more interesting and to me more meaningful, was done on a voluntary basis, and it would not have been possible. I am now retired, owning three properties with around 10% left to pay through mortgage repayments. I get some rental income and have three pensions. My wife works full time (although if we could afford it I would like her to go part time). Besides giving to all sorts of good causes, church related and otherwise, we support our extended family, some of who are involved in missionary work. One church activity was to serve as missionary secretary and here I became acutely aware of the financial needs and how these enterprises could only continue through generous benefactors. We are still mindful of the financial needs of many less well off than us and try to help when we can and, while we would like to help more, we recognize our limitations.
It is possible when I come to reflect I might think I have said too much. But it was important, to use the well used phrase, to say where I am coming from for when I come to Part 2 and generalize what attitude to money a Christian needs to have. What I can say for sure is that God is faithful and it has been a privilege to have been able to give and bless others, realizing we can never out give God. When it comes to being a good steward, I don’t claim to score highly (only God can judge) but I can acknowledge my early teaching that we are to be good stewards is a sound basis for living life. Whatever comes our way, whether much or little, it belongs to God and needs to be used in his service, and in Him we must trust.