Saving Grace for Money Matters

September 7th, 2021

There’s no question that money is a big day-to-day issue in all our lives— regardless of how much of it we have. In fact, if you add up the hours we spend making it, spending it, worrying about it, fighting over it, trying to protect it, and trying to manage it, you would find that we spend a lot of our waking hours focused on money. It’s a big issue, one that affects most aspects of our lives.

Wealth is a frequent theme in the Old Testament, Jesus spoke more about money than other topics in his teachings, and some of John Wesley’s most memorable sermons include the importance of how we earn, save, and give our money. Money is a powerful thing. Some even say that money is more than just a neutral medium that can be used for good or for bad; they would argue that money has a spiritual force or power, and that power is reinforced by myths that have become a powerful force in shaping the materialistic, consumer-focused culture in which we find ourselves.

We are all affected by the myths of our consumer culture as they relate to money. The Saving Grace study examines many of these myths and contrasts them with a more faithful way to understand money and how we spend and interact with it. In order to follow this faithful way toward financial well-being, we get very practical about it, using tools and biblical principles and applying them to our everyday lives with money.

In addition to Scripture and practical financial advice, we also have Christian leaders and theologians from the past to guide us with important insights about how to earn, save, and give our money in a way that is faithful to God. One such theologian is John Wesley, a priest in the Church of England in the eighteenth century who founded the Methodist movement. His teachings, practices, and theology are a part of the heritage of many Christian denominations today, including The United Methodist Church. Wesley firmly believed and taught that the Christian faith must be lived, that our faithfulness to God is ultimately expressed in the habits, practices, behaviors, and attitudes that characterize our lives. Money was no exception, and in a number of his works Wesley described a faithful relationship with money in which it is a tool that can be used to express our love of God and neighbor.

Here’s a scene from a sleepless night. Perhaps you’re familiar with it. You lie in bed trying to think happy thoughts and instead you can’t seem to shake thinking about . . . money. The thoughts are not happy thoughts. You think about paying the bills or managing the debt. You wonder what your relationship to money says about what sort of person you are and what you value. Old family attitudes toward money and cultural expectations are tied up in your thoughts about money. And even though many churches seem hesitant to talk about money as a spiritual matter, you sense that God is tied up in all this too.

If you’ve ever had such a night (or day), you’ve already taken a step toward peace of mind. The first step toward a healthy relationship with your finances is to push back the fears and to become a student. What are we studying? The practical steps to a kind of financial well-being that liberates us for a grace-filled, abundant life with God.

John Wesley, the principal founder of the Methodist movement in the eighteenth century, knew how important this conversation was for Christians. In his classic sermon on the topic, “The Use of Money,” he lamented that the society he lived in talked about money frequently, but it was “not sufficiently considered by those whom God hath chosen out of the world.” Part of a full Christian life, a life of holiness, was to continue growing in our employment of this gift. And Wesley did consider money a gift to be used for “all manner of good.”

People of faith have always known that spiritual struggles accompany our discussions of money. We can see this in the many references that the Bible makes to the subject. Money may be a gift, but as 1 Timothy 6:10 famously notes, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” The prophet Isaiah knew our temptation to misuse money on things that are not good for us: “Why spend money for what isn’t food, / and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2). Then there’s Jesus. Jesus talked a lot about money. He was a companion to both the rich and the poor, and he challenged both to act on what was really important in their lives. He seemed to know our struggles with both the potential and the dangers of wealth, and he knew about putting it in a good perspective. “No one can serve two masters,” he said. “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

The principal danger of the love of money, even if we don’t feel that we have much of it, is that it can make us forgetful—forgetful of who we are, of what our responsibilities to others are, and forgetful of God. That forgetfulness can lead us to misplaced trust. The writer of the Book of Hebrews knew that: “Your way of life should be free from the love of money, and you should be content with what you have. After all, he has said, I will never leave you or abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5). So, let’s start our journey here—putting our trust in God. With trust we may have fewer of those restless nights wondering about where it’s all going to come from, because God is the creator of all things and the giver of every gift. God desires that we live in close relationship with God and each other. And God has provided all the resources we need to flourish, no matter our condition. In this chapter, we’ll explore the tensions in our relationship to money and begin to develop a plan that will help us see our financial well-being in the light of our spiritual health. We’ll look at how the cultural messages around money can feed into distorted views about our financial goals and priorities. And we’ll begin the journey to financial well-being by starting a plan that reflects God’s intentions for our lives.

Activity: The Idols We Keep

Though money itself is not innately a bad thing, it can become an idol—even a rival god— in some people’s lives. Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt money or possessions became an idol in your life? How did it affect you? The reality of life is that every day we must make financial decisions— often they’re relatively small ones, and sometimes they are big ones. Often we make those decisions, even the major life decisions such as where we work and where we live and who our friends are, strictly on a monetary basis rather than on the basis of prayerful consideration of where God would have us work and live. When we do that, money has become our idol—it has become a rival god in our lives. So while this study is about how to practically manage your money, it is also about values and priorities, joy and well-being, and most importantly, how to manage your money and resources to honor the God who provides them.



What Our Consumer Culture Says About Money 

Too often our consumer culture feeds us some really bad information about money and possessions. We encounter these myths many times a day in many different ways.

One myth suggests that things bring us happiness. This is probably the most powerful of the myths, and it is certainly what the advertising media would like us to believe. They scream: Buy me! Drink me! Wear me! Drive me! Put me in your hair! Do this and you’ll be happy, popular, powerful, and utterly desirable! But if things really did bring this much happiness, America would be a deliriously happy nation because we have a lot of things. But statistics on depression, suicide, divorce, addiction, and a host of other negative indicators suggest that maybe we’re not overall a happy nation.

So why, in face of the all the evidence to the contrary, do we tend to live our lives as though things we can buy really do bring happiness? Maybe we’ve heard this lie over and over and over until we’ve finally concluded, consciously or unconsciously, that it must be true.

A second myth is that debt is expected and unavoidable. The implication that often accompanies this myth is that there are really no negative consequences to debt. In reality, there are both serious economic and spiritual dangers to debt, which we’ll explore in a later chapter. The Bible warns us to be cautious about debt (Romans 13:8, for example). The cautious debtor is one who seeks to avoid entering into debt, is careful and strategic when incurring debt, and always repays debt. The last myth we’ll explore is the one that tells us that a little more money will solve every problem. Some interesting research has been done related to this myth. People at various points along the economic continuum were asked how much more money they would need to really be “okay” financially. Here’s the finding: Whether they were making $25,000 or $250,000, the answer to how much more they needed was always right around 10 percent more. The truth is, if we haven’t learned to handle well what we have, having more will leave us with the same set of problems, only bigger (apparently about 10 percent or so bigger!).

Activity: The Myths We Believe 

1. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are constantly influenced by the culture we live in, and often that means we buy into these myths when it comes to money and possessions. Read the list below and put a check mark next to the myth that you think influences you the most. 

  • Things bring us happiness.
  • Debt is expected and unavoidable.
  • A little more money will solve all my problems.

2. How has believing this myth influenced the way you live your life?

Money and the Faithful Way 

How do we guard against being influenced by the myths of our consumer culture and controlled by this powerful force called money? By acknowledging and submitting ourselves to a more powerful force—the faithful way toward financial well-being.

While our consumer culture is hard at work trying to influence and control our financial behavior, God and the faithful way are quietly encouraging us to not be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We renew our minds by understanding what the Bible says about money and our relationship to it. And the Bible has a great deal to say. In Scripture, we see three core truths about how God tells us to use our resources:

  1. God created everything. Genesis 1 tells us that, in the beginning, there was nothing, and God created every grain of sand and every star in the universe. There was nothing, and then there was everything, all orchestrated by God alone.
  2. God owns everything. God didn’t create everything and then turn God’s back on the creation. Scripture makes it clear that God continues to be involved and has retained ownership of all of creation: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, / the world and its inhabitants too” (Psalm 24:1). The concept that God is the owner of everything may be easy to say, but it is often very hard to move that concept from our head to our hearts.
  3. We are trustees, not the owners, of all God has made. If God created everything and retained ownership of everything, then we are trustees, not owners, of God’s creation and resources. That’s a powerful thought and an awesome privilege. But here’s the key: First Corinthians 4:2 says, “In this kind of situation, what is expected of a manager is that they prove to be faithful.”

So, in order to be faithful we must understand the role of a trustee. A trustee, while a privileged and trusted position, has responsibilities. The key responsibility is to care for and manage what belongs to someone else. For example, if someone became incapacitated and you were made trustee of his or her affairs, you would not own that person’s assets, only the responsibility of handling them in accordance with the person’s wishes and in the person’s best interests. The importance of our role as trustees can’t be overemphasized. All other biblical financial principles flow out of this understanding. God has given us many and varied resources and these assets are part of how the work of God is done on earth. Our relationship to money changes when we keep in mind that we are handling the assets of God and are entrusted by God to make good choices.

Whether you are just starting out or already have a budgeting system in place, the goal of Saving Grace is for you to become grounded in a biblical understanding of a sound relationship to money and to develop and commit to a biblically based Spending Plan for your household. 

How the Saving Grace study works

  • Contrast what the consumer culture says about money with what the Bible says about money. • Show you how to track your expenses and evaluate your income.
  • Discuss giving and saving.
  • Address your debt.
  • Walk you through creating a personal Spending Plan that will guide every aspect of your financial life.
  • Encourage you in ways to experience grace, peace, and joy in your financial life.
The videos for Saving Grace are free, in front of the paywall, at Amplify Media.

This article is excerpted from Saving Grace: Clergy Workbook.

comments powered by Disqus