I remember what it felt like when I got my first few paychecks from my first “real” job after college. After a few weeks of working full time, I finally reached that coveted mountaintop achievement of receiving a paycheck with four digits and a comma.
I had arrived. I had over $1,000 in my bank account, and I did my absolute best to resist the urge to cash that puppy in for nickels and pennies to do a Scrooge McDuck swan dive into a pool (or maybe bathtub) full of my newfound riches.
You’ve watched “DuckTales.” You know what I’m talking about.
And those paychecks came every month! I was rich! Time to pull up Zillow and see if the Wayne Manor is for sale so I can finally have my own Batcave.
OK, maybe I didn’t go that far, but maybe you’ve had similar reactions. When you first go out on your own, it takes a while to get a grasp on how much money you actually need to have for things like electricity and food.
It was more than I originally hypothesized. (And the Wayne Manor is vastly over-priced.)
Even now, as I reflect on my life as an old man, I still struggle with budgeting. Whenever I have to or want to make big purchases, I internally debate with myself for days trying to decide if it’s really worth it. Even if you took personal finance classes in high school and have mastered Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all handbook for handling your finances, and these issues only seem to be more complicated the older you get.
Here are a few thoughts I’ve had recently, along with some much wiser words from the Savior of the world.
The Bible has quite a bit to say about money, and one thing is clear throughout both the Old and New Testaments: All of our money really belongs to God. It makes sense, right? If you believe that God created everything, nothing is really ours. As King David wrote, “The earth is the LORD‘s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,” (Psalm 24:1).
It’s hard to give money away. It feels so counter-intuitive. Especially if you don’t make much to begin with, it is very hard to let it go without getting anything in return. I get it. I’ve been there, and I know how hard it is.
Sometimes the Bible is nuanced and very hard to understand, but with the topics of giving and generosity, I really don’t see much wiggle room. The concept of tithing is affirmed throughout the Scriptures, and living with generosity is described favorably by Jesus and many other biblical writers.
Not only are we instructed to give to the church, but we’re also told those gifts should come first. Several verses in the Old Testament instruct believers to give “firstfruit” tithes to the Lord. In the New Testament, Paul instructs the church in Corinth that they should give “on the first day of every week.” (1 Corinthians 16:2).
I can see how that can sound or feel legalistic, and I’m not sure God is concerned about you literally giving away your first dollars at the beginning of every month, but I believe the concept is important. Giving to God shouldn’t be an afterthought, and you shouldn’t just give whatever you have left at the end of the month. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, and to show God the position of your heart, we should get in the habit of giving what He asks of us first.
There’s an interesting verse in 1 Timothy: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
I’ll be honest: I’m really not sure what to make of that. It seems a little weird and harsh, but it is true that the Bible instructs us to save and take care of ourselves (and our families). The prodigal son was chastised for “squandering his estate in foolish living.” In Genesis, Joseph wisely instructed Egypt to save one-fifth of their crops to prepare for the pending famine. Another passage in 2 Thessalonians instructs us to work and earn our own wages so we don’t become a financial burden to others.
Let’s be honest: Saving money isn’t glamorous. ROTH retirement accounts aren’t super exciting, and it’s way more fun to buy new TVs and cars and laptops. However, it’s biblical (and just common sense) to make saving part of every paycheck a part of your monthly routine.
Then Live With Freedom
In my journey through adulthood thus far (see how I used “thus”? I’m so an adult.), sometimes I’ve gone through seasons where I would pressure myself to save as much as possible. That seems like the “right” thing to do, right? Stock up on ramen and don’t you dare buy name brand cereal!
It’s always “good” to give and save more. However, I think there are also some dangers to living that way.
The more money you have, the easier it is to find security in wealth instead of God. In seasons when my bank accounts have had a little extra padding, I feel more self-sufficient. I can fall in a trap where I begin to almost “collect” money and get a weird sense of joy from seeing bigger and bigger numbers.
That’s dumb and very dangerous.
Don’t collect money—especially if you feel yourself gaining satisfaction and a deep tie to the security it brings. This is another area where the Bible is pretty clear: “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). And again from 1 Timothy:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
To enjoy. God is OK with you enjoying your life. Saving and growing your wealth are good things, but finding security in your wealth is not what God intended. If you find yourself collecting money and feeling a little too comfortable with your bank accounts, remember: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
I believe it’s important to think about money in this order: Give, save and then have fun. We need to be generous and live with our futures in mind, but I also believe God is OK with a little fun. He isn’t a cosmic killjoy wagging his finger at you if you decide to go on vacation or buy a new Xbox.
In fact, if you find yourself withholding fun purchases because of your desire for security in wealth, your heart and your treasures may be in the wrong places. It is admittedly a tough balance (even for Scrooge McDuck and Batman), but it’s a good goal for all of us to strive toward.
Copyright 2018 Matt Ehresman. All rights reserved.