According to a study released by Public Agenda, 46% of all Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 96% of all Americans will retire financially dependent on the government, family, or charity. A 1992 Federal Reserve study showed that 43% of U.S. families spent more than they earned.
We stated earlier that spending money was a problem. Saving money is also a problem. These two ideas are closely tied together. If you don’t quit spending money, you can’t save money.
As stewards what is our responsibility in saving money? How much should we save? Where should we save our money? Why should we save? A lot of questions surround this topic. Thank God that he has given us his Word to answer these questions.
Should a steward save money? Yes. We turn again to Joseph. When he was Pharaoh’s steward he saved for seven years. He knew that a famine was coming. This shows us an important principle: save for emergencies.
Emergencies happen all the time. How are you going to pay for a new furnace? A new transmission for the car? An accident that causes medical bills? We never plan on these events, but common sense tells us that they will happen. When will an emergency happen? Probably when you least want or expect it. When we have some money saved and set aside, emergencies aren’t so bad. Let’s say the car breaks down, and it is going to cost $500 to get fixed. There are two problems in fixing the car: the first is the inconvenience of a car that doesn’t run, and the second is paying the mechanic. It is much less stressful to have saved a little out of every paycheck than to have the stress of two problems at once.
There is a different kind of saving promoted in the Bible other than for emergencies. That is to save in anticipation of a need in the future. When David was preparing for the building of the temple, he saved. He collected every type of material needed for it.
Some of the things that we might save for are a house, car, furniture, or retirement and inheritance. Long-term planning is needed. We need to think about the future and plan ahead.
In Bible times the people lived in an agricultural society. Much of their money was in the form of grain. When they saved “money” they placed it in storehouses. In what type of “storehouse” should a steward place his money? Should he buy CDs? Or place it in the bank? Should he invest in the stock market? Or real estate? Or should he just place it under his mattress?
There are two ideas given to us in the Bible. The first is that we should do something. We can’t just bury it. Jesus made this clear in the parable of the talents. The man who was given one talent was told that he should have at least put his to the exchangers for usury (Matt. 25:27). This rules out the idea of placing our savings under the mattress.
The second principle the Bible shows us about where to save for future purchases is diversification. Diversification is a big word that tells us that we should not put all of our money in one spot. Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 11:2, “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” To put all your eggs in one basket is not a wise idea. It should be spread around because disasters may hit.
There is a danger associated with saving money. Some people hoard money. Hoarding money is a bad idea. When hoarding money the focus of a person’s life is on material possessions. Money becomes an idol for them. They look at money as a scorecard: the more they get, the better the score. They use it for bragging rights. They use it to buy pleasure. They use it for their own consumption rather than for the kingdom. What does Jesus say? “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matthew 6:20). At some point saving money will do us no good at all.
This idea is illustrated in the parable of the rich fool found in Luke 12. He had a very good crop. He was going to store it away and have many good years of ease and luxury. Of course it did not work because his life was required of him.
When we die we can’t take any money with us. Money doesn’t do us any good after we die. (I never saw a U-haul following a hearse). Money is just a tool. We need it, but we need it in context of the greater reality that we are not of this earth. We are here for a while, and then we go home. We use money to meet our needs and the needs of the kingdom here, then we go home.
One of the main reasons people save money today is for retirement. What is biblical retirement? Can a steward just sit back and relax? No. Why? A steward is a manager. If you are only relaxing, taking it easy, you are, by definition, not managing.
When we think about biblical retirement, we must think work. The Bible sets the calling before us to work. We have work to do. We need to be busy in that work. We may not quit but must persevere. We must continue to teach and train. There are many opportunities to serve in the kingdom; we need only ask: what can I do?
When we think biblical retirement we must keep in mind the type of work to be done. It should be obvious that the work of the parent with small children will be significantly different than the work of the great-grandparent. We are called to work as we are able. As we grow older it is OK to slow the pace.
Maybe there are some stewards who are reading this and thinking, “Retirement? I do a budget, I make good money, I even send my kids to a Christian school! I don’t have enough money left over to save!”
This is a legitimate concern. Two things should be pointed out to those who have this concern. First, the good manager also realizes that there are events that are outside our control, and no matter how much we save we will not be able to cover those events. That is where we have peace in trusting God. We can be thankful that no matter what happens we confess that God is sovereign. He is in control of all things. If it is his will that our lives mirror Job, then we must have the confession of Job also. Job 1:21 says, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
The second thing is that the Bible addresses this concern in Proverbs 30:7-9. Agur desires neither poverty nor riches. Both extremes lead to danger. If you have just enough to meet your obligations, be thankful. God has provided. He provides for the birds of the air. He provides for the grass in the field. He will provide for you.
There are, in general, two problems that stand in the way of saving money. The first is lack of work. The second is overspending.
Lack of work can happen due to many reasons. In any case the Lord calls us to provide for our family (1 Tim. 5:8). If there is some reason that we have fallen on hard times we can be thankful that God has given us his Word to give us direction. It says that first we are to first go to our family for our needs. If our family can’t help, then we should go to the deacons of the church; it is their responsibility before God to help. If there is a reason why you can’t get a job, they will be able to help with that too. It is not their obligation to give you employment, or to give you contacts of people to talk to, but they can take a fresh look at your situation, and with compassion, give some insight and wisdom on some ideas that you can take up to help yourself.
The second reason we can’t save money is due to overspending. There is a symptom of overspending: debt. Debt occurs any time that you owe. If you are making payments you are in debt. Credit cards, student loans, car loans, and mortgages are all forms of debt. Many people today think that these are not debt because they can make the payments. Payments are part of a contract to repay debt. What happens if payments stop? Harassing phone calls, lawsuits, garnished wages, repossessed cars, and foreclosures will happen.
Debt, like money, is amoral. The Bible does not prohibit debt. The Bible does not say that having debt is a sin. The Bible does not say that if you are in debt you are sinning. However, the Bible does have many things to say about debt. In fact, there is not one positive reference about debt in the Bible. The Bible says:
—it is not wise to be in debt (Matt. 18:23-35).
—we should not be surety for another (cosign for another) (Prov. 6:1-5).
—we should get out of debt (Rom. 13:8).
—we have the obligation to repay our debts (Matt. 18:23-35).
Another thing the Bible says about debt is that it changes relationships. Consider Proverbs 22:7: “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” God says, through Solomon, that those who are in debt are servants. As soon as someone goes into debt to another, the relationship between the two is immediately defined. There is one master. There is one servant. Why would anyone willingly subject themselves to servanthood?
Debt (borrowing) is associated with not obeying God’s commandments. We read in Deuteronomy 28:15, 43-44, “If thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments… The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low. He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him: he shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail.” To be in debt is the result of not following God’s commandments.
Debt, although not a sin, is a problem. In the church we are not immune to this problem. When we go into debt we feel the pain of it. This pain includes uneasiness and anxiety over bill paying.
As stewards what can we do to cure the problem of debt? Ask the question this way: what can we do to cure the problem of overspending? Or this way: how is a Christian steward supposed to save money?
We need to realize that there is a symptom and a root problem. Think about it this way. If you have cancer and take some aspirin you may feel better. The aspirin makes the pain go away, but it does not make the cancer go away. Using this analogy, debt is the symptom of a deeper problem: overspending. We can take care of the symptom and pay off all of our debt (cars, loans, mortgages), but if we do not cut out the root of the problem (overspending) the symptom (debt) will grow back.
We have mental perceptions of borrowing. These perceptions come from the world. Our thought process has been influenced by the world. Our senses have been appealed to by marketing. We see, then buy. If we can’t afford something we justify the “need,” take a loan, then buy.
An example of our perception being altered is through professors in the universities. They teach us to borrow, take that money, and invest it.
Another example of our perception being altered is through peer pressure. Everyone around us has the best stuff, like a house, car, or clothes. So we want to fit in. We want to be liked. What do we do? We go buy the newest designer clothes, or the fancy sports car, or the brand new house.
Again, how do we cure the problem of debt? How do we cure the problem of overspending and start saving? We need to take our mental perceptions and turn them on their head. We need to say no to the world’s way of handling money. We need to handle money God’s way.
We need to say “NO.” It’s just that easy. But it’s that hard! It takes discipline to say “NO.” It takes self-control to say “NO.”
To say “NO” to debt, to say “NO” to stuff, takes nothing less than God’s grace. The first thing that we need to do is acknowledge that our way of handling money isn’t working. Start by saying, “Yes, God, you are right on this whole money thing. The way I’ve been using money is wrong. Lord, help me to be a better steward.”
We need to pray. We need to bring our problems to God in prayer. We need to seek out his help. We need to study his Word. We need to start today by making three commitments.
The first commitment was stated earlier: budget. Review your finances. Start writing things down and prioritize them in order of importance. Do a budget.
Second, make a commitment to educate yourself. Go to your Christian book store and buy something to read. Take a class. There is a ton of excellent material out there on how to handle money God’s way. Go dig some up and educate yourself.
Third, make a commitment to never, ever, ever, ever borrow any money for anything ever, ever, ever again. The borrower is a slave. Instead of strapping yourself with debt and payments, be free from slavery. Debt is the broad, easy to follow, well-traveled road. Do not take it. Do not borrow.
Saving money is a good thing. When we save we are managing God’s way. There should normally be a little left over. This little should have a defined use. Whether it is for an emergency, a house, some type of biblical retirement, or an inheritance, all of these types of saving can be done out of love. Love for the neighbor and the fellow saint can be shown through biblical saving of money.
Larry Burkett, Your Finances In Changing Times (Chicago: Moody, 1993).
“The Christian and Money,” Southwest Summer Seminar 2002.
Crown Ministries, Inc., Practical Application Workbook (Longwood, FL: Crown Ministries, Inc., 1996).
Dr. David Jeremiah, Investing for Eternity (San Diego: Turning Point for God, 2003).
Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace Revisited (New York: Viking, 2003).
Larry Burkett, Business by the Book (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998).
Peter Y. De Jong, The Ministry of Mercy for Today (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2003).