If you sit down and talk about what is putting stress on most marriages the topic often turns to money. There are mortgage payments, car payments, school loans, health insurance, and payments for all kinds of other things. Free Public education is costing more and more, property taxes keep inching up, and the government keeps finding ways to take and spend more and more of our money. We may be making more money than ever but it seems to buying a whole lot less. Many of us feel overloaded financially.
Credit card debt is enormous. In 2004 there were 1.3 billion credit cards in circulation. Total consumer debt reached $2.2 trillion dollars in 2005 and total revolving (or credit card) debt reached $805 billion dollars in 2005. 90% of Americans say they ‘are not concerned’ by their credit card debts, although about 50% of them would refuse to tell a friend how much they owe.
Most of us know the problem. What we don’t know is how to out of this financial bondage? How do we find some margin in our finances so we can finally stopping worrying about money and start using it in ways that will impact that world?
I don’t see any quick fix. I don’t speak today as an expert, but as a fellow struggler. I want to share with you some principles from God’s Word and then some suggestions from people who do seem to know what they are talking about.
The Bible says a great deal about money. In Proverbs we are warned about debt and bout co-signing for someone else’s debt. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us money can’t buy happiness. In the Old Testament Law (Exodus-Deuteronomy) God, knowing our tendency to be obsessed with the material, established the principle of the tithe. The idea was that the people were to give God 10% of their income. This was a way to support the Lord’s work, but more importantly it was a way to remind people that the money and stuff really belongs to Him. It was a way of acknowledging God’s ownership of all we have. In the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, God charges the people with robbing Him because they were constantly looking for loopholes to get out of giving the tithe.
In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that we can’t serve both God and money (or material stuff). He tells the story about the Rich man and Lazarus. The Rich man was in Hell and he regretted not being more considerate of the poor man (now in Heaven) while on earth. Jesus told about the Rich Young Ruler who wanted to be right with God but was unwilling to let go of his stuff. Jesus said, “He who can be trusted with much can also be trusted with little, He who is dishonest with little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10) The point was made: how we handle our money says much about our spiritual standing.
In the book of Acts the church members pooled their income to care for the needs of people in their midst. Paul reminds us that “he who sows generously will reap generously” and that God loves a cheerful giver.
This morning however I want to focus on one straightforward text. It is a warning from the Apostle Paul that we have to grasp if we are going to get any margin in the area of our finances. In 1 Timothy 6:9,10 we read,
“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
From this one verse we can learn some important and vital lessons about money.
MONEY CAN BE A BANE OR A BLESSING
Money, as a means of exchange is actually amoral; it is not good or bad. It is the love of money (or the material) that leads us down the wrong path. Paul does not say that the love of money is the root of all evil. It is, however, the root of much evil.
Money is actually a valuable and necessary commodity. We exchange money for services and for the necessities of life. Money can do a lot of good things,
- We can trade it for groceries, utilities, transportation, clothes and more.
- It can provide tools to reach people for Christ
- It can help eliminate suffering
- It can finance research to help cure disease
- It can lead us to many enjoyable things.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to make a good living. There is nothing sinful about being paid a good wage. It is not sinful to live in a nice home. There is nothing wrong with enjoying what you have been given.
The problem comes when we love money. What does it mean to love money? It means we make it the driving force in our lives. It becomes what motivates us and captivates us. The person who loves money believes money has the power to bring happiness. Such people believe that if they had more money (or “enough” money) they would finally be able to enjoy life.
Many people gamble because they believe if they could hit it big their problems would be gone and they would enjoy life more fully. Debt is rampant because we believe more stuff will bring us happiness. We believe this so intensely that we are willing to mortgage the future to get what we think will make us happy now.
People who love money believe it has the power to,
- Bring us satisfaction or make us happy
- Give us a sense of Identity
- Make us feel secure
IF WE CRAVE MONEY AND STUFF WE ARE ASKING FOR TROUBLE
Paul says, “people who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction”. Why do people who “want to get rich” get into trouble?
First, this pursuit inevitably turns us away from God. When we lust for the material we are actually moving away from God. We are turning to money and other stuff for things that we should be seeking from God. We are actually worshiping the created rather than the Creator.
The person obsessed with the material finds themselves motivated not by God’s Word but by profit margin. They end up hoarding what God wants us to give away and use. They find themselves complaining about what they don’t have rather than being grateful for what they have been given. Remember Jesus’ words: “you cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24)
Second, people who love money tend to use people. The love of money causes us to use people because we start to see everyone as either a means to greater riches and satisfaction or as a barrier to those goals. We stop seeing others as people with needs, desires, and heartaches, and instead view them in a utilitarian (or useful) way. We measure others on the basis of their net worth rather than their heart.
The story of Howard Hughes is a sad one. The man had billions of dollars but distrusted everyone. He lived behind elaborate security systems and died a mad recluse. He cherished things and used people and discovered the riches were all a mirage.
Third, we will never be satisfied. In Ecclesiastes 5:10 Solomon says, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”
This raises a really good question doesn’t it? How much is enough? How much stuff is enough stuff? How much savings is enough savings? You know the answer, don’t you? Enough is always “just a little more than what I have”.
I must admit that I see this cycle often at work in my own life. I read an ad, watch a commercial or see something someone else has and I find myself thinking that this new vehicle, machine, book, computer, computer software, or a hundred other things will make my life better. I start off merely “thinking” about the item of the moment. This thought process can soon turn into an obsession. I find ways to justify spending the money (often borrowing from some future income) because now . . . I really NEED this item. When the item is secured there is a rush of excitement because I feel like happiness is within my grasp. In less time than it seems possible, I am disillusioned, beating myself up and soon looking for a new shortcut to happiness.
It doesn’t matter how much you have to start with. You could have nothing or you may be a millionaire. The effect is the same: the love of money reveals itself by the fact that you are never satisfied; you always want more. There will always be something you want that you don’t have.
Fourth, it is a dead end road. You don’t take anything with you when you die other than the treasures you have already deposited in Heaven. The money that is left behind (if there is any) often divides or indulges families. A large inheritance seldom makes people more generous, it usually makes them more indulgent. Money that could have been used for easing suffering and for advancing the message of the gospel is often simply squandered.
WE MUST CONTROL OUR MONEY OR IT WILL CONTROL US
O.K., we’ve seen the problem. Let’s try to take some action. I want to give you some simple and practical ways to deal with financial overload. Our goal is to restore financial margin to our lives so we are not enslaved to money but can use money for God’s glory. I’ve compiled a list of simple strategies from Scriptural principles and other financial counselors.
- Tell Yourself the Truth. When it comes to financial bondage we blame credit card companies, advertisers, banks, our spouse, our parents and any number of other people. The problem is in us. Our lust for the material is the problem, not the person who caters to that lust. We must start by stop making excuses and start dealing with our problem.
- Begin Heading in the right direction. One magazine writer made an interesting observation,
Our government churns out financial forecasts and tabulations of economic indicators. But have you ever heard talk of assessing whether our society is growing in love, caring, and compassion? In the media, it is assumed that people want as much money as they can get—game shows and state lotteries glorify and fuel that desire. But is there anything in our society that has hurt more friendships, wrecked more marriages, or created more anxiety than money? 
Someone has written, “Change your measuring stick: measure wealth not by the things you have, but by the things you have that you would not take money for.” In other words, re-define riches. Who is richer? The person who has lots of stuff and is mortgaged up to their eyeballs or the person who has much less but has the freedom to share what they have with others? Who is the rich person, the person who lives in a mansion alone or the person who is surrounded by family in a small home? Who is to be envied more? The person who has much but always wants more or the person who has little but is content?
- Break the hold of Money. We break money’s hold on us by bringing our resources under God’s control. We must start viewing what we have as gifts from God. We need to see what we have been given as tools that are to be invested in the lives of others. We should begin to tithe to remind ourselves that God brings us happiness, not riches.
- Learn to make do with what you have. Drive your cars until you can’t drive them any more. Let your appliances die in your arms. Use your computer until your programs will no longer run. Focus on your “needs” rather than your “wants”. The story is told about an American factory in a third world village. The people were paid in cash. The problem was the people would often stop working when they felt they had “enough” for their needs. The Americans solved the problems by giving all the people a Sears catalog! They never felt they had enough ever again! Get rid of the ads and appreciate what you have.
- Live by a Budget. Figure out what your expenses are going to be (insurance payments, utility bills, house payment) and put money aside out of each pay check to pay these bills. Be disciplined in managing your money.
- Get Out of Debt. Make debt reduction a priority. One study suggests that when we start carrying balances on our credit cards we end up paying for the things purchased three or four (or more) times. The best place to start is to cut up your credit cards. Use a debit card so you are not borrowing from what you don’t have. Some experts say we should pay off the smaller debts first (it helps us psychologically) and then add those payments to the next smallest debt and keep doing that until all are paid. The key is to start somewhere.
- Strive to live simply. We are going to talk more about this next week. e tend to overbuy. We buy a bigger home than we need, a nicer car than is necessary and a host of toys that will only clutter our lives and distract us from the important things of life.
- Emphasize Usefulness over Fashion. Fashion fads are constantly changing. If you are driven by fashion you will constantly have to buy more stuff. Instead look for ways to use clothing items in different ways.
- Save. We take this to an extreme. We can become hoarders. We can be so focused on saving money that we never give it away. Most of us, however, have very little margin in our finances. Dave Ramsay suggests building an emergency fund of $500 to $1000. This is to be used only for emergencies. He observes that not being ready for a household emergency is the cause of much of our debt. Once you are out of debt work to save until you have 3-6 months living expenses in the bank in case you were to lose your job or your family income were drastically cut.
- Resist Impulses. In other words, learn to say “No” to yourself. It is best to shop with a list and then stick with the list. Determine not to buy anything on the spur of the moment.
- Eat Out Less. We can often eat for several days on what it costs to eat out one time.
- Simplify Birthdays and Holidays. We have the mistaken notion that extravagance equals love. It doesn’t. Love is shown by our actions not by how much we spend. Be creative, personal, and reasonable in your gift giving.
The gist of this is that we need to learn to think differently. Our task is to learn to crave the Lord rather than the stuff of the world. It is to be grateful for what we have been given rather than like a spoiled child always wanting more. Our quest is to find the peace of knowing that though our immediate future may be subject to the whims of interest rates and gas prices, our eternal future is certain and secure because of Jesus Christ.
And so, let me suggest that the first step to finding financial freedom is actually to embrace the new life that can come only through Christ. God offers us forgiveness for the sin and rebellion of our past that weighs us down. He doesn’t expect us to “have it all together”. What He asks is that we trust Him . . . not just in the words we say, but in the way we live. He asks us to trust Him for forgiveness, for new life, for significance, for security, and for meaning and purpose in life. He asks us to give Him our money, our calendar, our desires, and our heart.
In return He promises that He will give us everything that we need. And when we trust Him we will find that what we really needed the most, was Him. He is the missing piece in our lives. He is the one who holds it all together. And until you recognize this, you will find yourself continually chasing after the wind.