I gave myself an early birthday present this year. Two weeks before the big day, I made my last payment on my college loan. The top of the debt thermometer hanging on my refrigerator read, “Happy Birthday to me, I’m debt free!” I scribbled up to the goal line and smiled as I snapped the cap back on the marker. I’m free! I mused. Now what?
I pondered a list of frivolous purchases: a cruise, a new set of luggage, luxurious goose-down pillows. I’d created a fun saving and spending plan. But what about giving? Wasn’t that, like, a cardinal rule of Christianity?
Money can be a heated topic in the church. Many are just plain confused about it. We carry the burdens of how much to tithe and wonder if spending is a sin. But does how we manage our money matter to God?
Often, our lives revolve around money and possessions when they should revolve around God. The first chapter of the Bible sets the tone for how we should view these things. After God made the earth and heaven and skies and seas, he created man and woman and assigned them as caretakers to rule over “every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). In other words, if Earth was a business, God, the owner, hired us as managers.
In Christian circles, this concept is called stewardship, which is an Old English term for “one who manages another’s financial affairs.” This principle is reiterated several more times throughout Scripture when it says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Psalm 24:1, NLT). This includes our money. You may earn it, you may invest it, and you may spend it, but God owns everything. And how we handle money demonstrates what we believe about God. That’s big. Let me make that clear: What you do with your money indicates whether you believe God is the God of the universe, or whether you believe that you are god of your own world.
So how would God like us to manage his money?
When it comes to wealth, some Christians claim, “Money is the root of all evil. It’s in the Bible!” But let me tell you a secret: That’s a big fat lie. Money, itself, is not evil. Money is also not intrinsically good. It’s an object—a tool, which can be used for both harmful things and good things. Money can buy a cocaine high or money can build an orphanage in India. Money goes where we tell it to go. The Bible actually says the love of money is the root of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). This verse is a warning that people are prone to sinful, destructive desires, such as greed and gluttony.
Saving money isn’t a sin. It’s actually a healthy, responsible habit, which the Bible endorses. In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells a story called “The Parable of the Loaned Money” (Matthew 25:14–30). It goes like this:
A wealthy man went a away on a long trip and left his workers in charge of his property. He gave one employee five bags of gold, a second employee two bags of gold, and a third employee one bag of gold. The first and second employees immediately invested their money and doubled it. But the third dug a hole in the ground and hid the money.
After a long time, the man came back from his trip and ask his workers what they did with his money. He was pleased with how the first two managed it, and he told them, “Great job! You have proved you are reliable and trustworthy; you have wisely managed what I gave you. I will now entrust you with more responsibilities.”
The third worker produced the original bag of gold and said, “‘I know you have high standards and hate careless ways. I know you demand the best and have no tolerance for error. So I was afraid to lose your money and I buried it in the ground.”
The man was furious and said, “If you knew I wanted the best, why did you do less than that? You could have, at least, placed the money in a savings account and returned it with some interest. Give your money to the man who risked the most and leave.”
You might be scratching your head, thinking, You’ve got it wrong! This story isn’t about saving and investing money. It’s about using our time and talent to serve God and build his kingdom. Exactly! The Bible tells us not to mindlessly collect and waste possessions, including time, talent, and money, which can be destroyed on earth “where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19, NLT). This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acquire wealth: it means we shouldn’t hoard it. When we share our time, talent, and money, we make a deposit of God’s love into the life of another, which results in a heavenly celebration and in God saying to us, “Great job! You have wisely managed what I gave you.”
As Christians, the one thing we confidently know about money is we are supposed to give some of it away. We’re just not always sure to whom or how much, and sometimes this paralyzes us into giving nothing. The Bible provides a few practical guidelines by telling us to give justice to the poor and the orphaned and to uphold the rights of those oppressed and in need (Psalm 82:3). You don’t need to build an orphanage or feed a village. Often a simple meal will do.
Sometimes we don’t give because we’re scared to part with our money. Particularly those of us who view it as a security blanket. Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” What would your diary say about your relationship with money? A fear of giving may, once again, reflect what we believe about God. Do you believe God can take care of all your needs? Just a glance around God’s creation shows how he cares for it: “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:26, NLT).
Other times we twist this concept into irresponsible giving. We hear the Bible story of the widow who gave away everything and extrapolate (Mark 12:41-44) that we should do the same. But the Bible also says if anyone does not provide for his own family, he has “denied the faith and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8, KJV). There’s some debate over exactly how much we should give to the church. Old Testament law says give back 10 percent, and this is still a common practice. The New Testament is more ambiguous, with recommendations like “decide in your heart how much to give” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NLT). Each should diligently seek God’s wisdom in how much to give—often that wisdom looks suspiciously like a budget plan.
But let’s forget numbers for a second and bring our minds back to God’s money-managing perspective: everything we have is already God’s. He does not need or want money. He wants our hearts. And giving is a heart matter. 2 Corinthians 9:7 continues that we not to give reluctantly or under compulsion. Deuteronomy 15:10 says to give generously without a grudging heart. In his book, Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money, financial expert Dave Ramsey says, “. . .the act of giving changes us. It crushes our hearts and reforms us into something that looks and acts a little bit more like Christ.” God is a giver—he gives us choices and wisdom and abilities. And most importantly, he gives us life and love unconditional—both now and forever.
I thought I achieved financial freedom when I paid off my debts. But the truth is, freedom is much more than paying off a debt. Freedom is a way of living. And God wants us to be free in every sense of the word. Freedom can be messy and hard, and it can feel unsafe, but we have God as a guide to properly navigate it.
You and I will never experience this freedom if we don’t acknowledge whose money we’re dealing with—if we hold our money with a grip of fear and entitlement. “The clenched fist is the international sign of anger,” says Ramsey. “But even a dog understands the warmth and reception of an open hand.” Money is a gift and a resource that can both help us experience and demonstrate God’s love to his most treasured investment: people. The love of money is the root of evil, but the love of God and his creation is a path of life. So, yes, money matters.