God’s purpose for us as His children is often frustrated by our preoccupation with money — making it, spending it, investing it, and accumulating it. This article by the late financial teacher Larry Burkett focuses on the various ways God will (and won’t!) use money to further His work in our lives. It appeared in our premiere issue in 1990.
Larry helped SMI get started 28 years ago, and he told many people about us through his radio programs and speaking engagements. After three decades of fruitful ministry, Larry went to be with the Lord 15 years ago this month — July 4, 2003.
A steward is one who manages another’s resources. Each of us is a manager, not an owner. God is the owner, and we are to manage according to His plan. All of the promises God has made regarding His blessings in this area are predicated on the principle that we relinquish ownership. If we refuse to do this we can never experience God’s plan for our finances. As a consequence, our lives will be characterized constantly by turmoil and anxiety in the area of money.
It is important for the Christian to trust God in every circumstance. If we believe that God really loves us and will give us only that amount of money that we can handle without worry, we can have perfect peace in finances. But not until we have committed all of our resources to Him.
It becomes clear that money is a training ground for God to develop (and for us to discover) our trustworthiness. “If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you?” (Luke 16:11).
Why do Christians have difficulty trusting God in this area? We really don’t believe that He will only do the best for us. So we have the tendency to want to withhold a part of what we have. But until we have experienced freedom in the area of money, we will never experience God’s total plan for our lives.
To dispel some of the “religious folklore” that exists concerning money, let’s look at several common myths and then consider what attitude God wants us to have.
Folklore suggests that poverty is next to spirituality
Wrong! There is no inherent virtue in poverty. There are dishonest poor just as there are dishonest rich. Look through Scripture. God never impoverished anyone because of spirituality. Even in Job’s case, God allowed his wealth to be removed as a testimony to Him. When Job stood true to God, He returned Job’s wealth twofold. God never once relates spirituality to poverty. Therefore, there is no way Christians can attain spirituality by impoverishing themselves or their families.
God condemns the misuse or the preoccupation with money, not the money itself. In Scripture, God lists the production of money as a spiritual gift. Romans 12:5-8 describes the gift of giving. Obviously, if there is a gift of giving, there must be a gift of gathering, as it is impossible to give otherwise. In every scriptural reference, God promises that as we give, so it will be given back to us.
Money brings happiness is another myth.
There is no relationship between money and happiness. “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). If riches could bring happiness, then the wealthy of the earth ought to be the most content. Instead, they have anxieties over what they are going to do with their money, how they are going to leave it to their children, and what effect it will have. And few children are appreciative of the large amounts of wealth their families leave them. Most, having grown up in affluence, see the devastating effect that an excess of money used unwisely can have on a family.
To be wealthy is a sin.
This is false too. Having money is not a sin. As a matter of fact, many times when God finds someone with the proper attitude, He blesses them with great riches. When God bestowed riches on Abraham, it was not His intention to corrupt what would become the nation of Israel. And when Solomon prayed for wisdom to be able to manage the people of Israel, God responded by granting him wisdom and great wealth. Psalm 8:6 says, “Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands.” This is God’s stewardship to us over everything on earth.
Money is the root of all evil.
Many people believe this comes from Scripture. They say, “I don’t know exactly where, but the Bible says that money is the root of all evil.” That is not what the Bible says at all. Paul points out in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.” This is God’s perspective; the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.
Christ relates this attitude to the rich young ruler. He came before Jesus and asked Him, “Good Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good — except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder; Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’ And when Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess, and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me’” (Luke 18:18-22).
That young man turned sadly and went away, for he was very rich. And Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24). Why? Christ knew that inside this man loved his money. He had kept all the external commandments, but he could not keep that internal attitude straight. Because of this, Jesus asked him to sell what he had and follow Him. He refused to do so; yet, we can be sure that, in death, he surrendered what in life he could not.
Attitude is always God’s concern. Christ’s statement dealing with the rich young ruler was based on that man’s attitude, his motivation, and the purpose behind his money.
How is God’s will expressed in finances?
The key to realizing God’s will in the area of finances is a proper understanding of stewardship. Unfortunately, this term has been so misused that today most people think of stewardship only in terms of Christian fund-raising activities. As defined earlier, a steward is one who manages another’s property. We are merely stewards of God’s property while we are on this earth, and God can choose to entrust us with as much or as little as He desires. But in no case do we ever actually take ownership. When we try to do so we are depending either on what Satan can supply or what we can achieve through our own self-will.
Once we accept our role as stewards and manage God’s resources according to His direction, He will entrust more and more to us. But why would God entrust property to those He knows will hoard it and to those who feel they are owners?
God will not force His will on us. A verse that relates specifically to God’s attitude is Proverbs 28:26, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.” God is looking over the entire earth for men and women who have the proper attitude toward money and who will use it according to His direction and not according to their own interests. Every parable that Jesus Christ left us about money tells us many things about the attitude He desires for us. The parable of the talents is rich in wisdom (Matthew 25:14-30, summarized):
The master was going on a trip, and he called in three of his servants, telling them, “I’m taking a long trip and entrusting to you money to use on my behalf.” To the first he gave five talents, to the second he gave two talents, and to the third he gave one, each according to his own ability. (Note that he didn’t give each the same; he gave them according to the physical, worldly ability that they possessed.)
Immediately, upon the master’s leaving, the first took the five talents, invested them, and promptly earned five more. The second, who had the two talents, took them out and invested them and promptly earned two more. But the one to whom one talent had been entrusted, knowing that his master was a harsh man, wrapped it in a handkerchief and buried it in the ground.
Later the master returned and called for his three servants. He spoke to the first saying, “How did you fare?” The first said, “I’ve done well, Master; I’ve taken your five and gotten five more talents with them.” His master then replied, “Well done! You were good and faithful with the few things I put you in charge of, and you have entered into my great joy.” Then the one who had the two came up and said, “Master, you gave me two, and I’ve gained two more with them.” The master said, “Very good. You are faithful also. I’ll put you in charge of many things!”
And the one who had received the one talent came to the master and told him, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. I was afraid and I went away and hid your talent in the ground. Here, I’ll return it to you!” But his master told him, “You are a wicked and lazy slave. You knew that I would reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. You should have put my money in the bank and at least earned interest on it!” He told those around him, “Take the talent from the one who has invested poorly and give it to the one who had five. Because to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have abundance. But from the one who does not have, even what he does have will be taken away, and cast him out into the darkness.”
This parable is prophetic in nature. It is given in Matthew 25, a chapter that deals with the Second Coming of Christ. It reveals many things. Among them:
God will entrust to us that which is within our own ability and not beyond it.
God is the owner and has the right to recover what He has given us to manage.
God thoroughly disapproves of slothfulness on our part and expects multiplication of the assets He leaves us, not simply maintenance of them. That multiplication is to be achieved according to ability.
God expects those who have the ability to invest to do so, but He also expects the return of what is given. This involves wisdom in finances — another key to understanding God’s plan.
How can we seek the Lord’s wisdom in our finances? God says that if we pray anything in His will, believing, it shall be given to us. But God’s will and His ways do not always coincide with ours. So when we turn our finances over to God, we must also be willing to accept His direction.
It is wrong to go our own way, and then expect Him to bail us out when we run into trouble. Christians who do this regularly have not accepted that God’s wisdom is superior to theirs.
How God works through our finances
God will use money to strengthen our trust in Him.
It is often through money that God can clearly and objectively show us that He is God and in control of everything. Matthew 6:32-33: “For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” This principle establishes that God will use money to strengthen our trust if we will just accept our positions as stewards and turn it over to Him.
God will use money to develop our trustworthiness.
This principle is important because our lives revolve around the making, spending, saving, and other uses of money. Luke 16:11 states: “If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you?
God will use money to prove His love.
Many Christians remain outside God’s will because they are afraid to yield their lives and their resources to Him. Matthew 7:11 has the answer: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” By this Scripture, we can see God assumes the responsibility of providing the basic necessities for everyone trusting Him.
God will use money to demonstrate His power over this world.
Too often we forget that we worship the creator of the universe. We think of God in human terms and relate to Him as we relate to a human. It is important that we understand God’s power and His resources. When God promises us things, He promises them through His Word. And the Bible has in it everything God will ever do for us. As we read it, we begin to understand that God indeed is the owner of everything. He is a multi-zillionaire, He is a multi-universaire, and when He says He can supply things, He can. In talking to others, we find that what God promises in Scripture He delivers.
He then begins to give — small things at first, because we are only capable of trusting Him for small things. But as He gives us small things, our confidence begins to grow; and the more our confidence in Him grows, the more He is able to supply. Thus God can use money to demonstrate His power to us. “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him” (Romans 10:11-12).
God will use money to unite Christians through many shared blessings.
“He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack” (2 Corinthians 8:15). God will use the abundance of one Christian to supply the needs of another. Later He may reverse the relationship, as described in 2 Corinthians 8:14: “At this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality.” It is important that Christians accept the principle that a surplus of money in our lives, indeed everything that we have, is there for a purpose. For example, God sent Joseph into Egypt specifically to supply the needs of Israel. Had Joseph refused his position of stewardship, God simply would have assigned it to someone else.
God uses money to provide direction for our lives.
There is probably no way God can direct our lives faster than through the abundance or lack of money. Too often we believe God will direct our lives only through an abundance of money, and we keep probing to see where He supplies it. However, through the lack of money, God will steer us down His path just as quickly. “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9). We don’t give up just because we face some difficulty. God will ultimately provide the direction we are seeking, and one of the primary ways He gives insight into His will is by supplying or withholding money. A Christian seeking God’s will must be certain that he has first relinquished control of his life, including his finances, and is truly seeking God’s direction.
God can use money to satisfy the needs of others.
Christians who hoard money and never plan for their financial lives cannot experience this area of fulfillment. Often I hear Christians say, “How can I give? I only have enough to barely meet my needs now.” If we have never learned to give, God can never give back. God cannot be in control as long as we believe we are the owners.
Attitudes of self-control
Let’s look at some guides that will clearly define when God is not in control; understanding that is just as important as understanding when He is in control.
God will never use money in our lives to worry us.
If a Christian is worried, frustrated, and upset about money, God is not in control. God said that wealth without worry is His plan for our lives. “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). If we are operating within His plan, God promises to supply food, clothing, and shelter—the needs of life. Believing that, we can concentrate on other things, using the ability God has given us to accomplish the plan He has for our lives.
God will never use money in our lives to corrupt us.
Naturally, God would not use money to corrupt us. But many Christians have fallen into Satan’s trap and are being corrupted. They fail to realize that God cannot be in control when they are becoming corrupted. “For the Lord knows the ways of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6). A Christian whose financial life is characterized by greed, ego, deceit, or any of the many other worldly snares is not God’s ally.
God will never use money in our lives to build our egos.
Frequently, Christians are trapped by financial ego. Most people cater to the wealthy in our country (Christians included). Read through the book of James. It makes very clear the admonition not to fawn over the wealthy. In Christ we are all financially equal. The things of this world will quickly pass away. Death will remove all wealth from us. And, when we as Christians meet again, there are going to be many surprises. Those who will have the crowns of heaven and are placed in charge of the cities of God will not be those using money to build egos. “And let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away” (James 1:10-11).
God will not allow Christians to hoard money.
There is a distinct difference between saving and hoarding. The writer of Proverbs 30 said (in paraphrase), “Lord, I ask but two things from You: first, help me to never tell a lie; second, give to me neither riches nor poverty because in my poverty, I might steal, and in my riches I might become content without You!” (see Proverbs 30:8-9). The wealthy have a great responsibility to understand why God gave them money and to avoid hoarding. A Christian cannot be within God’s will and hoard money. “For he sees that even wise men die; the stupid and the senseless alike perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they have called their lands after their own names” (Psalm 49:10-11). That is an important spiritual lesson.
Those who hoard large sums of money to leave to their children or for “security” are fooling themselves. It cannot be done. It is important that Christians understand and believe that. Scripture speaks very strongly about true values: “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed, and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see” (Revelation 3:18).
Hoarding can evolve into a trap. It is possible to see others in need and ignore them rather than abandon a hoarding plan. Unfortunately, those trapped by hoarding can rationalize their behavior with arguments that contradict God’s Word.
God will not use money to allow us to satisfy our every whim and desire.
It is important that we begin to adjust to lifestyles compatible with a Christian commitment. That means something less than lavishness. God does not want us to live in poverty; we have discovered that there is nothing inherently spiritual in poverty. Neither is there any sin in wealth. However, God does not desire for a Christian to live in worldly lavishness while His work needs money and other Christians go without food and clothing. So, while we can live well — and in this country we live very well — it is important that there be a difference in our commitment as compared to that of the nonbeliever.
What kind of commitment is it to be? It must be one for you personally, brought on by a conviction of the Holy Spirit. But you must ask yourself, “Is there a difference between my lifestyle and the nonbeliever’s?” If not, you need to seek God’s direction. First Timothy 6:6-8 says, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.”
God does not supply money to satisfy our every whim and desire. His promise is to meet our needs and provide an abundance so that we can help other people. It is when we accept this principle that God will multiply our abundance as well.
Just as Christians cannot experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit until they surrender ownership of their lives to Christ, so too they cannot experience freedom and peace in the area of finances until they surrender control of this area to God and accept their position as stewards. They also must listen to Him, through Scripture and through prayer, and apply what He says. A Christian who does not surrender to the Lord and never asks for God’s direction about his or her finances will never get an answer.