I wrote a blog last week in which I tried to challenge our North American attitudes towards money. I am hoping that this follow-up post will serve to help us combat our consumeristic society. I wanted to tread new ground, but alas, I am returning to ideas that have been alive in the Christian Church for centuries.
The fact is that our use and love of money has been an issue for Christians since the beginning. That’s why Jesus spoke so much about it. Humans want security and freedom, and having money can give us that (in part). But humans are also drawn to power and control, and money can be the means by which we obtain them.
It makes sense that the Bible offers us ways to keep God at the centre of our lives by discouraging us from making wealth an idol, but what does that look like in our North American capitalist culture? How do we actually battle our love for money and serve God alone? I know there are many ways, but let me provide 4.
1) Connect our wallets to our faith
Most Christians I know believe that worship is far more than the songs we sing on a Sunday morning. In fact, if we are called to make Jesus Lord of our lives, then everything we do is either in worship to God or not. The apostle Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:17 by saying that in “whatever [we] do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
We could ask this question of every part of our lives, but when it comes to finances, are we worshipping God with our money? What part of our financial life is a witness to our faith in the God who created the universe? How does our money management draw others into relationship with God? As private as our finances might be to other people, they are never hidden from God.
2) Be a steward, not an owner
There’s no way we can get around ownership in our society. I get that. But God gave us the task of stewarding the Earth. Psalm 24:1 reminds us that “[t]he earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
What if we saw everything, whether we own it or not, as ultimately belonging to God? That makes us caretakers, using what we have for the glory of God rather than just for our own pleasure. That doesn’t mean that we should never own material things (even nice things), but acknowledging that we don’t ultimately own them allows us to hold less tightly to them.
One rule that I try to live by is that I should never own anything I’m not willing to share. That doesn’t mean I just give everything away or let someone cheat or steal from me. But if someone is in need and I can help with what I have, yet choose not to because I’m too attached to it, then I have put myself in the place of ownership rather than stewardship.
3) Tithe regularly
I’m still convinced that regularly setting aside part of our income to give away is the absolute best way for us to combat consumerism and greed. But let me get a few things out of the way first. I don’t believe that we should ever tithe out of guilt or coercion. I also don’t believe that preachers or churches should promise us any particular blessing from God if we tithe specifically to them. And even though the word “tithe” comes from the meaning “a tenth,” I don’t agree that tithing needs to be a tenth of our income to our local church.
Tithing is setting aside money from the top of our income and giving it away for the glory of God. We find this principle established between God and Israel in the Bible. When they were greedy and didn’t do it, God said that they were robbing Him (Malachi 3:8).
Our tendency is to be generous out of abundance. When we have taken care of ourselves, then we can give to others. Tithing flips that around and says that since everything already belongs to God, we give first, and then learn to live on what’s left. Tithing orients our financial life around God and not us. When we tithe regularly, it becomes part of our life rather than just a one time event. It changes the way we look at money and our connection to it.
The reason I’m not stuck on 10% is because no one should ever go into debt to tithe. Yet at the same time, no one should ever be limited to 10%. Some families could get by with 20% or 50% and still live far above the average income level. The actual tithing amount should be discerned by the individual. Also, I would never enforce that we all need to give to a specific Christian institution. We should give to the work of the Church, as the body of Christ, doing God’s work around the world.
What I believe is most important is that we simply get into the practice of tithing and see it as a spiritual discipline. Give part of your income away before you spend anything on yourself. See it as an act of worship to God and your role as a steward of what God has given you. Allow yourself to be challenged and listen to where God wants you to give.
4) Live on less
Let’s be honest. 99.9% of us aren’t going to take Jesus’ word literally by selling all we have and giving to the poor (Matthew 19:21). That would make us homeless and dependant on others. But caring for the poor, the widows, and the orphans (James 1:27) is a command we can’t escape. The truth is that such compassion requires financial support, and that support is often a sacrifice.
We can probably agree that most of us can live on less. If we think we can’t, then the problem might be our lifestyle, not our income. It’s okay to let compassion lead us to sacrifice for the sake of the less fortunate. In fact, it’s a good discipline for us to give up something that we love or would love to have to help someone else. Sacrifice is never easy, but the rewards that come from generosity far outweigh what money can buy.
If we want to love God more than money, than we need to love money less in our personal lives. When we see ourselves as stewards of God’s earth and understand that spending our money can be an act of worship to God, my hope is that we would see the importance of tithing as a way to battle consumerism and greed. And we may find that we can actually live with less and give away more for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
Abundance Canada (Formerly Mennonite Foundation) has some great resources about giving and generosity, as well as financial and estate planning.