My name is Tony Anderson, and I have the privilege of serving as the executive pastor and the pastor of counseling at Christian Family Chapel. In that role, I oversee the Hope Center, which is our counseling ministry and is also an ACBC Certified Training Center. I’d like to talk to you about a biblical view of finances. At the Hope Center, a lot of our presenters are cross-trained, so we teach each other’s material at times. I want to give thanks to our teaching pastor, Doug Rutt, who originally developed this outline. Usually when you present someone else’s materials, you don’t tell their jokes or their intro stories, but he tells a story that is pretty funny, and I just want to share it with you. It involves his son, Will, who I had the privilege of teaching when he was a middle school student. He’s now married with four girls and is a youth pastor in South Carolina. Doug tells the story that when Will was young, he really liked to cut grass. That’s what he liked to do more than playing sports. He was out cutting the grass for their family, pushing that mower when it was still too big for him and struggling to turn it around. One day, their neighbor came over and said, “Hey, Will! How would you like to cut my grass?” Will looked up at the neighbor and said, “How much?” The neighbor said, “Ten dollars.” Will gets this look on his face and says, “I’ll be right back!” He runs into the house, and Doug is sitting there thinking, “What’s this neighbor doing, taking advantage of my kid for ten dollars! That’s a big yard.” Will comes running out of the house, and he looks up at the neighbor and says, “Will you take five?”
We want to be able to counsel people so that they have a little better sense of their finances. Finances can be a serious issue when people come for counseling. Interestingly, it’s usually not the presenting problem. Many times, though, it is a complicating problem. As you get into the counseling, you realize finances have played a major role in the mess that a couple has gotten themselves into. We want to be able to help them understand what the Bible has to say about finances.
As we get started, let’s have some foundational reminders. First, when you are counseling, remember that you are not a financial advisor. You’re not there because of your background in the markets or how to invest dollars. You’re not there as an expert; you are a biblical counselor. Your role is to bring biblical instruction in the area of finances.
Second, you don’t have to be good with numbers to apply biblically sound financial practices. It’s okay if you use a calculator to add ten plus ten. You don’t have to be good with numbers to help them understand the wisdom that the Bible has for us in relation to money and finances. Third, and this is really foundational for this workshop, God owns everything. Sometimes, I think we think of it as my money, and then there are things we give back to God. God gives everything, and everything we have has been given to us. We need to remember that. We are really managers, not owners of our money. First Chronicles 29:11-12 says, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone.” The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 4:7 that “’What do you have that you did not receive? Nothing! And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it!” When we boast we are saying, “Look! Everything I’ve accumulated is from my own hand.” God owns everything, and that is a foundational principle that you want to convey to your counselees.
As we look at the Scriptures, you’re going to see that Jesus directly connects finances with our heart. Finances and our heart motives, the inner man, are directly connected. Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I think sometimes we get it backwards. We think, “Okay! Whatever I like, whatever I treasure, I’ll pour my money into.” But really what we treasure, what we invest in, and what we put our effort in, our heart follows. As a great example, think back to when you were in high school or college, and you had to do a project. You might not have been excited about having to do a project for a grade. But as you worked on it and put your time and your effort into it, your heart was in that project. You wanted to do it. You had a sense of satisfaction over working hard on a project. So, where your treasure is, your heart is going to follow.
But Jesus reminds us in that same passage in verse 24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” You can’t serve both.
What I want us to remember today is that biblically sound financial living includes a biblical view of four areas:
1. What is your view of your work and income?
2. How does the Bible impact your spending?
3. How does the Bible impact your saving?
4. How does the Bible impact your sharing?
It’s income and work, and then, we like to say it’s the 3 Ss: spending, saving, and sharing.
What does the Bible have to say about income and work? Genesis 1:27-28 says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'” God gave us work before the fall. Work is not a consequence of the fall, but rather it preceded the fall. It is honorable. God made us to be productive. He gave us skills and talents to use to provide for our needs. He gifted us in ways with our intellect, with our hands, and with our craftsmanship. There are also passages that talk about how we are to continue to hone those skills to make better use of them as well.
First Thessalonians 4:11-12 says, “And to make it your ambition [to have a mindset] to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” It tells us right there that the way we appear to non-believers will be impacted by whether we are working hard and diligently or whether or not there is a sense of laziness that can be viewed because working to provide for our personal and family needs is God-glorifying. I think that’s very important. Remember one of the great definitions of glorifying God is to give a right opinion of. If you’ve been around biblical counseling very long, you know our primary goal is to please and glorify God, and the concept of glorifying God is to give a right opinion of our Creator. We were created in God’s image. God works; He created. It gives a right opinion of God, it glorifies Him, when we work.
But as we work, we’re accumulating money, resources that we need to provide for our needs. Proverbs gives us a warning: “Two things I asked of you, do not refuse me before I die: Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, That I may not be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.” I could be wealthy and think, “Wow! I’m self-made. Look at what I’ve accomplished.” That doesn’t give glory to God who owns everything and gave me everything. Likewise, in poverty I may steal, breaking one of the Ten Commandments, and therefore, profane the name of the Lord, and thus give a bad opinion of him. We have to remember that both wealth and poverty make us prone to temptation to not trust God. God says, “I will provide you your daily bread. I will provide for you.” So, we need to trust Him.
In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul says, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I think it’s so interesting. We’re very familiar with Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” You see this verse misused in many ways on sports posters and things of that nature. You can slap it on a picture of a runner and think, “I’m going to run a four-minute mile.” I can tell you that I’m not running a four-minute mile anytime soon. We know that means that we can obey the Lord, and in His strength, we can be obedient and bring Him honor and glory. Specifically, this verse comes right after Paul talking about learning to be content. Contentment is often the secret to financial peace. I can be content when I’m being blessed by the Lord with much resources or content with meager resources. You’ll notice in that passage Paul references twice that contentment is learned. It is an understanding of who God is and what He has promised, reminding ourselves of His faithfulness in times past, so that we can say, “You know what? I can be content in this season, wherever I am financially.”
Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” We have to recognize that when we are working, we are working first and foremost for the Lord, and we want to encourage our counselees to really think of Jesus as their boss. I mean He is, but we need to have the mindset that I’m doing my work for Him. He sees all; He knows all; He provides all, so I’m not cutting corners. I’m using my skills to the maximum ability that I can. I’m working heartily for the Lord, rather than for men.
Applications for Counseling
What are some of the counseling applications you want to go over with your counselee? First of all, it is God’s will for us to work and provide; therefore, we should pray with confidence that it is His will. You may have counselees come in who are in a period of unemployment. As we’ll see, it is God’s will that we work and provide for our family. Praying for a job is praying in accordance with God’s revealed will for us. When we pray to the Lord, we’re praying believing He can. I pray to God, not some statue or some other man. We’re praying to God because we believe He can answer our prayer, and then we ask that He will. “Lord, please, will you provide a job?” Then we trust what He does. It may not be the job we wanted, but He will provide for us. We trust what He does. We trust His timing, and then we praise Him no matter what. We’re going to pray believing He can; ask that He will; trust what He does; and praise Him no matter what.
Second, encourage counselees to take employment opportunities instead of waiting for the perfect job. I’ve had this situation many times where someone is waiting for a job in their field of expertise. And he may go without work for months and months on end, turning down other means of work. Because there is an obligation to provide, a spiritual responsibility to provide for his family, we encourage him take a job while he is looking for a job. Before I came on staff, I practiced law for 27 years, and I was on the hiring committee. I know from experience that when we were looking to hire, and we saw a resume of someone who’d been out of work for a long time, and there may be valid reasons for that, but when they’ve been out of work for a long time, it raised a red flag. Why have they gone so long without work? Whereas, if it was someone looking for a lateral move or a promotion, but they were gainfully employed at the time, it didn’t raise those same red flags. We want to encourage our counselees to take employment opportunities, instead of waiting for the perfect job. Remember work is good. We work for the Lord, not unto men, so there is no work that is beneath someone if they’re trying to provide for their family.
Third, be alert to limited income being the presenting problem masking a lack of contentment. It could be that a couple comes in and says, “Well, what brings us here is just a lack of finances.” But that could reveal a heart that is lacking contentment. You really want to look into their work and their income as well.
What does the Bible have to say about our spending? Go back to our foundation. Remember that God owns everything. I think sometimes we’re thinking, “Okay. What do I give to God?” If you’re thinking ahead, that’s probably going to be under the sharing category. But if we are managers, realizing that it’s His money, that I’m going to give an account for it, a stewardship, then it really matters what I spend my money on as well, not just how I share it or save it, but also as I spend it. What does the Bible have to say about that? Well, Matthew 6:19-21 tells us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus is getting to the heart.
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. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.”
I’ve always liked the first part; I use it in biblical counseling a lot. People want to be godly. They want to establish those godly disciplines. They’re reading their Bible; they’re trying to grow in their prayer life. But Scripture is saying that great gain comes when you take godliness and accompany it with contentment, a satisfaction that says, “Lord, whatever you provide, not only financially, but whatever other circumstances I’m in. Paul reminds us that if we have food and shelter, with these we shall be content. That’s what we need to be sustained in order to continue to work for the glory of God.
Proverbs 22:7 tells us, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” We get questions about debt and borrowing money all the time, and I can’t find a prohibition in the Scriptures. But it’s never spoken of in a positive way, and there’s wisdom in this verse that if you are in debt, you become controlled by the lender. The borrower becomes the lender’s slave. We see this in Romans 13:8: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
Counsel from Scripture
What are some takeaways from these passages that we could help a counselee with when it comes to their spending?
1. Spend less than you make.
You would be surprised that a lot of people, through credit, spend more than they make. Many times, when people come in with financial problems, it’s not usually an income problem; it’s typically a spending problem. They could cut their expenses; they just choose not to. Wisdom avoids debt. You want to counsel your counselees to get out of debt as soon as possible. Sometimes, we encounter a situation where debt frequently is considered acceptable when the amount is affordable within your cash flow. “I’m going to go ahead and spend ahead (borrow), but I have enough income that I can pay the monthly debt service the principal and interest, so therefore the debt is okay.” Debt may also be considered acceptable when the amount of the debt is less than the value of the asset, like a home. In other words. I’m going to borrow money to buy something even more valuable than the debt. That seems to be a good investment. Again, in my prior career, I would see business people saying, “Well, I can borrow money at 3% and sink it into an investment that has the potential to pay me 10%.” There’s a reality that we have to recognize: you cannot assume the future of cash flow or asset value. I was a commercial real estate lawyer in 2008-2009, and I can tell you that a lot of people’s cash flow and asset value were not sustained. We have to help them remember that you cannot presume upon your cash flow or the asset value.
2. Spend in a way that leaves resources for saving and sharing.
We’re going to see from Scripture that is wise biblically to save and to share. That means when we spend, there has to be something left over in order to save and to share. A lot of people don’t live that way. They think saving and sharing come later, but we want to help them early on to spend in a way that leaves resources now for saving and sharing.
3. Spend with a prioritization of needs before wants.
Obviously, you have to have a place to live. You have to have food. You probably have to have clothing and some type of healthcare before you get into the extras that a lot of people now say they need but are just strong wants and desires. You want to help them prioritize those things.
One way to involve other people in your church in the counseling ministry is to have one or two folks who are very good financial counselors. They are very good at helping people work on budgets and get out of debt. When finances are a problem, there’s probably a heart issue involving idolatry that we want to address. It’s probably causing conflict in the marriage. The husband and wife may not be fulfilling their roles. What we’ll do is partner with one of these financial counselors in the body who will come alongside and have side meetings, helping them get on a good financial footing while we continue to pursue the counseling on the heart issue. If you have that resource, that is a great way to expedite counseling.
A lot of people who have that skill may have taken the biblical counseling training, but they haven’t pursued certification. They’re not counseling week to week as part of your ministry, but they can come alongside and help you. So, throw that out there as something you may want to pursue in your larger body at your church.
4. Spend with the recognition of the reality of stuff. It will rust, rot, or get ripped off. Jesus said store things in heaven where moths or rust won’t destroy and thieves won’t break in and steal. Jesus understood depreciation.
With planned obsolescence, so many things that people want to spend their money on will just need to be replaced in the years ahead. People are not content, and they spend on things that aren’t going to last. Whereas, if you save and share, you have the ability to invest in God’s kingdom, which will last beyond our lifetime and have eternal rewards.
What are some ways that you actually counsel your counselee to spend wisely? The first thing you want them to do is to set and use a budget. Many have never had a budget, so they have no vision or plan for how to spend their money. Many counselees really don’t even have a sense of what their monthly and reoccurring expenses are. Second, they need a plan to attack debt, because debt prevents you from sharing and saving.
Setting and using a budget is going to require them to co-labor if you are working with a married couple. A husband has to lead, but he also has to accept input from his wife who may have more wisdom from experience. Once they set and use the budget, you want to help them to stay accountable.
If you’re doing any premarital counseling or pre-engagement counseling with a couple who wants the wife to be able to be at home with the children while they are young should learn to live off of one income. Sometimes a couple gets married, and they know they want to have kids and that the wife would like to stay home with the kids. They’re both working, but then they’re saying, “Well, let’s spend while we can.” But if they can learn to live off of one income and start saving, this will help them avoid the double whammy of the increased expenses and decreased income when she stops working and stays at home. I can assure you there are new expenses with a child.
What does the Bible have to say about savings? Proverbs 6:6-8 says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest.” Proverbs 21:20 says, ” There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up.” There is savings involved. First Timothy 6:17 says, “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.” Instruct counselees to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. To be able to share, you need to save wisely.
What the Bible Says About Saving
What are some principles that we learn?
1. Saving understands that riches have wings, and our tomorrows are uncertain. If we deplete our resources today, and there’s a need tomorrow, we may not have the resources for it. Saving helps us understand that whatever excess we have now, may be gone, and whatever we think is certain today may change tomorrow. Do you have a house? It doesn’t seem to need a new AC system. It doesn’t seem to need a new roof. The car seems to be working. We all seem to be in good health, but things could change tomorrow.
2. You can never save enough, but you can save too much. We find ourselves thinking, “We might need this or we might need that.” You could probably never save enough to fully make you think you’re comfortable with all the what ifs. It’s like “All right, I’m starting to hoard because I’m fearful.” We cannot trust in our savings, but trusting God does not preclude saving. Okay. Don’t trust in your savings. You can trust in God and still be prudent and have savings.
What are some practical ways that we would encourage people to save responsibly?
1. Categorize your savings, what are some things that you know you’ll need to buy in the future that if you don’t save for will result in debt.
a. Future automobiles
b. Emergency maintenance
c. Long-term maintenance
If you know, you’re going to need an automobile, start being your own banker. Start saving some money up, so that when a vehicle is needed, you have the resources to buy the automobile. Think about not buying a new brand-new car. It loses so much value the moment you drive it off the lot. But you’re going to want a reliable car, which you can purchase gently used. Another category is emergency maintenance. Things break, cars break, AC systems break, and roofs leak. Have a maintenance fund. You can help people figure out what a good amount is by just reviewing their records over the past year or two. The gentleman who works with us helps counselees go back and look at how they spend their money in order to have reasonable savings for emergency maintenance.
Long-term maintenance is another one similar to cars. If you’re a homeowner, you’re going to need a new roof sometime. Be your own banker, and start setting aside money for that roof that will be needed in ten years. An added benefit is that your savings can be making some money for you in the meantime.
Have a college plan or accounts that you can invest in that pay interest. A husband and wife need to come to an agreement about college expenses. Are we going to pay for a college education for our kids? Are we going to pay for part of it? If so, how are we going to meet that goal? You want counselees to think through those things. As you counsel, try to discern any other items that you know will require money above and beyond their weekly or monthly cash flow.
2. Maximize any retirement matching. That seems like low-hanging fruit. But sometimes younger people, particularly, are not thinking long-term, and their employer may say that they will match up to a certain percentage of retirement investments. But to a young couple that seems so far out, maybe 40-45 years away, so to be setting aside two, three or four percent of their salary, which is being matched by their employer, they’re unwilling to do that. That’s free money, so you want to encourage them to maximize that retirement matching.
3. For premarital counseling, if a couple lives off of one income, they can accumulate significant savings that may allow them to wisely position themselves for a significant down payment and reasonable mortgage payment. Help them think through their savings early on.
What the Bible Says About Sharing
I want to talk about what the Bible has to say about sharing and giving. First Timothy 6:18 says, “Instruct them to do good, be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” What amount should they be ready to share? We’ve looked at this topic at Christian Family Chapel. I know we rocked some boats here.
1. The New Testament commands giving, but it does not establish an exact amount. You may say, “What about the tithe?” Well, we have to remember that in the Old Testament theocracy, there were certain obligations to give, but if you count up how much you were supposed to give it came out to about seventeen percent a year. We don’t follow that; we’ve never espoused that, but when you look at the New Testament, it commands giving, but it doesn’t command giving an exact amount. First Corinthians 6:2 says, “On the first day of every week, each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collection be made when I come.” Paul is saying that each week as God prospers you, set aside something, so that when I come it’s available.
2. The amount of our giving is determined by how God has prospered us. Second Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver.” The amount of our giving is determined by how God has prospered us and what he has purposed in our heart. Now you’re thinking “Well, sweet! I don’t have to give. I don’t have to pay my God tax anymore, the 10 percent.” Because that’s sometimes what it feels like when we keep hearing the 10 percent. When you think that way, we find ourselves thinking, “Well, God, here’s your ten percent. “Then what do we think about the other 90 percent: “Well, it’s mine.” But we have to remember that God owns it all and will hold us accountable for how we spend it, how we save it, and how we share it. It’s all His. We don’t want to think “Oh, great! I don’t have to pay the God tax anymore.” I think sometimes we wanted to spend the tax, so we can feel better about spending the other 90% on ourselves. We’re thinking, “That’s my money. I made it.” All things come from the Lord.
Second Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” Second Corinthians 9:10 says, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.”
3. The emphasis in the New Testament is on generosity. It’s not a prosperity gospel that if you give, then God is going to give you more. God is encouraging us to be generous. Our emphasis at Christian Family Chapel is we want us to be able to spend and save so that we are ready to be generous. Maybe you or your counselee has been in that boat where something comes up: a missionary has a need or there’s an opportunity in the community where you can step in and really make an impact for Christ. You want to give, but you don’t have the excess funds because you haven’t spent and saved in a way that allows you to be ready to be generous.
4. God promises to give seed to the sowers. When we are generous and are sowing seeds, God promises to give more seed for sowing, not more seed for our bank accounts. We want to be ready to give, knowing that God promises to give more seed for the sowers.
We want to be generous. It’s all God’s money. How do I go about deciding who I give to? I know in our house we get requests for giving all the time. We have missionaries that we have commended and have gone out from our body, there are short-term mission trips, there are charitable opportunities, and there are needs in the community that come up. What do we give and how do we decide? Does God just leave it up to us or did He give us any guidance on how to prioritize our giving?
5. There is a “ladder of giving integrity” in the New Testament that we’re going to unpack that helps us understand how to prioritize our giving. (Thanks to Doug Rutt for this). First, you climb a ladder from the bottom, but you want to set the ladder on a firm foundation: We want to remember that we manage His money. It’s not my money, not 9 percent, not 90 percent; all of it is His. I recognize that God will give more seed to sowers, not the hoarders, if I give generously. I recognize that my heart’s going to follow my dollars. Whatever I invest my money in, my heart, my passion for it, will follow. Giving is not a God tax where we give out of obligation, but giving is a way to participate in God’s kingdom work, which always pays dividends. We might not see it here on earth, but when we have a generous heart that’s aligned with God, participating in His kingdom has eternal rewards. We also have to recognize that I can’t share what I’ve spent, so if I spend money, and I haven’t saved to be ready to be generous, I can’t give.
Let’s look again at the ladder. We start from the bottom rung, and we see for the first one “No work—No eat.” Second Thessalonians 3:10-12 says, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.” As we think about our finances, our first responsibility on that ladder is to provide for myself and my family. I’m working. I’m spending. I need to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and provide clothing.
The next rung is 1 Timothy 5:4, 8 that says, “If any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” “Worse than an unbeliever” is pretty strong language. The next rung is providing for extended family, particularly our elderly parents if they can’t provide for themselves. I need to make sure I’ve provided for my nuclear family: my spouse and my children who are in the home, and then I need to see if are there any financial needs in my extended family, particularly my elderly parents. Otherwise, I’m worse than an unbeliever.
Galatians 6:6 says, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.” If I’m at a church, and I’m being taught the Word, people are investing in me. According to this verse, the Lord has directed that I should share with them. I should pay for their compensation. First Corinthians 9:9-11 says, “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.’ God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”
Paul is saying, “We’re sowing into you. Is it too much to ask that we reap some things? Paul continues in verse 12-14, “If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” Wherever they are investing in people by sharing the gospel, those people should contribute toward their support.
The next rung of the ladder is investing in my local church. God has directed me to do that. Sometimes people say, “Our church seems to be way over budget.” There still should be some giving to the local church because God has directed.
What’s the next rung? We should remember the poor. Galatians 2:10 says, “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.” We are to remember the poor, and then if you read chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians, you also see this emphasis on remembering the poor. The context is clear that we are to support poor believers.
Philippians 4:14-17 says, “Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica, you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.” The top rung is “you do well.” In context, we see that this was giving for gospel expansion, to expand the gospel of foreign missions. Some people may say, “What about the poor unbelievers?” I would say this falls in the category of gospel expansion as you’re looking for ways that you can spread the gospel by meeting needs of unbelievers.
Let’s review this “ladder of giving integrity.” Look at the language from the bottom up. The lowest rung, the foundation says, “You don’t work; you don’t eat.” Moving up to the next rung, it says that if anyone doesn’t provide for his extended family, he’s worse than an unbeliever. The next rung says that as far as investing in my local church, the Lord has directed it. The fourth rung says to share with poor believers. And the final rung says, “You do well” when you invest in gospel expansion.
Think about this in the context of talking to your child about a chore. We had a son, and one of his chores was taking out the trash. If I went to him after he had not taken out the trash, and I said, “Son, if you don’t take out the trash, no work. no eat. If you don’t take out the trash, you’re worse than an unbeliever, son. I direct you as your father to take out the trash. You do well, if you take out the trash.” Do you see the intensity of language as we move up the ladder? I think that can guide us as we consider how to prioritize our giving.
Not every rung has to be equal, but I don’t think you should skip a rung on the way up. So even if you want to give to gospel expansion, you should make sure you are providing for your immediate family. Do my elderly parents have any needs? Am I giving to my church? Am I giving in a way to support poor believers and then contributing to gospel expansion? You want to make sure you’re not skipping any of those rungs.
In closing, I want you, as we counsel our counselees, to always find a way to give something. Find a way for them to start sharing generously because a generous heart becomes more generous. Yes, they may need to work off debt, but they can find a way to give something. I think it would encourage them and bring about real heart change. Encourage your counselee to consider if their giving practices reflect the New Testament “ladder of integrity.” It could be that they’re not giving anything right now, so you have to help them get on top of their debt and to start paying down that debt before they can give. If they are giving, ask them, “How are they doing on that ‘ladder of integrity?'” It really is a heart issue that we want to help our counselees with. God bless.