Jesus and Life
In John 10:10, we have a record of Jesus saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (NIV).” In the New Living Translation it says, “The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” and in the Message Bible it puts it this way: “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
Jesus says that he came to give us life, and not just a mundane existence, but a full and abundant life. Does your life feel like that at the moment? The truth is that for many of us, life is becoming busier, more stressful and more complex. Often we lack the joy, the peace and the contentment that we know we really should have as followers of Jesus Christ.
An extensive study was conducted recently by a Christian research group called LifeWay Research. The study included an in-depth interview of 1,077 people, people just like you and me, to see how they felt about their lives. The overwhelming result was that the majority longed for a more SIMPLE LIFE. This longing for a simpler life related especially to four areas: time, money, relationship with God, and relationships with other people. Today we want to talk about MONEY.
People and Money
The research study revealed that...
• 45% of those surveyed said they didn’t have enough income for their lifestyles.
• 50% said finances caused strain in their marriage.
• 60% said that finances were a significant cause of stress in their families.
• 50% said they had more bills to pay in a month that they had money.
• 46% said their credit card debt was too high.
• 55% said they had too much debt.
• 72% said they did not have the equivalent of six months’ living expenses saved in case of an emergency.
• 41% of males and 51% of females said they did not have enough insurance.
• 73% said that they had concerns about whether they would be able to retire comfortably.
• 50% said they had no financial plan for the future.
Financial strain was pervasive in the survey. The majority longed for a simpler life free of overdue bills, limited income, inadequate savings and increasing debt. Many of us probably feel similarly.
Jesus and Money
In Luke 16:1-13, we have a record of Jesus telling a parable about the interaction of a business owner (master) with his employee (servant). Jesus talked a lot about money and possessions. It is the theme of sixteen of his thirty-eight recorded parables. In fact, one out of every ten verses in the gospels refers to this topic. Jesus talked more about possessions and money than about heaven and hell combined. Obviously, our money and how we handle it, matters to God.
There’s a difference of opinion as to what exactly Jesus is commending about the manager in the parable. He started out dishonest and therefore lost his job. He then acted shrewdly, or wisely, and was commended for it. The application of the parable is very clear: (1) all of God’s people will be called to give an account of how we have served him and what we have done with our resources, (2) preparation for that day of account should involve wise use of our resources, especially in the area of finances, and (3) wise use of our resources, demonstrating a life of true discipleship, will be rewarded with eternal life and joy.
Jesus then adds a few other lessons after he’s finished with the story: (1) how we handle small things is an indicator of how we will handle larger things, (2) God looks at how we manage the financial resources he puts in our hands to determine how much spiritual responsibility he will give us, (3) how we handle or manage other people’s things is a test of our character and maturity, and (4) finally, Jesus observes that you can’t serve God and money, in the sense of making an ultimate commitment to both at the same time. A real test of our discipleship is our attitudes towards and our management of our finances. You can tell a lot about a person by how they spend their money. It’s more than just numbers. It reflects values (Matt.6:21).
Getting a better handle on our finances and thereby reducing stress requires that we first acquire an accurate view of our financial health. To do this we need to answer a few questions: (1) What do we own (our assets) and (2) what do we owe (our liabilities)? This is our personal balance sheet. Assets minus liabilities show our current net worth. The next two questions are (3) what do we earn (our income) and (4) where does it go (our expenses)? Income minus expenses shows our net profit or loss. Knowing the answer to these questions gives us clarity about our current financial reality. Once we do this, we can see the trends and the decisions or changes we may need to make.
Any financial management plan for a follower of Christ needs to take into consideration four things:
1. Earning. Human work or labour is the primary means by which we earn money. God is a worker and he worked for six days on his creation project, then rested on the seventh day (Gen.2:2-3). God created us to work and be productive (Gen.2:15). He has given us skills and abilities so that we can use them to serve others in exchange for income (Deut.8:18. 1 Thess.2:6-13).
2. Giving. The New Testament clearly teaches that all we have (100%) belongs to God and should be available for his use at any time. A good habit to remind us of this is regular consistent giving to God’s work and people in need. Many people find it helpful to give 10% of their income to God, which is a good practice but it shouldn’t be seen as the pinnacle of the generous giving that God calls us to.
3. Saving. A wise person spends less than they earn and saves or invests the difference, in order to prepare for the future (Prov.21:20). Saving creates freedom, reduces pressure and enables us to be able to give, as well as handle unforseen emergencies. Make a decision to become a saver (Prov.6:6-11; 13:11; 21:5).
4. Spending. Spending includes our normal living expenses, items such as food, clothing, housing, transportation, debt reduction, entertainment, and holidays. We must be on guard against impulse buying (unplanned expenditures bought on emotion). Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you should buy it. Choose contentment and beware against advertising and the consumerism of our age.
If we can consistently spend less than we earn and save or invest the difference, we will be financially free and in a position to enjoy life and be a greater blessing to others. If we can’t make this a reality at present we can work towards it by either increasing our earnings, down-sizing or gradually spending less.
Sample Discussion Questions
1. Discuss the statistics from the LifeWay report. Is the situation similar in Australia? For Christians?
2. What do you think are some of the causes of financial pressure in our time?
3. Discuss consumerism (the never ending pursuit of more stuff). How should Christians respond?
4. Jesus taught his disciples to see themselves as managers of the resources they have been given and therefore accountable for their use (see Matt 25:14-30). How should this perspective affect us?
5. Discuss various ways of budgeting. What has worked for you?
6. In what way can accountability help us get out of debt or improve our financial situation?
7. Discuss the concept of “down-sizing” our living standards in order to be under less stress (read Ecc.4:6).
8. Why is giving to God’s work important and how is it a test of our faith?