Balancing Biblical Financial Principles

As I’ve studied personal finance in the Bible, I’ve found four main financial principles that God emphasizes repeatedly. Those principles are contentment, hard work, stewardship, and generosity. But as I’ve written about these principles and discussed them with others I’ve discovered that balance is absolutely essential. When we overemphasize any of these four principles it can be detrimental to how we are honoring God through our finances.

To get a better idea of what I’m saying, let’s look at what happens when you focus too much on just one of these principles and downplay the rest.

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Contentment

I doubt very many of us are in danger of overemphasizing contentment. We do a pretty good job of satisfying all our wants and reaching for more. In its healthy form, contentment helps us spend less and keep our focus on eternal things. But we can create an imbalance in our efforts to honor God if we get a distorted view of contentment.

We can take contentment to the point of asceticism – inflicting a severe strictness against spending money on ourselves even to the point of denying our needs. Now I’ll be the first to tell you this can be a good thing. It would not be terrible for you to choose to give more by deciding to live a simpler life. But if you do this without the love of God in your heart or if you develop self-righteousness from it, you can very easily be dishonoring God with your thoughts and actions.

Another way this plays out is the person who is so “content” and “spiritual” that they don’t want to have anything to do with money. They don’t want to think about it. They don’t want to earn more. They don’t want to touch it. Again, that’s pretty extreme but I’ve seen it in some people. This isn’t healthy either because it leads to ignoring the other Biblical principles.

Hard Work

When approached correctly, hard work helps us earn more money. Combine that with contentment and you’ve got a powerful tool in your hands. But what if we work so hard that we neglect our time with God? Or our family? Or helping others?

What happens when we make our work our identity instead of Christ?

Are we honoring God if we work hard just so we can have more for ourselves?

It’s clear that focusing too much on work can skew our relationship with money and with God. I don’t think I need to elaborate on any of the questions I’ve posed here. We’ve all seen the ill effects of a distorted view of work in our own lives and in the lives of others.

Stewardship

Stewardship has its place in helping us to use God’s gifts well. It helps us provide for our own needs and the needs of our family by being responsible and following Godly wisdom. When used alongside contentment and hard work, stewardship puts us in a position to generously bless others.

On the other hand, overemphasizing stewardship can have at least three terrible consequences.

  1. If we neglect generosity, stewardship can lead to greed and a focus on building up wealth for ourselves.
  2. Focusing only on stewardship can make us preoccupied with the practical aspects of money while completely missing the spiritual implications and lessons in Scripture.
  3. A Christian consumed by stewardship can begin to place all their trust in money instead of God.

Obviously, there’s a real danger in becoming distracted by stewardship and ignoring God’s desire for contentment, hard work, and generosity in our lives. We know that Jesus had severe rebuke for those who trust in riches. He said it is extremely difficult for a person who trusts in riches to enter the kingdom of God. That’s a pretty strong warning against overemphasizing stewardship, yet we still do it!

Generosity

I include this one with some trepidation. Honestly, I think it would be difficult for us to be too generous. In fact, as I read what the Bible says about personal finance, I tend to find that God’s desire for how we handle money points to this end. You see, as our hearts are changed by God’s love, our lives will pour out that love in unselfish giving. It will look like ridiculous generosity to the world, but it’s really only following the pattern of Jesus’ life and teachings!

Jesus even called some of his followers to give away everything so they could follow Him. Talk about overemphasizing generosity! You can’t go any further than that! And yet, it doesn’t seem to be a requirement for all followers of Christ.

To be sure, we must have a loose hold on our possessions if we want to honor God in our finances. But we should also be careful to keep that balance with the other Biblical principles. If we give everything away without being sure that it is God’s specific will for our lives, we can make ourselves a burden to others or neglect our family’s needs. God can provide, but should we expect Him to provide if we go outside of His will?

There’s also the danger of emphasizing generosity but neglecting love. As the apostle Paul said, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 – NIV) Giving apart from the love of Christ profits us nothing. We can talk about giving, think about giving, and try to give all that we have, but if we’re not doing it from God’s love working in us then we’re completely missing the point!

Balance Is the Key

These four financial principles work so very well together when all are given proper attention. Keep it balanced and you’ll see contentment and hard work help you widen the gap between your income and expenses. Add in some good stewardship (in the way of smart money management), and you’ll be in a position to give extremely generously to those in need. But if we get distracted by focusing on one principle over the others, we can mess up God’s plan for our finances and turn it into something awful.

How Do You Keep Your Balance with Money?

Let’s talk about how we can keep a balanced approach to money that honors God in the comments below!

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Last Edited: 10th February 2014

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  1. says

    I think the point of there needing to be balance in our lives when it comes to these principles, is a good one. I think the need for balance in so many areas in our lives is key as well. For example, exercise can be a good thing, but if you get too much it can lead to an injury. We all need food, but if you don’t have balance it can lead to excess weight and health problems. If you focus on both things, however, and give them their proper importance, it will mean you are well fed, fit and happy! The same holds true for other areas of life, including our finances.

    • says

      There are many things in life that, when overemphasized, can cause many problems for us, Peter. I’m sure we could come up with many examples, but your example of eating and exercise is very good. I’ve seen people struggle with both sides of it, but when somebody finds that balance they seem healthier and happier.

  2. says

    I found this article very challenging and unclear starting with the statement “[B]alance is absolutely essential. When we overemphasize any of these four principles it can be detrimental to how we are honoring God through our finances.”

    I don’t think its a problem if someone hears the call to generously give everything away (Mark 10:29). Also, with contentment you see that the widow gave all she had (Mark 12:44) and was commended. Paul was also content (Phil 4:12) when he was going hungry.

    I believe its a problem of focus and not balance. Focus on loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) and through that experience the response of contentment, stewardship, hard work, and generosity balanced not by you but by the Holy Spirit working within you fashioning the right mix of giving, stewardship, and hard work for your individual life while producing contentment only found in Christ.

    • says

      Erik, I’m sorry it seemed unclear to you. I know the opening statement was broad, but I tried to bring out the nuances in the sections that followed.

      For example, I did not discourage generous giving (even giving away everything) if that is God’s will for you. If that’s the case then you certainly should give it all away. But I can imagine some people doing it for their own glory or doing it without love. Either case would not glorify God.

      The same goes for contentment – the right amount is very God-honoring. But if it gets warped it becomes something unholy. I won’t repeat my examples here since you can read them above.

      I fully agree with your last paragraph. I didn’t mean for it to sound like it’s all about you finding that balance apart from the Holy Spirit. In every section, I tried to emphasize the need for following God’s will and not your own. This is what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit. If you do that, then the right balance will emerge.

      I appreciate your comments, but I feel like you got hung up on those first two sentences and didn’t read the rest of the article with a clear mind. I hope I’ve clarified my position, because I certainly did not mean to imply what you have written. Thanks for taking the time to share your concerns and comments, Erik!

      • says

        Sorry – very challenging was supposed to be a compliment and unclear was a separate thought. The idea of trying to balance stewardship vs generosity is so very difficult. Simply put, how do you be generous without renouncing your income? How do you steward your income while being generous? Such a challenge…and I think the only way we can find our individual balance is through abandonment to Christ.

        • says

          I think you already mentioned the key to finding that balance, Erik. Abandonment to Christ and seeking God’s will are the only ways (or way, rather) we can do it.

          I’m not sure what it will look like in each Christian’s life, but I think it starts with understanding the difference between a need and a want. Almost all of the principles I mentioned tie back into that concept.

          I don’t think generosity requires you living on nothing (no income). But beyond meeting our basic needs, we have to realize we’re making choices between generosity and selfishness (satisfying our wants/desires instead of God’s).

  3. says

    All are well-grounded principles, and although I doubt God ever says this in the Bible, I think we as Christians would be commended by the Lord for finding “smarter” ways to work to allow us to devote more time to him and our families.

    I spent half a lifetime thinking that only “hard work” will give you happiness and prosperity. Only recently did I grasp the concept that working smarter gives me more free time to devote to God and my family

    • says

      David, I should clarify that by “hard work” I mean something more along the lines of diligence. It’s basically the idea that we should do our work well and should not be lazy or living off others if we are able to work. We ought to occupy our time doing something useful rather than indulging in relaxation all the time. Hard work is probably a poor choice of words, but diligent work is a little more difficult of a concept to share. Maybe just “diligence” would be better?

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