Someone sent me this question:
I was asked a question about saving money. Can you help me answer it?
“And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God”” (Luke 12:16-21, ESV).
This was the question: “This passage makes me view savings in a negative light. I don’t know where I land on it but how is this passage true, yet saving money not against it? Is saving money not trusting that God will provide in the future?”
Here are the thoughts I shared in response:
In His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), Jesus warns against excessive savings, not against all savings. He also warns against loving money and placing our faith in money, and the presumption that our self-care and self-provision is worthy of our trust.
In the parable in Luke 12, the rich man foolishly failed to consider his mortality (God calls him not “you evil man,” but “you fool”). He didn’t understand that his earthly treasures would either be taken from him, or he would be taken from them. He’s guilty of presumption, and of not recognizing God’s complete power over his life, or his own powerlessness to preserve or extend his life.
Jesus says, “so is the one who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Clearly this parable calls for the followers of Jesus to obey Him by storing up treasures in Heaven, not on Earth.
But that doesn’t mean God forbids us to have anything of value on Earth. Indeed, in order for the rich man to own and tend a farm and herds, and have a roof over his head, or, in the case of Joseph and Jesus, to have wood and tools with which to do carpentry, keeping SOME treasures on Earth is necessary!
Scripture clearly calls us to give generously (see 1 Timothy 6:18-21), a call that few Christians seem to take to heart. Only in isolated cases does Jesus ask someone to give away everything. Yet, He didn’t tell Lazarus, Martha and Mary to give away all they owned. And in fact, He stayed at their estate which had enough room to house, feed, and take care of His whole band of disciples.
When Zacchaeus told Jesus he was going to sell what he had and give half to the poor (see Luke 19), Jesus did not say you shouldn’t give away half, you should give it all. He instead recognized that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ heart and house, as demonstrated by his willingness to give away so much. We see no condemnation of Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and the women who had sufficient wealth to fund Jesus and the disciples.
I think it’s fair to assume that they had savings from which they drew for their giving as well as their living. Indeed, anyone who owns more than they need, which most people do, has assets they can liquidate in times of financial downturn. This is the equivalent of savings. If someone didn’t have a dime in the bank, but owned land, house, barn, plough, furniture, and farm animals, they could sell any of those assets to meet a need.
Certainly, however, the temptation for us as believers is not to keep too little, but to keep too much. The real danger is idolatry, where the heart puts money above God, trusts money more than God, and depends on money more than God. To make money into a god violates the essence of the first and second Commandments. This temptation affects both rich and poor.
Was Joseph wrong when he advised Pharaoh in Genesis 41, to stockpile grain for the coming famine? True, we normally don’t have inside information on specific lengths of coming hard times, but we do know that hard times come to families; health problems, job loss, and other unforeseen challenges abound in this world of uncertainty.
Proverbs 13:11 warns, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” This refers to having the foresight to set aside some savings. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” While hastiness normally relates to spending money, not saving it, and very rarely giving it, “the plans of the diligent” seem to include saving.
Having reasonable savings can be an attempt to avoid having too little, but as with the rich man in Luke 12, putting too much into savings will make it into our god. The nature of the body of Christ should be to care for those in legitimate need, not at all as a justification of people spending irresponsibly, and then, depending on fellow Christians to bail them out. This is where wisdom and discernment comes in, which is why Paul speaks of the “true widow” who is really in need and deserves the church’s support, as opposed to those who have other sources of income, such as relatives who should be helping them, or who have persistently lived irresponsibly, e.g. “if a man will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
My own belief, not only based upon Jesus’ call to some to give away everything, but His commendation of the poor widow, who gave away “all she had to live on,” is that God sees very differently people who have no savings because they have spent all they have, and those who have little to live on because they have given away so much. My understanding is that He will provide for the giver in ways that He may not provide for the spender.
Second Corinthians 8:2 says the Macedonian Christians, who were in severe affliction, out of an abundance of joy and their “extreme poverty overflowed in a rich generosity.” That’s an example of people who gave radically, even though it appeared they couldn’t afford to give at all. And God clearly approves.
I believe Scripture teaches that a reasonable amount of savings is appropriate, taking into account the ebb and flow of life where we are likely to have more financial needs later than we may have right now. However, our tendency is to act like the rich fool, where savings becomes the object of our trust and the source of our contentment and sense of safety. When saving becomes our god, then we become idolaters.
A final passage that comes to mind is 2 Corinthians 8:14-15: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written, ‘the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’” This proves that it is not wrong in and of itself to have “plenty,” but our assumption should be that plenty is available to give to others who are in need.
God’s design is neither for us to have “too much” or “too little.” Generous giving solves both problems, the problem of us having too much, lest we trust in it instead of in God, and having too little, which God also considers a problem.
The prayer of Proverbs 30:8–9 has bearing on the commendable desire to avoid poverty, with its temptations, and the great danger of accumulating too much wealth, with its temptations: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
At the heart of this question is the matter of our hearts. Rich or poor, God wants our undivided worship and attention. We should immediately jettison anything that diverts our attention away from the Giver.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska