By Ronica Stromberg
After learning a money management principle as a child, I paid for most of my college education upfront, bought used cars outright, and, by the time I was in my 30s, was living in homes I owned free and clear. Now nearing 50, I find current economic crises have had little effect on my lifestyle. I have everything I need and live comfortably debt-free.
What money management principle did I learn as a child? One I heard on the TV show Little House on the Prairie. In one episode Pa Ingalls explained to his daughter Laura that he believed in putting “money on the barrel head,” which meant saving and paying for purchases upfront rather than relying on credit or loans. This seemed wise to me, and I decided to use it in life.
Pa Ingalls’s money management principle proved as sound today as in the 1800s. But when I recently studied what the Bible has to say about money management, I learned this principle dates back much further than the 1800s. The Bible discourages borrowing money, noting that “the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). Believers are instructed to pay everyone what they owe them and let no debt remain outstanding (Romans 13:7, 8).
I went on to study another 75 Scripture passages about money-related topics and culled nine money management guidelines that are as applicable today as they were thousands of years ago.
While the Bible discourages borrowing, believers are encouraged to lend freely to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) without charging interest (Exodus 22:25). We are to give to all who ask us (Matthew 5:42), even our enemies, without expecting repayment (Luke 6:35). Jesus told us to use wealth to gain friends for ourselves (16:9). Our generosity will be a witness to others (2 Corinthians 9:11-15) and we will prosper (Proverbs 11:25).
Avoid “get rich quick” schemes and dishonest dealings.
The Bible cautions believers about easy money, saying, “An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed at the end” (20:21). We are to avoid dishonest dealings, defrauding others (Leviticus 19:13), taking advantage of employees (Deuteronomy 24:14, 15), or accepting bribes (Psalm 15:5). Income gained through wickedness will bring trouble (Proverbs 15:6). Even sexual immorality can lead to poverty (6:26).
We are encouraged to build our financial strength through honesty and patience: “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow” (13:11).
Keep a good work ethic.
The Bible encourages working diligently for a living, stating, “He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty” (Proverbs 28:19).
The oft-quoted rule, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat,” comes from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians (3:10). Paul laid this rule down because some early believers spent their days in idleness, living off the efforts of others. Sluggards, or lazy people, find themselves on the path to poverty (Proverbs 6:10-11; 14:23) and even death (21:25).
Hard workers, on the other hand, are praised. Not only do they reap rewards for their work, they find work itself satisfying, a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13; 5:18-20).
Although hard work, honesty, and an ethical lifestyle can build a person’s wealth (Deuteronomy 28:12, 13), God gives us our abilities to earn and profit. Acknowledging this should help us remain humble and refrain from arrogance. Scripture puts it this way: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (8:17, 18).
God created all people, rich and poor (Proverbs 22:2), and the poor are to be respected, not mocked (17:5). God has chosen them to be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom promised to those who love him (James 2:5).
Instead of being arrogant and putting their hope in wealth, the rich are commanded to put their hope in God (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Ultimately, humility and the fear of God bring wealth, honor, and life (Proverbs 22:4).
Don’t step on others to get ahead.
Those longing to get ahead in life should not do so by stepping on the poor or trying to buy favor with the rich (Proverbs 22:16). God will plunder those who exploit the poor or crush them in court (22:22, 23). Believers should always try to work out solutions with their adversaries before going to court (Luke 12:58).
Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.
The driving force behind labor and achievement is often envy, and the Bible says the attempt to keep up with others is meaningless, like chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:4). Jesus urged his followers to be on guard against greed because “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). We are told, “One eager to get rich will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 28:20). Even more forcefully, we are warned, “Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him” (Psalm 49:16, 17).
Love God, not money.
A person who loves money harbors an insatiable desire. To such people, no amount of money or possessions is enough (Ecclesiastes 5:10, 11). Money can’t buy the power or spiritual gifts of God (Acts 8:18-20). People who love money fall into evil and pierce themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Believers are urged to pursue godly traits instead (v. 11). We must choose to be ruled by God instead of money (Matthew 6:24).
Keep riches in perspective.
We know riches are unreliable: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (Proverbs 23:5).
We are encouraged to show restraint, not wearing ourselves out to acquire riches (23:4). Wealth can cause us to stumble into sin (Ezekiel 7:19) and lose sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:12-14). We shouldn’t worry about meeting our daily needs, but seek God and he will provide (Matthew 6:28-33). We can turn from selfish gain and take delight in his commands (Psalm 119:35, 36). Revering him is more important than getting rich (Proverbs 15:16).
Honor God with your finances.
For some people, money can become a god, but Christians recognize God’s supremacy. We need to count the cost of being a disciple of Christ and be willing to give up everything for him (Luke 14:28-33).
If we obtain wealth, we should use it to honor the Lord (Proverbs 3:9, 10). We can do this by giving our tithes and offerings back to God (Malachi 3:8-10). We can support missionaries (3 John 5-8). We understand that everything we own belongs to God, and we are only giving back to him what is his (1 Chronicles. 29:14). Every believer should decide in his or her own heart what to give and do so cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:6, 7). How we use money indicates what we value most (Matthew 6:19-21).
Even a poor person can honor God by giving back to him. Jesus pointed out how a poor widow once gave more than the wealthy by putting two small coins into the temple treasury. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4).
Following these nine biblical guidelines can help us live balanced lives, full of God’s abundance, now and throughout eternity. When we prove trustworthy in handling worldly riches, we show ourselves worthy to be trusted with true riches (Luke 16:10-12).
Ronica Stromberg is a freelance writer in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Your Report Card
Ask God to give you clear eyes as you examine your actions and attitudes about money and possessions. Consider the biblical principles discussed in this article. Give yourself a grade on each one—or think about how someone else might evaluate you in each category. How can you, by God’s grace, improve in areas where you’re struggling?
____ Lend freely.
____ Avoid get-rich quick schemes and dishonest dealings.
____ Keep a good work ethic.
____ Stay humble.
____ Don’t step on others to get ahead.
____ Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.
____ Love God, not money.
____ Keep riches in perspective.
____ Honor God with your finances.