Good stewardship is not about ordering our lives in such a way that we are free to spend whatever we want. Rather, as faithful stewards, we order our lives in such a way that God is free to spend us however He wants. As we work to keep God’s heart central to our approach to allocating what we have, identifying Him as our true treasure, our financial choices will follow.
The Bible contains extensive wisdom about giving, saving, and spending, so that we can allocate wisely and avoid being entrapped by money. The Scriptures set forth guidance to help us as we explore these categories and how we can live fruitful lives.
Give — 10% or More. God’s Word makes it clear that He expects His people to give. When we give, we demonstrate that He is our passion and desire. Jesus was once questioned by people who were anxious about their well-being. They asked Him about basic needs. He replied, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). His reply informed them that the pagans who don’t know any better will pursue such things, but His followers are to seek His kingdom and His righteousness.
God expects us to give not as an afterthought, but as our top financial priority. Proverbs expresses this: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Proverbs 3:9-10). Notice we are not to fill our barns and vats first, then begin giving, but the inverse.
The Old Testament presents the first tithe as the measure to return to God. “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” (Leviticus 27:30). Beyond this, two other tithes come into view, one for sharing at festival times, which knit God’s people together, and another, every third year, to care for the poor and the Levites (see Deuteronomy 14:22–29).
The expectation that cheerful generosity toward God, His people, the poor and His servants continues in the New Testament (see Acts 11:29; Galatians 2:8-10; 2 Corinthians 9:7). In this light, the tithe, as Randy Alcorn describes it in Money, Possessions and Eternity, becomes “the training wheels of giving.” However, the motivation for giving in the New Testament shifts from obeying law to showing love of God and neighbor, and the measure shifts from fixed percentage to proportion, that is, as God’s people are blessed materially they proportionally share His blessings.
Save and Invest — 20% or less. When we save or invest, we set aside money for the future — money that in turn must one day either be spent or given away. We cannot take anything with us. Saving (usually with a bank) represents an opportunity to set aside with money reasonable security, but remember that Jesus reminds us that no form of earthly savings is fully secure (see Matthew 6:19; Luke 12:20). Saving is usually a way of seeking protection against short-term challenges (unexpected expenses or job changes). When we invest, we take on more risk to achieve our longer-term goals.
God advised Pharaoh, through Joseph, to set aside for the great famine that was to come upon Egypt. On Joseph’s counsel, Pharaoh set aside one-fifth (20%) of the harvested grain during the seven good years, to prepare for the seven bad years that were to come (see Genesis 41:34-36). This can serve as a cap for saving.
Twenty percent for seven years would equal 140% of our total income to set aside for emergencies. We should be cautious about setting aside too much in savings. At some point, we move from prudently setting money aside to hoarding it. As stewards, we should always prayerfully consider how much we save, so that we do not hold tightly onto resources that God entrusts us to manage.
When it comes to investing, Scripture gives us the sound advice to diversify our investments, because we do not know what disasters may come us (see Ecclesiastes 11:2). But Scripture also reminds us that those who trust in their investment portfolio have placed their trust in the wrong thing (see Psalm 49).
Spend — 70% or Less. As we spend, we should reflect the command to work diligently, caring for our family and others (see 1 Timothy 5:8). In making spending decisions, consider Paul’s words. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). This leads us to avoid spending that draws attention to ourselves. We make lifestyle choices that win respect from outsiders, rather than trying to impress them with extravagance. And we allocate our spending choices to avoid becoming dependent on others.
How God leads each of us to allocate money will likely be different. But you can use these standards as a guide — giving 10% or more, saving 20% or less, and spending 70% or less — to avoid financial bondage and be free for God’s purposes to remain the focus of life.
Chuck Bentley is Founder/Executive Director of Christian Economic Forum (www.christianeconomicforum.com) and CEO of Crown Financial Ministries (www.crown.org). Recently, with his wife, Ann, he co-authored Money Problems, Marriage Solutions.