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The Idol of Money and Materialism

We live in a world filled with opportunities to replace God with fake gods. The Bible calls this practice idolatry and warns us to “keep” ourselves from it (1 John 5:21). Idolatry is finding what is and should be ultimately found in Jesus Christ in created things. Things like relationships, possessions, and money.

This year, Providence Young Adults is taking time to unpack and discuss a handful of idols we face in our monthly gathering. January’s monthly gathering was on the idol of money and materialism. We had a panel discussion with several godly Providence family members to discuss the ways they’ve struggled with this idol and fought for greater satisfaction in Christ. The following is a list of questions that Providence Young Adults asked anonymously that have been answered by Tim Albury, David Henry, Chad Vaness, and Earle Finley.

 

Every online resource cites an emergency fund as a fundamental piece of financial literacy. How do I balance setting up an emergency fund without feeling like it’s what provides my security?

Tim: God’s Word teaches us to save money and resources for potential hard times in the future. By following God’s guidance we are relying on Him as we set up emergency funds. We are also relying on Him for the monies that go into that fund. We will rely upon His wisdom when the time comes on how to use these funds. And if God calls us to deplete them for Him we will obey. God never calls us to live financially unwise. If you use online banking, some platforms let you name your accounts with nicknames. If it helps, rename your Savings account, “God’s funds.”

David: Work at developing a mindset that you are trusting God to provide, in advance, the money you are setting aside for emergencies. In essence, then, your mindset is to be able to pay cash for emergency needs and not have to pay over time (and incur significant interest costs) if you were to use a credit card. Having an emergency fund enables you to eliminate financial stress in your life so you can focus on important aspects of life like your relationship with God and others.

Chad: Financial emergencies will happen.  Common sense says that preplanning for them is prudent. It is wise to spend less than you make. The Lord honors wisdom.

Earle: Phillipians 4:19 – And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

 

Is it bad to want to earn and spend money on luxurious items or trips even if it’s for friends or family?

Tim: Love can be demonstrated in the form of gifts. However, while gifts should be given from our abundance, that is not our motivation to earn money. Our motivation should always be Kingdom first. Luxurious items are not evil, self-indulgence towards gluttony and greed is. If you struggle with this question, try giving more to God’s Kingdom than you give to self or others combined. Start there and pray onward.

David: The word “bad” is a little troubling…might be better to ask if it’s wise or unwise to do this. It really depends on your financial priorities. Are you being generous in giving to the Lord? How are you set in the event of an emergency expense? Are you able to meet all of your financial obligations? God wants us to enjoy the fruit of our labor so if you live out the above priority uses of money and have money left, then feel free to spend.

Chad: The “Love of Money” is sin.  Love the Lord by placing him first in your life the rest will fall into place…

Earle: Ecclesiastes 2:1-2 – I said in my heart, “Come now I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself” but behold this also was vanity.

 

How can we find balance with saving for the future, giving, and also wanting to spend some money to enjoy the season we are in?

Tim: Always seek guidance from the Holy Spirit first. There is no Biblical formula that we can turn to. But one that I have used and has served well is give the first 10% to God, save 10% and live off of the remaining 80%. Of course there are deviations from this formula, but none that dip lower than 10% for either God or Savings.

David: See answer above. Maybe another way to say it is to develop and live out convictions related to the priority uses of money: 1) give first {10% is a great place to start but increase as you grow in generosity}, 2) save for future short, intermediate, and long-term needs, 3) live off of what’s left and live within your means. Create a spending plan and track your expenses. If you are living these out, then enjoy some of the fruit of your labor.

Chad: Through the Ramsey & Financial Peace University they teach no non-mortgage debt, Tithe 10%, Retirement 15%, and budget the rest.  The budget may include $500 per month for travel or something else you desire. The big thing is to spend less than you make, give to the Lord and his Kingdom, and start early saving for retirement.

Earle: Matthew 6:21 – Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.

 

Should we want more money? Promotions? Investments?

Tim: No, unless your motivation is Kingdom. The Lord is Our Shepherd, we shall, therefore, not want. If Kingdom is your motivation it will be borne in your actions upon receiving these things. Everything is an investment. Some investments fill your stomach, some progress God’s Kingdom and some save for the future. Nobody lacks investments.

David: It’s good to ask yourself what is your motivation for wanting these? A lack of contentment is a red flag. We all need to be on guard for the “build bigger barns” syndrome (Luke 12:16-21). Our focus always needs to be on the Lord. If, in the process of pursuing Him we are rewarded at work with more responsibility and income, then practice what one author calls “responsible prosperity”…instead of increasing your standard of living, increase your standard of giving.

Chad: Don’t make those things god’s in your life.  Growing and improving in all areas of life is honoring the talents the Lord has given us.

Earle: Matthew 19:21 – And Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me”

 

How would you recommend deciding where to allocate giving? Like, which organizations are worth giving to?

Tim: Follow the Holy Spirit. What has the Holy Spirit placed before you that stirred passion. If Providence, give to Providence. If Love Life, then give to Love Life. If IJM, then give to IJM. Look at your giving as you would a finical portfolio and ask, how can I leverage these dollars for Kingdom Impact. Give to those organizations that respond to that question the best. One practice I have followed in my life is that if a Christian friend of mine invites me to give to their mission trip, I find a way to do it as I see this as an invitation from the Holy Spirit.

David: My wife and I give to where we are being fed spiritually or where we were fed in the past. So our first priority is giving to our local church (Providence). Then we allocate giving to people in vocational ministry who ministered to/discipled us. Otherwise, it can come down to people you know or who initiate with you to ask you to partner with them/invest in their ministry. Research the ministry with which they serve, read the ministry Statement of Faith. Pray, If you find no red flags and you sense the Lord encouraging you to give, then obey.

Chad: Pray for the Lord to place opportunities in your life and set those things in your heart which are right for you to support.Don’t expect to be a perfect giver…when you heart is open to the Lord’s leading you may end up giving and that thing or person in your eyes is a bust. However, trusting the Lord and how he wants you to give is what matters. A tithe is 10% use that as a baseline…

Earle: John 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in my name that will I do that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in My name I will do it.

 

Should I consider a persons income where dating/ marriage is concerned?

Tim: No and yes. Wealth should not be a criteria. But, being able to provide for the family’s needs and well-being is Biblical.

David: No. Instead focus on their heart for the Lord. As you progress in the dating relationship, assuming that financial stewardship is important to you, ask questions to determine if this person has similar views. Also, are they teachable? Maybe even ask yourself what you saw your parents model financially and how that impacted you. Ask the person you are dating the same question. 

Chad: I think income is less important than financial character.  Do you and the person you are dating have similar philosophies about money (spend less than you make)?  More than likely one of you will be a spender and the other a saver.  How do you work together as a couple to achieve your mutual goals? Use much caution if the person you are dating has high credit card debt and it seems to be a pattern of overspending vs income.

Earle: 1 Corinthians 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 

Why does the US specifically deal with this issue more than other countries?

Tim: I am not sure how to answer this because every person alive deals with these issues. America deals with greed more than poorer countries.

David: I think this issue is universal – it is not limited to the US. John Calvin said that the human heart is a perpetual idol factory and money and possessions take top billing no matter where you live. 

Earle: Matthew 13:15 – For this people’s heart has grown dull; and with their ears they can barely hear and their eyes, they have closed lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn and I will heal them.

 

Romans 1 talks about God giving us over our sin (idols). How do we decipher between Him entrusting us with more and him allowing us to go deeper into our sin?

Tim: God is the giver of good gifts. There is no gift that God gives you that you can’t leverage to advance His Kingdom. Every gift must be dedicated to Him first and self last.

David: It would be good to talk to Sam about this but I don’t think Romans 1, from a contextual standpoint, applies to people who are in Christ. In addition to maintaining a close, intimate walk with the Lord that involves consistent reflective time in the Word (and journaling), I do think it is wise to seek out others who are solid in their faith to be transparent about any idols in your life, including ones related to money and possessions.

Earle: Matthew 6:13 – and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

 

What scripture do you cling to when you feel like you’re falling into the temptation of money?

Tim: I Timothy 6:10.

David: Psalm 24:1 and I Timothy 6, 17-18 – taking into account how our standard of living compares to other countries around the world, we are the rich that Paul is referencing.

Earle: Phillipians 4:13 – I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.

 

Any tips for transitioning from a broke college student mindset to a more mature financial mindset when starting a salaried job.

Tim: Meet with a Christian financial advisor, set goals and get Christian advice on meeting those goals. Start to tithe 10% of your gross income immediately and faithfully tithe the rest of your life. The earlier you start, the more it becomes habit that you never quit. Save 10% of your gross from day 1. Live on less from day 1.

David: Develop your convictions now! Realize that lifestyle choices you make as you start your career (how much to spend on housing, transportation, etc) will impact your ability to give and save. Choices you make to limit lifestyle expenditures as you are starting out will allow you to grow in generosity, maximize debt repayment (if that’s an issue) and start saving for future needs. Develop a spending plan and stick to a simple tracking system that will allow you to monitor your spending. 

Chad: Put a financial plan together to spend less than you make (budget). If any debt pay down as fast as you can. Enjoy the fruits of your labor in this season of life.  

Earle: Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing but it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that one may boast.

 

How can I have spiritual wisdom while mining bitcoin?

Tim: Investments in the riskiest places should be from disposable income. If it is not disposable, you are not being wise. Disposable means you can comfortably afford to lose it all. Regarding Bitcoin, much research is required. No Christian can tell you one investment is wise and another is not – that judgment depends first upon your financial situation. If, however, your research is inadequate, you are likely gambling, which is sin.

David: I have no clue. 

Earle: 1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that you receive from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do more and more.

 

As men, how do we avoid turning the desire to provide for our families into a desire to serve ourselves financially?

Tim: I don’t think this is possible. Providing for our families should be selfless by definition. Living selflessly is required of all who follow Christ. Put self in last place as Christ did in Philippians 2. Only then will you follow scriptural advice for family providence with Christ’s humility.

David: As a couple, it is vital that husband and wife have the same convictions and goals. Healthy community where authenticity and transparency are the norm are essential for both husband and wife – they can be open and honest with others about heart issues related to money and seek input. 

Earle: Ephesians 5:25 – Husband, love your wives as Christ loved and gave Himself up for her, 26 – that he might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word.

 

How do we get to a point where we can be generous and serve others the way we are called to when we have had financial traumas such as growing up with financial insecurity and lack?

Tim: The truth is that you can only do what the widow did in Mark 12 and Luke 21. Don’t ever diminish the little that you can give – Jesus doesn’t. Be faithful with little.

David: There’s no easy answer here. I don’t know your story but my counsel would be to grow in your experiential understanding of God’s attributes like His goodness, sovereignty and trustworthiness – take Jesus at His word. In Matthew 6:25-34 He tells us to seek Him and as we do that, He will provide for us. 

Earle: Matthew 6:3-4 But when you give to the needy do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing , so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

Should we, as Christians, attempt to make the most money possible to impact the lost world as much as possible? With more money, you have more time, more resources to give, wider impact with tangible things the lost world needs.

Tim: No and yes. You don’t need a dime to obey Christ’s Great Commission. God is more concerned with our faithfulness in making disciples than He is with our being a financial giant who funds major Kingdom projects around the world. He has given you a wealth of time – invest that in making disciples. If God ever does bless you with financial wealth, con’t cling to it. Give generously. And, if you ever become wealthy financially, the wealth of time you have been given remains the same. Witness generously.

David: Matthew 9:37 says, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Notice that this passage does not say, “The harvest is plentiful but the dollars are few.” So we need to trust God to raise up more laborers and, in doing so, leave the process of funding them up to the Lord. 

Earle: James 5:1-2 Come now you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are mothy.

 

What are all of the “money myths”?

Tim: Anything that vaults money above it being a servant is a myth. Money is a wonderful servant and a horrific boss or Lord.

David: 1) Buying things brings happiness; 2) A little more money will solve all my problems; 3) Debt is expected and unavoidable. 

Earle: Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 The end of a matter; all has been heard. Hear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

 

Where do we draw the line from being attentive and proactive with our finances to being overly obsessed with our money?

Tim: One way to remove the obsession is to turn control over to a Christian Financial Advisor to that he or she can obsess with it. 

David: It comes down to your heart…are you trusting the Lord to develop in you a steward’s heart or do you have a sense that you want to control everything? A steward sets up simple systems that will empower them to live within their means and that take just a few minutes a week to maintain. Obsessing over money means that a lot more time and thought is put into our financial situation. Checking savings/investment balances frequently, thinking about what if this or that happens, etc. Focus on growing as a steward and extend yourself grace when things don’t go as you had hoped.

Earle: Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other or will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You can serve God and money.

 

How do we practically differentiate between being wise with our money and saving excessively to the point of it becoming an idol?

Tim: It is only an idol if you worship it. You are only saving excessively if you are constantly bemoaning the you need more of it. The truth is that God is our portion, not money. Give generously.

David: Know your heart and your personal tendencies/motivations when it comes to money. If you place a high value on security, you might be prone to saving excessively. Another thought is to set realistic savings goals (after reaching full funding for emergencies) for future needs like wedding costs, future car purchase, house down payment, etc. Continuing to save after those goals have been met is hoarding. 

Chad: Giving and increasing the % of giving over time can help. Be prayerful on how the Lord can lead you to be generous.

Earle: 1 John 5:16 We know that everyone who is born of God does not keep on sinning, but He who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

 

How do you know when you are choosing money and materials over Jesus?

Tim: When you spend more time thinking about money than Jesus.

David: Again, this is a heart issue. Make time to process with the Lord and with trusted friends.

Earle: 1 John 4:7 Beloved; let us love one another, for love is from God and whoever loves and has been born of God knows God.

 

How to battle comparison in terms of people who “have more” than us financially/materially

Tim: To compare is to despair. Remember this, the biggest losers in this life are not those who earn less but those who lose the most. Bill Gates will be one of the biggest losers in the history of mankind because without Christ, he will lose untold billions when he dies.

David: Put II Cor 10:4-5 into practice and realize that what you see in other’s lives may not be a complete picture of their lives. Aim for contentment – God has given you X to live on, maximize it by practicing good stewardship.

Earle: James 3:14-15 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but earthly unspiritual, demonic.

 

Would it be a sin to swim in our money like Scrooge McDuck

Tim: If you have to ask, yes.

David: That would be an unpardonable sin 🙂

Earle: 2 Timothy 3:1-2 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful and unholy.

 

Am I idolizing money if I take a higher paying job far from family/home?

Tim: Only the Holy Spirit can answer that question for you. Pray to God in closed ended questions. Ask God if you should or should not take this job. Then enlist 3-4 Godly men/women to join you in praying through the answer to that question. Give them time to come back to you with their yes or no. Count their answer as the Holy Spirit answering your prayers. Then heed the Holy Spirit.

David: Need more context to answer this. Without context, I say pray and do a pro/con list to discern what’s best.

Earle: Ephesians 5:1-2 Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for Her.

 

Do you take a tenth out of all potential gains that you could accrue(I.e capital gains, selling a house) to tithe or just out of salary?

Tim: You should give 10% of your increase. This includes your gross, not net, salary. This includes all realized gains.

David: Out of all gains. 

Chad: A good practice is to take top line salary before tax, retirement etc., plus any income deposits into your bank account.  I tithe when the investment gain is realized and it hits the bank/checking account.

Earle: Malachi 3:8 Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me. But you say, how have we robbed You? In your tithes and contributions you are cursed with a curse for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you.

 

What’s a practical recommendation for reframing our mindsets from success = money instead of success = ?

Tim: Success = making disciples.

David: I firmly believe that intimacy with God is the purpose of life. So the most important/successful thing we can do is cultivate our relationship with Him. That challenges the cultural norm but think about this: compared to the rest of our time in eternity, our time on earth is but a speck on a never ending line that extends into eternity. So the question becomes what are you spending your time now preparing for – the speck or line? 

Earle: Philippians 2:5-8 Have this in mind among yourselves, which is your in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

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