In an age when day-to-day existence was a struggle, and surplus was only a word in the dictionary, not in the family bank account, issues such as saving and investing were answered with relative ease. While some believers in many places in the world still know the struggle of facing each day with the challenge of existence, for many others, economic conditions have suddenly caused them to face the issue of whether it is correct to save money.
Proverbs condemns wealth, doesn’t it? The Lord Jesus and then the apostle Paul both singled out the wealthy for special judgment, didn’t they? Even James vilifies the rich time and again in his short epistle, doesn’t he?
Does it? Did they? Does he? Is it wealth or is it the pursuit of wealth? Is it riches or the hoarding of riches for the sake of self-satisfaction and false security? Did Philemon know what it was to stand in the breadline? Did Joseph of Arimethaea know the inside of a pawn shop? Is it the rich man in James 2 who is condemned or the assembly who rushed to treat him with preferential deference? Did the Lord Jesus condemn riches or our human tendency to trust in riches?
The Problem with which we Grapple
Believers often ask questions about saving. Some, both past and present, take a “no-savings” view. The question of saving money is not easily answered, nor will it be answered here to everyone’s satisfaction. Our reluctance to write on this subject is testimony enough to the liability which all feel in expressing themselves on it. But to ignore it is to do disservice to the believers and the Word of God. This is an honest question which we cannot escape.
Young couples are faced with the staggering cost of home ownership. Parents, with an exercise for the future of their children, contemplate huge tuition payments. Is it correct to save for any of these? Should all monies be turned to immediate use for the work of God? What of saving in the event of the death of a spouse? Does the life of faith prohibit insurance or saving for “untimely” home-calls. How often is fellowship sent to women who have lost their spouses? I am not asking now about widows of the Lord’s servants. They experience neglect, of which they themselves could write. But I am speaking of the believers whom we might condemn for having life insurance or savings in the event of death.
What of men who retire or are made to retire early without a “golden parachute?” Are they to look to the believers for support? Are they expected to live on the minimal amount which government-required retirement plans provide?
Are we left then to guide our lives by mere expediency? Are there no principles which can guide us and balance us? These and other scenarios drive us back to the Scriptures to be sure we have considered all the views of Scripture and are balanced in our approach to such an important subject.
Principles to Govern
The principle of 1 Timothy 5:8 has relevance. “If any provide not for his own, and specially those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” Before condemning me for stretching a Scripture, allow the principle of the verse to be appreciated. It is my duty as a believer to provide for my family. The difference which saints who do not believe in saving will have with the savers is the issue of to what extent this provision is to go. But at least all are agreed that there is a command to provide.
None would argue that, as a minimum, it has to do with day-to-day needs. But if I see need which I know will confront us as a family, costs which are beyond the average weekly paycheck, am I wrong in saving for this need? Those with convictions against saving will counter that we should live in view of the Lord’s imminent return. But the New Testament epistles are filled with the tension of living with imminent hope, yet with practical care for the present (2 Thessalonians 3) and prudent planning for the future (see the Proverbs).
Proverbs to Guide
Many of the proverbs relate to the need to look ahead and prepare (Prov 22:3; 27:12; 30:25). We may apply these in the gospel, but their initial application may have been to more mundane matters. Certainly, the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 was marked by a concern for the future welfare of her family (vv 16, 27).
In other proverbs, industry, diligence, the “work ethic” (so noticeable in the Western world) are all praised and held before us as valuable traits (Prov 10:4, 5; 13:22). Sloth, carelessness, thoughtlessness, and poverty are never praised as virtues in themselves. Proverbs does caution, time and again, against the dangers of trusting in riches, of hoarding wealth for self, and of a miserly spirit (ch 10:15; 11:28; 13:7; 23:4; 28:11). But all these emphasize the danger of avarice, the deceitfulness of riches, and the disaster associated with trusting in riches.
There are those to whom God has granted wealth. Many never set out to seek it as a goal. They were diligent in their occupations, honest and industrious in all to which they put their hands, and, as a result, wealth came to them. To them, then, has been granted the tremendous privilege of furthering the work of God and giving help to the genuinely needy … even the unsaved.
Practicalities to Guard us
What can we conclude from these principles and Proverbs? Each will have to decide, in the fear of God and in the presence of God, how he can apply these to his own life. What appears however, is a pattern of thought which centers on motives and priorities. If I go in for riches for riches sake, for the purpose of security without God, to indulge my fantasies and flesh, then I am on dangerous ground. If hoarding of money becomes my priority to the exclusion of the privilege of supporting the assembly and the Lord’s work and having a share in His work in my generation, then I am out of the mind of God.
Saving should have a purpose and plan. If we are going to apply instruction, such as Proverbs 22:3 and apply it to the goal of saving, then there should be a particular need for which I am saving: college tuition, a down payment on a home, a retirement account, etc.
As in virtually all other areas of Christian living, priority and motive are what will determine the propriety of my actions. It does not become me to judge another, because I am not to judge motives. Each of us will have to answer at the judgment seat for our stewardship: as parents who have provided for their families, and as those who were given material wealth to support the work of God and other believers.
The suggestions of this article will not be met with hearty “Amens” from all, but they are written with a desire to be of help to others who are starting out, young couples, and even other “older” couples, faced with these questions.