As I write this article, gas prices are rapidly approaching $4.00 per gallon in the United States, the stock market is pretending to be a roller coaster, and foreclosures are soaring around the country. The word recession is flying around like a mouse in a cheese factory.
In light of this economic climate, Christians need to stop and ask themselves, "How can I be a light during these times?" Looking into the scripture, we find some clear direction regarding our financial responsibilities.
Admittedly, for some of us, it will take a little time to implement this mindset. That is no reason to give up hope or be discouraged. The process God uses to refine Christians is a lifelong process. So if you find yourself under circumstances which limit your ability to act right now, keep your head up, take it one day at a time, and start to slowly make changes.
As I prayed for guidance in writing this article, God brought to mind three different scriptures which we can all use to make a difference in our lives. Below is the list of scriptures, and then we will look at each one more in depth.
1. Matthew 5:13-16- We are salt and light.
2. Matthew 25:14-30 The Parable of the Talents
3. Matthew 25:31-46 The Sheep and The Goats
Salt and Light
Matthew 5:13-16 (NASB)
13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
16 "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
It is all too common for Christians to apply these verses in regard to living a morally righteous life, which is a perfectly accurate application. However, it is not complete.
As Christians, we can not be the light on the hill while covering up the financial section of our light. What does it do to the image of Christ when Christians do not pay their bills on time, get foreclosed on, file bankruptcy, etc.? Are we being the financial light?
If the answer is no, and all too often it is, what steps can we take to change this?
1. Live on a budget- this is the most basic step you can take, and also one of the hardest. If you create an accurate budget and stick to it, at the very least you are not digging in any deeper than you already are. A good budget accounts for every dollar coming in and going out. If you find that you can not meet your budget, then you are forced to either increase your income or decrease your expenses. Both will take discipline and hard decisions for your family. Should you eat out less, or work an extra 20 hours a week? These questions need answered, because until these issues are addressed, you can not truly light the world.
2. Start digging out of your hole- This is where you get to use your creativity, and set some goals. No matter if you are $5,000 or $500,000 dollars in debt; you need to set a goal of when you want to be rid of that massive load weighing you down. For example, if you have $5,200 in debt, then you need to earn an extra $100 per week in take home to eliminate this debt in just one year. Actually, it will be a little shorter because you start seeing interest savings freeing up extra cash as you begin to pay it down, but you get the idea. Now all you need to do is figure out how you can make that extra money. Is it through selling stuff? Is it through working extra at your job? Is it from getting a part-time job? The choice is yours, have fun with it and get creative. Imagine in one, two, or even three years you get to be free of loan payments.
3. Make your money work for you- We will expound on the biblical principles behind this when we look at the parable of the talents, but until then we will look at the practical side. Just looking at simple math, if you now save an additional $5,200 after you eliminated the $5,200 in debt, now you can put it to work for you. Keep in mind it will take less time to save it this time than it was to pay it off because you will not longer be making interest payments. So now invested at a modest rate of 5% per year, at the end of the year you will have approximately an extra $250 in your pocket that you did not have to work for. Converting that into hours, assuming you make $20 an hour, that equates to 12.5 hours that you did not have to work in order to earn that money. We could go even deeper into math here and show that it is even more hours than that, but for now we will leave it at this.
4. Serve the Lord- With this extra money, and the extra time it can create you can now give back both more time and money to furthering the kingdom of God. You will have money to meet the needs of those in your community as well as those around the globe. You will have time to serve in your church, or serve your neighbors and let the light of Christ shine through to them.
Please remember, our goal here is not to create wealth as an end unto itself, but to remove financial obstacles which practical interfere with your service to the Lord. The love of money is the root of evil.
Applying these steps, you will allow you to begin to shine. Instead of the church being looked at as a financial pariah, we will once again be the source of truth and light to the world. Allow people the privilege of coming to you for answers because they see the light you are shining.
The Parable of the Talents
Matthew 25:14-30 NASB
14 "or it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
15 "To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
16 "Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.
17 "In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.
18 "But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
19 "Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
20 "The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.'
21 "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
22 "Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.'
23 "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
24 "And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.
25 'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.'
26 "But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed.
27 'Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
28 'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.'
29 "For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
30 "Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Wow! This is a fantastic picture Christ has painted for us of the Kingdom of God. Boiled down, this story is saying God has given you talents (money) and expects you to make something more of it. No excuses. Allow me to translate the three characters into today's world, starting with the last first:
1. The one talent servant- This is your typical worker of today earning 20-40k a year. Understandably, these folks find it very difficult to make ends meet. There tends to be more days than paycheck in a given month. Due to this reality, scraping together a tithe is usually very difficult.
Under this scenario, the servant says, "Thanks God for providing me with my job, here is my tithe. I know I need to give it. I wish it was more, but this is the salary you provided for me." But wait, isn't that what the servant did? He said, "This is all I can give you because you gave me so little." Obviously, when looking at the kingdom of God, this is should not be how we operate.
2. The two talent servant- This is your midlevel earner in today's society, ranging from 60k-100k/year. They live comfortably. They have a little extra to invest, and when it comes to tithing they have extra to tithe.
3. The 5 talent servant- This servant was given the most responsibility, and delivered the most in return. These are your wealthy of today. Obviously, it takes money to make money, and these folks have it in abundance. They are able to generate major amounts of cash, and fund many ministries with it.
All too often in today's Christian society, it is very easy to fall into the trap of being servant number 1. We earn our paychecks, thank God for our jobs, and give our tithe. Often happily, sometimes not so happily. We are like funnels, just letting the money pass through us.
From what this parable is teaching, this is not the model to follow. This parable illustrates the need to take the raw materials God gave us and turn it into something better. We need to do more than be a funnel; we need to be a resource for the kingdom of God to draw upon.
Without a doubt, this is difficult to do on only 20-40k dollars a year. But if you followed the lessons from The Salt and The Light, then you are on your way. Even just $1,000 in the bank earning 3% interest a year gives you an extra $30 to tithe on, and if you are a strict 10% tithe giver, that means that you now have an extra $3/year to further God's kingdom. This might not seem like much, but trust me every little bit counts. This would sponsor a child in Africa for three days.
So our goal now needs to be, not only to be a light, but to also be resourceful. Not only be able to pay all your bills, but also be able to give back above and beyond. Use what God has given you through your vocation, and turn it into something magnificent.
A note of caution, beware of the temptation of pride. Remember to temper this with the parable of the widow's mite. Giving is a matter of humility. Even creating wealth above and beyond your vocation needs to be humbling. Not everyone has the ability or the clarity to do this, and the ability and clarity you have come from God.
All we are doing is combining money (which God gave us), opportunity (which God gave us) and ingenuity (which God gave us) to have a greater impact on the kingdom. It is not about how great you are, but about how great God is. We are merely willing servants, but the key is to be willing.
The Sheep and the Goats
Matthew 25:31-46 NASB
31 "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34 "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'
37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?
38 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?
39 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'
40 "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
41 "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'
44 "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?'
45 "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'
46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
So far we have seen the need to not let the circumstances of the world take us under and reduce our ability to be a light for Christ. We have also seen that we should take God's resources, and using the abilities he has given us, turn them into something greater so we have even more to give back. Finally, in this passage, Christ tells us how important the issue of how we make an impact is to Him.
This is not a story about getting extra stars on your crown, or getting a pat on the back or not. This is judgment. Christ is telling us, if we take care of the needy around us, we are one of his. If we do not, we are not. Wow, that is powerful.
Just to clarify, this is not talking about works based salvation, or working your way into Heaven. Good fruit does not create a good tree, but indicates what type of tree is there. Likewise, bad fruit cannot create a bad tree, but will tell you what type of tree you have.
Simply put, if Christ is on the throne of your soul, you will use your resources (financial, time, or otherwise) to impact those in need around you. You will meet needs. This is what everything else is about. This is why we practice financial discipline. This is why we strive to move up the wealth ladder. It is to give back. It is to be the hand of God to those in need.
Dear friends, in this current economic climate, it is even more important we are a light for Christ. It will be even more difficult to generate extra income, but the need for it will grow. The number of needy will increase dramatically during economic downturns.
Is your neighbor out of work? Have they lost their house? Can they pay rent? Can they buy their children clothing for the coming school year? Is their car about to be repossessed? Etc.
The opportunities will abound. The question is, will you be ready? Financially, mentally, and spiritually, will you be ready to answer the call of Christ. That's right, not the call of the needy, but the call of Christ. Remember, when we serve them, we are serving Christ, and conversely, when we neglect them we neglect Christ.
Christ needs a ride to work. Christ needs food in the refrigerator. Christ needs a shoulder to cry on. Christ needs help paying the rent. Christ need school supplies for his children. Christ would love to buy his kids something for Christmas, but can not.
Do you get the picture? Are you ready? Will you answer? Look around, Christ is everywhere. It is time to take action.