Money is something that we are all familiar with. We use it most days and need it to buy things to be able to live. Some people have lots of money, while others have very little. Money can be a worry for us, especially when we find we have spent more than we should.
When we get into financial difficulties we are often afraid to talk to anyone about it, especially the people to whom we owe money. We feel anxious and stressed. There are many official organisations that we can turn to, or we can speak with friends and family and ask for their advice. One place that many people don’t think to turn to is the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word. It was written down by many inspired writers a long time ago. As we shall see, God has given us lots of practical advice to help us understand and manage our money. The Bible is relevant for our lives right now!
You may be reading this booklet because you, or someone you know, are facing financial difficulty. You don’t stand alone. Many people get into this situation, and people did in Bible times. We hope that by reading this booklet you will see that the Bible can be your guide and that you can turn to God through prayer for help.
The need for money
Why do we need money? At the beginning of the Bible in the book of Genesis we read about God’s wonderful creation, and the Garden of Eden. After God had created Adam and Eve they lived in this garden, and everything was provided for them. God said in Genesis 1:29 “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
Everything was provided for Adam and Eve in the garden. However, things changed after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result of this, God said (Genesis 3:17-19): “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve have passed down to all their descendants. For this reason, we all need to work, if we are able, to provide for ourselves and our families. God told Adam that obtaining food from the ground would involve hard work. There would be weeds that get in the way, and effort would be needed.
In the Western world, most people use money to buy food, unless they have the space and time to grow it themselves. Before money was used, people used to exchange goods in a system called ‘barter’. If someone had a cow and another person had some wheat they would swap it. An example of bartering can be found in the Bible in Genesis 47:17 where it says during a famine in Egypt people brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their animals.
The need for work
The Bible teaches that we should always work to earn our living, if we are able to. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul said to the Christians in Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 3:10): “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Paul was insisting that everyone should be prepared to work to pay for their upkeep. People should not expect to have money given to them when they could be working. There will, of course, be times when we can’t work, for example if we are unwell or there is not sufficient work available. The principle, however, is that we should work when we can. If we cannot find work immediately, part time work, or even unpaid work as a volunteer for example working for a charity or caring for children is better than sitting at home. A good recommendation from temporary work may lead to a full-time job in the future.
The Old Testament book of Proverbs condemns the sluggard (a sluggard is someone who is lazy and refuses to work). “The sluggard does not plough in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing”. (Proverbs 20:4)
It should be obvious, the wise man Solomon is saying, that if we don’t work, and if we behave like a sluggard, we will end up with no income.
Here is a similar proverb (Proverbs 24:33-34): “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” If we choose to stay at home, sleeping the hours away, and not working when we could, we will soon become poor. The Bible principle is that we are responsible for supplying our own food and shelter by working, unless there are special circumstances.
Money can be a worry for anyone, whether young or old. The particular worries will depend on our circumstances. If we are young, we may want to get married and buy a house or apartment, and be frustrated if we don’t have enough for a deposit. When we are older, we start to think about retirement, and have to make important decisions to provide for an income when we stop working. Money management is not always easy. We tend to concentrate on what we need now, rather than the future. We see glossy advertisements encouraging us to buy nice things, and the banks try to persuade us to take out a loan so that we can buy them now, without waiting. It can be very difficult and confusing.
Don’t get into debt
If we don’t have enough money to buy things, we may be tempted to take out a loan – for example to run up an overdraft at the bank. Money that is owed to someone else is called a debt. We can also get into debt by not paying promptly for monthly bills such as rent or electricity.
If the money we spend (outgoings) is more than the money we earn or receive (income), then we will inevitably end up in debt.
In this case too much has been spent, and someone is owed £10. We may owe money to a bank, a building society, a credit card company, a money lender, a payday loan company, the local council or a utility company such as an electricity supplier. What we must remember is that these organisations will make us pay back the money we owe them, plus an extra charge for the value that is still outstanding. This extra charge is called interest. It is calculated as a percentage, for example 10% per annum (per year). This means that for every year that we owe the £100, we will be charged an extra £10 until it is repaid. If we fail to repay the money by the end of the year, the new interest charge will rise, because it will now be calculated on the original amount borrowed plus the interest owed, so that the total debt grows bigger and bigger. This can be a huge problem, especially if the interest rate is high. Credit cards, for example, may charge 30% interest.
If we get into debt, we should make every effort to repay the money. This is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians living in Rome (Romans 13:7): “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.” So, the Bible says we have a duty to settle our debts, including Government taxes! In fact, the Bible describes people who do not repay money as ‘wicked’. It says (Psalm 37:21): “The wicked borrows but does not pay back.” If we borrow money and do not pay it back, effectively we are stealing from the person or organisation to whom we owe it. In practice we probably had every intention to repay the money but were unable to because our situation changed. For example, we may lose our job, or become unwell and unable to work.
If we cannot repay the money borrowed, it is important to contact the people to whom we owe the money as soon as possible. Banks, building societies, credit card companies, payday lenders and utility companies are not charities. They will demand their money back, and they will use a number of ways to get their money back, including taking us to court.
If we contact the lender it will usually be possible to make arrangements so that our debt can be repaid in agreed regular amounts. It is far better to come to an agreement with a lender than be forced to repay the money by being taken to court. This is guidance Jesus himself lays down (Luke 12:58-59): “As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, try to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, ‘you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.’”
Don’t bury your head in the sand
If you or someone you know is facing court action, a visit from a bailiff, disconnection by a utility company or eviction from an apartment, seek debt advice straight away. A debt advisor will be able to talk to the court, bailiff or lender. They will also be able to give advice on what to do next. The following website can provide free advice for financial emergencies:
Don’t buy things you don’t really need
Every day we have to make choices. Before we buy something, we should always ask ourselves ‘Do I really need it?’ It sounds obvious, but in practice we are often encouraged by advertising to buy things that we don’t actually require. Because of this, we may find ourselves getting into debt and over-spending. There is a well-known phrase called “Keeping up with the Joneses”. This means buying things that other people have, just so that we can be like them. It could be the latest smart phone, a new car or an expensive holiday. But if we really can’t afford something, should we go into debt to buy it? In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher says (Ecclesiastes 4:4): “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbour. This also is vanity and a striving after the wind.” This is the Bible equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. Solomon describes this as striving or chasing after the wind. Can anyone catch the wind? It is not possible. It is a waste of time. We are not making good use of our time if we are working only to keep up with our neighbours.
Jesus has similar advice (Luke 12:15): “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.” Covetousness means wanting things. But Jesus insists that having lots of possessions isn’t important.
Our problem is that those colourful adverts try to persuade us that our lives would not be complete without those desirable items. But is that really true? For example, if we already have a car, do we have to have the latest model? If we already have a flat screen television, do we actually need the latest technology? Or if we are honest, is it just that we want to boast about our latest purchase?
If we are short of money, it can be tempting to spend money on gambling. We might start buying scratch cards or lottery tickets, or betting on horses or the outcome of football matches, or playing on machines in a public house. Gambling means risking what we already have in the hope of getting more. It is when we are feeling desperate that we are tempted to gamble. We spend what little we have left in the hope we will be lucky. The prizes are enticing, which is why it is tempting to spend money this way, but there is a very high risk that we will lose a lot more than we spend. The fact is that most people lose money by gambling.
Is gambling wrong? We have a duty to spend the money that we have wisely. Gambling, even on a small scale, wastes money that could have been spent on something more worthwhile. Sadly, lots of people lose all of their money and possessions by gambling. Gambling gradually takes over people’s lives. They find they cannot stop. In the end they often lose not only their money and possessions but their families, too.
The Bible suggests that it is wrong to obtain money through luck or chance. In Proverbs, we read (Proverbs 13:11): “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” In Proverbs 10:2 it also says: “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit.”
There are other things besides gambling that are addictive (an addiction is something that when we have done it a few times, creates a powerful urge to do it again). Addictions can control us and ruin our lives. Other examples of addictions include smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, and taking or injecting recreational drugs.
The way our brain works can be changed by addiction. Strong cravings develop which can only be satisfied by repetition. And once we start to take drugs, a bigger and bigger dose is needed to get the satisfying feeling known as a ‘high’. This causes great harm to the body and can be fatal.
Drugs are expensive, and so the addict often turns to crime to obtain the money to buy them. This begins a downward spiral in life that is very difficult to stop. There are specific organisations that can help people who have addictions.
The advice that God gives in the Bible is that we should choose not to mix with people who are likely to lead us into bad ways. In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth he warned (1 Corinthians 15:33): “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’.”
In the same letter he warned them to resist temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13): “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” When faced with a temptation, we need to consider the possible consequences and make a sensible choice.
Solomon wrote about drinking alcohol in Proverbs (20:1): “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” The wise advice from Solomon is that we should not drink to excess and so become addicted.
People often say that money is the root of all evil. This phrase is based on a verse in the Bible, but it is being mis-quoted. In his letter to Timothy, Paul actually said (1Timothy 6:10): “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Paul didn’t say that having money is wrong, but rather that loving money is wrong. The love of money can take people away from God.
Jesus gave a similar warning (Matthew 6:24): “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” He says that we have to choose whom we serve: either God or Mammon (‘Mammon’ means money or possessions).
People become obsessed with the desire for wealth. They feel they need more and more, and yet they are never satisfied. Solomon says this in Ecclesiastes (5:10): “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”
Trusting in God
Money problems can cause stress and anxiety. They weigh on our minds and cause us distress. Money worries are a common cause of relationship breakdown, either because there are disagreements over how money should be spent, or because one party thinks the other spends too much.
Money caused anxiety in Bible times too. In those days, workers were usually paid in the evening for each day that they worked. This meant they had no security of employment, and no guaranteed income. Speaking to people in this situation, Jesus said they should not be anxious about what they would eat and wear, but leave it to God to provide for them (Matthew 6:31-34): “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
So, the advice from Jesus is that if we put our trust in God, and focus on spiritual things, on gaining His Kingdom, He will make sure we do not starve. If we choose to serve God, He will look after us, in the same way that He looks after the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26). That is why in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus suggests we ask God each day to provide the food we need. (Matthew 6:11): “Give us this day our daily bread.” God knows our situation, and if we humbly ask for His help He will hear us.
If you or someone you know is having money troubles, it is important to assess the situation and start managing money carefully. Some radical changes may be required. A first step may well be to destroy every credit card! This may sound drastic, but doing this will prevent debts and interest from increasing.
Here are some steps to take:
Review your financial situation
Take a notebook or computer spread sheet and list all your monthly regular expenses (outgoings). Add up the amount you have been spending each month, and compare it with the money you receive each month from wages, pensions or social security payments (income). As mentioned earlier, if your outgoings exceed your income, there is a problem. You are going to end up with debts that will need to be repaid.
Review the list of outgoings and draw a line through anything that is not absolutely essential. To get money under control, it may be necessary to cut back on things you can do without while you repay your debts. It may also be possible to reduce your outgoings by getting better deals, for example changing tariffs with a utility company, or consolidating your debt repayments with one lender instead of several.
Create a budget and stick to it
All companies have budgets in place to help them plan how much they spend. This is a good habit for everyone as it helps us control where our money is going. Create a budget for all your regular outgoings. Include food, water, transport, clothing, rent or mortgage payments, and utility bills. For each item write down how much should be spent. As the bills are paid fill in the sums next to the budget for that item. Recording your spending will help you to keep track of where money is going, and prompt the question ‘Did I need to spend that?’ In time, it will help to get spending under control.
Stop buying non-essential items
It is important only to buy things that are essential and not waste money on things you could do without. This isn’t easy, but is important to achieve money management. It is better to make sacrifices in the short term until you are out of debt.
Stop using credit cards
There is an important difference between credit cards and debit cards. When you use a debit card to buy something, the money is taken immediately from your bank account. However, a credit card allows you to put off repayment until the end of a certain day each month. If you do not pay the whole of this month’s debts on a credit card by the due date, you will immediately incur an interest charge. If you become overdue in your repayments you may end up being put onto the register of debtors that banks and credit agencies share between them. Then you will not be able to borrow again. To avoid the temptation to use a credit card it is best to cut it up and throw it away!
If you are struggling to pay off outstanding debts to banks or utility companies, you need to consult an advisor to get advice on how to manage your debts. The advisor will know which ones must be paid immediately, and advise how to repay or consolidate the debts. By consolidating the debts together with a loan, it may be possible to get a lower rate of interest and make manageable repayments.
Talk to anyone who is owed money
It is wise to respond to money demand letters, and not just bin them. Contact the people to whom you owe money before they take legal action. If debts are left unpaid, the person or organisation will usually go to court to recover the money. You may end with bailiffs forcing you to leave your accommodation and seizing your possessions. It is better to talk things over and agree a repayment plan. Don’t bury your head in the sand.
If there is any spare money left from the monthly budget, it is good to save it for the future. Money can be saved for a particular item, for example a car, or for a ‘rainy day’ (something that is unexpected) or for a pension in your retirement. To avoid the temptation to spend surplus money, it is good to put it into a bank or building society account where it cannot be spent easily, and you can watch the money grow.
In the Proverbs we read (Proverbs 13:11): “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” Even a small sum saved regularly will grow. And something you have saved up to buy will give you more satisfaction and less worry than buying it on credit.
Borrowing – Count the cost
While it is good in principle not to owe people money, for really big purchases, for example buying a house or apartment, it will usually be necessary to borrow money from a bank or building society. This is called a mortgage. Obtaining a mortgage is a big commitment as repayments can go on for 20 years or more. For a mortgage, the bank will want to use the property as security. This means that should there ever be a problem with the monthly repayments of the mortgage, the bank could sell the property to get its money back.
Before borrowing money like this you should first check that you can afford the monthly repayments. Drawing up a monthly budget will help you see whether there will be enough money for this. Remember, when you buy a property the mortgage payment is not the only cost. There will be other regular expenses, for example utility bills, service charges, insurance and maintenance costs.
Jesus emphasises the need to count the cost before starting a project (Luke 14:28-29): “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’.” In this example, the person had not calculated whether he could afford to build the tower. So, before borrowing money, it is important to count the cost and make sure that it can be repaid.
Remember, too, that at any time before a mortgage is totally repaid, the bank may sell the property if the mortgage repayments are in arrears (payments have been missed and are behind). The following proverb reminds us that the bank or lender rules over the borrower until the loan is repaid (Proverbs 22:7): “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
The teaching of the Bible is that we should help other people if we can. If we have any money left over after our expenses have been paid, we may wish to consider helping other people. We are reminded of Jesus’ words (Acts 20:35): “It is better to give than receive.” Throughout Jesus’ life on earth he constantly helped other people. Jesus’ love and compassion were so great that he laid down his life for his friends (people who would follow him). Jesus commands us (John 13:34): “Love one another as I have loved you.” By helping other people, we are showing love, as we have been shown love.
Jesus taught that we should be generous (Matthew 5:42): “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Jesus recognised that there will always be people who have money troubles, and that we have a responsibility to help each other. In the Proverbs we are told that there are blessings for people who help others (Proverbs 28:27): “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”
The instruction to help other people is also mentioned in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 15:7-8): “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
There is no instruction in the Bible about how much money we should give. The decision is personal and is a matter of conscience. Paul gave the following advice to the Christians in Corinth (2 Corinthians 9:6-7): “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” God blesses those who are generous. We should not give money grudgingly, but cheerfully from the heart, not expecting anything in return.
Be content with what you have
Hopefully you have seen from this booklet that the Bible can help provide us with a lot of support and guidance regarding money. God’s Word is just as relevant today as it was in Bible times. Most people find life has its downs as well as its ups, and money can be a problem at any age. Our individual circumstances can change quickly. Money problems are not new and have affected people for thousands of years.
It is interesting to read about the Apostle Paul and see what struggles he had in his life after he became a Christian. Paul originally led a privileged life as a Pharisee (a member of one of the Jewish religious groups), but he gave this up to follow Jesus. Paul said in his letter to the Christians in Philippi (Philippians 3:8): “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
Money and status were no longer important to Paul because he had met Jesus and his life had been changed for ever. In the same letter Paul wrote (Philippians 4:11-12): “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content … I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This is a great example for us. Paul faced many hardships, but he put his trust in God. Even at times when he didn’t have much money, he learnt to be content with what he had.
“Seek first the Kingdom of God”
Jesus taught that we should make a priority of seeking the Kingdom of God in our lives (Matthew 6:33). God’s Kingdom will be set up on the earth when Jesus returns to be King. It will be a time of peace and joy. There will be no war or suffering. It will be a wonderful time. Rather than seeking for riches now, Jesus’ instruction is for us to invest our time in seeking God’s Kingdom. If we do this, Jesus says that the other things we need in life will be provided (Matthew 6:33): “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
By following God’s ways, we can find peace and contentment. Through prayer and trust in God we can remove the fears and anxieties that we have in life. Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi with these beautiful words (Philippians 4:6-7): “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
 ‘Genesis 1:29’ means ‘Genesis chapter 1 verse 29’. Bible quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV)