At 23, I had saved over $100,000, earned over $130,000 per year and tithed to my church. In most circles, I would have qualified as the “poster child” of financial maturity. According to Scripture, however, I was far from the mark.
Ever since I had my world turned upside down by carefully reading the Bible on money, I’ve begun using three tests of financial maturity for myself.
A debt-free multi-millionaire can fail these tests; an indebted college student can pass. Indeed, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). While it is wise to follow plans and advice that lead to “financial freedom,” it is pointless to do so without first obtaining a freedom of the heart that only comes from passing the tests below—tests that carry wisdom governing how we should relate to God and money.
Test One: Are You Content in Your Circumstances?
You know that famous saying, “I can do all things through Christ?” Typically, we see this quote in isolation. In context, however, Paul was actually talking about financial contentment! Here’s the full quote:
“… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Paul knew where his real treasure was, and this meant he held loosely to earthly treasure. He’d had the finest tutors, stayed in lovely homes and owned a business. And he also missed meals, faced shipwrecks and was flogged. Through it all, his eyes were on a higher prize, and this meant he could sing God’s praises from a jail cell.
The writer of Hebrews encourages the same mindset: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (Hebrews 13:5).
These passages encourage us to rely upon God for provision and satisfaction, rather than the things that money can buy. So, when your checking account is over-drafted and your roof starts leaking, when you really want a new car that you can’t afford, when your student loans are looming large, will you still rejoice in the strength of God?
Financially mature Christians will be content with their lives today, rather than impatiently waiting for a better tomorrow.
What was 23-year-old John’s grade on this test? An ‘F.’ I wanted to buy a nicer house, to take better vacations, to save more and more money. The thought of losing what I had terrified me.
Test Two: Are You Guarding Against Greed?
Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against greed” (Luke 12:15).
We love to point toward Wall St. when talking about greed, but Pastor Tim Keller suggests that greed resides within each of us. If not, why would the Bible so consistently warn against it?
Greed leads us to over-spend or over-save in pursuit of fulfillment outside of God Himself.
In Matthew 13, Jesus addresses over-spending with a warning that “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” can choke out God’s word in our heart, making us unfruitful. If we continually ramp up our lifestyles, Jesus says that we’ll be tragically distracted from our high calling as His followers. Far better to live humbly and simply, avoiding the persistent distraction that an ever-increasing lifestyle represents.
Many who live simply, though, love to sock away funds for a rainy day.
In Luke 12, Jesus had one key word for someone planning to save up aggressively and retire early: “Fool!”
Even our Christian culture celebrates disciplined millionaires, but Jesus points out that saving a lot, without giving generously to God, makes for a foolishly lived life. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a million-dollar net worth, but what about the equally challenging task of attempting to give away a million dollars?
Rather than focus only on getting rich, we must keep in mind our greater eternal mission, which is to advance Christ’s kingdom in the short time we each have on earth.
So, where do you struggle with greed? Are you more prone to over-spend, or over-save?
23-year-old John’s grade on this test? ‘F’ again. I wanted to buy a million-dollar home and retire at age 40 to a life of leisure. I was most prone to over-save than invest in God’s work in the earth.
Test Three: Do You Give Generously?
Christians give generously in order to follow the model of Christ, as a response to God’s grace.
In Philippians 2: 5-7, we’re instructed to, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God … emptied himself …” Jesus emptied Himself to serve us through his life, death and resurrection. His model is ours to follow.
When God pours money into our lives, our highest and best use of the funds is to pass them along to demonstrate His love to the world through generous giving.
This idea is directly expressed in 2 Corinthians 9:8: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
So, as God pours out gracious provision in our lives, His operating plan is for us to buy luxury cars. Oh wait, that was my plan. It didn’t say that. His plan is for us to abound in every good work. We have a job to do! As God gives to us, we give to others—that’s the joyful model of Scripture.
The financially mature Christian gives generously in order to follow the example of Jesus, as a free response to God’s grace.
23-year-old John’s grade? ‘D.’ We gave 10 percent of our income, but we did it out of obedience and obligation. We didn’t understand that our giving could be joyful and connected to God’s grace in our lives!
The Next Step
This article barely scratches the surface of the wisdom the Bible offers for our financial lives. I encourage you to begin a conversation around these ideas with a trusted friend or pastor. We’re stronger together, as we spur one another on toward good deeds.
As you consider your financial goals for the future, keep these tests at the top of your mind and strive to pass by seeking contentment, fighting greed and giving generously. I pray that God will meet with you in a powerful way and show you He can do much more with what you give Him than we could possibly imagine.