BookRemarks are not book reviews, but topical posts inspired by books. This post was inspired primarily by Paul David Tripp’s Redeeming Money.
Last time, we discussed the conflicting views of money presented in the Bible: it can be a bad thing (e.g., 1 Timothy 6:10) or a good thing (Proverbs 10:22).
In Redeeming Money, Paul David Tripp says, “Money will either bless you or curse you. It will be a tool in the hands of a God of grace, or it will be a doorway to bad and dangerous things” (page 72).
Unfortunately, many Christian discussions of money don’t provide specific guidelines for how to handle the money God has entrusted to us – at least, not beyond the 10% Tithe, which we talked about last time.
In Part 2, here, let’s consider the next portion of the TROD framework (Tithes, Requirements, Offerings, Desires) for handling money: Requirements.
If God is to receive the first portion of our income, then it makes sense to take care of our personal (and family) needs next.
That is, we should use the money God gives us to pay for all our living Requirements; we shouldn’t live off the charity of others, if we don’t have to.
After all, Paul said, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). This principle recalls the curse of Adam in Genesis: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (3:19). We live in a fallen, broken world, and we have to work hard in order to survive.
In fact, when Jesus reminded the Devil that we shouldn’t test God (Mathew 4:7), this is the type of thing he was talking about – if God has provided us with the ability to work, we cannot simply sit on our couch and say, “God, you promised to take care of me!”
That’s testing God in the wrong way. If we’re healthy and have opportunities to work, we can’t expect manna to fall from Heaven every morning.
So, when it comes to spending money, the question we need to ask is, “What do I need?”
We all need food, shelter, electricity, transportation, insurance... things like that. The problem is, too many people confuse their needs with their wants. But because we are called to be good stewards with the money God has entrusted to us, we should make wise choices.
For example, we need a house, but we don’t need the most expensive house the bank says we can afford. In most places, we need a car to get to and from work (and to the grocery store, church, etc.) – but we don’t need the fanciest car on the sales lot.
We should be intentional with our use of money by taking care of our basic needs, without being extravagant.
In fact, we should not be “prodigal” with money, which is defined as “wastefully extravagant” (Google). If we spend money too freely, we will end up broke like the Prodigal Son; we’ll have wasted all our money on worldly pleasures that don’t last.
In truth, as Christians we shouldn’t need much to live contented, even joyful, lives. It should be easy for us to maintain a reasonable standard of living – and not an extravagant one.
For example, Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). Sometimes Paul had more than enough, sometimes he had to scrape by – but he learned how to be satisfied with life, no matter what.
The first thing to note about Paul’s comment is the importance our attitude can have on our happiness. To a large extent, we can choose how we react to our circumstances. In Atomic Habits, James Clear provides a great example:
I once heard a story about a man who uses a wheelchair. When asked if it was difficult being confined, he responded, “I’m not confined to my wheelchair—I’m liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.” This shift in perspective completely transformed how he lived each day. (Page 131)
The mind can, indeed, be a powerful thing. Let’s use ours wisely by seeing our situation through the proper lens.
The second thing to note about Paul’s comment about being content is the impact the Holy Spirit should have on our life. As we mature in our faith, we should begin to manifest the fruits of the Spirit within us (see Galatians 5:22-25).
One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. Remember, Jesus said, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). A few verses later, he adds, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (15:11).
As Christians, we should expect joy to become our default attitude. And if our joy comes from within, if it is Spirit-driven, then external circumstances will have less of an impact on us.
So, what does this mean? It means the most responsible thing we can do financially is to minimize our Requirements as much as possible. We don’t have to rely on things to make us happy if our joy in life comes from God.
So, let’s consider how our financial life might be affected if we find our joy in God and not in things.
If the bank says we can afford a $300,000 house, why not consider looking for one in the $200,000 range? A 30-year mortgage for $300,000 at 6% interest has a monthly payment of $1,799; the payment on a 30-year mortgage for $200,000 is $1,199.
By choosing a less expensive house, we could significantly increase our monthly cash flow. So, what could we do with an extra $600 per month?
(Actually, our monthly cash flow would increase even more than $600, as we would also save money on home insurance and property taxes; assuming the house was a little smaller, we should also save on monthly utilities and long-term maintenance bills.)
We can use the same logic on things like transportation and food. A slightly-used, less expensive vehicle could save us $200 per month or more over a new one – not only on the monthly payment, but perhaps on insurance, gas, and maintenance (depending on the make and model).
Being content with a little less will add up to a lot more money for other things – as we’ve just seen, purchasing a less expensive house and car could add up to saving $1,000 (or more) per month.
Although housing is one of our largest bills, another Requirement we have is to provide for our future.
Proverbs has a lot to say about this topic. For example, “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets” (21:20, TLB). Even the ant is praised, because “it stores its provisions in summer” (6:6). That is, it prepares for the future.
Ecclesiastes promotes planning ahead through the principle of diversification in investing: “Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land” (11:2).
The most irresponsible thing we can do is spend all our money today, and then force others to support us if we become too injured, ill, or old to work.
In this sense, we might consider saving for emergencies and retirement as a form of debt repayment – we’re just taking care of our bills before they come in. In other words, we’re paying the bills for our Future Self.
Jesus said it is wise to estimate the costs of a project before beginning it (Luke 14:25-33). Why do so few of us estimate the costs of our own retirement?
Now, let’s start trying to quantify our Requirements; after all, we know that 10% of our income should be given back to God (i.e., our Tithes, as discussed last time, but how much should go toward our living expenses and retirement savings?
Many experts recommend spending 50% of our income on our living expenses (i.e., our Requirements). This percentage should be considered the high-end – if we can live off less, such as 40%, then we can free up some money for other things.
Experts also recommend saving 20% of our income. If we use Dave Ramsey’s approach of investing 15% for retirement, then we can add an extra 5% for other types of savings: building a larger Emergency Fund, paying off the mortgage early, or saving up for future expenses like our next vehicle or the kids’ college funds.
Using these percentages, our budget would look like this:
+ 10% (Tithes)
+ 50% (Requirements: Living Expenses)
+ 20% (Requirements: Retirement and Savings)
= 80% of our income.
So, what do we do with the extra 20% of our income?
Next time, we’ll look at the final two components of the TROD acronym: Offerings and Desires.