How do we balance financial responsibility with the scriptural imperative to give sacrificially?
Question from a reader:
For several years my husband and I have enjoyed giving most of our discretionary income to our church and various missionaries. But lately we have been counseled that we need to be more “responsible” about preparing for our future, especially since retirement is only a few years away. How do we deal with the guilt we would feel about decreasing our giving, since we still desire to meet the needs we see all around us?
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
There are two sides to the issue of savings. Scripture tells us that the wise man anticipates future needs, while the foolish man spends and consumes all his resources with no thought for the future. “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has” (Prov. 21:20). Even ants store up provisions for the coming winter (Prov. 6:6-8).
It’s a shortsighted person who fails to store up provisions (money, food, or materials) for upcoming times of predictable need. If you are planning to retire and have no other means of income, then it would be wise to make some plans for how and where you will live after retirement.
On the other hand, Jesus commended the poor widow of Mk. 12:41-44 because she did something most of us would consider foolish. She gave her last two pennies to God, having no idea where tomorrow’s provision would come from, except that it would come from her Lord. In 2 Cor. 8:3-15, the Macedonian Christians gave “beyond their means” to the point of leaving themselves impoverished. Paul commends them for it.
So, when it comes to the “retirement dream,” we must ask ourselves, Whose dream is it? Is it God’s dream or the American dream? Consider one man’s plans for retirement: “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink and be merry’“ (Lk. 12:18-19).
We aren’t told that this man was dishonest or irreligious. His plans make sense by our standards. But in the verses that follow God calls this man a fool. He tells him his life is over and asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus promises, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21) .
The distinction between financial responsibility and financial foolishness is this: Saving becomes hoarding when it is exercising our own sovereignty and financial independence so that God doesn’t have to come through for us.
James condemned the spirit of selfish stockpiling and indifference to a suffering world that had spread into the early church (Jas. 5:1-5). And in Exodus 16 there is a graphic lesson against hoarding. We must beware of any savings or retirement or insurance plan that becomes a God-substitute.
You mention that you have “enjoyed giving” to the Lord. The joy of giving is at the heart of a walk with God, so don’t stop giving sacrificially. Saving can be wise, but it is never a substitute for giving. If ever we don’t feel we can save and give, by all means we should give. Some people in Scripture are rebuked for saving too much, but no one is ever rebuked for giving too much.
You have been counseled to be more responsible. In the truest sense, generous giving is not just compassionate, it is also responsible. By giving we prepare for our eternal future, because we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Mt. 6:19-24). Laying up treasures on earth is ultimately irresponsible. Why? Because it’s investing in something worthless, that will be annihilated in the coming holocaust of things (2 Pet. 3:10-11).
Now, if you have been counseled to be more thrifty, to reduce your lifestyle expenses in order to provide savings for retirement, this is probably wise. I believe that having less because you give is different than having less because you spend.
We know a missionary family who took their retirement savings and poured everything back into the mission. I suggest that God looks very differently at these people than at the Christian who spends his money on short-term indulgences with no thought of saving for upcoming needs or providing for his family’s future. To those who seek first His kingdom, and to those who sacrificially give of their assets to His kingdom, His promise is one of material provision (Mt. 6:32-33; Phil. 4:19).
I suggest that you look for ways to save without reducing your giving. To that end, there are some practical questions to ask yourselves: Can we presently reduce some expenses that would allow us to continue to give generously and save money? Are there other means to supplement our income during retirement? Can we liquidate certain assets? Can we sell our home and buy or rent a smaller one? Or buy a comparable home in another area where it is cheaper to live? Is it necessary for us to maintain our present standard of living, or can we cut costs in our retirement?
The old saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.” But when Jesus spoke of laying up treasures in heaven he added a corollary. “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”
Instead of spending our lives backing into eternity and clinging to our earthly treasures, we can turn around, walk forward and lay up our treasures in our eternal home. Then, instead of moving away from our treasures we’ll spend our lives moving toward them.