How Do We Balance What Scripture Says About Saving with the Biblical Commands to Give Generously?
There are two sides to the issue of savings. On the one hand, 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” (Proverbs 21:20). Even ants store up provisions for the coming winter (Proverbs 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 Mark 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 Corinthians 8:3-15, the Macedonian Christians gave “beyond their means” to the point of leaving themselves impoverished, and Paul commends them for it.
Jesus commanded us not to seek first material wealth, but God’s Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:24, 33). Speaking through Paul, God says, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19, NIV). (I explore this passage, and the commands in it, in depth in my book Giving Is the Good Life.)
Saving Is No Substitute for Giving
For many people, their primary form of savings involves preparing for retirement. But 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’” (Luke 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” (Luke 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 (James 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.
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. Giving is at the heart of a walk with God.
Generous Giving Is 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 (Matthew 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 Peter 3:10-11).
Now, something can be said for being more thrifty, and reducing 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 (Matthew 6:32-33; Philippians 4:19).
I suggest looking for ways to save without reducing giving. To that end, there are some practical questions to ask ourselves: Can we presently reduce some expenses that would allow us to continue to give generously and save money? 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?
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.
Giving Is the Good Life: The Unexpected Path to Purpose and Joy
In Giving Is the Good Life, bestselling author Randy Alcorn teaches life-changing biblical principles of generosity and tells stories of people who have put those radical principles into practice. Each story is a practical application that can help stimulate your imagination and expand your dreams of serving Jesus in fresh ways. These real-life models give you not just words to remember but footprints to follow.
Giving Is the Good Life reveals a grander view of God and generosity―one that stretches far beyond our imagination and teaches us what the good life is really all about.
And coming soon: Are You Living the Good Life? (booklet)