What if Jesus were your financial advisor?

What if Jesus were your financial advisor?  What if the Son of God and His disciples were in charge of all your saving, spending, investing, and giving?  At first glance, the idea seems a bit silly, perhaps even disrespectful.  Jesus came to die for our sins, not dispense advice on mutual funds, right?

But actually, the New Testament turns out to contain an awful lot of financial insight.  In fact, Jesus and the apostles talked about it way more than other important ethical issues, such as sexuality.  Today I did little experiment to shed some light on what Jesus’ meta-message as our financial advisor would be.  First, building on several years of previous study, I decided to identify every passage in the New Testament that is directly relevant to the way we manage our money.  After a full morning’s work, I highlighted seventy-five passages (not including about 30 additional parallel texts).  Then I noted the basic theme of each text and put them all on an Excel spreadsheet.  Here’s a summary of the results:

As you can see, by far the most prominent theme in the New Testament is that our wealth is intended to be shared with the poor.  A close second was the idea, variously expressed, that money is somehow dangerous or at least distracting to our spiritual life.  Those themes make up more than TWO THIRDS of the New Testament’s teaching on money.  A final prominent theme is basically to not worry too much about money, because God will provide.

Surprisingly, less than eight percent of the relevant passages spoke about giving to support the pastor or the local church—which is the topic of the vast majority of “stewardship” sermons.  And there was almost nothing on budgeting, saving, or investing—topics that make up the vast majority of Christian financial stewardship books.

In summary, here’s what the two Great Commandments of Jesus’ financial advice look like to me:

  • You shall intentionally, generously, and regularly share your resources with the poor.
  • And a second is like it: you shall become free of consumerism and the need to find your identity in your possessions, instead trusting that God will provide what you actually need.

Now that is some weird financial advice.  You definitely won’t hear anything like that from Prudential or Charles Schwab.  For me, spending almost an entire day poring over these teachings really drove home just how radical and counter-cultural Jesus is, especially for those of us coming from a society that reveres material accumulation like no other in history.

But why not check out the Jesus’ advice for yourself?  I’d like to invite you to reflect personally on the wisdom in my spreadsheet.  If you just do about ten passages a day, it will only take a week.  And it just might be good news for your (financial) life.

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13 thoughts on “What if Jesus were your financial advisor?

  1. thanks for sharing this! i’m going to have to study this for my personal benefit but especially as the holiday shopping craze begins

  2. This is an excellent resource, Gary! I’ll definitely be drawing on it for a number of projects I’m working on.

    This might be a tangent, but your summary raises a more general question to my mind: what, really, should we conclude from the fact that certain teachings are repeated more often than others in Scripture?

    Surely, something’s fully authoritative for Christian living even if it’s mentioned only once in all of scripture. But even so, should we say that, if something’s taught twice, it is twice as “important” as something taught only once? Or maybe the things that are repeatedly taught are just those things that people tend to forget? Does scripture itself ever explain why some things are repeated more than others?

    (Also: maybe we could make a ranking of “most prominent” Biblical characters, in descending order, based on how many times they’re mentioned by name. God almost certainly would get the #1 slot. Jesus #2? How about 3-5? Too bad I lost my programming skills; otherwise I’d write something to figure this stuff out!)

  3. Thanks for the spreadsheet. It’s a good reality check–I’m sure there’s issues of context involved in determining whether quantity of verses on a specific topic on the spreadsheet equates importance, but the numbers pretty strongly convict me that I definitely can’t ignore that wealth is dangerous and that wealth is for the poor.

    I find the part about wealth being opposed to the spiritual life interesting. That maybe I need to give away my wealth just so I can have a better spiritual life. I haven’t thought about that in a while, especially at this age–actually, I find myself unabashedly in a phase of trying to accumulate wealth, albeit to accomplish what I think is a godly call (or is it rationalizing?). I’m gonna have to let that one marinate for a bit.

    • Hey Mike and Ang,

      Great point about whether the quantity of references to a particular topic indicates ethical or theological importance. IMHO, it is a factor–if a variety of biblical authors keep coming back to an ethical issue, it makes sense that’s its likely to be important to the faith. On the other hand, sheer numbers don’t necessarily mean it’s a vital issue. For example, there are many passages in the NT epistles that mention greeting the saints in [wherever] but we couldn’t therefore conclude that greeting people is of utmost importance to Christian faith–it might just be the polite way of closing a letter in the first century Roman Empire.

      So we also have to look at the forcefulness and weight given to these passages on money. We should ask, for example, are they closely linked to central elements of the Gospel? Are they presented as important and non-negotiable? Answering that in detail would require an entire book of course, but just glancing through the verses, we see that most of them are indeed very strongly connected to fundamental discipleship. For example, sharing with the poor is closely related to eternal salvation or damnation in Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 16:19-31; it is made a condition of following Jesus in Matthew 19:16-30; and many of the passages are very strong and direct: “You cannot serve both God and money” etc.

      So for me, the combination of the quality and quantity of NT teaching on money makes me feel it’s an indispensable discipleship issue for everyone–and Mike says that is good news, because it means that something as mundane as money management can be part of having a better spiritual life.

  4. Thanks for the list of verses Gary!

    I think that the words “wealth” and “resources” raises some more questions… Specifically, what should be the Christian’s understanding of wealth?

    I think wealth comes in many different forms, of which only one form is money and assets.

    For example, time is a form of wealth. Economists often talk about the trade-off between money and leisure…. implying that time is also a form of wealth. Is the person working 100 hours a week at an investment bank wealthier than the part-time mother making 1/20 of that salary but with time to spend with her family? From a purely income perspective, the banker is wealthier, but from a perspective in which both leisure time and money are both goods, the mother could be better off.

    Education and health are other forms of wealth. Economists often talk about human capital in the forms of education and health because like physical capital these things require upfront investment, but are durable assets in that they can provide money/goods/services for repeated periods in the future. Among the many economic models of how education and health contribute to income, all agree that in general, more education and more health lead to higher welfare for individuals. (Note, this is a different statement from more income leading to higher welfare.)

    Lastly, I do believe in the concept of social capital, i.e. the value of social network as a form of wealth. If anything, having a network provides a valuable form of wealth in the form of insurance against negative shocks… if you have a close church/family/social network you can call upon them to provide services that could cost a lot of money… such as help with moving, cooking, counseling, etc.

    And so if we are to take the Biblical message seriously that we are called to regularly share our wealth/resources with the poor, I think we should be involved with not only sharing our money and assets with the poor, but also our time, our social network, and our human capital in the forms of education and health. (“sharing” education and health seems rather peculiar, but I’m envisioning it as efforts in which we help educate and promote the health of the poor….) And I think for those who have a lot of one particular resource.. i.e. time, money, education, etc. we should be trying to give relatively more of that.

    • Good thoughts, Christina. When I read your notes on the expanded definition of wealth, I thought about the passage where Jesus says to invite the poor to your feasts. I checked Gary’s spreadsheet and found it on line 32: Lk 14:12-14, Invite the poor to your banquet. That’s an example of more holistic giving, including time, money, and social capital.

      Education is a trickier issue. Having more education doesn’t guarantee that you’re a more skilled teacher. And I can’t think of any passages directly about education outside of the ones on “wisdom of God, foolishness of men”. I think of it as just another means of being wealthy, which hasn’t changed that much since Biblical times. Back then, not as many people had formal education, but the rich were still educated in the ways of their businesses or stations in life. So certainly Jesus was aware of the personal infrastructure of wealth that existed beyond the balance sheet. And when he told parables about giving, many of them seem to be about breaking down class barriers like the rich/poor, Jew/Samaritan, or clean/unclean. I think breaking those barriers is even harder than pure monetary giving, even in a church context.

    • Great stuff, Christina. I fully agree that a fully-orbed theology of stewardship and giving needs to consider all the forms of wealth you’ve mentioned–or as it is sometimes called in sermons, “time, talent, and treasure.”

      Likewise, relating to the poor should not be limited to giving financially. Personal relationship, practical service, political action, and all biblically mandated means of demonstrating solidarity with and compassion for the poor.

      Nevertheless, I focused on MATERIAL wealth in my spreadsheet because

      1) it is a major biblical theme on its own.
      2) it is really really hard to give away our material wealth.

      But thanks very much for effectively putting “material wealth” into its broader context!

  5. Good stuff, profe! I will indeed use your spreadsheet for my own study of the subject and share my results with you. Until then, perhaps you can help me answer these questions:

    1. Given my personality type I definitely prefer black and white to gray. This obviously causes many issues for me which include the present topic. So, how much should we give? How much is okay to spend on our wants?

    2. What exactly is “generous” giving? 20% of my income? 50%? More?

    3. Should Christians save (for emergencies, college, retirement)? Is saving wise stewardship or lack of faith?

    I plan to answer these questions during my study, but please share your thoughts.

    On another note… You list 1 Jn 1.5 with the description “God wants us to prosper holistically”. First, are you sure you don’t mean 1 Jn 1.2? Second, I may not include this verse for a teaching on this topic (or any other, really). I say this because in the 1st century the greetings of letters customarily included a wish for health/prosperity (this can be seen in one form or another in most NT epistles). So here John was probably simply following the standard letter-writing conventions of his day, rather than trying to teach something.

    • Thanks Stefan! Great questions, but they require more than a blog comment to answer. Let’s talk more…or perhaps you’d like to take my Prosperidad, Finanzas y el Reino de Dios class 🙂

      Also thanks for the correction. Yes, I did mean IJn 1:2. I agree with your interpretation, and only included it because it’s so often used by prosperity gospel preachers, so I just threw it in there out of comprehensiveness.

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