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.
Came across this graph today. Poverty levels in the world across time.The reason why China was excluded from the second set of data was because “it appears that much of the poverty reduction in the last couple of decades almost exclusively comes from China”:
- China’s poverty rate fell from 85% to 15.9%, or by over 600 million people
- China accounts for nearly all the world’s reduction in poverty
- Excluding China, poverty fell only by around 10%
The financial downturn has made it tougher to give. Many of us are losing jobs, accepting underemployment, or remaining in sub-optimal work environments. It is very hard to give generously and joyfully when you feel financially stressed and pinched yourself.
So now might be a good time to evaluate the true status of our wealth.
The terms “rich” and “poor” are relative—that is, “rich” or “poor” compared to whom? For example, most people with at least an undergraduate degree work with and live around others of a similar education level, so it becomes natural to feel that “I’m middle-class.” Or, we compare ourselves with successful college friends or colleagues who got promotions—and then we feel poor.
Even the top 1% of wage earners are beginning to feel financially victimized. As Paul Krugman sarcastically observed in a recent NYT editorial,
It has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class — the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.”
Perhaps all this can be traced back to a failure of perspective. What if we compared ourselves not only to the guy who just bought the impressive new car, but to all of God’s children, everywhere? Looking at it this way, an average twenty-three year old college graduate’s first job will immediately place him or her in the top ONE PERCENT of the richest people on the planet. Try it for yourself here and see how you stack up. I know that for me, reality checks like these help me feel just a little more grateful, and give just a little more generously.
Sometimes statistics about billions of poor people can be overwhelming and paralyzing. So I like this concrete, accessible video for the way it helps me get my mind around the way wealth and privilege is distributed in the world today.