For Christians looking to make investments, there are two very important questions.
1) How should we apply biblical instruction to our investing activities?
2) What is, or should be, the goals and motivations for Christians to invest money at all?
I’ve already covered the first of these questions in depth. I will just say again, that clearly business is a good thing. In these times, it is the primary method God uses to provide for our needs. However, businesses do not happen unless someone first makes an investment. Therefore, investments themselves are very good things through which God brings blessings. So, even if we can't come up with a bunch of spiritual reasons to invest our money, it's clearly a good thing to save our money and use it to make investments. But it is important that we go about our business and our investing activities in ways that honor God.
Moving onto the second question, I have spoken of that topic in various articles and pages on this site. But, I haven’t written an article or lesson dedicated solely to addressing that second question. I just didn't think it was my place to address that topic, but God has laid it on my heart. So, that's the primary purpose of this article.
Specific reasons for Christians to make investments can vary. I don't presume to know all of the reasons another Christian may or may not want to invest their money. Instead, I can only think of a few good examples and address those the best I know how. For example, we might be seeking to fund our own retirement. We may be looking to fund a specific charity, mission, or other project down the road. We may simply believe that it is the responsible thing to do to save and invest as much as possible, and wait for God to reveal his specific purpose for the money at some point in the future. Whatever our personal goal, I think we should begin to think about this topic by thinking about what should not be our goal. If you're a Christian who is thinking of "getting rich" through the stock market, please take some time to read this free report on the topic of Biblical investing. If we're just looking to get rich quick, or to have more than our neighbor, we're probably headed for trouble.
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” James 3:16 (ESV)
When I first began to explore the concept for Wisdom’s Reward, my motivations were probably more on the side of selfish ambition. My motivation went something like this, “I want to generate income for myself so that I can provide for my family… but while doing that, I can help others, point people to Christ, and teach biblical principles.”
So, my primary motivation was to have a way to make an income. I probably told myself that goal, in and of itself was unselfish, given that I have a family that needs me to provide. However, I still recognized that something inside was off. I realized (or maybe I should say that God pointed out) that I was too much on the side of selfish ambition. So, I prayed for God to purify my heart and my motives. Though I still have a long way to go, he has spent the last year or so doing just that. Now, I have been working on this concept for over a year. In my estimation, I'm still a very long way from making any money. I've finally gotten to the point where I said, "You know what? I don't care if I ever make any money doing this. It glorifies God, and he can use it to help others. So, as long as he provides me with the time to do it, and the money I need to cover expenses, I will keep doing this." So, I would say that my motives were tested, refined, and purified to a large degree.
Now, in this life, will our motives ever be completely pure? I don’t know the answer to that. I know that all things are possible with God. But I also know that I’m a very long way from having completely pure motivations (e.g. I still hope to make money with this business). Fortunately, I have access to the Spirit of God, who alerts me when there are serious problems in my life that need to be addressed. The more I ask and seek, the more he will reveal to me. So, it’s important to discuss these matters directly with God. We should ask some questions as we set out to make investments. What are my motivations? Are they driven by selfish ambition?
Okay, so hopefully the wrong reasons are obvious. What about some good reasons for saving and investing? I've been able to identify several good reasons that Christians may want to save and invest their money. There may be many others besides these.
1) Saving and investing is responsible, prudent, and wise. Common sense should tell us that it's foolish to squander all of the money God entrusts to us. Yet many of us in the U.S. are doing exactly that.
2) To provide for ourselves after we can no longer work. While we ultimately depend on God, we have to be good stewards of the resources he gives us. Self-sufficiency (defined by taking care of ourselves and our families as best we can), to the extent it is under one's control, is a principle espoused in the Bible.
3) To achieve freedom from a demanding, full-time career in order to focus more on missions, charity work, serving at church, etc.
4) As part of leaving a godly legacy.
5) To give more.
There's not much I can add to number one. It's pretty straightforward. For number 2, I would say that most of us are aware of the moral responsibility we have to provide for ourselves and our families. Yet, more than anything else, we seem to take that instruction from 1 Timothy 5:8 as a call to shout it from the rooftops to everyone else, instead of focusing on how we might apply it to our own lives. Instead of telling other people that they should get off of welfare and get a job, let's first get the planks out of our own eyes. Let's ensure that we ourselves are not planning to become dependent on the hard work of others.
Moving onto number 3. What is the motivation for a Christian to retire? I’ve mentioned elsewhere that if you’re picturing sandy beaches, golf, resorts, spas, etc., you might want to pray and ask God if your purposes line up with his. For me, the goal of “retirement” is to shed myself of the need for a demanding, full-time job. I don’t want to have a big time lifestyle, debt, or other unnecessary expenses that result in me being in bondage to others. I think personal freedom, to the extent it is used for good purposes, is a great motivator and a great reason to start saving and making investments as soon as possible. But using it for good purposes is key. Luke 10:2 says:
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (ESV)
Our jobs are definitely mission fields in some sense of the term. We can live our lives before others in such a way that people around us might start to become interested in Jesus, leading people to Christ. But when I read the scripture above, I don’t picture the offices where I used to work. I don’t picture the factories, the construction sites, or the grocery store where I once worked. Instead, I picture this:
While I wish I had more photos to add here, I will just note that I also picture the tribes who have never had contact with civilization, the Serbian refugees still awaiting homes, those seeking refuge from oppressive regimes, or those seeking a place free of religious oppression. I think about the homeless person, the drug addict, the alcoholic, the abused woman, the elderly loner, and the foster child.
"For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15 (ESV)
The majority of people working and living "successful lives" in the U.S. have heard the gospel. Many of them have decided vehemently against it. Many of them have decided to pursue other things besides the gospel, such as the American dream, selfish pleasures, self-glorification, or man's wisdom. In other words, many of them have considered it and strongly rejected it in favor of idols. I'm not sure if it should be applied to this situation or not, but I can't help but to think about Jesus' pearls before swine warning when I think of this topic. Now, don’t get me wrong, I'm not saying that every average-Joe, non-Christian in the U.S. doesn't deserve our best efforts when we are around them. Further, maybe some of them haven’t heard the gospel. Maybe many of them have only heard a distorted version of it. I do think we should do our best to keep speaking and living the gospel to those around us, wherever we may be at any given time.
At the same time, maybe our jobs aren't exactly the best mission fields in existence. Maybe the harvest is more ripe and more plentiful outside of our offices, outside of our insulated neighborhoods, and outside of the U.S. It's a compelling question to ponder. How many people in your office have come to know Christ because of the way you have lived your life in front of them? Probably not very many. Most of them made up their minds about the gospel one way or another long before you came into their lives. But, how many of the young people in that picture came to know Christ because a handful of people went to spend a couple of weeks loving them, and teaching them about Jesus? Probably quite a few of them. Maybe even most of them. Maybe even all of them.
I can envision my local church reaching young Christians with the message of financial responsibility and prudence, in such a way that by the time they’re in the age range of 40-55, they no longer have to work a demanding, full-time job. Rather, if we are responsible, wise, and self-controlled, Christians in the United States are so very blessed, that we could make enough money from 18-40 to allow us to give up the need to tie the majority of our time to the pursuit of more money... which, by the way, most of us are continuing to do in order to buy things that we don’t really need, but are now obligated to pay for nonetheless.
What would such freedom give us the ability to do? Reach the drug addict who is desperate for answers? Reach the homeless person who was never shown love and acceptance? Reach the tribe in the Amazon who has never had contact with the civilized world? Reach out to those who were brought up with false belief systems? Reach those who are brought up in countries where the gospel isn’t regularly preached?
These are just my thoughts. There are hurting people all over this world. We are called to help them, feed them, clothe them, teach them, show them love, and tell them the good news that Jesus has overcome death, and is offering them eternal life! Yet, we spend 90% of our time, energy, and effort in the pursuit of more money. If you think about it in those terms, it starts to seem pretty sad.
Successful saving and investing is one answer (or maybe part of the answer) to this issue. In China, the savings rate is currently at 50%. In the U.S., it’s at 5%. We make so much more than people living in China. Yet, we point to our inability to find the room to save money. We think we're strapped for cash. It’s so silly. Luke 12:48 says:
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (NIV)
The people living right now, in the United States, have been given more knowledge, more resources, and more opportunity than any other people in the history of the world. It’s time we start to take these words from Luke 12:48 seriously. One way, possibly among many, is to seek freedom from the trappings of “the American dream” and begin to use our resources in ways that more closely align with God’s purposes.
Leaving a Legacy is Biblical
This is an interesting topic that was recently brought to my mind when listening to a Mark Driscoll marriage seminar. He spoke of the need for men to leave a godly legacy. I'll have to explore relevant scripture and write a separate article about this topic in the near future. But, I just wanted to point out that leaving a godly legacy is biblical. It pleases God for us to be fruitful and multiply, and produce godly offspring. I want my legacy to include practicing financial responsibility and passing it onto my children, and grandchildren. Proverbs 13:22 says, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children..." Further, it makes a lot of sense to me, as a general principle, to make sacrifices now so that future generations can enjoy the fruit of that sacrifice. Previous generations did it for us. We would be incredibly selfish to ignore the responsibility we have to do it for future generations.
Give Sacrificially, But Also Through Wisdom And Planning
The next way is identified in number 5 above. We can give sacrificially. How does that relate to investing? First, giving sacrificially doesn't necessarily mean dropping more money into the offering plate than what you had originally intended because you felt an emotional pull to do more. Or, maybe I should say, it doesn't have to be limited to giving that is done on impulse. Rather, sacrificial giving can be the result of wisdom and planning. When it comes to investing, it's noteworthy that a person who starts out very young, responsibly investing their money can earn way, way more money by investing than they ever can by working. The power of compounding returns means that a janitor can become a millionaire several times over by saving and investing properly over a full lifetime. Further, charitable trusts can give off money in perpetuity. I can work and give money out of my paychecks for as long as I'm working. That's one possible method for giving. But, it's also possible to invest and then give in a way that funds a charity, pretty much forever. If the stock market continues to give off 9.5% average annual returns going forward, a $1,000,000 investment could probably spin off an average inflation adjusted return of $60-70,000 per year forever just by sitting in a trust account.
Universities, charities, and other non-profits use this principle all the time with what are typically called "endowments". Of course, that's not the only way to use investments. It could be that my saving and investing allows me to donate large sums of money to be used all at once. But it could be that my saving and investing only does well enough that once I hit retirement, I have an extra $5,000 per year to give for as long as I'm alive. But $5,000 a year is still a lot more than $0. One alternative could be to give away every possible dollar that we can give, as we are in our working years, such that we don't save and invest any money. But not only is that not responsible, it's not very realistic either (at least not for most of us). If it were realistic, we'd be doing it. But we're not. We're working hard and we're spending, for the most part. Don't get me wrong, we should give reasonably as we go. I teach my son to give 10% to the church, save and invest 20%, and use the rest to spend or to share with others.
But, we tend to feel much more that we deserve money if it came through the sweat of our brow (which is wrong, but that's how humans think). The more passively we earn money, the more we tend to be willing to use it for noble purposes. We also tend to be more willing to give away what we have, the older we get. So a Christian who has saved and invested properly for many years is primed up for some serious giving, based on what we understand about human behavior. I imagine that such a person would be a very cheerful giver. There is room for debate around that line of reasoning, to be sure.
But the bottom line is this: Investing is a way to generate passive income, and excess income. In other words, it's a way to earn more money. If we earn more, we can give more. In the end, it's that simple.
When I first created this site, I didn't feel right talking about the topic of giving. I thought, giving is supposed to be done in secret. But, if I talk about the topic in public, that will naturally lead to my own giving, or at least my own thoughts and proclivities on the matter, not being a secret. However, I have come to a better understanding of the passage in Matthew Chapter 6. I won't announce my own giving or thoughts on the topic from the rooftops so that others will see and think I'm a good person. But I won't hide it under a basket either. Besides, I don't think I can truly talk about biblical financial principles in any form without addressing the topic of giving. It's the most important biblical financial topic there is.
So, let me start out by being transparent. Back when I had a nice income, I was not a sacrificial giver. In fact, I was not much of a giver at all. I gave some to help others in need, but it was almost a joke compared to what I made (of course, I wasn't trying to follow God at all during that time). Now, my personal situation is that I don't have an income (as of the day I'm writing this). My family is supported by the hard work of my wife. I have started up this business that, to date has about $4500 in expenses, but only $36 in revenues. So, I could go on and on about being a sacrificial giver, but I needed to acknowledge the truth first. The truth is that I have plans that involve living frugally, giving sacrificially, and even starting a charity to help men that have struggled with addiction to get back on their feet financially (once I can obtain the means to start such a charity).
I'm going off on a tangent, but I really want to share this. God has laid it on my heart to create a charity called, "The Heart of the Father". Most people see alcoholics, drug addicts, and ex-convicts that are trying to start over... trying to have a second (or 3rd, or 4th, or 490th) chance in life, and have the reaction of the older brother (from the prodigal son parable). They see the difficulties those people face in finding work and think, "Well, what do they expect? They're getting what they deserve. It's not my problem. I worked hard to get my job. I didn't make those mistakes. I deserve to have a good job. Those people don't."
But the Father doesn't deal with any of us in this life as we deserve. He sees those who have made foolish mistakes and forgives them, loves them, and welcomes them with open arms. I want to welcome those people with open arms, and do what I can to help them on their path to having a normal, healthy, productive life. I want to teach them biblical principles along the way. I want to use my time and resources to help make disciples of those men. I want them to become productive citizens that will turn around and offer to others the same mercy and grace they have received. In other words, I want to invest in them.
So, those are my plans. But right now, they are only plans. However, God has laid some of these things heavily on my heart. When I look at the lifestyles of many Christians in the United States, I don't see a lot of sacrificial giving. I see people who, just like I did, have bought hard into "the American dream" of clothes, cars, pools, vacations, credit card debt, car loans, student loans, and mortgage debt. I'm not saying we all have to sell our houses, live in tents and immediately start giving away most of the money we earn at our jobs. But can we strike a good balance somewhere in the middle? Is it possible that we could be wise and prudent enough with our money to have every church in America fully funded? Every church in the world? Every mission trip... fully funded? Every hungry person fed? It won't happen overnight, but by the end of my life, we could be well on our way to reaching that goal. But we have to start now. Responsible investing pays off over long periods of time. Of course, responsible investing starts with responsible living.
Just yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend who has been to Uganda several times. He was telling me that on one of his trips there, he was going over the needs of the local flock that they were there to help. The church needed a new roof because it had major leaks, which often turned the dirt floor into a mud floor. When he asked the local pastor how much money it would take to buy a new roof, the answer was, "Oh, it would be very expensive. Probably as much as 350 US."
What an eye-opener. My son probably has $350 worth of toys in his room right now. The stuff we spend money on the U.S. is so selfish and stupid. We'll pay hundreds of dollars to go watch a football game. What are we thinking? Where did we get the idea that this was what God intends for us? Don't get me wrong... I'm guilty on all counts. But, I've come to realize that God gives us talent, knowledge, and spiritual gifts to use for his glory. He also gives us money, wealth, financial resources... whatever you want to call them. One day, God is going to ask me what I did with what I was given. I hope to tell him that, from February 23rd, 2014 onward, I made a very good effort to use my financial resources in ways that furthered God's kingdom. I hope others will join me!
If not, that's cool too. If you just want to invest your money so that you can have an adequate or even cushy retirement, that's a perfectly fine goal. I don't presume to tell you it's wrong to do that, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I think it's much better than the alternative of depending on others once you can no longer work. Ensuring that we can always provide for ourselves is definitely a good thing. But, it's also a very good thing to make sacrifices now that will benefit future generations, the needy among us, those who haven't been reached with the gospel, etc. With my urging to take responsibility and to give, I'm just trying to relay the way God has called and convicted and led me on certain topics. I think most of us have at least some room for improvement regarding how we use what we've been given!
Thank you so much for taking the time to let me share my thoughts with you!
UPDATE: 5/29/2014 - As with everything else, my knowledge and understanding in this particular area continues to increase. I wanted to note that working hard, planning, and employing wisdom in order to help others is a very worthwhile goal. Indeed, Paul says in Acts 20:35, "And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" But, while it's very worthwhile and positive, we should never make the mistake of thinking that God is somehow more pleased with those who are able to generate large amounts of wealth. In fact, scripture points out that we don't excel in giving by becoming rich and giving ever increasing dollar amounts (see scriptures below). There is nothing wrong with doing that, per se. But, as with everything else, God is interested in our heart. Those who have very little, yet cheerfully give more than they can afford are said to "excel in giving". Those who see giving not as a burden, but as a privilege, and do so sacrificially, are truly demonstrating where their treasure lies. Again, while we may wish and work and plan to give as much as possible in dollar terms, it's so much more about what is in our heart than it is the end result. Of course, working and planning in order to give to others is a form of sacrifice, if that is truly why we are doing it. If we're mainly doing it to generate wealth for ourselves and our families, and then we act as though we're doing God a favor by throwing small percentages of that wealth to the poor and to missions, we've completely missed the boat.
"Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.
So we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to return to you and encourage you to finish this ministry of giving. Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving." 1 Cor. 8:1-7
"Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:43-44
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