Christians have a complicated relationship with money and gospel ministry.
On one hand, we know a great deal of Christian ministry relies on money from church-goers. We know that it is good to be generous (Prov 19:17), and to do good, particularly to those within the household of faith (Gal 6:10). We are also repeatedly warned about the spiritual dangers of desiring to be wealthy in this world (Mk 10:23; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 4:19; Mk 8:36).
We are repeatedly warned about the spiritual dangers of desiring to be wealthy … On the other hand, we need money for ourselves.
On the other hand, we need money for ourselves. Money is part of what God uses to provide for our daily needs (Phil 4:19). Saving money is prudent, and the Bible does not condemn Christians simply for being—or remaining—rich (1 Tim 6:17-19).
So, this is the complication: Money is a legitimate need in life. However, because of this, money can prevent us from being involved in certain types of gospel ministry. Worries about money stop us from giving more to support those who are already in ministry; they make it harder for us to make decisions that might be costly and risky—like leaving our well-paying jobs to train in church ministry.
Of course, it is not wrong to acknowledge the costs of ministry to us personally. It might sometimes even be wise to delay or decline some ministry opportunities due to the potential financial impediments. Yet there is also a real danger in letting all our decisions for ministry to be dictated solely, or even primarily, by money. How should we think maturely about this issue?
Here are four godly traits we can pray for, pursue and practice.
We need to make decisions related to money and ministry wisely. Wisdom helps us to make sensible decisions that factor in complex, competing and personal priorities. For example, wisdom says it may not be wise to drain your superannuation to support missions work without accounting for your future. Wisdom helps us see alternatives—like spreading out your giving over a lifetime instead.
This thoughtful type of decision-making is biblical. For example, the woman in Proverbs who “considers a field and buys it”, and who “perceives that her merchandise is profitable” (Prov 31:16,18) is praised as being wise and noble; and we are to pay attention to the hardworking ant who thoughtfully plans her harvest in advance (Prov 6:6-11).
Wisdom is also an exercise of faith; it manifests in actions taken in light of what we know of Jesus.
We should know that wise decisions do not always look like “safe” decisions. Wisdom is also an exercise of faith; it manifests in actions taken in light of what we know of Jesus—his plans for this world, his claim over our lives, and his imminent return. This is the type of wisdom that Paul prays the Ephesians will have (Eph 1:17-21). So, being wise may often look like taking bold steps and calculated risks for the sake of the gospel.
I have seen married friends drop to a single-income in order for one to train for gospel ministry. This was a decision that was born of gospel conviction, made possible through careful management of money and lifestyle—in other words, a decision made wisely.
Since the earliest days of the church, Christians have also been called to provide materially for their church leaders (1 Tim 5:17-18). This model of financial partnership has enabled countless missionaries, pastors and clergy to commit themselves to the Lord’s work without also needing to be preoccupied with their own financial stability.
Giving generously is good for three reasons.
Firstly, it meets the real needs of others, and shows them the grace of God (2 Cor 8:1-3).
Secondly, it trains us not to be greedy or to be trapped into loving money, which Paul describes as “the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10).
Thirdly, it trains us to recognise the sovereignty and provision of God: What do we have that we did not first receive from Him (1 Cor 4:17)? What do we mean when we say “my” money? Giving trains us to remember that although our money is often earned by our hard work and toil, everything—including our ability to work, the opportunities to do so, and the blessings of being paid for our work—was actually given to us by God in the first place.
With these three reasons in mind, giving becomes an act of worship. It is a way of acknowledging God’s ongoing kindness over our lives, and then sharing this kindness with others. It’s a way of saying “great is your faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”
So, give generously, whether you think you have much or little, for the benefit of others, the church, and your own soul.
Even so, sometimes this gets a little complex. Is it a better decision to save up for a home deposit or say yes to supporting a missionary financially? I’m not sure. These are “heart” decisions that you should make—wisely, as defined above. Personally, a rule of thumb that works for my husband Leonard and I is to spend less on ourselves than on missions and ministry. Of course, this is not prescriptive, nor is it possible for everyone, but for us, is a good indicator of whether our spending priorities are reflective of Paul’s command to be generous.
Although all Christians are called to be content in all circumstances (Phil 4:11-13), those of us in Australia, have less excuse, because by most of the world’s standards, we do have enough! Furthermore, the Bible’s standard for what we need in order to be content is not very high:
For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (1 Tim 6:7-8).
If we do not practice contentment, we simply cannot make bold decisions for the gospel.
People tend to think that we become content when our possessions meet our desires. But as Jeremiah Burroughs observes, “the Christian has another way to contentment. He can bring his desires down to his possessions”. If we develop Christian contentment—where we are satisfied with whatever God has given us currently—we can put ourselves in a position where we can make financial decisions that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Suddenly we can see ourselves putting aside more money towards supporting missionaries, going to Bible college, or dropping to part-time work to take up more lay ministry.
If we do not practice contentment, we simply cannot make bold decisions for the gospel. If we always feel like we need to upgrade, travel, or get bigger, better, newer stuff, we will always be hamstrung by our lifestyles choices and preferences, at the cost of gospel priorities.
Lastly, we need to pray for God to give us humility. Society is often fixated on accumulating wealth. But we don’t have to read far into the Gospels to run into some very stern warnings against greed and love for money. As Jesus says:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matt 6:24)
It’s God or money. There really are no two ways about it. Following Jesus’ lead on this, and not our own, often requires humility. We need humility to ask God to discern our motivations and humility in repenting when we have not lived the way he has called us to live. Humility keeps us from forgetting the truth, hardening our hearts against it, or being deceived from it. We need humility to keep viewing God, our lives, and money rightly.
Money is a great gift from God. He lovingly provides it to us in order to meet our daily needs. We need to see it as God does: as a means to be generous and serve the gospel. On the flip-side, we also need to heed God’s warning about money—recognising its power to dictate our loyalties, and be the driving force of our decision-making, both in life and in ministry. May God, who is both generous and wise, help us to view our lives and our money rightly, using both as servants for his work in his world.