How Do You Measure Financial Success — From a Biblical Perspective?
As with most topics, biblical teaching about money points us down a very different path than the one encouraged by our consumer culture. Whereas the world often measures success based on the size of our home or the type of car we drive, in God’s economy, success is measured very differently.What’s it all about?
According to the Bible, the overarching purposes of our lives are to love God (Matthew 22:36-38), love people (Matthew 22:39-40), and use our God-given gifts and talents to make a difference in this world (Ephesians 2:10). So, those are the overall purposes of money, which provide big-picture benchmarks for gauging how “successfully” we’re managing money.
How can we use money in a way that shows our love for God? I would suggest that it has to do with a mix of tangible and attitudinal factors. The tangible begin with a commitment to follow biblical teaching (John 14:15), and the Bible has a lot to say about money, including earning (Colossians 3:23), planning (Proverbs 21:5), giving (Proverbs 3:9), saving (Proverbs 21:20), borrowing (Proverbs 22:7), investing (Proverbs 13:11), protecting (Proverbs 22:3), and spending (Luke 16:10-12).
Just as important are attitudinal factors, such as contentment and gratitude. (It’s been my experience that the regular practice of gratitude does wonders for fostering contentment.) Our marketing-saturated culture works overtime to foster discontentment to spur us to spend. In countless ways, both overt and subtle, the culture tells us we don’t have enough and that we’re not enough. Filling our hearts and minds with the Truth of God’s Word—namely that we are fully loved just as we are—can do wonders for our solvency and our sanity!
A key way we can show love to people through our use of money starts at home. As the Bible puts it, “Whoever does not provide for his relatives, and especially his immediate family, is worse than an unbeliever and has denied the faith” (1 Timothy 5:8). So, part of success in God’s eyes is responsibly taking care of our families.
Another key way to love others in our use of money is to make tangible, generous investments in the always people-centered priorities of Jesus. That means giving to our church and to other ministries that teach God’s word (Galatians 6:6), provide for the poor (Proverbs 19:17), spread the gospel (Matthew 28:19), and help address some of the many other needs in our world.
Making a difference
I love how the Message paraphrases 1 Corinthians 12:7: “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is.” God has given each one of us certain gifts, talents and passions to use in doing some good in this world in His name. Sometimes, a difficult financial situation can prevent us from hearing or responding to God’s call on our lives. For example, a common factor that keeps people called to the mission field off that field is debt.
By the same token, a financial situation that works can free us to follow God’s call, whether that means pursuing a different profession, a volunteer opportunity, or something else. One of the most effective ways we can position ourselves for impact is to heed God’s teaching to live within our means, avoid the bondage of debt, maintain a base of savings, and spend wisely.
A different focal point
None of this will happen naturally because we live in a culture that does its best to pull us in a different direction. So we have to be intentional about cultivating such behaviors and beliefs.
Keep in mind that habit formation involves three elements: identity, knowledge, and behavior. Financially, that means embracing our identity as stewards of God’s resources, gaining more knowledge of what that means, and acting on that knowledge. Those elements don’t have to move in the same order, but all three are essential and build on each other. Acting—perhaps taking the next step in living generously—reinforces our identity. Gaining knowledge—perhaps about where to best give—guides our behavior.
Matt Bell is the author of Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management. He speaks at churches and conferences throughout the country and writes the MattAboutMoney blog.
This article should not be considered legal, tax, or financial advice. You may wish to consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual financial situation.