This past weekend was week three in our “A Generous Life” message series. My plan for week three was a message focused on the importance of saving money. However, as I shared with you in this last weekend’s services, I felt God moving me in a different direction. So, I gave a message from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 called, “We Fix Our Eyes.”
At the same time, it’s important that we understand the value of saving money. When we look at what I call the “Four Financial Pillars of Good Money Management” (Keep Track – Plan Ahead – Save Consistently – Give Habitually) from Proverbs, we see the importance of saving. Proverbs 21:20 says, In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has. (NIV) A wise man embraces the importance of saving, while a foolish man simply lives for the moment.
Without question, the greatest story in the Bible related to the importance of saving is the story of Joseph in Genesis 41. The setting is the land of Egypt, where Joseph is a slave. The past few years of Joseph’s life have been difficult as he’s been sold into slavery by his brothers who hated him, lied about by the wife of the Egyptian man he served, and sent to prison where for, at least a time, he was forgotten. Then one day, Pharaoh had a troubling dream no one could interpret or explain. That’s when Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer, who had previously spent time in prison, remembered a young Hebrew slave who was able to interpret dreams. Pharaoh sent for the man (Joseph) and told him his dream. Now, I’m going to paraphrase what happens next, so you’ll need to read Genesis 41 to get all the details. Pharaoh shared with Joseph his dream that involved seven fat cows that came up out of the Nile River, followed by seven scrawny cows who ate the fat cows but still looked as scrawny as they did in the beginning. Next, Pharaoh saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. Then seven other heads of grain sprouted that were withered and thin and scorched. But the thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads of grain. Pharaoh says, “I told this to the magicians, but none could explain it to me.” Then Joseph tells Pharaoh the dreams are one and the same. And that God is revealing to him that for seven years, there’s going to be great abundance throughout the land of Egypt, followed by seven years of famine. And the famine is going to be so bad that no one will remember the abundance. Then Joseph encouraged Pharaoh to put someone in charge of the land of Egypt to oversee the taking of a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of plenty and store it (save it) for the seven years of famine. Pharaoh liked that idea, and Joseph went from being a forgotten foreign slave to the second most powerful man in Egypt (Genesis 41:39-40). Ultimately, what Joseph did in saving a portion of Egypt’s harvest resulted in the saving of many lives, something Joseph himself acknowledged in Genesis 50:20.
But the story of Joseph isn’t the only place the Bible celebrates the wisdom of saving. In fact, let me share a few more biblical truths related to saving.
- Delaying saving is a mistake.
Let’s be honest, we are often people who put things off – especially things that are difficult. But you can’t do that when it comes to saving money. Because when you fail to start saving early, you forfeit one of the most potent financial forces in the universe, and that’s the power of compounding interest. Don’t make that mistake. Proverbs 13:11 says, Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow. (NIV) A huge part of what makes money grow little by little is that power of compounding interest, something the Bible acknowledges. Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the talents? A master went away and left varying amounts of money to three servants (5 talents/2 talents/1 talent). He praised the first two servants because they put his money to work and doubled the amount. But the third servant took the one talent and buried it in the ground, basically saying, “I knew you would have high expectations for your money, but I was too afraid of losing it to put it to work. Here’s what the master said to him upon his return. Matthew 25:26-27, You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. (NIV) When it comes to savings, you can’t procrastinate. Why do you think so many people don’t save money? Honestly, there can be a lot of answers to that question. But if I were just going to pick one based on the personal conversations I’ve had with people over the years, it would be, “I don’t have any money to save.” But, oftentimes, on further investigation, that wasn’t necessarily true. Let’s get real practical for a minute. I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything by David Bach, but he’s written several very practical books about money. And the one thing he’s probably best known for is what he calls “the latte factor.” In his book, The Automatic Millionaire, he talks about a young lady named Kim who attended a financial seminar he was teaching. When she insisted that she couldn’t afford to save any money, he asked her to describe a typical day. On her way to work, she stopped for coffee. “Plain coffee?” No, a double non-fat latte. Price: $3.50. “Is that all you have?” No, a non-fat muffin too. Price: $1.50. “So, you’re not even at work yet, and you’ve spent $5.” Kim was a little annoyed, but she went on. At her morning break, she bought a juice drink. Price: $3.95. Then a friend in the room reminded her that she always asked for the Gingko booster—another 50 cents. Oh, yeah…and a Power bar for $1.75. “We’re not even to lunch yet, and you’ve already spent over $11 and haven’t really had anything to eat!” So, David pulled out his calculator and said, “Let’s suppose that you could save $5 of that $11—just $5 a day—skip the latte and muffin. That’s $150 a month, $1800 a year. Let’s say we invested that at a 10% annual return, which is what the stock market has averaged over the last 50 years. How old are you (23)? How much do you think you’d have by the time you’re 65?” She guessed $100,000, $200,000, $500,000. Nope. Almost $1.2 million. Kim’s eyes went wide. “You mean my lattes are costing me $1.2 million?” That’s the latte factor. Now you might say, “But I don’t drink coffee.” You’re missing the point. We all waste or overspend money in a variety of ways – just think of what it is for you. What’s your latte factor? If you don’t seem to have any money to save, I challenge you to track your spending—all of it, even the little expenses—for a week, and I’ll bet you can find a latte factor. Would you be willing to forego a $5 purchase today to have a million dollars later? Here’s a great verse that can apply to saving. Proverbs 14:8, The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. (NIV) A foolish person deceives themself by saying, “I don’t have any money to save.” A wise person is prudent in identifying money that’s being needlessly or foolishly spent.
- We can honor God and serve others through our savings.
It can be easy to think of saving as a purely selfish activity because sometimes it is. We see that in the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. After giving this warning (Luke 12:15), Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (NIV), Jesus tells the story of a man whose ground produced a crop larger than anything he’d ever experienced before. It was so large he couldn’t store it. But rather than thanking God for the blessing or consulting with God about how he might use the blessing to help others, he decided he would tear down all his existing barns, build bigger ones and just take life easy. Jesus says that as a result, God called him a fool and demanded (took) his life. Jesus’ final commentary is found in Luke 12:21. This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God. (NIV) There’s no question that saving can sometimes become a purely selfish activity. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE. Here are some alternatives. Saving can honor God because we recognize money as a gift from God. James 1:16-17 says, Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV) When we acknowledge money as a gift from God, we’ll use it in a way that honors Him. Saving allows us to help others in need. In Ephesians 4:17-32, Paul writes about what it looks like to live as “Children of Light.” In verse 28 he says, He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. (NIV) One of the fundamental values of a Christian is to help others. Proverbs 3:27 says, Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. (NIV) Saving allows us to bless our families. Proverbs 13:22 says, A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is the reward of the righteous. (NIV) The bottom line is saving money allows us the opportunity to be generous, and generosity honors God. It not only honors God, but it opens the door for God’s blessing in our lives.
- Saving can bring tension.
While saving money is clearly one of the pillars of successful financial management, it’s also something that can create tension in the life of a believer if you don’t have the right fundamental attitude toward money. In 1 Timothy 6:17, Paul writes, Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (NIV) Clearly, Paul is saying that saving money can create tension related to whether you’re trusting in yourself or in God. When Solomon wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes, he wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:10, Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. (NIV) A little later in Ecclesiastes 5:13, he writes, I have seen a grievous evil under the sun; wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner… (NIV). The bottom line is as positive as saving money can be, it’s easy to allow the pursuit of saving to create tension in your life and faith. NOTE: If I were to be honest about my own life, I would tell you that I sometimes feel tension in my spiritual life related to questions like, “How much is enough when it comes to saving money?” I can also struggle with a willingness to spend the money I’ve saved because I know the time and sacrifices involved in saving it in the first place. So how do we handle that tension? The only answer is we handle it by faith. And what I mean by that is faith is our priority when it comes to our savings. My faith reminds me that everything belongs to God. So, no matter how much time or work I’ve put into acquiring something, ultimately, it belongs to God. My faith also reminds me that my priority isn’t building wealth; it’s living a surrendered life. Proverbs 16:9 says, In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. (NIV) That means I’ve got to hold onto whatever amount of money I’ve saved, along with every other earthly thing I have, with a loose grip. And I’ve got to remember that as important as the first three pillars of financial management are (Keep Track – Plan Ahead – Save Consistently), that fourth pillar of give habitually is equally important. So, I go back to that passage I read from 1 Timothy 6:17, but I read verses 18-19 as well. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (NIV)
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus says, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth rust and destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (NIV) We can store (save) up treasures on earth AND we can store up treasures in heaven. Our goal should be to find the right balance between the two and trust that God will honor and protect the pursuit of that goal.