Financial Difficulty

Handling Wealth

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

Photo by The U.S. Army is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received the one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (Matthew 25:14–18, NIV)

Many people are surprised to know that in the Gospel accounts, Jesus spoke more about money than He did Heaven. It seems fair to say, then, that God considers our handling of money and our attitude toward it to be very important. Money represents a person’s time and talents. In a very real sense it also represents opportunity and options. If handled in a godly way, money can be a huge blessing to the owner and to others as well. Many of the world’s wealthiest people are finding joy and satisfaction in giving most of their money to worthy causes. They certainly can’t take it to the grave with them! Conversely, a wrong attitude toward wealth and the subsequent mishandling of money can lead to ruin and destruction.

In writing to a young pastor named Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote this about money: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs,”(1 Timothy 6:10, NIV).  It’s well documented that the failure to manage money effectively can cause big-time problems in marriage.

Military Marriages

Military marriages are no exception. As I reflect on my years in the Army, I can recall many counseling sessions with couples that focused on money problems. Let me relate one incident that stands out.

A young paratrooper came to see me. He and his wife were having marriage difficulties, and according to him the problem centered on her inability to manage money. When I asked for specifics, he responded with no hesitation.

“Sir, my wife has bounced a few checks.”

“Specialist, what do you mean by a ‘few checks?’ How many are we talking about? “

“Sir, she has bounced eighty-eight checks to be exact.”

I sat in amazement. Small wonder he was upset. We agreed that his wife should make an appointment to come see me. When she arrived, she calmly admitted that she was not good with the checkbook and had bounced a lot of checks. Not surprisingly, we discovered that she didn’t have a clue as to how a checking system really worked. When I was able to sit down with the specialist and his wife together, we were able to work through the issues rather quickly. I made a referral to a debt counselor and the pair left the office with some clear direction for the future.

Sound too crazy to be true? I assure you that not only is this story true, but I could relate many more accounts that are as equally amazing. But I won’t.

God’s View of Money

We need to talk about some things God says about money that go far beyond the technical workings of financial management. The issues to which I am referring relate more to the heart. Let us begin with the parable referenced in Matthew 25. Known as the Parable of the Talents, Jesus used this teaching to convey some powerful lessons about wealth. Wealth in this story could refer to money, skills, abilities, etc. Space doesn’t permit us to cover all of truths this parable teaches, but there are a few that deserve emphasis.

Before we mention these, you might find it amusing to know that Martin Luther said something very profound about money and wealth. Talking about the spiritual life, he said there are really three conversions: the mind, the heart, and the purse. As you know, becoming a Christian doesn’t mean we no longer sin or that we can’t be selfish. We do continue to sin and we still tend to be very selfish. The important difference for the Christian, though, is that Jesus has died for our sins and now we no longer have to be a slave to sin.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are free to obey God and His Word. That includes how we think about money and handle it in daily living. I mention this because the biblical teachings found in this parable and throughout the Bible may seem like simple common sense, but don’t be fooled. These are spiritual truths that can only be learned by those with spiritual eyes to see and spiritual minds to understand and obey. And many Christians have not matured in their understanding of money and how to handle it. Putting it more directly, they have not learned to trust the Lord in this area of their lives.

Money in Scripture

Now, what does this parable teach about money? First and most importantly, the Lord owns it all. The man in the parable gave five bags of gold to one servant, two bags to another, and one bag to the third servant. His expectation was that each servant would manage the money properly and make the money produce more money. Not an unfair or unreasonable expectation. The man in the story represents God. Just as the man entrusted his servants with money to manage, the Lord does likewise with us. Notice he gave his servants differing amounts. God does that with us as well.

Consider how each of his servants responded to their master’s instructions. The one with five bags earned five more.

The man was pleased and told him he would give that servant even greater responsibility.

The servant with two bags earned two additional bags. The owner likewise commended him.

But the servant who had been entrusted with one bag didn’t earn a dime. He buried the gold.

I’d recommend you read the entire parable yourself to get the whole picture. For now, it’s enough to know that the master was angry with the guy who had been given one bag. The master addressed this one as a, “…wicked, lazy servant.” Not only had this servant mismanaged the owner’s money, but he even had the gall to accuse the master of being unfair and dishonest. The applied truth here is that we can be guilty of the same thing as we relate to God concerning issues of wealth and money. The bottom line is that God expects us to manage the wealth He gives us in a responsible manner, not bury it.

Some people erroneously believe that having lots of money is somehow wrong or evil. Not true! What’s evil is having a wrong attitude toward money and loving money more than God himself. It’s not the amount of money we have, but rather our attitude toward it and the way we manage it.

Finally, it’s important to emphasize how the master rewarded each servant. The master commended the servant with five bags of gold and promised to entrust him with more wealth to manage. He did the same for the servant who had earned two bags. But look at what happened to the servant that the master called wicked and lazy. Though this servant had only one bag of gold, the man ordered that the one bag be taken from the servant and be given to the servant who had ten bags!

Truths About Money

We learn from this something about faithfulness. If we will be faithful and manage what God gives us in a responsible fashion, God will entrust us with more. It’s a spiritual principle, and it works. Over the years, Judy and I have learned some additional truths about wealth and money. Let me list a few of them and provide a brief explanation:

• We can’t out give God.

While we haven’t kept a ledger, we can tell you that our efforts to be generous with our money have consistently resulted in God entrusting us with more wealth. Sometimes He provides more money. Other times He stretches our money in unique ways by finding incredible deals. Still other times He causes major purchases to last much longer than one would normally expect, i.e., cars, appliances, TVs, etc.

• Money can’t buy happiness, but it can certainly provide options.

These options enable us to live comfortably and help others with our surplus.

• Avoid debt as much as possible.

Most people, Christians included, have bought into the societal value that says, “Buy it now, not later.” National debt is at an all-time high. For many families, so is their debt load. Unless it is absolutely necessary, borrow sparingly. Save your money and pay cash for everything you can. In the long run, you will save money and avoid becoming a prisoner to debt.

• Tithing is a blessing, not a curse.

Shortly into our marriage the Lord helped us to trust Him with money. Truthfully, we can report that we have been able to live on the ninety percent easier than we lived on the hundred percent before we learned to tithe.

• Our handling of money is not separate from the rest of the Christian life.

If we can trust God for our salvation, for our protection, and many other things; we can trust Him with money. We have observed Christians who follow God in many ways, but have not made the choice to trust Him with the money God has entrusted to them. Until they do, they will experience fear and bondage just like the rest of the world. It’s just not necessary.

One of God’s names is Jehovah Jireh, which means “The LORD will provide!” He will provide, as you trust Him. There’s more we could say, but we trust this will be of some help as you learn to trust God in all areas of life, money included.

If you are dealing with this issue, you do not need to face the challenge alone. Jesus has conquered every challenge so you can move from your present situation to a life of overcoming hope. Invite him to lead you in your journey. He will forgive, comfort, and heal you.

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