Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Should Christians be wealthy? Part 2

In yesterday's post I shared three views on wealth. I referred the reader to Rabbi Daniel Lapin's book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money. In it Rabbi Lapin explores the teachings of the Old Testament and the Torah towards wealth and shows how following those teachings have enabled many Jewish people to be successful in life and in business. We should note that these principles are not just for Jewish people but are for anyone who will practice them.

Today we want to explore the issue further by looking at more teachings from the Bible as they are taught by financial guru Dave Ramsey. To recap one point of yesterday's post, I do not accept the teachings of the various Prosperity Gospel preachers but I do believe the Bible gives us very practical principles that, if followed, will allow one to build financial security. These principles are taught by Ramsey in his best seller, The The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness.

Ramsey begins with the basic principle of avoiding debt. Americans have billions of dollars in consumer debt plus student loans and mortgages that represent a drain on the nation's economy and adds huge stress to countless lives. The Bible teaches that "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. (Pr. 22:7)" Those who call into Ramsey's radio program each day would attest to feeling like slaves to their debt.

If you had no debt imagine how much freedom you could enjoy in life. Imagine also how much good you could do if you could increase your giving to your church and to other organizations you would like to support. Think also of how much you could save and invest towards your future retirement. Just avoiding or getting out of debt can lead you to becoming wealthy, and all you've done is follow a Biblical principle.

This also involves another principle: living on less than you make. This requires discipline and maturity, two attributes in short supply today. We want what we want when we want it, and if we have to go into debt to get it we will do so.

I read a blog post yesterday where the writer was addressing the statement that we often hear in the church: We wish we could give more to the church but we just don't have the money. Well...one of the reasons we don't have the money is that we are so deep in debt. Live on less than you make, pay off your debt, and you'll find that you have much more to give. Rather than offering excuses start making different choices.

After paying off debt and doing the other things Ramsey teaches, the next step is to set aside money to invest towards retirement. Few Americans are financially prepared for retirement, and many face that time in their lives with great fear. Pr. 6: 6-11 teaches that we should consider the ant who sets aside supplies in the summer so that it has food in the harvest. In order to have the financial ability to enjoy our retirement years we must set aside the money during our working lives and invest it wisely. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme nor is it Prosperity Gospel. It is being disciplined enough during our working lives to prepare ourselves for retirement. Otherwise, we become a burden on others and cannot retire with dignity.

A great rule of thumb I once heard was that we should learn to live on 80 percent of our income. Tithe 10 percent and save 10 percent. (Ramsey teaches that one should put 15 percent into a retirement account.) But, most people would be much better prepared for retirement if they did the 10 percent rather than what they are doing now (very little). Yes, this may mean that you live in a smaller house than you want or that you have to drive an older car rather than leasing a new one every three years. But, it also means that it's not a crisis the next time your washing machine needs to be replaced.

Readers may point out that there are many biblical passages that warn against wealth, but I would argue that these passages warn against the misuse of wealth. If your security is in the wealth you accumulate, that is wrong. If you become wealthy by unethical or immoral means, that is wrong. If you abuse others because of your wealth, that is wrong. But, if you become wealthy through ethical means and by living a disciplined life so that you can serve others through your giving, then there is nothing wrong with a Christian becoming wealthy.

If you need help in knowing what to do, both of these are excellent books. If you have debt I would strongly suggest you begin with Ramsey's book and follow his steps exactly as he lists them. Once you understand and are following the practices he teaches you will be ready to read Rabbi Lapin's book.

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