What Does the Bible Say About Spending?
Spending is a typical daily occurrence for us today. The difference between our spending and people living one hundred or more years ago is that not all our spending is necessary for our survival. Modern inventions and industry have made it possible for us to get what we need quickly and at affordable prices. This progress has not only freed up more of our time, it's made surplus, having more than what's necessary to provide for basic needs, a reality for most people.
Having more time and more money has drastically changed the definition of spending for us today. As Christians, we are called to be good and faithful stewards. We know that God owns everything. It is He who has given us the ability to create wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). Therefore how we spend money should be guided by God's instructions, which he provides in His Word.
About the author: Leo Sabo is president of the Christian Stewardship Network, where he gets to share the incredible impact financial stewardship and generosity can have in the Church. He’s spent the last 17 years working with couples, individuals and church leaders; helping them understand and manage finances conforming to Biblical principles.
What Does the Bible Say About Spending?
There are many Scriptures on the topic of money and how to manage it. We can't cover them all here, so we'll focus on what the Bible reveals about God's main purpose for spending money.
A topical search for spending money comes up with just a handful of Scriptures. The first reference to the spending of money is in Deuteronomy 14:26, when the Israelites are instructed to tithe on their increase each year. They were to take their tithe (crops and livestock), exchange it for money because it would be easier to travel with, and go to the place where God would choose to make His name abide, which would eventually be the temple in Jerusalem. Once there, they were to buy food and drink and have a feast before the Lord. Whatever was left over of the tithe was to be given for the Levites, the poor, the fatherless, the widows, and strangers. (Deuteronomy 14:27-29)
Deuteronomy 14:26 "And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household." (NKJV)
Isn't it interesting that the first mention of spending money is related to tithing? Tithing is an act of acknowledgment and worship that says, "God, you are the Creator and sustainer of all life. Everything I have comes from you, and I return the first portion of what you've given me as a tangible act of obedience and trust." This Scripture reinforces that the first portion of our spending should honor God.
The next passage on spending money is in Isaiah 55:2. To fully understand the meaning of this passage, we need to include verse one. Isaiah 55:1 reads, "Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (ESV) There's a strong salvation emphasis in this verse. God, who is actually speaking here, invites everyone to come and get the most precious and satisfying thing anyone can have, a covenant relationship with Him, which He's offering for free.
In verse two, He questions and instructs those who apparently are hesitant to come. "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." (Isaiah 55:2 ESV) The Lord is asking people how they could be interested in other things besides Himself as He is the only One who can bring genuine satisfaction.
Money and the material things it can provide can become all-consuming. With everything money can buy today, we can easily lose our focus and take God for granted, looking for and desiring the material things He can give us, rather than desiring Him. Knowing the temptation we face to look to the gift rather than the Giver, Jesus warns us, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." (John 6:27 NKJV)
What He is saying is, do not seek satisfaction and meaning by laboring and spending money on the trappings of this world. Instead, labor and spend money on food which endures to everlasting life. So, what is food that endures to everlasting life?
To understand this, let's look at the next passage of Scripture that mentions spending money, the feeding of the five thousand. In Mark 6:37, Jesus answers the disciples after they tell him to tell the people to go away so they can buy food in the nearby villages. "But he answered, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?"" (NIV)
You know what happens next. Jesus miraculously provides enough bread and fish to feed everyone. There are also 12 baskets of food left over. What's that about? Let's come back to that in a moment. The first thing to recognize from this passage is the grave concern the disciples had about their ability to feed the people. The task seemed impossible to them. Have you ever felt that way about providing for your family? I sure have.
Through this miraculous act, Jesus proves He is not only able, but He is also willing to provide what we need. You don't need to worry because He is faithful to provide for all your needs. But there's more! Remember the 12 baskets of leftovers? Have you ever wondered what happened to that food? Did each of the disciples take a basked home to feed their family? Were some of the disciples missing, and the extra food was for them?
We're not told what happened to the extra food, but we do know that it was not wasted. In John 6:12, where this same story is told by the apostle John, Jesus tells the disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost." (ESV) God is extravagant, but He is not wasteful. If He provides more than needed, there's a purpose for it, and what's really great is that we can be in on this purpose.
2 Corinthians 9:8 reveals God's purpose for surplus. It says, "And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others." (NLT) According to this passage, God doesn't just provide for what we need, which is really amazing. He provides a surplus that we may share it with others. This is the labor that God wants us to join Him in. The food that endures to eternal life is making God our primary focus and helping others to find and make Him their focus too.
So, how are we doing? Unfortunately, we're not doing too well. The giving statistics among Christians are discouraging. Only about 5% of Christians tithe, almost 40% give nothing at all, and as a group, Christians give only 2.5 % of their income. These statistics reveal a sad truth. Many Christians do not spend according to what the Bible teaches.
Why is it so difficult for people to live and spend according to God's instruction? The answer may surprise you. It turns out it isn't the lack of money that's keeping us from giving; it's our abundance.
One of the greatest hindrances to following Jesus today is having more money than we need. When we have enough to take care of every need, want, and desire, well, there's less of a chance we'll seek God's presence and help. The things that money can provide can quickly lead to spiritual apathy and fruitlessness.
In Revelation 3:18, Jesus counsels the lukewarm church of Laodicea to buy from him refined gold, that which would glorify God and make them truly rich. This was the only church to which Jesus offered no commendation. Instead, he called them wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked because they falsely believed and relied on their riches and wealth. A lukewarm Christian is someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus but lives as though they are sufficient in themselves and don't need Him.
How we spend our money is one of the clearest indicators of what we care about. What does your spending reveal? Is your first spending honoring God? And, when God provides you surplus, are you allowing Him to direct it where it should go? God is generous toward us and provides us with more than we need. With guidance from His Word, we can enjoy the blessings we receive while never losing sight of the bigger picture, loving and caring for others. This is what God is doing, and He wants us to join him in this exciting work.
About the author: Leo Sabo is the president of the Christian Stewardship Network, where he gets to share the incredible impact financial stewardship and generosity can have in the Church. Leo loves to see people experience their own financial awakening. He’s spent the last 17 years working with couples, individuals and church leaders; helping them understand and manage finances conforming to Biblical principles.