The Bible and Saving Money

AntsWhat does the Bible have to offer us on how or why we should save money? Basically, the Bible says that just saving without reason is not enough, but saving for future needs while still having an open heart for others is wise. The general principles offered are clear: store away resources that you gather during times of abundance so that you will have what you need when resources are scarce. The passages themselves vary quite a bit. And some argue from a completely different tack.

In the book of Proverbs, we are taught through the example of ants. Both Proverbs 6 and Proverbs 30 point to the ant as a guide for saving. Ants may be small, but ants don’t even need a “commander, officer, or ruler” to tell them what to do.  Ants get and store their food during the summer. For this they are said to be wise.

In Genesis we have the story of Joseph in Egypt. Because of his dreams and interpretation of dreams, Joseph is able to plan for the future. Joseph interprets dreams that the Pharaoh has of cows and ears of grain. In his first dream, seven “terrible-looking, scrawny cows devoured the seven healthy-looking, fattened cows” (Genesis 41:4).  In the Pharaoh’s second dream,

seven ears of grain, full and healthy, grew on a single stalk. Just then, seven ears of grain, scrawny and scorched by the east wind, sprouted after them, and the scrawny ears swallowed up the full and well-formed ears. (Genesis 41:5-7a)

In both dreams the seven scrawny, poorly nourished swallowed up the healthy and strong. This foretold seven years of famine that would follow seven years of abundance. Joseph offered a saving strategy: “Then Pharaoh should appoint administrators over the land and take one-fifth of all the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance” (Genesis 41:34). Because of Joseph’s insight and planning, “The famine struck every country, but the entire land of Egypt had bread” (Genesis 41:54b). Through prudent planning, Egypt was able to weather the storms drought and famine.

You’re not an ant and you’re not a Pharaoh, but there are still lessons to be learned here. Store away resources that you gather during times of abundance so that you will have what you need when resources are scarce. The one-fifth of its income that Joseph had Egypt save may be too steep for your situation, but you can start your own fund to prepare for times of famine.

From the ant and the Pharaoh we learn about two different types of times of want. The ant faces a cyclical lack of food. Every winter the ant needs to have food stores while having food available for gathering in the summer. The Pharaoh had to deal with a larger, more unexpected trial. The ant can teach you to save your paycheck and not spend it all on payday. You know that your pay will come around again later, so it’s mostly a question of dealing with the rhythm of the cycle. Store away in summer, that is, save some of your pay. When winter comes, the rest of the time, take from your savings prudently so that you do not run out before summer comes again.

The Pharaoh had a much harder lesson. Not all situations are part of the regular cycle of sowing and reaping. And while the Pharaoh had two heaven-sent dreams and a God-commissioned interpreter, most of us do not have advance warning for major crises. We rely on things like insurance and savings to prepare us for the hard times. For such times, financial experts tend to recommend that we have six months’ worth of pay saved in the bank. Six months’ worth can be daunting, so work your way up a little bit at a time.

If you have read my writings before, then you may not be surprised to find that the Bible is not entirely of one voice on this matter. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus cautions us to

Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. (Matthew 6:19-20)

Gathering money and resources cannot be our only imperative, and it should not be at the demise of the earth or others in it. Worshiping God and doing the work of the Kingdom of Heaven are important, in many ways more important than saving money. Does this mean that we should not save money or never keep grain in our storehouses? No, while we should not focus our lives on accumulating wealth, this does not mean that we should have no savings. What we can learn is that gathering money itself is not the goal. Being rich is not the answer. Having a safety net so that we are making decisions without feeling stressed allows us to consider, not worry about the lilies in the field.

We also gain insight into Jesus’ perspective from a parable of a man who comes into new wealth. When a huge harvest comes in, he has nowhere to put all his abundance.

Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ (Luke 12:18-19)

What the man had no way of foreseeing was that he was going to die that same night. Instead of making bigger storehouses, perhaps the man should have been sharing with neighbors for their storehouses. More than any savings account, community can be there for us in times of trouble.  Generosity is an attitude expected of all Christians, not to keep us from saving, but to keep us connected and compassionate for the situation of others. Christianity is not about doing away with the Hebrew teachings but making them deeper.  It says. “Yes” to savings, but “no” to greed and selfishness.

Together the guidelines of scripture provide us boundaries. Gather enough savings to care for yourself and your family during the lean times. Don’t gather so much wealth that greed consumes you or that you ignore the needs of others.

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