Saving & Investing: Keys to a happy life, terrible mistakes or something else?

Guest blog post By Craig L. Blomberg

Almost without exception, the financial consultants of our world want to help us make as much money as we can. Of course, they typically take a small percentage of our holdings every year; so the more they help us make, the more they earn.

On the other hand, countless advertisers implicitly tell us not to save or invest, because they want us to buy their products immediately. If we cannot afford them, we should borrow money so we can still get them at once. Often they offer us a year or more before we have to start paying off our debts, even though interest has been accruing all along. Credit card debt is the most dangerous of all because of its exorbitant interest rates. Those who listen to both of these messages wind up in essence trying to make all they can so that they can spend all they can!

In a very different vein, John Wesley, in his sermon, “The Use of Money,” famously declared, “Gain all you can…save all you can…give all you can.” This teaching comes much closer to the biblical outlook on saving and investing. Unfortunately, Christians too often fall victim to imitating the ways of the world than to following Scripture.

The Old Testament required the faithful Israelite to give 23⅔ percent of their annual earnings to the Lord’s work in various ways, including caring for the poor (see Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:8-32; Deuteronomy 14:22-29). The more income a household had, the more they would give away. The New Testament does not mandate a fixed percentage but commands Christians to give generously, even sacrificially (see 2 Corinthians 8:13-15). All other things being equal, that implies a higher percentage of giving, the higher one’s earnings.

The Bible teaches next to nothing about investments other than to charge no interest on loans to the poor, since the goal is to help people get out of poverty (see Exodus 22:25-27). The biblical cultures existed centuries before the economic philosophies of Adam Smith (capitalism) and Karl Marx (communism). More dominant was the theory of “limited good” or the “zero-sum game,” in which one’s accumulation of resources was believed necessarily to be at someone else’s expense. But Jesus does illustrate the importance of stewarding God’s gifts by using an analogy from the world of first-century banking, rudimentary as it was. It is always better to try to do something rather than nothing with the money God entrusts to us, even when there are risks. But investments must be as ethical as possible remembering that all we have is just on loan from God and he will call us to account for everything we have done with it. A key goal with our investments should be to contribute to human flourishing and care for creation.

Proverbs 13:22 reminds us that a good person “leaves an inheritance for their children’s children,” in a context that refers to literal wealth. Jesus commands us not to store up treasure on earth for ourselves (see Matthew 6:19). These teachings do not contradict each other, because it is important to save (and to invest responsibly to make more than savings accounts can) so that one can be more generous to others. The danger is that we wind up using added income simply for ourselves.

We are tempted to veer toward one of two opposite ends of a spectrum.  One views wealth as nothing but a blessing from God. The other thinks the accumulation of unneeded resources always offends him. Proverbs 30:8-9 offers a golden mean: “give me neither poverty nor riches” so that I don’t have to steal but also so that I don’t deny God by thinking I can provide entirely for myself. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 insists that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” but only in a context where we are first of all generous to others.

In today’s economy, then, saving and investing are good when they enable us to be more generous to those for whom we are responsible and to avoid our becoming a burden to others in church or society. But they are seductions to sin when they tempt us simply to make ourselves more comfortable than we need to be. Saving and investing are neither the keys to a happy life nor a terrible mistake but a facet of faithful stewardship!

Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary; author or editor of 25 books, especially on the reliability of Scripture, interpreting parables, and the Bible on stewardship; and member of the Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV and the NIV Study Bible revision committee.