How Personal are Our Finances?

Have you ever been asked about your finances? How do you respond when you’re in a group and someone asks you how much money you make? Or how much you have invested? Or how much you paid for your home? Many people feel their finances are personal and, in such a situation, maybe a bit taken aback that someone would ask such personal questions so publicly.

Of course, it’s reasonable to want some level of privacy in some areas of our lives, and finances is one of those areas for most of us—and for many good reasons. Openly discussing our personal financial means, or that of others can cause unhealthy competition, feelings of superiority or inadequacy, jealousy, or strife.

But, although we seldom discuss our personal finances in public, the truth is, our habits and attitudes about money are, very often, rather evident to others. People observe our actions—how we live and what we prioritize—and they imitate us.

When someone purchases a new car (or boat, or second house, etc.), we may not know whether they were able to afford it truly, or if they had to go into debt for it. But we do know they placed importance on purchasing it. They may have purchased it for a meaningful reason (for example, a second home as an investment that will bring them a financial return). Or after a long time of saving, making a large purchase which was a goal they worked towards. It is, by no means, sinful to have nice things. The thing that people pick up on is our priority towards the things we own. The old saying, “Show me your checkbook, and I can tell you your priorities,” rings true.

In the same way, when someone prioritizes giving to their church and other charities, when they are quick to contribute resources in serving others, and when they seek out ways to invest in others, this is also evident and conveys something about this person’s priorities, especially if it is a habit observed over time.

Why do people’s observations about how we handle money matter? Because:

  • people learn from (and often model) other’s behavior, especially the behavior of someone who has influence over them, such as a parent, grandparent, teacher, or church leader,
  • it conveys who or what has lordship of our life,
  • observing our Biblical financial habits will draw others to follow God’s leading, and observing our worldly financial habits will lead them toward a more worldly perspective.

While God does not command us to live in a state of self-denial, we are called to view the financial means we have been blessed with as stewardship, which we are to manage well (Matthew 25:14-30). Likewise, we are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14), and “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:15).

For pastors and other leaders, this question takes on additional importance because how that leader handles his finances will affect both the spiritual and financial dynamics of the church. If he demonstrates financial stability and prioritizes personal financial responsibility, others notice, which gives him greater authority when he addresses the topic with individuals and church leadership. Alternatively, if the leader is materially focused, or even if he has no financial focus (always “a day late and a dollar short”) regarding financial matters, it is less likely that his teaching on stewardship-related matters will be received with the hoped-for level of authority.

For most of us, excellent financial management does not come naturally; as with any skill, it takes time to learn and develop. But, it is knowledge worth pursuing and, once mastered, has the potential to pay great dividends—both financial and spiritual. Because, as our children, our churches, and everyone we influence see us prioritizing a right understanding and application of God’s financial principles, we will be drawing them closer to the Lord.

None of us is perfect. But we are to strive for perfection. Seeking God’s will regarding our financial priorities becomes evident to others over time, providing them with a powerful, unspoken testimony of how Christians can serve God well in a world full of skewed, ungodly priorities.

If you’d like more information about God’s instructions regarding our finances, I encourage you to read our free Financial Lessons from the Bible or contact our BOR staff anytime you’d like us to help you in any way.