An expert on money matters, Larry Burkett once said on our FamilyLife Today® radio broadcast, "Of the couples who end up getting a divorce, every survey shows between 85-90 percent of them say that the number one problem they were having was finances." We live in a culture that encourages couples to buy, buy, buy—whether they have the money or not.
How you handle your finances is one of the greatest tests of your character—and of your marriage relationship. If you and your spouse are having trouble with your finances, you need to set a goal of working through this together and developing a biblical financial plan that will put you on solid ground.
Here are a few steps I would suggest:
First, begin to embrace God's perspective of money by studying what the Bible says about money. You may surprised to learn that there are more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about money. As Ron Blue, another respected authority on finances, writes, "this reflects God's understanding of human nature, and how we handle our money reveals much about our character and spiritual commitment."1
Blue goes on to state two key principles every couple should know and embrace about our finances:
- God owns it all.
- We are stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us.
These truths should first influence our attitude about money. For example, we should not take pride in the money we make, because it really comes from God. He is the One who providentially provides it to whom He pleases. As Psalm 50:10 tells us, "For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills."
We also should avoid giving our devotion to money. We should not measure our worth or our success by money that God gave us in the first place. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income." And 1 Timothy 6:10 declares, "For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
Biblical truths about money also should influence us in our actions. Matthew 25:14-31 tells of two faithful stewards who took their master's "talents" and invested them wisely and then were applauded by him when he said, " ... Enter into the joy of your master." But a third steward buried the one talent he was given and was cast into outer darkness. For those who are not faithful with what they've been given, even that will be taken away from them. And ultimately, our stewardship—what we do in our lives with what God has given us—will reflect whether Christ is truly Lord of our lives or not.
Ron Blue writes, "every spending decision is a spiritual decision. There is nothing more spiritual than buying a car, taking a vacation, buying food, paying off debt, paying taxes, and so on. These are all uses of His resources. He owns all that I have ... The Bible reveals many specific guidelines as to how the Owner wants His property used. As a steward, I have a great deal of latitude, but I am still responsible to the Owner. Some day I will give an accounting of how I used His property."2 What should be clear is the Bible declares that stewardship is a very serious issue to God and therefore we should take it seriously as well.
Jesus made a compelling statement about money in the Sermon on the Mount. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal," He said. "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). After meeting our own needs, we should be looking for ways to use the resources He has entrusted to us to make an investment in His kingdom.
I like what J. Campbell White, secretary of the Laymen's Missionary Movement said in 1909: "Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ's purpose toward the world He came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of His eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ's undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards."3 I can't put it any better than that.
Second, commit together to put God, rather than money, at the center of your life. Barbara and I early on in our marriage decided to sign a document giving everything we own to God. It was something our friends and mentors, Bill and Vonette Bright modeled for us several years earlier. That decision, that our money and possessions belong to God, completely changed our whole approach toward finances.
You may think your money problem is that you don't have enough. The saying we often hear is, "I know money won't solve all my problems but I sure would like giving it a try!" But when married couples are struggling financially, it often means that their allegiance is in the wrong place ... ultimately, their heart is in the wrong place.
"No one can serve two masters," Jesus Christ says in Matthew 6:24, "for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." Jesus realized money has such a powerful influence on human beings that it could actually compete with our worship of Him.
Money can easily become the master that we serve. Why? Because our hearts are lustful and envious (James 4:1-4). So we constantly want more. When friends get a new car, boat, computer, TV, surround sound stereo, cell phone, or some other latest and greatest device, we become convinced that we need it as well. We're immersed in a culture of commercials and spokespeople who tell us life is incomplete unless we have more.
How we handle money is a test of our allegiance. Who or what are we worshipping? Do we understand that God is the One who gives and takes away? Will we trust Him to supply our needs? Will we look to glorify Him in how we spend, give, and share with others? Will we be wise stewards of the resources He has placed under our care?
Third, develop a team approach to handling your finances. At the most basic level, this means talking together regularly about your money. Larry Burkett made another interesting comment during our radio interview: "If you are not communicating about money, it is because you are not communicating about anything." Chances are you've experienced this in your relationship. You need to make a commitment to communicate.
I believe couples need to develop a gameplan together on three primary things:
- Developing a monthly budget that includes a strategy for getting out of debt.
- A strategy for saving and investing.
- A plan for giving back to the Lord.
So often, at the very heart of financial trouble for a couple is disagreement on how to use their finances. Once they begin to make decisions together and start wisely watching over how you spend, invest, and give, their financial struggle soon dissipates. Money issues have had the effect of bringing Barbara and me back to dependence on God as we turn to Him and His Word for what our thinking and actions should be with regard to our financial situation.
Also, you would be wise to seek godly counsel as you reorganize your finances. Find someone who can give you practical advice and hold you accountable on reorienting your priorities, budgeting, getting out of debt, investing, saving, and giving.
Remember that the key to stewardship is found in our heart attitude toward God and what He's given us. It's all His and it's all for His glory.
1. Ron Blue, Mastering Money In Your Marriage, Group Publishing, 2000.
2. Ron Blue, Master Your Money, Thomas Nelson, 1986, p. 20.
3. John Piper, Desiring God, Multnomah Books, 1986, 1990, p. 188.
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