A commentary by David M. Virkler
In 2008, the U.S. and world financial markets were in turmoil not seen since the 1930s. Huge firms and corporations declared that they were bankrupt and cried out to the government as their monetary savior. Billions of dollars in losses cost untold thousands of people their jobs and life savings.
Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. America’s national debt has steadily increased and now reaches over $14 trillion. Its sterling credit rating has been downgraded by Standard & Poor’s following a fierce partisan battle in Congress over the debt ceiling and spending cuts, and there appears to be no real solution in sight.
How did this crisis happen? It’s basically the tragic result of greed. I won’t go into all the specifics of the cause here since you can find that information from any number of sources. What we are not hearing on the news is what the Bible has to say about money, charity and financial wisdom.
Riches and Wealth
First, we must remember that the ability to gain wealth and riches comes from God. In Deuteronomy, Moses gave the word of God to Israel. It contains pointed instruction regarding the source of wealth and pride:
“Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them… you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth.” (Deut. 8: 11, 17 & 18).
People who set riches as their chief goal have a self-imposed character defect that hurts them. Paul wrote that they are susceptible to temptation and foolish and harmful lusts that “drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Greediness is a departure from the faith, and greedy people hurt themselves just as badly as self-inflicted stab wounds.
The old King James Version talks about “filthy lucre” in five verses (I Tim. 3:3 & 8, Titus 1:7 & 11 and I Peter 5:2), and it always means shameful or sordid gain. In these passages, it is particularly applied to church leaders. It is especially dreadful when someone goes into ministry only for the money.
Another important passage is James 5:1-6, which outlines judgment for unscrupulous rich people who enrich themselves at the expense of common workers. James says that they will weep and howl for the miseries that will come. “Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire.”
These passages might make it sound like God is against riches or wealth, but that is not the case. In fact, some early Christians were rich. It is the love of money that is the root of all sorts of evil, not money itself.
Paul addressed this issue in his first letter to Timothy. “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
The issue in this passage was not a fact of wealth but rather the abuse of it. In the Greek, the words for “rich,” “riches” and “richly” are basically the same. The passage says that people who are so blessed have a unique responsibility to use their riches for relief, to match their good work with their wealth. By so doing, they will send a Heavenly reward on ahead.
Evidently, wealthy Christians down through the ages often have a difficult time focusing on Christ and Heaven. That seems to be the clear teaching even in the Old Testament. Psalm 62:10 says, “…if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” Solomon wrote about the frustration of financial fixation in Ecclesiastes 5:10-11. “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them; So what profit have the owners except to see them with their eyes?”
Earthly wealth can all be gone in a moment. Riches are unsteady according to Proverbs 23:5. “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Today, with wealth in intangible securities, computer blips and worthless paper, it can all be gone in hours.
Christ’s word to rich people of His day is found in Matthew 6:19-21. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, the real lasting investment is in heaven.
Christians are wealthy beyond measure in Christ. We are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), and we are heirs to the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8). All treasures of wisdom and knowledge reside in Him (Colossians 2:3). As Creator, He made all things, and as our Savior, He gives us all things. Romans 8:32 says “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
Our primary focus is to be on spiritual things, not just material needs. “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:31-33).
The foolish rich man in Christ’s parable had so much that he built bigger barns and settled down for a long trouble-free retirement. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21).
A rich man was being taken to his burial, and someone asked, “How much did he leave?” “All of it,” was the reply. As someone once wrote, “Only one life ’twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Helping the Poor and Needy
Charity has become a government issue rather than the responsibility of the church or family. Wealthy politicians seem to win votes by saying that government should help the poor, the disenfranchised, and so on. In some instances, they give very little of their own money to charity, yet they appropriate millions in taxpayers’ money for flawed causes.
Preoccupation with helping the poor or underprivileged has contributed to the financial crisis. Financial institutions, who posed as great benefactors of the poor, gave sub-prime mortgages to people regardless of their income or financial status, and many politicians are loathe to cut entitlement programs fearing it will cost them votes.
Helping the poor is a good practice, but it must be done with the proper motive. Scripture instructs us to take care of those who have less. “For the poor will never cease from the land: therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy, in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
In Biblical times, the edges of fields were to be left unharvested so that the poor could come and glean the leftovers. “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger….” (Leviticus 19:9-10). This was the case with Ruth who gleaned in the fields of Boaz.
The prosperity of Israel was linked with decent welfare. Isaiah 58:6-8 outlines God’s plan for blessing, which included sharing their bread with the hungry, bringing the poor into their homes, and clothing the naked. “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be thy rear guard.”
Helping the poor is not always what it seems, especially in the case of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. An example of the wrong priority in social concern is found in Mark 14:3-9. Jesus was at the home of Simon the leper when a woman came and poured expensive perfume on His head from an alabaster box. Some in the group were indignant at the apparent waste of money, which could have been given to the poor.
“But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.’”
Jesus wasn’t downplaying caring for the poor; He was criticizing the improper motives of those who complained. It is not enough just to care for the needy. In successful social welfare, there must be a priority on honoring the Lord.
When Jesus Christ fed the multitudes on two occasions, it was because they had sought Him and had nothing to eat because they were carefully listening to His teaching. On another occasion, when all people wanted was a meal, He rebuked them for only seeking food. “…‘you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 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….’” (John 6:26 & 27).
Throwing money at a problem may make it worse unless spiritual principles are incorporated. Politicians who feature social welfare need to seek the Lord in order to bring about real and radical change. We must also teach needy people the principles of thrift and hard work. “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10).
We shouldn’t abandon social welfare or forego emergency measures, but unbiblical principles got us into this mess, and we need to return to a spiritual focus in helping the needy.
Biblical Principles for Financial Wisdom
Evidently, our country and the world are paying the price, to use a monetary and spiritual metaphor, for godless living. By that, I don’t mean poor behavior or public criminality but living without God’s principles both personally and nationally.
Beyond the conventional analysis of the current financial crisis being due to poor management, there is likely an element of scriptural ignorance or even abandonment where godly principles of honesty, wisdom and thrift were sacrificed on the altars of greed, faulty planning and outright stupidity. The fool is characterized 37 times in the book of Proverbs, the wisdom book. He is one who does not seek God’s will and principles, does not pray or consult with the spiritually wise, and just blunders on in an air of pride and monetary gain.
Proper stewardship of the money God gives us is a Biblical principle. Our ministry account is in a bank just down the road from our office. Atlantic Stewardship Bank is organized and operated by those who have a Christian commitment with a sense of biblical stewardship. In stark contrast to the widespread corporate greed that troubled national finances, the bank tithes its profits—that is, it disperses 10% of its profits to religious and other non-profit charitable organizations. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have graciously been granted to organizations that do not exist for personal gain but operate for community well-being.
Old Testament believers were instructed to give a tithe—a minimum offering of one tenth—of their animal and vegetable produce to maintain the priesthood and serve other purposes outlined by God. There were also “first fruits” offerings that were the first ripe of the crops. The first born of man and animals were also dedicated to the Lord. These evidently were to reflect the people’s willingness to put God first.
Dire spiritual declension was marked by cessation of tithes. Malachi 3:8, 10 & 11 summarizes the corresponding human obedience and divine blessing. “‘…you have robbed Me! But you say, “In what way have we robbed You?” In tithes and offerings. … Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field….’”
Under grace, believers are not legally bound to tithe, but it is a good beginning benchmark. It has been noted that Abraham’s tithe (Gen. 14:20b) predated the law, and people under grace would be expected to equal or exceed those under law.
Some might say that they cannot afford to give, but when the poor widow threw her two mites into the offering, which was all she had, Jesus complimented her. “…this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:43 & 44).
When we commit to giving, God provides the means. “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
We are also to wisely invest what God has given us. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Christ taught that we will be called to give an account of what God has given us, and that includes our money. Those who do not invest wisely show themselves unworthy of further blessings.
Thrift is a forgotten principle, but it is a biblical one. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance” (Isaiah 55:2).
One cannot spend more than he makes and long survive. In the mortgage crisis, too many people unwisely took on debt they simply could not afford, and it appears that the U.S. government is continuing this practice itself. We must consider the cost of something before we sign on the dotted line or “charge it.”
As an illustration of the cost of following Him, Jesus used the practical example of financial integrity. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it – lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30).
Salvation gives us more than a fire escape from judgment and Hell; it gives us the person of Christ and all His wisdom to navigate through the minefields of financial chaos. In Christ, we have the special wisdom to live properly.
Paul wrote of “attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He warned against taking the advice of those who did not follow biblical principles. “Now this I say, lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. … Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:2-4, 8).
James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him.” James also wrote, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. … For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:13-14, 16-17).
The Greek word for “wisdom” here is “sophia” from which we get “sophisticated.” Most people think that means being worldly-wise and without wisdom from above. However, good and godly people are the ones who are sophisticated. Those without wisdom are earthly, sensual and demonic as James puts it in verse 15. The financial mess is the result of men using wisdom from earth instead of wisdom from Heaven.
Obedience to God’s Word results in blessing. “Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night…. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1-3).
Psalm 37:25-29 spells out a healthy economic perspective. “I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lends; And his descendants are blessed. Depart from evil, and do good; And dwell forevermore. For the Lord loves justice, And does not forsake His saints; they are preserved forever, But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land, And dwell in it forever."
End-Time Implications of the Financial Crisis
We are living in a time when today’s technology can fulfill tomorrow’s prophecy at any moment. The electronic age has enabled unscrupulous people to manipulate global wealth.
In the Tribulation to come, Antichrist’s mark will be necessary to buy, sell and, thus, eat. Without the mark, one will die according to Revelation 13:16 & 17. If this mark should be a computer access number, the global economy could be dominated by a shameful spiritual impostor just as the Bible says. Rev. 18:10 suggests that the global economy will collapse in an hour. That is not difficult to imagine when we saw how quickly the U.S. and world financial markets crumbled in reaction to the crisis.
People often ask me if the U.S. is in prophecy. My answer is, “Maybe.” Revelation 8:8 speaks of “a great mountain burning with fire…cast into the sea” in the Tribulation. Some believe this great mountain refers to a great nation since nations are often depicted as mountains in the Bible. The nation is unnamed, but some Biblical scholars believe it could be America since it is not specifically referred to in end time prophecy. If that is the case, it means that America will simply cease to exist as an independent world power. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I can’t be sure given the way we are going. We cannot expect God to bless us if we have ignored Biblical principles and spent our way into poverty.
It could be that America will suffer the consequences of foreign domination. As the U.S. falls deeper into debt, are we be selling our souls to strangers who, if the trend continues, will rule over us? This is exactly what happened to ancient Israel. God said that if they didn’t obey Him, He would send foreigners to take over the land.
Many of the prophets warned of these impending invasions. Isaiah wrote of the Assyrian invasion under Sennacharib. “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: Strangers devour your land in your presence, And it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers” (Isaiah 1:7). The term “strangers” is accurately translated “aliens” or “foreigners.”
Psalm 9:17 is a dire warning: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, And all the nations that forget God.” In our greedy rush to wealth, has America forgotten God? If so, the consequences could be dire.
Psalm 144:11 reads, “Rescue me and deliver me from the hand of foreigners, Whose mouth speaks lying words, And whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” However, the Psalm ends speaking of those who follow the Lord completely. “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!” (Psalm 144:15).
How to Solve the Problem
I believe the financial crisis is really a spiritual problem with financial consequences. We ought not to think that God loves America more than others, that our glorious spiritual past is somehow an automatic destiny. The economic chaos reflects a spiritual sickness. Although our government leaders focus on finances, the issue is just plain sin. When “In God We Trust” is a hollow motto and we turn to other gods, that’s idolatry. Only a true spiritual revival and return to the Biblical truth of the Lord God as creator of Heaven and earth and our nation can turn us around.
In these days of financial turmoil, we have seen a tragic secularization of our nation. More deficit spending without spiritual wisdom will not keep us financially afloat. People have made the government out to be a savior, but government cannot save us.
Isaiah 33:22 is thought to be the biblical basis of our three part system of government. “For the LORD is our Judge (judicial), the LORD is our Lawgiver (legislative), the LORD is our King (executive); He will save us”(emphasis mine). Our only hope is to humbly pray for God’s guidance. A genuine spiritual revival could guarantee national healing.
When America was coming to nationhood, George Washington and others knelt in prayer in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. When a constitution for the new country seemed remote, Benjamin Franklin called for prayer. When the Civil War was raging, President Abraham Lincoln went to prayer and besought the nation to do so. When our boys were headed for the Normandy beaches, President Franklin Roosevelt led the nation in corporate prayer. When 9/11 stunned us, Congressional leaders met in non-partisan prayer in the Capitol Rotunda. But now, with the worst crisis imaginable, none of them even considers prayer so far as I know.
When King Solomon gave Israel instruction about regaining national healing, he uttered a word which has been seemingly ignored in the current crisis. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14). If we follow Isaiah 55:7, there is hope. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
“‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him…” (Joel 2:12-14).
The choice is national repentance or nation ruin. We need God’s wisdom to guide us and personal salvation and rededication to save and stir us. I know of no other remedy for such a time as this. Pray that our nation will be troubled enough to see the need for a spiritual breakthrough, seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Americans need to see the truth of Deut. 8:3, “that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.”
Our trust for salvation and for daily bread is in our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him there is peace; without Him there is only distress and worry now and Hell forever. The Apostle Paul had it right: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Scripture verses are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version