“What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (NIV)
In my journey to discover a distinctively Christian way to handle personal finances, I’ve started keeping track of everything we spend, something we were not doing before. You may call it a budget, but its more of setting rough goals for several categories and just tracking how much we spend each month in those categories. Its far from Dave Ramsey’s idea of a Zero-based budget, and we certainly aren’t using cash envelopes. I find that method to simply be too impractical and not worth the time and effort to manage it. It doesn’t seem to correlate well with real life situations (do you fill up your gas tank the same number of times every month?). We’ve been using mint.com to do this and I’ve been impressed with how easy and intuitive it is.
All that said, I’ve also noticed something else about my behavior patterns since beginning to keep a closer watch on finances. What I’ve noticed is this: I now keep a much closer watch on my finances! Pretty surprising, isn’t it? I find myself checking Mint on a daily basis, sometimes several times per day. Nothing has changed, so why do I keep looking at it? I particularly enjoy playing around with the graphs that it makes (nerdy, I know). It is tracking our net worth over time and shows how our net income changes from month to month.
What Does All This Mean?
Is this really the best use of my time? Why do I care so much about our net worth or how much money we are making? Could it be that it is giving me some sort of satisfaction, or even security? I suppose it is. After all, I suspect that if our net worth was negative or decreasing each month, I probably wouldn’t want to look at it. So when I make money, I like to look at how much I’ve made, but when I have debt or lose/spend money, I would prefer not to look at it, subconsciously ignoring that its even there. In that, there is a subtle, but profound indication about how I am thinking about my money. Humans tend to over emphasize their strengths and de-emphasize their weaknesses. We tend to avoid difficult situations and prefer the easy road (just watch an episode of Friends to see this in action). We do this as a way of protecting ourselves.
So when I focus on how much money I’ve made, when I take pride in it, I’m really seeing it as a form of protection. Don’t we all do this? Don’t we all think of our bank accounts as a form of security? When they are filled, we feel secure; when they are running low, we feel vulnerable. What does this say about how much security we find in God versus how much we find in our possessions?
The Apostle Paul’s Take
The Apostle Paul exhorts us to “think eschatologically,” that is, think about things in view of the end-times, because the “time is short,” and “this world in its present form is passing away.” In responding to questions from the Corinthian church, Paul communicates that everything we do should be done in light of Christ’s death, resurrection, and imminent return. In the short passage quoted above, Paul gives a few examples of how we are to think about our place in the world. This is given in the broader context of chapter 7, where Paul is discussing whether the coming end-times means that people should not get married. So let me be clear, this passage is not about money, but rather about how we are to live in light of Christ’s return, which has implications for our finances.
Ask the Experts
I’m no Bible scholar, so I turned to a few to double check my understanding of this passage. Gordon Fee and David Garland are theologians and professors at Regent College and Baylor University, respectively. When analyzing this passage, Garland describes Christians as “stand[ing] on a mountaintop, as it were, where distances are foreshortened. From this vantage point…they can discern what really matters, and they should conduct their lives accordingly.” Similarly, according to Fee, Paul “calls for a radically new understanding of [Christians’] relationship to the world.”†
Notice that Paul does not call for the Corinthians to stop buying and selling, but rather, since “the time is short,” we should “buy something as if it is not ours to keep.” So go on buying things, Paul is saying, but do not act as if they are truly yours, because “the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Jesus brings up the same concept when he tells us not to store up treasures on earth. Simply stated, the Christian is renting everything. God gives us blessings and assets that we are to use in participation with him for the advancement of his kingdom. Praise be to God for including us in his wonderful plan!
As co-laborers with Christ then, shouldn’t we be most concerned with that which Christ is concerned? Is that ever going to be the graphs of my money on Mint.com, or is it that the Father receives the glory due him and people hear the gospel message?
Am I suggesting that we never count our money or check to make sure we have enough in our bank accounts? Absolutely not! In this passage, Paul is much more concerned with how we view our relationship to the world, not about the particulars in what we do. Indeed, he says that neither the one who marries nor the one who stays single is sinning. When I obsess over my (small) stacks of money online, I am entrenching myself in a world that is passing away. Garland says, “[Christians] may continue to do business, but they must watch lest they be consumed by their consuming.” Lord, let me never be consumed in the brevity of this world!
† Quotations taken from Garland, David E. 2003. 1 Corinthians.