The Adventist Way to Financial Success, Part 1: Five Key Biblical Principles

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The Adventist Way to Financial Success, Part 1: Five Key Biblical Principles

A large part of financial advice that is dispensed in our churches, youth conference gatherings, and our literature tends to focus on the few narrow areas of tithe, offerings, and estate giving. This is because our church leaders and seminar presenters are often not formally trained in the management of money and are often constrained to give advice as it pertains to our church’s needs.

 

Very little of that advice actually touches upon the practical matters that many of our members face and at times the advice given and the management of resources in our church has been far from perfect.

 

In this article, I show how the foundations of biblical financial principles touch every aspect of our lives and these principles lay the foundation for this series on personal finance. We cannot acknowledge God as our Creator and Redeemer while willfully mismanaging the resources He has entrusted to our care.

 

The Sabbath, our End-time Message, and our understanding of God wanting to be among us, all point us to the time when this earth will be renewed with us again being stewards of it. Let us look at some basic biblical financial principles that can lead to wealth, true happiness and peace in Christ.

 

Ownership, Ecology, and Stewardship

 

The creation account in Genesis begins quite literally with God and His creative acts in creating our world.[1] The sixth day of creation shows His creation of Adam and Eve and the institution of marriage that brought them together.[2] The seventh day shows that He rested from His work of creation and the Bible sets for us both Adam’s domain of responsibility which was the earth and its inhabitants as well as the rest from his work during which he was invited to commune with his Creator and Friend.[3]

 

From the beginning, the Bible establishes that God created the world and gave it to Adam to be its caretaker or steward.[4] Despite sin’s entrance into the world, through Adam, God never relinquished His claim to ownership of it.[5] And it is through Christ’s sacrifice for the human race, that one day we shall inherit the earth again.[6]

 

During Creation week, God also established man’s relationship to other created beings on earth. He and his wife were to be caretakers of both the living and inanimate things on earth. It is from this principle that we derive our relationship to the environment and our place in it. It is our responsibility to keep nature’s ecological balance intact.

 

It is when we lose our control of ourselves that we begin to unleash the destructive parts of our nature on each other and the world we live in. A Christian cannot be faithful to God and at the same time engage in practices that deplete the earth’s natural resources and pollute it.[7]

 

From this perspective, Christian stewards are responsible not only for their own possessions but for the world around them.[8]

 

The Bible is full of examples of human beings who were excellent stewards of God’s resources: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Daniel and his three friends, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, Barnabus, Philemon, the disciple John, and of course Jesus Himself. God at times required everything they owned including their wealth, and their own bodies for His Cause.

 

Tithe and Offerings

 

In Genesis, we also see the practice of worship and its relationship to our possessions. Adam was instructed to offer an unblemished lamb as a sacrifice for his sins and that of his family to point to the day when the Lamb of God would take away the sins of this world. Adam faithfully instructed his sons in this teaching and soon after they reached adulthood, their faithfulness to this teaching was tested. Each of them brought from their possessions competing offerings, but only one was accepted while the other was rejected.

 

Unfortunately, this conflict between Cain and God spilled over to his relationship with his brother. In fighting with God, Cain violence towards his brother showed the destructive effects of not keeping in mind God’s ownership of ourselves and our possessions.[9] Faithfulness to God cannot be complete without faithfulness in recognizing His absolute ownership over ourselves and all of our possessions.

 

Early on in the Old Testament, we are introduced to the concept of offerings for sacrifices as well as returning of the Tithe.[10] God made the possibility of free will offerings,[11] provision of a portion of the harvest for the widows the orphans, and the poor,[12] release from financial bondage in the year of Jubilee,[13] and Tithe as a test of His faithfulness towards us.[14] After the Exodus, when Israel was established as a nation, God reaffirmed the law of tithing as a divine institution on which Israel’s prosperity depended.[15][16]

 

According to the Seventh-day Adventist book of Fundamental Beliefs,

 

The New Testament affirms the principle of Tithe starting with Jesus who condemned those who violated it spirit (Matt. 23:23)… Because Abraham is the father of believers, he is the model for tithe paying for Christians. As Abraham paid tithe to Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God, so New Testament believers give tithe to Christ, our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9,10; 7:1-22). After the Crucifixion, when the divinely directed role of the Levitical priesthood ended, tithes were still used to support the ministry of God’s church. Paul established the principle underlying this by drawing a parallel between the Levitical service and the newly established gospel ministry (1 Cor. 9:11-14 NIV). Church members, then, willingly bring their tithes to the “storehouse, that there may be food in My house” (Mal. 3:10) in other words, so that there are enough funds in God’s church to provide a living for its ministry and to carry forward the outreach of the gospel.[17]

 

For more on Tithing read this article: The Tithes Conundrum.

 

Work, Rest, and Labor Relations

 

Scripture declares that God has given to human beings six days for work and the seventh day for rest.[18] The balance between work and rest is also reflected in the consequence of sin and God’s redeeming us from it. God decreed that Adam’s punishment was that he and his descendants would eat from “the sweat of [their] brow”.[19]

 

We are also invited to enter into God’s spiritual rest as expressed through Sabbath as a contrast from our works.[20] We are also to treat those who are in our employ with kindness and with equality. Withholding of wages, underpaying workers, denying them due process, and fraud in dealings with workers are all condemned by Scripture.[21] Worship to God cannot be complete without reconciliation with our fellow human beings.[22]

 

Credit, Debt, and Borrowing

According to Christian Finance expert, the late Larry Burkett,

 

There are virtually no Scripture references prohibiting the extension of credit, indeed, the burden of prudence is placed on the borrower, except in case of interest. The implication throughout most of Scripture dealing with lending is that a loan could be made to anyone, but interest could not be charged to brothers (Deut. 23:20). [Burkett] believes that the admonition applies specifically to loans made for basic needs or personal income and not to investment-type loans (Deut. 24:10).[23]

 

Burkett establishes two biblical principles on debt from which he draws several derivative principles on borrowing which I have listed below and have examined and found them to be sound Scripturally.

 

The first Biblical principle states that the borrower is servant to the lender.[24] In Biblical times the lender was entitled to the borrower’s worldly possessions and his personal liberty. The only variable that Scripture allows for is that the borrower be released from servitude after seven years unless he voluntarily elected to continue as a slave.[25] It is clear that Scripture takes borrowing seriously!

 

The second Biblical principle is that borrowing is permitted in Scripture. Burkett shows that in Paul’s day there was a dispute over whether Christians should pay taxes to a heathen government.[26] Paul’s advice that they should owe no man anything[27] should be understood in the context of Romans 13:6-7. Paul’s advice was keeping in mind the Lord’s injunction regarding the payment of taxes and our obligations to God.[28],[29]

 

Derivative Practical Biblical Principles on Borrowing[30]

 

Principle 1: Debt is Not Normal

 

Regardless of how it seems today, debt is not normal in any economy and should not be normal for God’s people. We live in a debt-ridden society that is now virtually dependent on constant expansion of credit to keep the economy going. Listen to God’s promise that He made to His people:

 

Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth…The Lord will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 12; emphasis supplied).

 

Principle 2: Do Not Accumulate Long-term Debt

 

We will look at debt in an in-depth article later in the series, but suffice it to say here that nowhere in Scripture is the accumulation of debt encouraged or promoted as a means for advancement in investments, business, or the personal life. The longest term prescribed for long-term debt in Scripture is seven years. After seven years in Scripture, debts obligations were to be released.

 

In contrast to Scripture, today, debt on the other hand is not only encouraged but is looked at as a way for advancement, a tool to be used as a leverage for investment without sufficient regard to the risk of default, and as a means to secure possessions such as cars, clothes, and a home.

 

Voluntary bankruptcy, while allowed by the government, is not the same as the Jubilee of Scripture. In personal bankruptcy, the debtor is avoiding payment to the creditors while in biblical Jubilee it is the creditor that is voluntarily forgiving the debt. A significant difference!

 

Principle 3: Avoid Surety

 

By now you understand that surety means accepting an obligation to pay without having a certain way to make that payment. The most recognizable form of surety is co-signing for the loan of another. But surety also can be any form of borrowing in which you sign an unconditional guarantee to pay.

 

The only way to avoid surety is to collateralize a loan with property that will cover the indebtedness, no matter what. Many home buyers think that because they buy an appreciating asset, such as a home, they are safe from surety, but that is not the case. In most states, a lender can sue to collect a deficit on a home mortgage in the event of a default. And remember that most defaults happen during a bad economy when prices of homes are most likely to drop.

 

Credit card purchases have become the most common form of surety in our generation. In this transaction, one merchant sells you the material and another finances the purchase (except for in-store credit cards). In the event of a default, the return of merchandise does not cancel the debt because the finance company has no interest in the merchandise.

 

Principle 4: Borrower has an Absolute Commitment to Repay

 

A man lacking in sense pledges, and becomes surety in the presence of his neighbor. (Proverbs 17:18).

 

Surety means taking on an obligation without a specific way to pay it. The law of borrowing given in Scripture is that it is a sin to borrow and not repay.

 

The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives. (Psalm 37:21).

 

The assumption in the verse is that the wicked person can repay but will not, as opposed to an individual who wants to repay but cannot. Principles are given to keep us clearly within God’s path so that we can experience His blessings. To ignore them puts us in a constant state of jeopardy in which Satan can cause us to stumble at any time. When it comes to vows of repayment the Bible warns us to be careful:

 

It is better that you should not vow than that should vow and not pay. (Ecclesiastes 5:5).[31]

 

Talent Management is not just Wealth Management

 

We established earlier God’s ownership of everything including our person as His right as our Creator. We now examine the specifics of this management in the talents He has entrusted to us. Christ’s parable of the talents illustrates the Lord’s expectation that talents both tangible and intangible (time, money, health, education, intelligence etc.) must be put to use and increased at comparable rates.[32]

 

Often I’ve found that wealthy Adventists understand that their personal money must grow at market rates but paradoxically take the opposite position on the Lord’s resources in non-profits and in the formal work. They frequently conduct the affairs of the Lord’s work in ways that they would never allow a money manager to do with their personal money and retirement funds. It is clear from Scripture that the Lord will require a full accounting of His entrusted talents and His reward will be commensurate to our ability to put them to work for His Cause.

 

The Lord also requires honesty and transparency in our management of His resources.[33] In the Old Testament, God showed an exactitude regarding obedience to His commands[34] and in the New Testament, God again demonstrated that lies regarding the amounts of sale even in free will offerings were not overlooked.[35]

 

Jesus expects our dealings with each other and with the world to be as transparent as sunlight.[36],[37] The same principle of honesty and transparency should extend to our work for God. Too often our reports are riddled with inaccuracies and outright fraud regarding membership growth.[38]

 

Retirement and End Times

 

Scripture does not explicitly touch on retirement, but principles can be derived to make provision of it. The fifth commandment to honor our parents and Christ’s example of providing for His mother at the cross, give us ample guidance as to our responsibilities towards our parents.

 

In biblical times, parents lived with their sons in their old age. Retirement as we know it did not exist back then. Inheritance and the mismanagement of it are discussed in Scripture and guidance is given to guard against being overconfident in the storage of wealth.

 

As a church, we have an end-time message which requires us to be in a condition or state that is optimum for living it. Debt, lack of savings, poor health, and a general mismanagement of talents other than money all prevent us from being free to proclaim the message and even flee when the time comes to flee.

 

The Lord has given us guidance against extreme positions regarding the disposal of property, sensationalistic messages, and has provided a safeguard for the Gospel ministry through the re-establishment of systematic giving and the return of Tithe.

 

Ministers who bear responsibility for preaching and fearlessly denouncing sin are not be burdened with having to think for their own sustenance. They are not to be beholden to donors or to the members of their congregation. Our system of organization is built and predicated on the principle that the message should not be brought into disrepute by the co-mingling of business and the ministry.

 

In the same way, our aged ministers should be provided for so they may be able to age gracefully. Our organized system of tithe and offerings, as well as judicious retirement plans, account for this need. Our members too are to provide for the future and to as far as their ability allows them to, they should lessen their burden on the church.

 

In contrast to the true church in Revelation, another system is shown as being rich and trafficking worldly goods and the souls of men.[39] Salvation is bought and sold with material possessions and the co-mingling of secular government, religious entities and financial markets are described and denounced in vivid detail. Those who find themselves in this system need to awaken to their peril and be called out and into God’s true church.

 

The Three Angels’ Messages call to worship God who has created everything and to acknowledge His ownership through the keeping of His day of worship, needs to be proclaimed as a warning to those who are still in this Babylonian system. The Sabbath stands as a tangible reminder of God’s ownership of our lives and our responsibilities to Him as well as our rest in His salvation through Christ.

 

Sadly, far too many members in our church are not financially stable and are a risk to themselves and to the work at large. The poor management of God’s resources entrusted to them has forced the work of God on earth to slow down as giving has dropped off precipitously.

 

Administrators and leaders in the church are forced to weigh cutting off whole unions and conferences full of workers because of the lack of funds. In many areas of the world, our workers go without pay or are forced to subsist on fewer wages than they are worth because many of us are not faithful in our giving.

 

To compound the issue, wolves have entered our flock and have fleeced the sheep into thinking that the diversion of tithes and offerings into their pockets is a faster and more efficient way for the work to be accomplished.

 

Summary

 

God has entrusted to us not only the world but all that is in it. He desires that we be co-laborers with Him in the work of saving other human beings. It is only when we understand the Biblical principles of stewardship and management of resources in our personal lives and in the life of the church that we can experience the true joy and peace that comes from God.

 

A return to biblical principles regarding the management of all our resources will help members not only escape the mental and physical bondage of debt but will help them prosper financially as well.

 

I am confident that as our members practice the sound financial principles that I lay out in this series, they will experience growth, not only in their finances, but spiritually as well. I’ve seen it personally in my life and in the lives of countless people that I have helped over the years who have transformed their lives from financial bankruptcy to a life free from debt that is filled with peace from God and true happiness.

Click here to read the rest of Adrian’s series on Biblical Finance

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Notes.

[1] Genesis 1:1. All Bible references are from the English Standard Version (ESV) and where noted, the King James Version (KJV) or New International Version (NIV).

[2] Genesis 1:26-28.

[3] Genesis 2:2-3.

[4] Genesis 2:15.

[5] Psalm 24:1, Matthew 4:9.

[6] Matthew 5:5.

[7] Revelation 11:18.

[8] Seventh-day Adventists Believe: An Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (1988), p. 274.

[9] Genesis 4:1-16.

[10] Genesis 14:20, Genesis 28:22.

[11] Exodus 25:1-8.

[12] Leviticus 23:22, Deuteronomy 24:19 KJV; Ruth 2:15.

[13] Leviticus 25:10.

[14] Malachi 3:8-11.

[15] Leviticus 27:30-32; Numbers 18:24, 26, 28; Deuteronomy 12:6, 11, 17.

[16] Seventh-day Adventists Believe: An Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, p. 272.

[17] Ibid. Pg. 272.

[18] Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-11.

[19] Genesis 3:19.

[20] Hebrews 4:9-10.

[21] Deuteronomy 24:14-15, 25:4, Matthew 25:40, 1 Timothy 5:18, James 5:4.

[22] Matthew 5:24.

[23] Larry Burkett, The Complete Guide to Managing Your Money (1993), p. 261.

[24] Proverbs 22:7.

[25] Exodus 21:5-6.

[26] Romans 13:6-8.

[27] Romans 13:8.

[28] Matthew 22:17-21.

[29] Larry Burkett, The Complete Guide to Managing Your Money (1993), p. 427.

[30] Ibid. This section quoted or paraphrased wholly from p. 428-430.

[31] On a practical note, I personally take the position that I, as a borrower have the absolute commitment to repay. When I have borrowed, (once or twice nine months after losing my job in 2006, and after recovering from cancer in 2014) I have written down the specific amounts so that I can repay as I was able with interest. For me, the debts that I have owed to others in the past have never escaped my memory and have the perverse ability to keep me awake at night and hound me through the day. On occasion, I have been owed money from other Christian brothers and sisters while I have simultaneously owed others. This situation creates an extreme pressure because on the one hand you can be so easily released from indebtedness if others paid you back, but on the other hand at the same time you are unable to pay others back. Now, I’ve taken the position that if I lend a fellow Christian brother or sister, I do not expect the money back. This way if they repay, it is a blessing and if they aren’t able to, I simply forget it.

[32] Matthew 25:14-30.

[33] Daniel 6:1-5.

[34] Joshua 7.

[35] Acts 5.

[36] Ephesians 5.

[37] Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1896), p. 66.1.

[38] “Trim, the research director, said the problem, though, is common in some regions. On Tuesday, he revealed that 30 percent of church clerks in one particular division had been pressured to inflate baptismal numbers. ‘It’s a sin to lie about anything in the Adventist Church, but for some reason, too many people think it’s OK to lie about membership numbers,’ Trim said.”

[39] Revelation 18.

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Adrian Zahid is a senior partner at a management consulting firm in southern California. A recent survivor of advanced-stage cancer, he is trying to make the most of the second lease on life that God has given him. He is the cofounder of Intelligent Adventist and in his free time enjoys helping nonprofits be sustainable and the Seventh-day Adventist Church succeed in fulfilling the Great Commission.