Disclaimer: This post is fairly long, and it rambles a bit, but please stick with it. I would love to hear your feedback, no matter where you have landed on these questions or how confident you are in your answers. Thanks.
The title of this post really says it all. One of the biggest questions I’ve been entertaining for years is “What standard of living should I aspire to?” Worded another way: “What standard of living is appropriate given my commitment to follow Christ, love God, and love my neighbor?”
For as long as I have been considering this question, I’ve never once heard someone make a definitive statement. I understand the nature of this question needing to be answered on an individual basis, but I feel that too often we are simply dodging the real answers.
I’ve mentioned before that I read The Irresistible Revolution a few years back and that this book has radically changed my outlook on what it means to follow Jesus. In the book, Shane Claiborne tells his story of living among the poor and giving up his middle class lifestyle to serve “the least of these”. He does it selflessly and calls others to find their own way to follow his example. It was probably reading this book (combined with my very limited experience of serving the poor) that made me first re-consider my ideal of making enough money to “live comfortably”.
At this point, I was still planning to be a research biologist or possibly even a medical doctor. I knew that I could make a very comfortable living this way. A small part of me that was ever growing wasn’t content with this ultimate destination for my life.
I worked at a summer camp for 3 summers making very small amounts of money. I believed that the amount of money wasn’t important as long as I was serving Jesus. Because of this, I wasn’t saving very much throughout college. I wasn’t building my credit or establishing myself financially as I know some of my peers were.
Then, I decided 3 years ago, to change my major. I had been very unsettled in the field of Biology for quite some time, and eventually everything came together and I felt that I was supposed to get my degree in Social Work. I wasn’t thinking about money when I made this decision. Of course it would be somewhat less, but I was far more motivated to change my major because of where I felt God was leading me.
As the reality of how little money I’d be making settled in, I began reasoning out that I would simply further my education by getting my Masters Degree. Once I had my Masters, I could make enough money to live comfortably.
Well, now I have my Bachelors degree, and I still want to get my Masters, but I have chosen to delay going back to school in order to get some work experience first. When I consider my financial future, there is still a part of me that wants to go back to school just for the chance at more money.
I desire to ultimately make this decision based on factors other than money, but before I can, I feel I need to have a better grip on God’s desire for his followers when it comes to their finances.
More recently, my small group has been reading and discussing the book Crazy Love. Throughout the entire book, Francis Chan has been challenging the reader to fully follow Christ and love others in such a way that we have to trust God to take care of our needs. He is encouraging us to love unconditionally and to give sacrificially as an outpouring of our love for the Creator who has pursued us relentlessly. He poses some of the more difficult questions about what this means for Christians and their financial affairs.
I am going to list off some of the questions he has asked and some that he has inspired me to ask:
How much money should a Christian keep back for their living expenses?
How should a follower of Christ go about planning for their retirement?
When it comes to saving money, what is the difference between being a good steward of our resources and hoarding?
Should a Christian’s giving to the church and to the poor be based on an income cap, or a percentage of income? For example, Chan suggested that a possible way of setting our standard of living would be to give away all of our income above the median US income.
If Jesus told the rich, young ruler to “sell all that you have and give to the poor”, what does this mean for the rest of His followers?
If Jesus sent out his disciples without any extra supplies to go and bear witness to Him, where should we draw the line in our abundance?
Why do we put up with so much inequality within the church if the early church sold their possessions so that no one was in need?
If we are to be servants of Christ within an American context, there are certain luxuries that are almost commodities in order to serve effectively. How do we live counter-culturally when we are still connected to so many things that set us apart as wealthy? (ie Internet, television, movies, music)
Why is the church so reluctant to believe that Jesus really meant what he said about sacrificing our material comfort to follow Him?
Why do some segments of Christianity balk at the idea of giving to the poor when they have an abundance?
When those who are more socially-minded try to focus our attention on helping the poor, why are they deemed radical?
Shouldn’t those who are trying to follow Jesus more fully be an example we try to follow rather than an exception that we talk about as if they are impossibly out-of-touch with reality?
Why do we most often consider God’s blessing a financial thing?
What was the last thing you (or I) did that actually required that we have faith in God’s provision?
On top of reading Francis Chan’s book, I was also upset by another source: Glenn Beck. In a segment of his show where he was attempting to debunk “Black Liberation Theology” to protect his viewers from the socialists, he said a few things that I disagreed with strongly. He was very clear that he “earned” his wealth and “earned” the job that he had and it was his
right as an American to hang onto it as tightly as he wants. This angered me because as someone speaking to Christians, he seemed to be more concerned with them being good Americans than with them being good followers of Christ. Christ was never about hanging on to what we have earned. Every time the early church is spoken about or instructed in the New Testament regarding money, it seems to always be about giving freely and supporting one another. Besides the familiar passages in Acts 2 and 4, we have this one in 2 Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 8:13-15
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
In all of this, I am still trying to discern what this means for my own life. I feel guilty at times for how I spend my money on entertainment and fast food when I could be finding much cheaper alternatives to enjoy my free time and feed myself. Yet, it’s so hard to make changes in these areas of my life when I look around at the church and see Christians living in extravagant houses with new cars, sailboats, jet skis, etc. (The notion of comparing the way I follow Christ to others is a separate post). I am not making a ton of money right now, and there are many people who would advise me right now to save as much as I can and look towards providing for my future and the future of my family (which I don’t have yet). And this message seems to be fine if I want to live comfortable and achieve the American Dream. However, when I listen to Scripture and other voices that I respect, I hear a different message of sacrificial giving and sacrificial living that seems to be the opposite of comfortable.
I would greatly appreciate your discussion and input on this topic. I asked a lot of questions in this post, and after having read back through all of it, I believe I have captured many of my thoughts and have represented them as scattered as they are in my own mind. Whether you tackle one question, two questions, or all of them is up to you. Maybe you will offer an entirely different perspective than I have entertained. Either way, I hope you won’t let that stop you from sharing.
The question that sums up all of this post, and the question that I aspire to ask any time I approach the Bible is this:
How then should I live?
Final Disclaimer: This post is meant to be about how a Christ-follower lives out Kingdom values. If any of my questions or ramblings seemed to make it into a political / economic discussion, I apologize. This is meant to be about how we choose to live our lives as an expression of our love for God, not about how we vote or pay taxes.