Household Finance

Households: earning a living, spending, saving, giving

A. Texts

Purpose of work

  • Original calling: Gen. 2

  • Great commission: Mt. 28.20 (and Mt 6.31-33)

  • Vanity of work: Ecc. 2.24 (Ecc. 2.11)

Link between work and earning

  • Earning comes directly from God: Ex. 16.31-35; Dt. 6.18; Mt. 6.30-34, 7.7-11;

Relation to wealth

  • We are stewards of God's wealth – nothing is ours: Gen .28.13; Lev. 25.23; Agg. 2.8; 1Cor 4.7

  • Responsibilities of rich people: Dt. 24.19-22; Lk. 6.24ss, 12.33; James 1.9-11, 2.5-7, 5.1ss; 1Tim. 6.17s; 2Cor 8.12-15; 1Jn 3.17

  • Caution against putting trust in wealth: Lk 12.18-21, 14.26-33, 16.19-31; Mt. 6.24, 10.23ss; Jer 9.23-26

  • Love of money versus contentment: 1Tim 6.6-10; Lk 3.11; Phil. 4.10-13

  • Quickly acquired wealth is dangerous: Pr. 13.11

Relation to saving

  • Wealth in the Promised Land comes from the abundance of the land, not the hard work of the Israelites: Ex. 3.8; Dt. 6.3-5; 8.1-20 (look also at the many texts about 'honey' in Dt)

  • The link between worry / fear of future and saving/ investing: Mt 6; Luke 12.16ss; Mk 4.18s; 1Jn 4.18

Tithe / Offering

  • Church in NT always gives, never lends: Acts 2.42-47, 4.32-35, 5.1-11; Lk. 12.33; 1Cor 13.3; Ecc 11.1s

  • Also: Ro 13.6s; Luke 19.11-27; 1Cor 9.4-19; Gal 6.10; 1Tim 5.17s; Lk 14.12-24; Lev. 27.30ss; Dt. 14.24ss

Wisdom in all domains of life, including projects, work, and money

  • Wisdom is given to all who ask for it: James 1.5;

  • There is wisdom (and economic rationality) in abandoning earthly possessions to follow Christ: Mk 10.29-31; 2Cor 9.5-8; Mt 6; Luke 18.29-30 and Luke 14.26-33

  • Doing nothing that we cannot imagine Christ doing: Jn 5.19, 8.28; Mt. 6;

Interest and lending

  • No interest when lending to the poor/ the brother: Ex. 22.25; Lev. 25.36s; Dt 23.19; Neh 5.1-11; Ps. 15.5; 1Jn 3.17

  • Limited collateral: Ex. 22.25; Lev. 25.35-37

  • Considering what is loaned as 'lost': Lk 6.30-34;Dt. 15.2s, 24.10-13; Ex. 22.8; Mt 18.21ss;

  • See also paper A4 Lending and borrowing in this series

Role of Church in education about finance and work / calling

  • 1Tim 6.17; …

A few points to note about Text

  • I have found no text linking work to saving; in Proverbs, wisdom is always better than / opposed to riches

  • There is no positive text about wealth in the NT

Provisional Derivative Social Principles (for the Christian community)

  1. The purpose of work is the realization of our personal calling as creatures made in image of God, and to glorify God

  2. Earning comes from God and might be decoupled from work

  3. A part is to be given back

  4. Thinking that wealth comes from (hard) work is perilous

  5. Rich people have special responsibilities and special warning. In the NT, riches represent a hindrance to entering the kingdom of God. In the OT, many accusations are levelled against the rich because they do not take enough care of the needy. From a positive perspective, rich people are called to look after the ones in need and to share.

  6. Growth of wealth can cause the human heart to grow in pride and shrink in trust. As true and ultimate security is always in God, we should not put any trust in possessions. We should rather learn to content ourselves with what we have, as long as we have food, clothing, and shelter.

  7. God expects wisdom in all domains of our lives. This wisdom is first about acknowledging God's love and providence for our lives, and seeking God's direction for our daily business. Our foremost preoccupation should be God's kingdom. This can be the mindset of a Christian active in many types of jobs and companies, as long as he/she is employed there as an answer to a call to contribute to God's kingdom.

  8. We should not save/invest based on worry and fear of the future. Our future is in God's hand. God's love casts out fear. There is a fine line between prudent provision for the (near and foreseeable) future and idolatry of wealth: much might have to do with attitude rather than the absolute (or relative) amounts of wealth to amass. Saving seems to be a result of work (and foremost of God's blessing), but not an aim or purpose for it. There is no support for 'general saving' in the Bible, but regularly God asks for some saving in specific situations (e.g. the story of Joseph).

  9. Lending should not be burdensome to the borrower. The NT Church always gives and never lends. In the OT, rules about lending are very strict and ensure that the borrower can continue working (to be able to eat / pay back?), and to be clothed at night. Pledges are chosen by the borrower, and interest is strictly regulated and in most case forbidden. Interest-bearing credit for consumption is probably not permitted.

  10. The church has an educative role in household finance issues. Paul is educating (and exhorting Timothy to educate) the church all the time. This includes issues such as the purpose of life, priorities, and the management of wealth (and management of poverty).

Applications - What are the issues at stake?

Issues are multiple. Three examples:

First, by putting too much weight on 'earning' (and preparing for retirement) as one of the purposes of work, the risk is to fail to hear God's calling for us. This pressure to earn precludes many possibilities of work for God's kingdom. Not that 'work for God's kingdom' does not mean only being a missionary or a church worker: the banker, butcher, and brewer can also work for God's kingdom, so long as in doing that they are primarily motivated by God's kingdom. Furthermore, they are free to quit or change a job in the case of unsustainable ethical conflict – or simply if God calls him to go somewhere else. 

A second issue is the question of what to do if one has amassed some wealth. Throughout the bible, God puts first relationships with him, with members of the (Israelite or Church) community, and even with those outside the community of God’s people . If one has wealth, one can ask whether these savings should be invested through relationships with known borrowers rather than through impersonal banking structures. In any case, the motivation behind it should be advancing God's kingdom. The rich person's recurrent question should be: "How can this money be used for the kingdom of God?" This does not necessarily mean only giving to missions or the work of the church. It might be wise to keep wealth for a specific purpose God has given us, or commit it to a business that is contributing to God's kingdom (such as, for instance, some social entrepreneurship projects).

A third issue is that the risk in lending-borrowing relations seems to fall more on the borrower than on the lender. Again, this might speak against traditional bank saving that guarantees specific interest, and in favour of investments that do not burden the borrower and leave most of the risk on the lender's side.

[Michael Gonin, 2014]


There is sufficient material here for several studies on the role of households as social and economic institutions. 

C J H Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, Chapter 10 was very useful in preparing this outline, and provides much very helpful background for the structure and role of the family in the Old Testament. 

Preliminary note:

The main focus in this study is on households as economic actors, following the practice of economic analysis. But the family is very important in the biblical text, as a social structure as well as an economic unit. The concept of the family in economic analysis is informed by the Western model of the nuclear family: this is for example the focus of the work of Gary Becker, which is now part of the mainstream. However in the biblical text the family has a structure and social (as well as economic) significance that goes well beyond the nuclear family.  To understand the biblical provisions for the family, it is important to appreciate the concept of ‘family’ both in OT Israel and in the NT of the Epistles. 

Kinship in Israel had three layers: (i) the ‘father’s house’ – all those living in the household of a single male ancestor – the ‘head’: three generations, includes wives, sons and their wives, grandsons and their wives, unmarried daughters, plus servants and aliens – a small cluster of dwellings on an allotment of land; (ii) ‘clan’ – group of related households named after the grandsons of Jacob – territorial identity (village names and clan names identical ) – a protective association of families, with economic, social, judicial and military duties; (iii) ‘tribe’ – named after sons of Jacob – main significance was territorial and military duties. 

‘Family’ is equivalent of ‘the father’s house’ plus their land.

The ‘household’ in the places to which the gospel spread outside Judea in the first century AD was that of Greco-Roman culture, and varied in size and structure depending on the wealth of the family. A wealthy household would include a number of family members, particularly grandparents, parents and children, and would typically also have a number of slaves or household servants. A poor household, by contrast, if not slaves themselves, would be restricted to immediate family members. The epistles make it clear that many of the earliest congregations met as house churches in the large homes of the wealthiest members.

1. The economic life of the household in OT Israel

What were the key roles of the family in ancient Israel (apart from functioning as an economic unit)?  Read Genesis 17: 9-14; Deuteronomy 6: 1-25; 14: 27-29; 16: 11,14; 29: 10-12. [Preserving and renewing the covenant, passing on historical traditions, provisions for worship].

Recalling the definition of the ‘family’ given above, what might explain the detailed regulation of sexual relations between family members given in Leviticus 18: 6-18, 20: 11-14, 19-21? [Illicit sexual liaisons within the extended family living together in the same settlement could quickly destroy its cohesion.]

What were the economic implications of each family having an inalienable right to a particular piece of land? Read Numbers 26 focusing attention on verses 52-55, Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 6. [No market in land (at best a form of leasing for a fixed term), productivity of the land accrued directly to the family reflecting their skill and effort, subject to the usual uncertainties of agriculture.]

In what ways were the rich in Israel required to support the poor? Distinguish: (a) those who had lost their land (Leviticus 25: 39-40); (b) those without land (Leviticus 19: 9-10, Deuteronomy 23: 24-25, 24: 19-22); (c) those in temporary need (Exodus 22: 25, Leviticus 25: 35-37). Evaluate this ‘welfare system’ as a means of tackling problems of poverty in a rural economy, and consider what if anything we can learn from it. 

2. The economic life of the household among the NT people of God

How important are families in the life of the NT people of God? (a) what significance should we attach to Jesus’ teaching about family ties in the context of the kingdom of God? Consider, for examples, Mark 3: 31-35, Luke 14: 25-26, Luke 18: 28-30; (b) what can we deduce about the significance of family life in the Early Church from passages in the Pauline epistles that address relationships within the household, and the qualifications for church leaders? See, for examples, Ephesians 5: 22 – 6: 9, 1Timothy 3: 1-13.  

What is the significance of work for members of a household? Consider Genesis 1: 26-28, 2: 15, Luke 19:11-27, 1Thessalonians 4: 11-12, 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-15. [To fulfil our calling as human beings, to serve God’s kingdom, to provide for oneself and one’s dependents.]

Isn’t more consumption nearly always better for the household? When does it become greed, and why does that matter? Philippians 4: 10-13, 1Timothy 6: 6-10 [The desire for material goods becomes an idol, distorting lives and relationships.]

Is the accumulation of household wealth a good and prudent objective, or a snare? See Matthew 6: 24, Mark 10: 17-31, Luke 6: 20-38, James 5: 1-6. [Consider the desire to own the property where you live, saving for eventualities like illness or unemployment, saving for retirement, providing wealth for your children to inherit.]

The obligation on the rich to provide for the poor is repeatedly addressed in the NT: see Luke 16: 19-31, Acts 2: 42-47, 4: 32-37, Romans 12: 13, Ephesians 4: 28, 2 Corinthians 8-9, 1Timothy 6: 17-19, James 2: 14-17. Why is this given so much prominence? What can be learned from the mechanisms for channeling help to the poor adopted by the Early Church? 

3. Application

Which, if any, of the provisions for the above five areas (families, work, consumption, accumulation of wealth, provision for the poor) can be generalized and applied to non-church families? Recall Jesus’ teaching about ‘hardness of heart’ (Matthew 19:1-9) and suggest what accommodation to non-Christian values might be required. 

[Donald Hay, July 2015]

Michael GoninComment