Times are tough. Money is tight. Unemployment is high. Consumer debt is high. It’s hard to save and harder to give. Offer our readers some faith-based financial counsel.
What do you tell people about spending and debt and consumerism? What do you tell them about saving and giving? What are some faith-based principles for dealing with money?
A few years ago I came across the term “synthetic authenticity,” tied to behavioral economics. As I understood it, synthetic authenticity is an experience whereby I seek through purchase to accessorize my sense of self. For instance: Jane desperately wants a full kitchen upgrade but cannot afford it. Her outdated cabinets, counter tops, sink and stove embarrass her and make her feel self-conscious when friends are over. However, Jane can afford a new refrigerator and decides she must buy one. Now there is something new in her kitchen for her friends to notice, and Jane feels better about her old kitchen and thereby better about herself. Synthetic authenticity. Seeking one’s self-worth in depreciating assets. This is the disorientation of the self in consumer culture.
I don’t give a lot of financial counsel because we have such competent financial counselors in our church. I refer people to their expertise as well as seek it myself. As I teach through the Bible there are numerous passages on money; suffice to say the Bible orients us to seek our self-worth not in our net worth but in our worth to God. I’ve only dedicated one sermon series to money and giving, centered in 2 Corinthians 8-9, which I called “The Sermons on the Amount.” In that series I tried to show our church that there is no fixed amount to give. The apostles weren’t told by God what the churches were to give so I wouldn’t tell our church any amounts either. In New Testament giving contexts we’re told instead what God has given to us in Jesus and invited to respond to Him with our whole selves which includes our monies.
When people realize how loved and graced by God they are in Jesus Christ generosity follows (and synthetic authenticity is displaced). I feel badly for Christians who believe giving is a duty or performance they must render. That’s paying a bill. Giving is an act of grace in response to grace. I’m grateful to pastor a church that understands this. It’s why our people keep giving as generously as they do despite economic downturns. They know they don’t have to; they get to and they want to as an act of grace in response to grace given. This makes all the difference.
Anyone can give from the fat of their finances. It takes someone being absolutely convinced of the goodness of God to him/her to give from the muscle. That’s a “cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7); one who willingly and trustfully responds to grace with generosity. I think if Christians get this straight the rest of what one does with money—spending, saving, investing—kind of takes care of itself.