11: Financial Life
IN THIS CHAPTER
If you are in the military, then you are managing great wealth. Now consider what it means for God to be the owner of every financial asset that He has entrusted to your care. What follows is a brief discussion of using money to meet current obligations, to give generously, and to faithfully store up a portion for future expenses.
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BIBLICAL FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP
As a serving military OCF member, or as one who has served, you know the generosity of the U.S. government to compensate you for your service. With financial blessings comes the responsibility to be intentional about your financial stewardship. Make this stewardship a matter of regular prayer, since you are responsible first to the Lord (our Master) and then to your family, church, and community.
Much has been written about finances, so this brief section is not intended to be exhaustive, but simply to address broad principles for us to remember.
Ownership. Everything comes from, and belongs to, God. Keep an open hand before Him who asked, “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine” (Job 41:11). “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, the world and its fullness are mine’” (Psalm 50:10-12).
Priorities. Financial stewardship reflects what we prioritize. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). You care for your family and relatives by planning your income against anticipated expenditures and by making sure plans are in place and easily accessible in the event of your death (1 Timothy 5:8). God gives us resources and then teaches us not to hope in wealth, but on God Himself (1 Timothy 6:7).
Contentment. Do not covet (Exodus 20:17), and be content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5-6). Live as exiles and strangers on earth with an eager eye toward eternity (Hebrews 11:13-14), since you are laying up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Contentment enables you to find joy in every situation.
Family. If you are married, financial integrity requires the skills and temperaments of both husband and wife. When handled well, differences in marriage bring individual strengths to the process, enabling you to keep a vision for the future while being disciplined in meeting current obligations for living expenses, including how much and where to give. Spend time building a financial vision together—dream together. Talk through your goals, hopes, and expectations so your finances become a source of marital strength. If you do not, they may turn into a point of division. Satan has used poor financial stewardship to break up many marriages.
Children are taught by observing how we handle family finances. They know whether we really live as if everything belongs to God (Psalm 50:10-11). They can sense contentment. If you are single, then you have a freedom that married couples do not have. Use this freedom to be wise in singleness, but you might also prepare to be ready for marriage if God opens that door. Both married and single Christians can strive to be financially ready for a different type of service after their uniformed years are complete (e.g., church, missions, non-profit, or volunteer work).
Stewardship. In ancient days, the steward was responsible for running the household on behalf of the master. Similarly, if everything belongs to God (our master), then we are stewards of finances. We will be called to account for our actions, giving an account regarding things entrusted to us (Matthew 25:29). Here are a few practical areas to actualize the principles laid out above:
Giving. Giving comes before investing. Support your local church first, then consider helping missionaries, parachurch ministries (OCF included!), and others. What we give should be our first fruits and not our leftovers. This is much easier if you work from a budget. In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul exhorts men and women toward generosity in chapters eight and nine, especially 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.
Budget. The idea here is to spend less money than you earn. Establish a plan for how much you expect to earn and what you expect to spend (Luke 14:28-30). Budgeting ensures that you have a plan to spend within your means. That plan should include your normal obligations, as well as money set aside for giving, for saving, for unexpected expenses, and money set aside for investing in your own retirement and legacy. Once you have a budget, put it into action and stick to it. Thinking through reasonable and likely expenses will help ensure your success in giving, saving, spending, and paying off debt. Finally, be sure to enjoy some of the fruits of your labor … but stay within your budget (Ecclesiastes 5:18).
Emergency Fund. Murphy’s Law says that no matter how carefully we plan, something will go wrong. That is why you need to have an emergency fund established for the unexpected expenses of life. Many advisors recommend you save three to six months of living expenses. This fund can save you from unnecessary fees or debt simply because you disciplined yourself to save for contingencies (Proverbs 27:12).
Debt. The Bible warns against bad debt, so avoid it and be wise how you use debt if it is needed (Proverbs 22:7, 26). You might enter the housing market by taking on a mortgage, but then avoid other kinds of debt by planning well and being disciplined in spending. Simple things like saving for known expenses and paying off a credit card each month will save a great deal of heartache in the long run. If you do find yourself in excessive debt, seek help and address the issues sooner rather than later. Strategies like the “debt avalanche/snowball” methods can help tackle difficult financial situations. Get help early.
Investing. The Parable of the Talents shows that we have a responsibility to put God’s resources to work and not to let them sit idle (Matthew 25:14-30). Investing should come after we give and after we meet obligations. Investing can provide for our own future expenses and legacy (Genesis 41:34-36). We can take measured risks that match our temperament and needs. For example, longer-term goals like retirement can handle more risk than shorter term goals like paying for a new vehicle or a child’s wedding. Additionally, diversifying your investments will reduce overall risk (Ecclesiastes 11:2).
Retirement Planning. We have a responsibility to consider how we will support ourselves and our families when we take off our uniform for the last time. Work is part of God’s plan for His image bearers from before our fall into sin (Genesis 2:15). While we never stop working, we do plan for a time when we need less income. Most folks have access to powerful tools such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), 401(k)s, and other investment vehicles. If we build wisely, we might enjoy financial freedom in the future. It is good and right to enjoy the fruits of our labors and use them to bless others (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19).
End of Life Planning. We strive to finish well in all things, including our earthly lives. We can love our families by preparing for the certainty of the close of our earthly chapter. Pre-deployment processing requires us to update our wills and beneficiaries, but there is still more to do. In the emotion of the passing of a loved one, easy tasks become difficult and fraught with complexity.
We can make this work easier by ensuring all our documents are easy to find and up to date—that military and private insurance policies are current, that financial accounts have updated beneficiaries, and that we have done the hard work of planning for the guardianship of children. Additionally, we may need to set up Powers of Attorney as we, or even our parents, become older and lose some mental agility. Just as God had Moses lay hands on Joshua as he took over the leadership of Israel, so we plan for succession (Numbers 27:12-23).
Financial principles are part of military ministry, because your military service occurs during the critical years of laying a foundation for stewarding God’s resources. This foundation will enable ministry as you receive paychecks and funds, as you give faithfully and spend within your plan, and then as you anticipate passing on blessings to another generation.