Not only are you responsible for providing for your family emotionally and spiritually, but you are also responsible for your loved ones’ material needs.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (
This verse was printed on the stationery of the Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund Life Insurance Company, the oldest life insurance company in America, which insures only ministers and their immediate families. What a devastating proof text this provides for buying life insurance!
Although your family has other needs, you are also responsible for meeting its material needs. Paul is writing in the context of providing for widows who have lost their means of support. Economic considerations are biblically significant. Careful perusal of the Scriptures alerts us not to be so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good.
Things are important. Christianity does not minimize material matters. Christ made constant reference to God’s material provision. Both the Old and New Testament records give an historical account of how God has taken care of His own.
Unfortunately, extremists have led people in false directions. On the one hand, history portrays those who are hedonists, pampering every little sensual appetite, devoting their primary energies to material whims. On the other extreme, there are the ascetics who make a religious appeal to self-denial. There is a biblical call to discipline. This must not be confused with a depreciation of the God-given physical gifts. Hedonism on one extreme and asceticism on the other are perversions of how God created you to live.
The Bible outlines a theology of creation. God has created all that is in the world. Your physical presence is important. As you dedicate your energies to spiritual growth, you must realize that this is to be carried out in this physical world within your human body. As a believer in Christ you live in a constant tension between concern with material matters — either no concern or over-concern. The Bible has a lot more to say about your physical and economic existence than you may realize. Within this context, I raise six significant questions relative to meeting your family’s material needs.
Question One: Are you working hard?
There is no place for a lazy Christian. I am not talking about witnessing, I am talking about your daily, down-to-earth work routine.
Fulton Rindge was a sage, New England textile executive. He commented about a lazy associate, saying, “If Carl worked half as hard at doing something productive as he does at trying to avoid work, he would be a millionaire!” Some people are just plain lazy. Are you?
Living in Florida for six years gave me a chance to reverse the typical life pattern. Many a Northern businessman works hard forty years, with the dream of tropical retirement. With jealous eyes, he gazes at the ones fortunate enough to take early retirement. I watched these men move South. So many came in their mid-sixties, enthusiastic about their new-found opportunity to play golf seven days a week. A strange thing happened. Unless they had developed a productive avocation — something which made a contribution beyond play — many of these men shriveled up into retrospective living. They were addicted to the past. Many a conversation in a country club locker room was loaded with the reminiscences of past vocational experiences. Double martinis lubricated melancholy musings of better days.
What could be better than a life of full-time play? I’ll tell you what — a good, hard life of productive work! What a joy it was to discover the occasional retiree who developed his life-long hobby into creative work. Claud Ruch was one of these. Retired from Field Enterprises, he found plenty of time for watercolor painting. Not only that, he started teaching art classes. Along with dedicated work for Christ in his church, he made a positive contribution — working hard in his retirement. How different from Bill, who soon died from the boredom of golf and double martinis.
I have a friend in his early fifties. He is the heir to one of the nation’s large fortunes. He draws on a trust account which provides all the money he needs to support his family in a luxurious lifestyle. Talk about restlessness. He wants to work but he doesn’t have to. So he dabbles at this job and that. Occasionally, he senses some accomplishment. However, freed from the necessity of having to get along with people just to put bread on the table, he has developed a pattern of insulting his business associates, walking away when the going gets tough.
Are you yearning for retirement? Are you jealous of that friend who doesn’t have to work? The Bible clearly teaches that work is a God-given responsibility and privilege. The fall of Adam and Eve was followed by the curse of God, which said, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (
Are you working hard? You should be, with a sense of vocation. God has called you to good, hard labor.
Question Two: What are your priorities?
One of the most rewarding pastoral experiences is to observe men and women sincerely endeavoring to sort out competing priorities in lifestyles. How exciting it is to discover someone in mid-career who is willing to admit that his life is out of kilter — who is willing to reorganize, so that first things will be first.
Even as the Bible stresses the importance of good, hard work, it also calls you to periodically reanalyze your priorities.
United States Senate Chaplain Richard C. Halverson, who for many years pastored the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, was the first to confront me with this revolutionary concept. It states that, for the Christian, first comes your commitment to Jesus Christ; second, to your marriage partner; third, to your children; and fourth, to your work.
You say, “How in the world can you coordinate that with the importance of work?” It seems as if work is being lowered instead of raised in its importance. In fact, the opposite is true. If you put Jesus Christ first, your partner second, your children third, and your work fourth, ultimately you will make a much greater vocational contribution.
You have seen it happen. A man is career oriented. Work is everything. Spiritual matters are neglected. Wife and children are not taken seriously. For ten or fifteen years he sprints ahead in his profession. Seven days a week he plows his enegies into being successful. He makes it to the top, only to find out he no longer knows his God, his wife, or his children. Now we are seeing the same phenomenon with women who are putting their careers ahead of their marriage partners and their children. What a price those who do this ultimately pay!
I remember the night that Anne and I met with the Pulpit Committee of the First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, where we served five years in the mid-1970s. They asked me about priorities. I outlined this “Christ-wife-children-work” order. I can still remember that all nine sets of eyebrows raised. Lips pursed as nine minds pondered. Then quick, sideways glances were made to each other, as in unison smiles came over their faces, authenticating the validity of this set of priorities.
My wife Anne has pointed out an interesting aspect to this prioritization. We have God in Christ for eternity. We have our partners for life. We have our children until we encourage them to walk away from us as adults and then hopefully rediscover us as friends. And we have our work for an indefinite time period. A man or a woman who puts Christ first, partner second, children third, and work fourth is a person who will ultimately make a much greater vocational contribution to society. Because his life is balanced, there’s a much smaller chance that society will have to employ one more social worker to tidy up the mess he has made out of his domestic life. He is not as apt to be a drain on his company’s resources, subjected as he could be to the emotional breakdown of truncated living. This person has balance. He or she is plugged into God, family, and work in a wholeness of living.
Yes, you are to work hard. But at the same time, you had better take a look at your priorities. Are they in line?
A number of years ago, I was at a Christmas party. There had been a “happy hour” preceding the dinner. Anne and I have made a commitment to each other to drink nothing stronger than coffee. Therefore, fully sober, we are occasionally confronted with situations which would be semi-hilarious if they were not so tragic. A man in his early seventies, whom I had never seen before, stepped up to us, poked me in the stomach, and in a voice which clearly betrayed his recent familiarity with the fruit of the vine, said, “Hey, Reverend, I’ve got something to tell you. I have made quite a bit of money in my life. In fact, I’m a millionaire a couple times over. I’ve given my kids everything. But you know something? Next to my wife, here, there’s only one other person in the world who loves me. That’s my dog. My kids hate me! So my wife and I have taken care of them! Tell the reverend what we’ve done, Honey.” His wife said, “No, you tell him ….” Before she had time to finish saying that, he was back into his story without ever stopping to take a breath. “Last week we rewrote our will. We are willing our home, our Lincoln Continental, and the services of our chauffeur, and all that it takes to keep our home, our Lincoln Continental and our chauffeur to our dog.”
This man had failed to realize a proper set of priorities.
He had succeeded in making material provision for his own. In the process he had neglected certain spiritual and emotional needs, totally alienating his children, and perhaps even his wife. Are you concentrating too much on making material provision to the neglect of spiritual and emotional priorities?
Question Three: What kind of model are you?
People learn from models. Much of what you do has been learned from watching other people. If you have been fortunate enough to understudy a successful business person, you have probably found yourself copying that person’s methods and even lifestyle. Right now, someone is copying you. You teach your children more by your performance than by what you tell them. They adopt your attitudes. They learn from you what money is. They learn from you how to make it. They learn from you how to spend it.
For example, if they know that your commitment to Christ is so strong that you tithe — giving ten percent before taxes to the work of Jesus Christ — they will respect the seriousness of your commitment. Even if they choose never to tithe, there will always be that haunting sense of remembering that Mom and Dad put their money where their profession of faith was. They will know the authenticity of your love of Christ in this crass, commercial world.
If they see you save, putting aside a percentage of your income for future emergencies, they will have a model. Are they seeing you manage your money with an eye to providing for the future?
When we talk about making material provision, we are not just talking about money. This involves your habits of life.
Do you exercise? Do you watch your diet? Are you a good steward of the physical resources God has given to you? Your children are looking to you for a model. Do you smoke? Just a moment — this preacher is beginning to meddle, isn’t he? Some years ago, the now out-of-business National Observer had an article entitled, “Smoke Dream … Quit Tobacco and Make a Fortune.” It gave a hot financial tip for young people, describing a sure-fire way to boost your net worth substantially, at no risk at all, and have a fat nest egg when you retire. Simply don’t smoke, and invest the money you save.
Our children watch us closely. They are shaped by our good habits and our bad habits. Some of these habits have horrendous implications. Fortunately, many have stopped smoking. But there are other negative habits that model destructive patterns for our loved ones.
Are you a good model of stewardship, showing how to best live your life?
Question Four: Are you prepared for tough times?
In all our stress on providing for our own, we have to face the fact that there are times of economic reversal. Seldom does a family get through life without economic strains. Reversal is a part of life. Fascinatingly enough, if there is a pattern of good, hard work, the tough times don’t permanently hurt. In fact, they help pull the family together and teach the children lessons they could learn no other way.
For example, I remember a little church my father served for eighteen years in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the 1940s, he sold his car to pay the church fuel bill. For the better part of a year, he rode his bike or took the bus to work. Did that permanently mar my life? Absolutely not? Our family had bad times and good times financially. Frankly, I probably learned more about money and sincerity of purpose in the bad times than in the good. I had my paper routes. I did my caddying. I was encouraged to be an entrepreneur as I worked my way through high school, college, and seminary. The tough times were the best in the world.
My sister went through a few years of comparative ease during her last couple of years of high school and her first year in college. Then Mom and Dad had some reversals. My sister went through the humbling experience of renting out her services to do housework in homes, and for the mothers of some of her closest friends. That was the making of my sister. In a spiritual, personal way, hardship builds character.
And tough times pull a family together. In one family I know, the father has been laid off from his local employment. Each day he drives sixty miles one way just to have work. You can see the family pulling together during this time of difficulty.
If you are diligent in your work, God’s blessing is with you. He rewards your faithfulness, even if you never make a lot of money or if you go through times of deep financial discouragement.
Question Five: What is your attitude toward your partner’s work?
Is it one of appreciation? Do you stop to think what your partner is doing for you? It’s so important to express appreciation. You can destroy by your complaints and comparisons. I know a woman who has tunnel vision when it comes to her husband. They strained themselves to buy a home a bit beyond their means. It’s a beautiful home in a lovely suburb. Her husband makes pretty good money. But by buying the home she wanted, the monthly payments and taxes have kept her from being able to match the economic lifestyle of her neighbors. They can’t afford to join the proper clubs or take the “in” vacations. She constantly nags her husband about his failure to provide. He has provided! She lacks appreciation. Her ideals are too high. She doesn’t realize that she’s the envy of some whose husbands don’t do quite as well. In the process, she is missing the enormous blessing of God upon her life. She is like a kid in a candy store. Her eyes are too big. Her nickel doesn’t go as far as she wants it to go.
You can get so caught up in your own work that you forget the importance of what your partner does. Some of us men are guilty. Your wife works hard. Just imagine if you had to prepare three meals a day for your family, wash the dishes, clean the house, do the laundry, iron your own shirts, take care of the kids. These jobs take seven days a week. And it’s all the more complicated if your wife also has a job outside the home. She needs all the more help and understanding. Do you ever express your appreciation? What is your attitude toward your partner’s work?
Question Six: What are you doing for your parents?
Are you taking care of those who expended so much energy in taking care of you? Paul writes, “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God” (
Charity begins at home. E. K. Simpson has said, “A religious profession which falls below the standard of duty recognized by the world is a wretched fraud.” Secular writers have emphasized our responsibilities toward our parents to make material provision for them. Philo wrote, “When old storks become unable to fly, they remain in their nests and are fed by their children, who go to endless exertions to provide their food because of their piety.” He noted that even the animal creation acknowledged its obligation to aged parents. How much more should we, as Christian men and women?
How difficult it is to know what to do with aged parents. We were once their children. Now they’ve become ours. What we do for them becomes a model for what ours will do for us. In turn, the elderly parent has a responsibility to respect and adapt to his child’s provision. Many a parent has caused himself to be pushed out of a loving home by forgetting that he no longer is responsible for the leadership role. He must take a back seat to the leadership of his children.
What higher symbol of Christian grace can be seen today than children who are making provision for their elder parents? What are you doing for yours?
Yes, you have the exciting responsibility of meeting your family’s material needs. What are you doing about it?