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A Biblical Case for Lavish Spending (and Adoption)
For the first 20 years of my adult life, I didn’t give enough thought to making money. That was a mistake, disguised as a virtue, and it hurt my family in ways that are difficult to overcome. The irony, of course, is that one of the surest means of turning money into an idol is to not make enough of it. Because it’s not money that’s the problem. It’s the hoarding of money—and that can be as much a temptation for the poor as the rich. Maybe even more so. I’m not claiming to be poor, not by a long shot, but I have created problems for my family by not making enough money. Actually, that’s not quite the issue. I’ve created problems for my family by not spendingenough money. I’ve always thought saving to be a virtue and spending to be a vice, but I may have gotten that backwards. And I haven’t proved at all adept at saving anyway. To the one who has, more will be given. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Or, to borrow a line from the estimable Leia Organa: The more you tighten your grip, the more will slip through your fingers—be it money or star systems.
There’s a maddening paradox in the biblical economy. You can only gain that which you are willing to lose—with one notable exception. Seek first the kingdom of God, and everything else will be added to you. Or in the language of the Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods before me. My mistake was in thinking that devotion to God required a sort of iron-fisted stinginess. I was content to make a modest salary, but I begrudged every expense. And yet Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a hidden treasure that can only be obtained by joyfully spending everything you have (Matt 13:44), which is why the buy-in is so daunting for anyone hoarding wealth. You want a long life? Lay it down. You want riches? Empty your bank account. You want to be first? Go last. There are directives in the Bible to hold fast to God (Deut 10:20), hold fast to virtue (Heb 4:14, Heb 6:18, Hos 12:6, Rom 12:9), and hold fast to your wife (Gen 2:24), but that’s it. Everything else is to be held with an open hand—and there are simply no exceptions. The system can’t be gamed. As soon as “seeking God first” becomes a means to an end, you’re no longer seeking God first. The only way to achieve riches and honor is to aim at something higher than riches and honor.
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Wait a minute, some will counter. Isn’t the world full of people who have not sought the kingdom of God but have attained long life and tremendous wealth? Most notably, men like Bill Gates, who’s been a “self-made” billionaire for nearly four decades, and Jeff Bezos, who isn’t far behind. To that objection I would simply say, it all depends on how and when you look at it. I am no fan of Bill Gates. I consider his global agenda to be among the most sinister in the world, but his success is hardly a thumb in the eye of God. Jesus himself notes that wealth invariably flows upstream. Those who make strategic use of a little tend to wind up with a lot. By all accounts, Gates’ initial fortune was honestly come by and likely employed many of the principles found in Proverbs 11:
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.
There’s no denying that even atheists and agnostics can benefit from implementing these financial truisms, and I suspect that Gates and Bezos both built their fortunes with an open hand—without being overly concerned about the money they risked along the way. Skinflints tend not to become world beaters. And because their companies became so wildly successful, Gates and Bezos both built fortunes for whole armies of people in their wakes while blessing and enriching the entire world. Literally, through the products they brought to market. They watered and were abundantly watered in return. But that’s just one half of the equation. To truly evaluate their success, we need to hold off judgment for another 30 years or so. Maybe 40.
In 1950, H.L. Hunt was the richest man in America. In 1955, it was J. Paul Getty. From 1960 through 1975, Howard Hughes was the richest American. It was Daniel Ludwig in 1980, Sam Walton in 1985, and John Kluge in 1990. You know what they all have in common? They’re all dead. They all lost their lives, and they all lost their money. And the same will soon enough be true of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath—which is why Jesus commended the storing up of treasure in heaven, where thieves don’t steal and the elements don’t destroy. “For what will it profit a man,” Jesus asks, “if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” How does a man forfeit his soul? By being unwilling to suffer “the loss of all things” for the sake of the kingdom. That’s how the apostle Paul put it. The unwillingness to give up anything may cost you everything.
There is some uncertainty as to whether wives are included in Jesus’ list of things a man must be willing to leave for the sake of the kingdom. Luke includes them (18:29); Matthew (19:29) and Mark do not (10:29), but all other relationships are clearly on the table. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me,” Jesus warns in Matthew 10, “is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” But even though seeking first his kingdom may “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law,” Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree that whatever is forsaken will be more than recompensed in this life and the life to come. The kingdom gained vastly exceeds the “fortune” lost, though that doesn’t mean the exchange will be an easy one. In the already-referenced Parable of the Hidden Treasure, a man finds a treasure hidden in a field, so he sells all he has to buy the field. We don’t know how much he gave up; we only know that he gained far more. But in real life, we don’t see the treasure ahead of time. We’re simply told it exists. We must take its existence on faith—à la Benjamin Gates, and buying the metaphorical field in which it resides is hardly a straightforward transaction.
Anyone with a modicum of biblical literacy is familiar with the charge to store up treasure in heaven, but how does one do that exactly? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life, and all three accounts are mostly agreed on Christ’s concluding response. “You lack one thing” Jesus told him, “sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Matthew and Luke record second instances of Jesus commanding the laying up of treasure in heaven, though there’s a bit of divergence in the surrounding context. In Matthew, it comes before the “Do Not Be Anxious” monologue. In Luke, it comes afterwards. Matthew’s account does not include the admonition to “sell your possessions and give to the needy.” Luke’s does. But Matthew’s version does include this important disclaimer: “You cannot serve God and money.” Luke records this statement too, but not for another four chapters—on the heels of the text I’ve been aiming at all along.
One of Christ’s most perplexing and ignored parables is found in Luke 16. It tells the story of a dishonest manager who is fired by his wealthy employer for “wasting his possessions”—which strikes me as a thoroughly modern offense. How often do we hear today of celebrities suing a former business manager for secretly embezzling funds? But in the case of Luke 16, the manager’s dishonesty did not apparently secure for him any lasting wealth. So what did he do to avoid a life of manual labor or begging on the street? He quickly and secretly met with those who owed his master money and reduced their debts by up to half. Why? So that these men, in gratitude, would receive him into their own homes. But here’s where the story gets confusing. When his employer discovered the scheme, he didn’t condemn his dishonest manager. He commended him—and so does Jesus. “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The standard explanation is that Jesus isn’t commending dishonesty; he’s commending shrewdness and initiative. Wise as serpents, innocent as doves. This is true, but it ignores the explicit application. “And I tell you,” Jesus proclaims, “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
It’s not the manager’s dishonesty that Jesus is commending. We see that clearly in verses 10-12. Those who are unfaithful with even a little will not be entrusted with true riches. And those who are unfaithful with another’s wealth will never be given wealth of their own. No, it’s the use of money to secure friends. That’s the behavior Jesus is endorsing. We should be spending money on people as a means of shoring up our future. Why is that a good financial strategy? Because the day is coming when all the money we have will fail us. That day may come while we’re still alive, but—and this is key—it may not come until the day we die. That’s the day when the wealth of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and even Elon Musk will finally fail them. The dishonest manager only had his earthly future in view, but Jesus’ application goes much further. He tells us to “buy” friends, not so they’ll receive us into their homes—though that may be part of it. He tells us to buy friends so they’ll receive us “into the eternal dwellings.” Apparently there is a connection between our use of “unrighteous wealth” and the securement of “true riches,” and the connection is not what it’s generally purported to be.
Until very recently, the charge to spend money to secure friends who will then secure for me an eternal dwelling is one I’d never bothered to consider. And notice that in this context, it has nothing to do with evangelism or the mitigation of poverty. The manager wasn’t playing the role of benevolent benefactor. He wasn’t reaching out to the poor or wayward. These men were his social superiors. He came to them, hat in hand, trying to secure his own future—with someone else’s money. Jesus isn’t saying that we should spend money on others so as to save their souls or save them from starvation. The message here is simply to spend money on others as a means of courting their favor, turning them into friends, and putting them in our corner—not cynically, but humbly and authentically. The primary benefit isn’t to them; it’s to us.
I will freely admit that I don’t understand how mortal friends can provide for me an eternal dwelling. Do they precede me in death and testify on my behalf? Or is this mandate simply to deter me from hoarding “unrighteous wealth” by spending it on others instead? Or perhaps there’s a relational aspect to salvation such that friendships are an integral component. Maybe Christ wants us modeling today the mutual affection and generosity that will someday characterize our relationships in the new heavens and earth. Or are people, as eternal beings, our only means of investing in eternity? Our only means of storing up treasure in heaven? Houses aren’t eternal. Cars and boats aren’t eternal. Companies aren’t eternal. Not even land is eternal. But people are. What else can we invest in? And whereas giving to the poor can be done in bad faith, using money to make friends, real friends who will be with you to the end, requires nuance, humility, and a genuine relational investment.
I don’t want to downplay the Christian mandate to give to the poor. Jesus takes it as a matter of course that his followers will do so, and he explicitly connects such behavior—if done in secret—to the storing up of treasure in heaven. That’s undeniable. So is the fact that Christ’s directives to give to the poor far outnumber his directives to give to the church. By my count, Jesus never commands us to give to the church (or to pro-life organizations for that matter), but he does command us to sell our possessions and give to the needy (Luke 12:33). I don’t know that many Christ followers are actually doing this, but we’re at least familiar with the concept. We recognize the ideal. The command we find in Luke 16, however, the command to use money to make friends is something else entirely, and that message isn’t getting any play in the church today—at least not that I’ve seen.
Whereas giving money to those in need is a good way to offload hoarded wealth quickly, it also carries some dangers. It can easily be done arrogantly or begrudgingly. When done poorly, it can bring humiliation rather than blessing. You may also have noticed that the disciple most devoted to charitable giving was a fellow named Judas Iscariot. When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with an exceedingly expensive oil, Judas rebuked her for not selling it and giving to the poor. He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. This too is a thoroughly modern problem: charities who collect money for the poor and use it to enrich themselves. Jesus’ response to Judas reminds us that giving alms is a stopgap, not a solution. The poor will always be with us. And by definition, not everyone can sell their possessions and give to the poor. Why not? Because someone has to do the buying. That’s the only way any of this works. Despite what our current administration thinks, you can only give away so much money before the entire system breaks down.
Using money to acquire friends is a much more delicate task that requires a fair bit of forethought. You can’t just go up to someone and say, “Here’s some money; will you be my friend?” Patrick Dempsey tried that in Can’t Buy Me Love. All manner of disaster ensued (though he did get the girl in the end!). Nor can you exactly become friends with those to whom you give charity—even when it’s done with grace and in good faith—because it invariably places you in a position of strength and them in a position of weakness. At some level, charity is demeaning for the recipient. It can easily lead to resentment, which is why giving in secret is the ideal. When one party is constantly giving to the other, they cease to be equals, and that’s hard to overcome relationally. Friendship requires reciprocity. How then do you spend money to make friends? Here’s one way, borrowed from Luke 19:13. You engage in business until Christ returns.
In 2016, in an effort to bolster my family’s income, I started a side-business selling T-shirts. Seven years in, I have yet to turn a profit. In fact, I’ve sunk more money than I’d care to admit, but guess what—and this didn’t occur to me until recently. I’ve also gained friendships, almost despite myself, while supporting all sorts of other businesses along the way. But since expensive hobbies don’t pay the bills, I had to take a third job—in the art department of a local screen printer—to pay for the second job. Ironic, don’t you think? That was not the plan, but both endeavors have taught me profound truths I simply wouldn’t have learned otherwise. And both have taught me the value of spending money. Here’s what I mean.
Before going into business myself, I gave little thought to those who sold me the things I bought. They were stores or companies, not people. So far as I was concerned, financial transactions were one-dimensional ventures that involved me and perhaps the person I was buying for. I totally failed to consider the people on the other side of the counter. And here’s the thing, every time you buy something—assuming it’s not illicit—you are using your money to bless someone. This is especially true if you’re purchasing from a small business. I can tell you from experience, small business owners rejoice over every sale. Big corporate retailers don’t. They provide jobs—which is good, but they’re not overly concerned with individual sales. Target and Amazon can take your business or leave it. You have no bearing on their bottom line. But small businesses? A single purchase can change the trajectory of their entire day.
Having to take my car to the mechanic, or having to call in a plumber or home repairman is something I’ve always resented. If I could do it myself—even poorly—I would. But now my perspective has changed. Yes, it’s a hassle when things break, but it’s also an opportunity to bless someone by hiring them to make the fix. And if I do it right, I might even be able to leverage what I’m spending into a new friendship. I also used to think nothing of entering a store, looking around and leaving empty handed. But that too has changed. My shirt business doesn’t have a storefront, but I set up shop fairly frequently at local festivals. What a thrill it is when someone stops to buy a shirt, and what agony when they indifferently pass on. Even worse, perhaps, is when someone says “I love your shirts” but doesn’t buy a one. Actions, remember, speak louder than words.
COVID landed a few months after I began job number three. Overnight, most of our business went away. The summer festivals we were designing merchandise for were cancelled. The Myrtle Beach restaurants who almost all carry custom T-shirts were shuttered. Two weeks to flatten the curve. With production halted, our boss had little choice but to furlough staff, myself included. And in that moment I realized what a vital and under-appreciated role small business owners play. The man I work for employs northwards of 50 people. It’s hard to overstate the value of what he’s providing for his employees and their families. But he’s only able to do that when other people buy the goods he’s producing. We see giving to the poor as a positive good but we don’t see spending money as a positive good. We should. If there’s a silver lining to the travesty that was our global COVID response, it was the reminder of how fragile and interconnected our economy is. For me, going out to restaurants, stores, and movie theaters suddenly became a civic responsibility—and a palpable act of rebellion against all the scolding and fear mongering. When you and I stop spending, other people suffer.
Andy Grammer’s “Back Home” has become a beloved anthem for Wazzu grads the world over—myself included. The song presciently observes that having loads of cash can’t compare with friends who last. I doubt Grammer got that from Luke 16, but he’s not wrong. It’s better to have friends at the end of your life than money. And it turns out that’s not mere sentimentality. If you want to protect yourself against coming calamity, invest in people. That’s the best place to store your money, the best way to stave off all the transcendent threats of the future. In times past, there were practical deterrents to hoarding wealth and resources. Technology has largely mitigated that, but perhaps the older solutions are still the best. Jordan Peterson frequently describes the dilemma faced by primitive hunters who lacked the refrigeration necessary to preserve large quantities of meat. So they preserved it instead in the bellies of their neighbors—knowing that down the line, the favor would almost certainly be reciprocated. A generous man tends never to be in want.
The charge to spend money isn’t built on a naive or pollyannish view of the future. Quite the opposite. The reason you shouldn’t worry about tomorrow is because today has enough to worry about already. “Do not be anxious about tomorrow,” Jesus commands; tomorrow will take care of itself. “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” That’s the bad news, but the good news is that God provides. The birds don’t gather into barns and the lilies don’t toil or spin, but God feeds and “clothes” them all. How much more will he do for us, O we of little faith? Who does gather into barns? The rich fool in Luke 12 who saved up so much money that he had to tear down his barns for bigger ones—not realizing that his soul would be required of him that very night. Simply put, he was saving money for a tomorrow that never came. At his hour of need, his accumulated wealth failed him. Christ recognizes that calamity is coming, but he doesn’t say to store up wealth against the pending doom. Rather, we are to spend it making friends, which is a far surer defense.
King Solomon said something very similar in Ecclesiastes 11—the same Solomon who was granted wealth unspeakable because he had the wisdom not to seek it first. “You know not what disaster may happen on earth,” Solomon warned. So “give a portion to seven, or even to eight.” Financial advisors sing the virtues of diversifying your investments and so did Solomon. But he wasn’t speaking of a diversified stock portfolio, he was speaking of a diversified peopleportfolio. “Cast your bread upon the waters,” Solomon advised, “for you will find it after many days.” Or how about this, also from Ecclesiastes 11? Do not allow the signs of a coming storm to dissuade you from faithful laboring. “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” Do not fear. Do not stop working, and do not stop spending. With apologies to Dave Ramsey, the Bible does not paint a particularly flattering picture of saving.
Consider the Parable of the Ten Minas. A departing nobleman gave ten of his servants one mina each, which was roughly three months worth of wages. He tasked each of them to “engage in business” until he returned. When that day came, we find that one servant had used his mina to earn ten more. Another had earned five. The earnings (or even losses) of seven servants aren’t mentioned, but the tenth servant is blankly condemned. Why? Because he savedhis mina. He hid it away in a handkerchief, too afraid to risk its loss by wagering it in the marketplace. “You wicked servant!” the master calls him, “Why then did you not (at least) put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?” Jesus celebrates the making of money and the spending of money, but money that lies dormant does no good for the world and no good for your neighbor. It’s easy to spiritualize the Parable of the Ten Minas, and no doubt Christ had more than just money in view, but I doubt he had less.
You might remember that Jesus once called to himself a child and said that “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. That being the case, perhaps we should give some thought to how children handle money. Generally speaking, they handle it very loosely. My 9-year-old son exemplifies this beautifully. It doesn’t matter what store we’re going to. If he has money, he wants to bring and spend it. And because of this propensity, he rarely has anything saved. But he doesn’t worry about that. Why? Because he trusts his mom and me. He trusts that even if he spends all his money today, he’ll be clothed, fed, and housed tomorrow. There is a very real sense in which I should be taking financial lessons from my son instead of lecturing him on the virtues of hoarding wealth. I can rationalize that he doesn’t properly value money because he didn’t have to earn it. But do I have any more of a claim to the money I “earn?” Doesn’t every good gift come from above? Perhaps the real issue is that my son lives with more faith.
Spending money, you see, is an act of faith. Hoarding money is not. The reason Ebenezer Scrooge is such a contemptible character is not because he had wealth. It’s because he refused to spend it. He had a profound opportunity to bless others, but he failed to take it—until finally undergoing a spiritual awakening. The Proverbs 31 woman is commended not for saving money—but for making and spending it. That’s the model. That’s why manna had to be eaten on the day it was gathered, so that Israel would learn to trust in God rather than the hoarding of resources. Could it be that faith and the storing up of riches are mutually exclusive? Spending money in your community is like giving to charity but better. Because it’s sustainable and reciprocal. It ennobles instead of demeans. As the director of a non-profit whose efforts to educate the world about abortion are almost entirely funded by private donations, I am exceedingly grateful for charitable giving. But as a small-business owner, I’d rather make $10 selling a T-shirt than have somebody gift me $25. The value of a sale far exceeds mere financial gain because it provides a tangible benefit to both parties.
None of this is meant to be a justification for spending money foolishly, but the line between faith and folly is harder to discern than most of us are willing to admit. Ditto for the line between wisdom and fear. And I don’t know that anyone can say with certainty when saving money becomes hoarding money. The primary threat posed by a large savings account is that it mitigates the need for faith. It’s not that you can’t have faith and wealth, but it’s much harder to evaluate the character of your faith when you have a pile of money to fall back on. It’s all too easy for fear to masquerade as wisdom and faith to be misconstrued as folly—which is what Paul came up against in I Corinthians 4:10. We all have natural predispositions. And while you might be more prone to recklessness than cowardice, my own tendencies run the other way. I’m more apt to turn caution into fear than faith into folly. My default condition is stinginess, not generosity. So I’m trying to push myself towards spending with more faith, even at the risk of it descending into foolishness.
All of this brings me finally to the subject of adoption. You probably noticed it in the title, and yet here we are, almost 5,000 words in, and this is its first mention, so let me make the connection and wrap this up. If you’re going to use your money to gain the favor of other people—people who will then become benefactors in your hour of need, it’s hard to imagine a safer bet than adoption. I realize the Parable of the Dishonest Manager has no direct connection to adoption, but it certainly works conceptually. Because what kind of investment would you have to make in someone before they’d be willing to take you into their care? It would have to be fairly massive, right? But what if you instead made that someone your own child through adoption? The expectation of Christ himself is that adult children will take care of their parents when those parents can no longer care for themselves (Matt 15:5-6). So the more children you have when you’re young, the more support you’ll have when you’re old. And the harder it will be for you to hoard wealth along the way. That’s the benefit you receive in this life. By all accounts, the benefits you’ll receive in the life to come will be even greater.
The exorbitant cost of adoption is frequently lamented, but I would argue that it’s still underpriced. Because you’re gaining something of infinite value. If you’re a parent, what’s the price tag you would place on your child? Is there any amount of money for which you’d sell them off? If you want to store up treasure in heaven, adopting children is a fairly rock-solid retirement strategy. And I don’t mean that at all cynically. Nor do I think Christ would regard it as such. Jesus commends receiving children in his name, giving to the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and using our wealth to secure our eternal future. Doesn’t adoption check off all of those boxes? What’s going to give you the better return on investment? Banks or children? You invest in them now and if you do it right, they will invest in you for all eternity. They will rise up with the children of the Proverbs 31 woman and call you blessed.
Whoever is faithful with a little will be entrusted with much. So if we find ourselves not being entrusted with much, perhaps we haven’t been quite as faithful with a little as we imagined ourselves to be. Is it possible that the reason I haven’t seen more money coming in is because I haven’t been ushering enough money out? Like wisdom, money offers a protection of sorts (Ecc 7:12), but even wisdom—in the absence of faith—can go terribly wrong. Just ask Solomon. Biblically speaking, being faithful with a little doesn’t mean meticulously saving it. It means doing business, showing initiative, and yes, taking risks—under the conviction that everything will work together for the good of those who love God. It is the man who took no risks, the man who sat on his master’s money, who Jesus alone condemns. The way you bless your community is by spending money in that community. Whenever possible, spend it in places that will notice. Use your money to create relationships and friendships—and always be ready to give an account for the hope within you. The message of Luke 12 is to not be anxious about the future. The message of Luke 16 is to make efforts to secure your future. Taken together, we can summarize them like this. Do not be afraid, and do not be idle. Be content, and be entrepreneurial. Because it turns out there’s a fair bit of truth in the oft-maligned phrase: God helps those who help themselves. Same goes for “make your own luck.” So here's my advice. Make as much money as you reasonably can, but don’t store it in barns. Store it in other people.
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