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"Are Biblical Teachings on Money Supported by Modern Behavioral Finance?"

Updated: May 31

Repackaged wisdom is one of the most common themes I see in the self-help section. I'm sure you've heard "timeless wisdom" used once or twice. My question is this--Are we really discovering something if we were first given the instructions 1000s of years ago?

Christians, myself included, can have a knowledge deficit when it comes to our comprehension of the Bible. The Bible is full of scriptures directly addressing money, wealth, possessions, and the roles each may play in our lives. We shouldn't be surprised to learn that money issues we may be facing today, in fact, have a Biblical remedy.

Luke 12:15 is a well-known scripture because it warns against greed. Contrary to the famous quote by Gordon Gecko, greed is not good. Here's the text:

Then He said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."

Any time we look at a passage in the Bible, it’s critical that we examine a passage in its proper context. Taking scripture out of context can result in a number of errors. Sometimes, these errors are an innocent mistake—other times, it’s a calculated ruse.

Let's dive in.

Luke 12:15 directly quotes Jesus as he addresses a crowd of people. What prompts him to address the crowd, and why does he say this?

A man in the crowd had just asked Jesus to settle a dispute between him and his brother. We do not know the specifics of the quarrel. However, we do know that it involved an inheritance.

The man implored Christ to tell his brother to “divide the inheritance” with him. At that time, a firstborn son often received a double portion of any inheritance. It's possible that this was the issue at hand.

Nevertheless, Jesus wanted no part of this dispute. Instead, Christ used this man's plight as a teachable moment for the crowd following him. He addressed the crowd and made this statement recorded in Luke 12:15.

Some other translations use the word “covetousness” instead of greed. I think it would be interesting to consider the different possible meanings of covetousness and greed. Both are unsavory traits, even if the meanings may be interpreted differently.

Have you ever seen a situation like this play out in your life? Someone, perhaps even family, becomes jealous over the material success or blessing of someone else and it consumes them.

Jesus warns the crowd (and us) to “guard our hearts” against this type of attitude. It is rooted in envy, covetousness, and greed. The seeds of these sins will never bear positive fruit in our lives.

We can stop here and have a complete lesson. Let's dig a little deeper. The second part of the verse reveals something quite profound.

It says, "LIFE does not consist in an abundance of possessions."

Throughout his many teachings, Christ’s central message was to call people into a relationship with himself. In John 14:6, he taught that he was the way, the truth, and the life.

We often pursue things for fulfillment…and it doesn’t work. We equate our self-worth with our net worth...and it doesn't work.

Modern research in behavioral finance confirms that our beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes about money greatly influence our daily lives. Look at this:

“An analysis of more than 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a daily survey of 1,000 Americans, provides a surprisingly definite answer to the most frequently asked question in well-being research: Can money buy happiness? The conclusion is that being poor makes one miserable, and that being rich may enhance one’s life satisfaction, but does not (on average) improve experienced well-being.”

— Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Francis Bacon once wrote, “Money is a great servant but a bad master.”

Money and meaning are now central themes for financial advisors as we guide clients on their financial journeys. The technical side still matters, yet more and more of an advisor's value can be found in helping clients behaviorally. Further, how can advisors mentor clients through the internal (human) side of money? It can be messy.

I believe that our human nature is and was a central theme that Jesus pointed to in this discussion. Yes, He was teaching that true Life was found in Him. Yet, I think he also pointed to our hearts and how misguided they can be regarding wealth and possessions.

How might we apply this to our lives?

  • First--heed the warning to guard our hearts. Look at what influences you. Where do you look for validation? What do you use as a measuring stick? Examine your motives.

  • Second--practice gratitude and generosity. Make them a habit.

  • Third-- use money as a tool, not a destination. Create experiences and memories with the ones you love. Bless others. Memories > stuff

Each of us has our own unique money story. Be intentional with yours.


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