I can remember reading an article in a daily newspaper that began with a kind of startling opening sentence. It went something like this – ‘according to financial experts people with high incomes are struggling with debt as much as people with low incomes.’ Now at first glance that could appear surprising. But upon further consideration you can see why it isn’t.
Perhaps you can recount times when you were in difficult financial straits, not because you were unemployed, or ‘under-employed’, but because you lacked self-control. The income was there, the work was there, yet, before you knew it, you found yourself having frivolously spent whatever you had. The world system we live in is designed to bolster that tendency. Billboards proudly declare that their products are the secrets to success and happiness. E-mail inboxes can fill up with sales on just about anything and who can resist 50% off a familiar shopping item? Societal norms (cars, cable, cell phones, etc.) increase the cost of living. Credit cards are often easily mishandled leaving their debtors to pay not only their debt but additional fees as well. The list could go on and on… it really could. And unless a person has borne the fruit of self-control via the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, they will not handle their finances in a God honoring manner.
At the outset we must make one very important distinction. Self-control and finances are only good when the two are interconnected for the glory of God and the good of others. At the outset that might seem obvious, at least from a Christian teaching perspective, but it bears saying. There are many people in the world today that show great self-control and self-discipline when it comes to their finances, but do so for selfish reasons. They may exude a form of self-denial, or delayed gratification, but at the center of their temperance is self. The Christian however should not have self at the center of his or her financial pursuits, nor any other pursuits. The Christian has seen a God whose greatness far exceeds anything this world can offer. As a result, finances are no longer seen as a means of self-gratification, they are seen as tools for God glorification. Thus, this kind of self-control is not a by-product of selfish ambition but a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23).
The Greek word used in Galatians 5:23, translated “self-control”, is the word egkrateia. The word is comprised of two words: en, meaning “in the sphere of” and kratos meaning “dominion” or “mastery”. So the one who bears this fruit of the Spirit has, by the Spirit’s power, the ability to master the desires of the flesh. Hence the word “self control”.
How, then, is self-control related to finances?
Below we’ll look at few ways.
Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit abides in the believer He brings forth fruit in the believer. He does not just teach the believer about self-denial and self-discipline, He reveals more and more of the glory of Christ, and internally changes them so that they are by nature (their new nature) more temperate. Notice we haven’t mentioned finances yet. The reason being: seeing Christ more for who He is changes the way we see everything including finances! The point of life comes into clearer focus. The Holy Spirit redirects our affections to things above. He applies the Scripture’s truth to our hearts and minds so that we might renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, godly lives in the present age (Ti. 2:12). Instead of being slaves to sin and self, believers are slaves to Christ. The Holy Spirit brings forth the fruit of self-control in us and teaches us that our money is on loan from the King of the Kingdom to use for His glory (cf. Lk. 16:1-13; 1 Tim. 5:17-18), the good of others (1 Tim. 5:8; Prov. 13:22; 1 Jn. 3:17; Heb. 13:16), and, in proper measure, for our own joy (1 Tim. 6:17b).
Self-control can also be proactive. Not everyone struggles with overspending, some people struggle with frugality. They can live in a perpetual “wartime mentality” with the best of them. They can cut back when it seems like there’s nothing left to cut back on. Or find things they can “do without” when they’ve already found things they can “do without” several other times. But when it comes to growing in the grace of giving, they struggle. As the fruit of self-control is increasingly brought forth in the life of a believer they will be less likely to resemble the rich fool who built bigger barns for his own wealth and more likely to resemble the good Samaritan who used his finances – and time – to meet the needs of another.
Self-control leads to greater resistance against the temptation of covetousness. When the Christian walks in the Spirit, the things of the world –the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn 2:16) – have an increasingly weakened allure. The Holy Spirit reminds the believer that covetousness is idolatry (Col 3:5). The Christian remembers that he or she is told to be content with whatsoever things they have for Jesus has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:4). So because the Christian has greater mastery of his old man he is less prone to covetousness. Because he is less prone to covetousness he is less prone to frivolous spending.