Why is it important to live within my income?
Learning to live within your income involves recognizing your true needs and practicing contentment when those needs are met. This discipline helps you avoid debt and allows you to share surplus resources with those in need.
The temptation to get more for yourself and to store up riches for your own use and comfort is one that is common to all, because it is easy to trust in riches for satisfaction and delight. Yet Scripture warns, “. . . If riches increase, set not your heart upon them” (Psalm 62:10). Jesus said, “. . . Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).
Your Standard of Living
Contentment involves realizing God has given you everything you need for your present happiness. As God’s grace abounds in your life, you are made fruitful: “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (II Corinthians 9:8).
Your standard of living should be built around contentment with basics: food, clothing, and shelter. If your income exceeds what you require to provide for these needs, determine how you can use the extra resources to meet the needs of others and advance God’s kingdom, not your own pleasures. If your income is inadequate to provide for your basic needs, look for ways to decrease your expenses and pray for God’s continued provision.
Many people who have large incomes are not able to pay their bills, because they are not limiting their spending to their true needs. They spend money that should be used for food and clothing on other items. They are not poor in terms of money, but rather they are poor in terms of managing their money. In Proverbs 11:24 we are warned against hoarding resources: “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.”
Poverty and Wealth in the Life of the Christian
Scripture clearly teaches that a Christian’s possessions are gifts of God’s grace to meet his needs, and they are the basis for giving to others. God does not condemn a Christian for possessing wealth. However, He does rebuke those who heap up riches for themselves (see Psalm 39:6 and Luke 12:20–21), trust in their riches (see I Timothy 6:17), gain riches unjustly (see James 5:4), or set their heart on riches (see Psalm 62:10).
Just as God may grant riches, He may also allow for poverty in the lives of faithful Christians. The Apostle Paul affirmed that he and his fellow workers had no money for themselves, yet they made others spiritually rich. “But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God . . . as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (II Corinthians 6:4, 10). The Biblical accounts of Elijah, Job, and others indicate that there were times when these men of God had very little.
Even though a Christian may experience poverty, God never forsakes him, and God gives him a rich heritage of faith. In the final analysis, faith is more important and more valuable than riches. “Without faith it is impossible to please him [God] . . .” (Hebrews 11:6). Based on this fact, God’s compensation to the poor is significant: “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world [to be] rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” (James 2:5).
God also gives to the poor a freedom from the fears and worries that often plague the rich. One of the rewards of this freedom is an increased potential for a good night’s sleep. “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith” (Proverbs 15:16).
Purposes for Cycles of Wealth
God chooses different means to accomplish different purposes for His glory. Wealth—or the lack thereof—is a tool in God’s hands for testing, chastening, and redemption, depending on God’s intentions in a given situation. “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psalm 75:6–7). “. . . It is he that giveth thee power to get wealth . . .” (Deuteronomy 8:18).
Throughout our lives, we may experience cycles of riches, financial tests, poverty, and growth in faith. These sequences are meant to help us learn contentment and to trust in God’s eternal riches, not temporal ones.
Sometimes the loss of money indicates a violation of God’s Word. Scripture clearly states several cause-and-effect sequences between disobeying God’s ways and financial loss. When we encounter financial challenges, we should evaluate our hearts and lives and repent of any sin, but we should also recognize that the circumstances might not be a consequence of wrongdoing, as was true in the case of Job. (See Job 1:8–12.)
Finding Satisfaction in Contentment
A person can be poor by the world’s standards but be content because he has adequate food, clothing, and shelter. On the other hand, a person can have an abundance of money and still be discontent and unhappy because he refuses to be satisfied with the provision of his basic needs. In the Book of Proverbs, Agur sought what was sufficient for his needs: “. . . Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Proverbs 30:8–9).
As we seek to live contentedly within our incomes, the words that the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy offer great encouragement: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Timothy 6:6–10).
This article was adapted from pages 91–95 of the Men’s Manual, Vol. II.