Christian Growth Frugal Friday frugality reflections

On Frugality, Idolatry, and Stewardship

March 28, 2008

gleaning.jpg

Frugality. Spend any time at all in the blogosphere (particularly in the female arena), and you’ll soon realize that it’s quite the hot topic these days. After all, there are whole, entire websites and blogs devoted to the art of being frugal.* Generally speaking, the term resides soley within the sphere of economics. In other words, it’s about saving money.

There are many reasons to be frugal. For some people, it’s just plain fun. Others do it to be wise stewards of what God has given them. A few are driven out of necessity, and still more pursue frugality in the present for the purpose of having wealth in the future. In fact, even for Americans in general, economist David Rosenberg claims that “frugality is in, extravagance is out.”

Frugality comes in many different forms. Sometimes it’s simply another case of affluenza—how can I get the most stuff at the lowest cost to me? Other times it is a tool to be used to get out of debt. Or perhaps it is to feel security in financial stability (in place of finding that security in Christ). For others, it is truly about living simply in order to be giving generously.

One unfortunate form of frugality is idolatry. Pull back the cloak of frugality, and you’ll see an ugly idol behind it all. Somewhere along the way, it either began as or became an idol that, like a slavemaster, drives its bondsmen to astonishing extremes. (We’ve all heard about the old lady who died seemingly poor, but thousands of dollars were found stuffed in her furniture.) The quest for saving money, for whatever reason, all too quickly becomes an all-consuming end. When really, it should be a means, rather than an end.

But what about stewardship? As Christians, that’s what we’re really called to be exercising. Yet frugality is only a small facet, and sometimes out of necessity it must be excluded if we are to be true stewards in other areas.

And for what are we called to be stewards of? The mysteries of God. And what is required of us as stewards? To be faithful. True, the Bible does talk a lot about money. 1 Timothy 6, in fact, tells us that the love of it is the “root of all evil.” We hear it a lot, but do we really think about it? If I knew loving something was the root, the cause, beginning, or orgin, of all evilwickedness and depravity, is it really something I want to pursue? I think, instead, it would be something I’d want to stay as far away from as possible!

So let’s take a step back. What love are we really pursuing here? Is it money? More things? Wealth? Security? The good of others? The glory of God?

Let’s consider for a moment living frugally for the good of others and the glory of God. With very few exceptions, we American families have so much more than we could ever need. Yet does an overwhelming desire to be frugal hinder us from being hospitable toward others? Or does the ultimate goal of saving money consume all of our time so that we have none left to give? Consider for a moment how in the Old Testament, God’s people were told that when they reaped their harvest they were not to glean afterward, but to leave the extras for “the poor and the stranger.” What a testimony amongst the lost and fellow believers we could have by doing the same.

Hmm…maybe when there is a super sale, I don’t have to take the entire stock—I can leave some behind for others. Or maybe when the cashier doesn’t understand that my internet coupon really is valid, that I just leave things as they are—for the sake of the glory of God. Or perhaps I know people who need a bit of assistance, and I can either teach them some of what I’ve learned…or maybe just drop a few groceries and toiletries by. At what expense am I being frugal–my family? my home? my friendships? my ministry to others? Being Biblically frugal should aid in these areas, not hinder them.

There may be seasons of our lives where living very frugally is a necessity. There will also be seasons where giving generously is required. More often, we’ll be at points where we should be doing both. Lets carefully examine our hearts—our motives—for being frugal. God may require for some of us to go without being “frugal” for a while so that we may more fully place our trust in Him. Or He may require for some of us to simply be more generous. But regardless, let us not forget the fuller picture here. Being a good steward goes beyond saving money. It should involve not only spending less, but having less. Lest we be quick to judge others, let us remember that there are some who really cannot afford to provide a meal, to buy a gift, or to give financially. And for most of us, learning to live below our means is a good thing, and we should learn how to invest our money wisely, be thrifty, and seek out good deals. It’s just helpful sometimes to take a step back and gain some perspective.

What I’ve written is just a portion of what I’m currently learning. Don’t get me wrong–I’m all about saving money when I can. And I think that doing so is one of the ways I can be a wise steward and a virtuous wife. Just read more of this blog if you don’t believe me. But more importantly, I want to “be all about” glorifying God, even if it means I’m not being what is considered frugal.

*And they’re something I’m thankful for!

In the midst of writing this post, I came across this article by Tim Challies. Much of what he wrote, I had already written. And in fact, most of what I said, he had already said…in remarkably similar ways. But his idea on gleaning was something that I had not originally thought of ; I added that idea after I’d written my other thoughts. Just wanting to give credit where due!

Image courtesy of allposters.com

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  • Edi March 28, 2008 at 7:45 am

    Well said.

    I read someone’s post about what to do w/all the stuff they bought w/coupons and freebies etc. It was odd b/c they had so much excess – why buy 10 boxes of Cheerios for 10 cents a box if no one in your home likes Cheerios! Unless you truly are going to sell those 20 sticks of deoderant or give them away or use them within a year or so – it seems wasteful to hold onto them just b/c they were free.

    I’m not saying coupons are bad and I’m mystified at how they all work for folks that get things almost or for free – kudos to them…but let’s not be greedy. Just take what you can use or WILL give away. Having to store all that excess can become a burden or clutter that you need to take care of.

    Just b/c there is a huge bowl of candies at someone’s party that doesn’t mean you can stuff your pockets. There are times I’ve signed up for freebies and it’s kind of fun – but how many of those little samples do I actually use – not many.

  • Jenny M March 28, 2008 at 8:56 am

    This is such a good point, and I definitely need to be reminded. This week off of CVS (well, I did go once) has shown me that perhaps I was letting it become too important to me, that maybe I spending more time reading/planning my CVS trips than with our Heavenly Abba. Thank you so much for this reminder…what an encouragement!

  • Meredith from Merchant Ships March 28, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I agree that frugality should be a means to an end, and that having a blog dedicated to frugality might confuse people into thinking that money (or saving it) is truly an idol.

    However, just because someone has a cupcake blog doesn’t mean that the family eats little else but sugar.

    The basics of saving money do lie in economics, but there is an art to living graciously (and biblically) without spending much money.

  • BarbaraLee Malikowski March 28, 2008 at 10:59 am

    It reminds me of when we are suppose to fast during lent and tithe. We aren’t suppose to show it or brag or show self pity. We are to do it cheerfully and quitely.

  • Lyn March 28, 2008 at 11:56 am

    I think practically speaking anyone who has to be frugal to survive will probably be thinking about frugality a lot more than someone who doesn’t have to be – due to survival reasons. I am in and have been in that category most of my life. However, I do try to let God be in the equation of it and strive to not be greedy. It really bothers me to see how people can be greedy when it comes to frugality (having a “more for me, none for you” attitude). Perhaps when one has had to struggle they are more understanding to those who have to also (one would hope). When I can share, I am most happy to do so. Sometimes though it can be a fine line of being wise to provide for my own family and trying to give to others. I will say though, you won’t find 50 tubes of toothpaste in my closet, or anything similar. Thank you for your post.

  • Annie March 29, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Excellent post. When we are working on the details, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. You have stepped back and reminded us to look at that big picture. Thank you for the much needed message. It is written with great humility–and that is no small feat.

  • Carrie April 2, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Thank you for the good thoughts. It’s so easy to be doing “the right thing” for the wrong reasons, in so many areas of life. May the Lord help us to do all with the purpose of PLEASING HIM, not just holding to a standard.

  • Rebekah Bentley June 10, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Hello, Keren,

    I’m about to finish up a special edition of A Lady in Waiting magazine and just discovered that I saved a copy of this post to one of my flash drives back in March. This particular issue is on the topic of home economy and is available for download to the approximately 3000 families who attended the Home Educators Association of Virginia’s annual convention this past weekend. It’s going online tonight, but I would love to add this article to it, if you’re willing to give me reprint permission. I can’t pay, but I can give you the download information so you can read the entire magazine.

    Blessings,
    Rebekah Bentley

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