“Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)
As the wealthy are growing more wealthy and the poor more poor, the response of many Christians around the world has been to assume some form of a simple lifestyle. Several thousand church leaders committed themselves to this at the great Lausanne Congress on Evangelism:
“We cannot hope to attain this goal without sacrifice. All of us are shocked by the poverty of millions and disturbed by the injustices which cause it. Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple lifestyle in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism.”
But what is a simple lifestyle? The debate is never-ending. For practical purposes, let us make an attempt. If “absolute poverty” is defined as existence below subsistence level, and “poverty” is defined as subsistence-level living without things others in the society consider necessities, perhaps a “simple lifestyle” would be all the basic necessities.
If this comes anywhere near indicating a biblical view, every believer who lives above a simple lifestyle should sacrifice to the limits of his faith and love in an effort to bring those who live below that level up to the provision of basic necessities. Whatever, he can hardly rest at ease so long as there are those who lack basic necessities.
And what are necessities? At least it is safe to say that the salespeople of our consumer-driven economy should not decide. How does one define need in a society where standards of living are constantly rising? . . . How do the generals of the sales army in their carpeted offices on Madison Avenue plot their strategy for meeting our “needs”? What angles do they play on besides our greed? Our anxieties? (Is your family protected?) Our sexual preoccupations? (Does your breath rob you of kisses?) Our guilt? Our snobbery? (You deserve the best).
Perhaps we could make room for savings toward a specific objective (to give a gift, to buy a house to live in) or in businesses that have a very irregular income, such as farming. We may also say that the judgment of unbelief applies equally to those who do not have enough to save, when they are enslaved to worry about the future. Surely we must come to terms with the underlying principle of faith.
A moderate position is advocated by Larry Burkett, who holds that savings for protection against possible future adversity is acting in unbelief, but that saving as a provision for future known needs is acceptable. Savings or insurance for what might prove crippling loss through common accidents or fire can be made in faith, but any attempt to protect against all potential hazards in life is futile as well as unbelieving. He sees the greatest failure in this regard to be in inheritances.
If I had to identify the area of Christian finances that is least understood, I would have to vote for inheritance. Not only do many people wreck their lives by hoarding, but they also wreck the lives of their children and children’s children with an abundant inheritance. . . . Large amounts of money given to children will usually be squandered to their disservice, and large amounts of money stored up for children in trust can be used to buffer them from God’s will. . . . Allow your children the joy of earning their own way.
My conclusion after evaluating the competing viewpoints in the light of Scripture comes down to a revision of John Wesley’s dictum: “Get all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” Perhaps it will serve as a summary statement of the individual’s responsibility if we qualify this carefully: Earn all you can with integrity, save all you can toward meeting known future obligations, give all you can in sacrificial love and faith in the God who provides.
 The Lausanne Covenant, in Let the Earth Hear His Voice, ed. J. D. Douglas (Minneapolis: Worldwide, 1975), 6.
 John White, The Golden Cow: Materialism in the Twentieth-Century Church (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 73.
 Larry Burkett, Your Finances in Changing Times: God’s Principles for Managing Money (Glendale, Calif.: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1975), 130-131.