Financial independence is a buzzword in today’s time. Certainly there will be a little variety to our definitions, but the overall idea seems to be: build wealth until you are independent of any need for earning income. Or, to put it another way: work until you don’t have to work any more. We all have to admit that it sounds pretty desireable to say the least. Therefore, many of us have dedicated our lives to pursuing it. Yet, I think few of us stop to think about what we’d actually do when we get there. In a sense, we spend all of our time and energy racing towards our goal that we never take the time to really think about just what exactly it is we are pursuing.
Do we ever stop to ask ourselves what we are going to do when we get there? I know what you’re thinking: “Of course I do! I am going to sleep in, spend time with my kids, stare at the ocean, and do something really significant with my time–you know, give back.” We all have an endless list of things to do when “financial independence” finally moves into the guest bedroom. However, the point I am trying to make here is that most of us never REALLY stop and think about what would come after reaching this elusive utopian destination.
If I had to boil it down into its simplest terms, I find that we usually go in one of two directions: luxury or philanthopy. Regarding the first option, the Bible speaks rather clearly. Jesus told a parable about a rich man who had reached what we would call “financial independence”.
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. And he told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21, NIV)
Plain and simple: The Bible teaches that a life long pursuit of wealth in the name of personal comfort, luxury, and ease is greedy and foolish. Though it may seem appealing on the surface, this approach to life is nothing more than a self-revolving, self-indulging, pursuit of short-term and superficial satisfaction. And, sadly, this person’s deepest hopes are placed in temporal things with no guarantee they will actually get to enjoy what they have stored up. There is nothing wrong with working hard to enjoy some of the fruit of your labor, but the life dedicated only to this purpose is ultimately meaningless, self-absorbed greed.
The rest of us place our bets on door number two (philanthropy). Often Christians aware of the parable above defend their pursuit of financial independence in terms like: “Once I get there, I will serve and give, etc.” We have dreams of using our adundant resources to help others…once we get our stockpile high enough. We tend to be quite stingy now as we strive towards our goal, and push our generosity off to the day our ship comes in. Let’s stop and think about that. Will we really dedicate our life to something we never have the time for now? Are fooling ourselves?
Jesus told another parable along these lines, the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (23) Would God be wise to bless our pursuit of financial independence if we don’t do what we are supposed to with the little amount we have? I don’t think so.
In conclusion, I will leave us with two principles to consider: First, supposed “financial independence” is not evil unless it is the only thing we are trying to define our life by (greed). Second, we fool ourselves if we think we will be a different sort of person when our assets increase. We should feel free to work towards this goal, but should never define our lives by it or convince ourselves we can wait until then to start acting like we ought.