(Note: I wrote this article and posted it on my blog before my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession was published by WestBow Press in February 2018. This critical topic was later included in the book. I invite you to check it out.)
In the spring of 2006, I was preparing to retire from the Army. For two years, I had been planning to go back to teaching. I was taking graduate school classes to help me get my Missouri State Teaching Certificate, since the one I got from Colorado in 1980 was long expired.
I had applied for a middle-school math teacher position a mile from my house. I got an interview and was offered the job. However, the starting salary was less than half what I had been making as a Master Sergeant with 20 years active duty. With my Army retirement check and the teacher’s salary combined, I was going to be taking home about $400 less each month than what I had been receiving. We could not afford a cut that big. Since I knew God was going to meet my family’s needs, I knew this job was not the answer to my prayers. I had to turn it down. Thankfully, I got another job offer three months later, which did meet our needs.
Tom Nelson in Work Matters provides some succinct observations on how money fits in to how God shapes us for work. He mentions the unpredictability of the global economy that affects employment, such as job change or elimination due to emerging technologies, which may require job training. He states, “We often find that God uses our economic circumstances to guide us vocationally. . . economic realities are a part of God’s providential arrangement for our lives and the times in which we live. . . We do not need to see these as vocational detours, but rather what God has for us to do in this particular stage of our life journeys.” These are encouraging words.
This brings to mind my own situation in 1985, where I sensed that God was closing the door on ministry and leading me into the military. Money definitely entered into the decision-making process, as the Army provided medical benefits, promotions, a good paycheck, and job security.
Let’s think about some of the tough choices you may have to make regarding your salary and the total compensation package that comes with the job you have or will be offered.
How much salary do you truly need? What do you do if you are not paid as much as you are worth? When a baby unexpectedly comes along, can you afford to live off just one income? Which one should it be, mom’s or dad’s? When a promotion opportunity is offered, do you take it, even if it means longer hours or a transfer far from your family of origin? Should you go back to school to learn a new skill or finish that college degree that you put off to raise your family?
What does Scripture say about these things? Let’s look at what Jesus and Paul taught.
Jesus preached in Matt. 6:19-21 that we should store up treasures in heaven, not just on earth. He warned us to be on guard against greed; life is more than possessions (Luke 12:15). In Luke 12:48, Jesus proclaimed that to those who have been given much, much is required. In some of His strongest language, Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). Jesus said to not work for temporal things only; the most important work is to believe in God’s Son (John 6:26-29). Jesus taught there is more to work and life than just making money.
Paul also had some things to say to the churches regarding money, and then lived by example. He knew that he could have been supported financially by the churches, as he taught that full-time pastor-teachers are worthy of their wages, just like everyone else (1 Tim. 5:17-18; Luke 10:7). In 1 Cor. 9:7-14, Paul applies the same OT principle from Deut. 25:4 to all who serve Christ full-time. However, he was reluctant to take these gifts as his sole means of support; he did not want to hinder the spread of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:12). Paul’s reward was to be able to preach the gospel free of charge in order to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:18).
Paul and Barnabas had sacrificially worked to support themselves to avoid being a burden to those whom they preached (1 Cor. 9:6). Paul worked hard day and night in his secular tent-making job so that he could be financially independent (1 Thes. 2:9). (See also Acts 18:3 and 1 Cor. 4:12.) Paul chose to follow his calling and was basically willing to work two full-time jobs to see that his financial needs were met, living by faith in total dependence on the Lord. Finally, Paul had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself, in rich times as well as lean (Phil. 4:11-12). He knew that God would always meet his needs (Phil. 4:19).
To summarize, although a decent salary is necessary, it should not be the most important factor when deciding on a job offer or when choosing between multiple offers. We are not to be greedy in any way. We cannot take it all with us after we die. Money cannot be our primary motivation. We are to do whatever it takes to be financially independent. When times are tough, we need to trust in the Lord to supply our needs in His time, and lead where He wants us to go.
Let me close with a cool story about how God provided for my family’s needs at a critical time.
Shortly after we found out my wife was pregnant in the summer of 1985, I was on a weekend senior high beach retreat. I had some time to take a stroll by myself along the beautiful Oregon coast. I was thinking about our finances; we did not have any health insurance. How was I going to pay all the medical expenses for my wife and the baby?
Up ahead, I saw something large and white on the shoreline. When I got there, I found a huge, flat pile of twenty or more nearly perfect sand dollars. I took this unusual event to be a clear, personal message from my faithful Father. I knew that He would provide all the dollars we would need for this baby. Immediately, I felt His peace that passed all understanding (see Phil. 4:7.)
The Lord did indeed provide for the three of us in an amazing way. Within a couple of weeks, I had found another job, teaching math and science in the mornings at a Christian junior/senior high school. Somehow, I was able to fit it into my already busy school and ministry schedule. I taught there for the entire school year, and the salary I received just covered the medical expenses for our daughter’s birth. What a blessing!
God has always been faithful to meet the needs of His children. He has been faithful to us. He still is faithful to us. He will be to you also. Trust Him. Watch and see!
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.