FIRE, short for “Financial Independence, Retire Early”, is an enticing concept that has taken the world by storm for a while now.
I listened to a recent Channel NewsAsia podcast on this phenomenon, describing FIRE as a rising trend among young people who “believe they can achieve the freedom to live a life of their choosing as early as the age of 30”.
The podcast interviewee referred to financial independence as having “a sizeable capital for (one) to use as retirement funds” while retiring early was explained as “an option to do what we like instead of being tied down to a job that we may not really like”.
FIRE was hence put forth as “an ideal lifestyle for people who may want to escape from corporate handcuffs”.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a stable income, providing for our loved ones or even being more free to pursue our passions.
But how much is too much? Where is the line between these desires and what God wants for our lives?
For insights into stewarding wealth on God’s terms and more thoughts on money matters, we spoke to three believers from the financial sector:
- Bernard Lim, founder of the N5Collective Movement and FinCARE with more than 30 years of experience in financial services. Bernard also volunteers as a financial counsellor to support the counselling ministry of churches.
- Klaudia Yeo, Chartered Financial Consultant and certified ACTA trainer. She has spoken in churches and schools on financial literacy.
- Timothy Wong, Head of Research (DBS) and son of the late Rev Canon Dr James Wong
1. What do you think of FIRE? How does it stack up against what God wants for us?
Bernard: In this whole concept of FIRE, I see three themes:
- Gaining as much as possible
- Doing whatever you want
The concepts of work or vocation, wealth creation, and stewardship of resources undergird these three themes.
If we take a look at the first concept of work or vocation, we can refer to Genesis 1:26-28: God worked six days, and then rested on the seventh.
Work in itself is in the nature of God. Work is not a curse.
In fact, it is a blessing when God gives us certain gifts, talents and abilities that we can express through work.
The vocation that He assigns us to gives us the ability to serve others and is also redemptive in nature. We are supposed to go into a domain to redeem it for the Lord.
You can’t find the word retirement in the Bible. Neither do you see any of the patriarchs retiring. In fact, they were all productive until they went to the grave.
That’s not to say that we should be working for money until the day we meet the Lord, but the whole idea of retirement is not biblical.
Work in itself is in the nature of God. Work is not a curse.
The second concept is wealth creation. Deuteronomy 8:18 talks about the purpose behind the ability to get wealth, which is to establish the covenant that God had with the fathers.
Wealth is not just something that you make to make your life better. It is meant to be a blessing to the nations.
That’s also where the third concept on stewardship comes in, as opposed to “I get to do whatever I want”.
Timothy: The idea of financial independence is not bad in and of itself.
I would say, however, that financial independence can be achieved without having to ever worry about money.
From Matthew 6:19-34, we see that Jesus is the OG financial independence guru.
He says don’t store up treasures. He says don’t serve God and be a slave to money – and to not worry about these things.
Instead, live righteously and He will give you everything you need. That is the biblical mandate of financial independence.
Our job is to follow God’s plan for our lives. That is God’s best will and it has nothing to do with the size of our paycheque or bank account.
Think of life as a series of assignments. You just have to pass each of the assignments.
To me, you keep moving on to different assignments until the day you finally graduate into eternity.
Klaudia: Based on our sinful nature, we will never be satisfied because humans are greedy.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong in working hard and planning to retire.
I think the the issue is how you go about doing it.
Is it at the expense of your family or a friend? At the expense of honesty or integrity which are important virtues?
2. How about my desire to provide a comfortable life for my family?
Bernard: It is biblical to make sure that one’s family is provided for. The challenge is always the extent – what do you mean by “comfortable”?
When people say there is “enough”, the word “enough” is a moving goalpost.
We tend to live according to our salary’s increases. Therefore, it is our standard of living that goes up.
But the last thing we think about is whether we can moderate our standard of living and increase our standard of giving.
Timothy: God gives us everything for enjoyment. We shouldn’t feel guilty about being provided money to live our lives.
But I don’t think we should organise our life around money.
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.
We should be more concerned with our eternal destiny than about having material possessions.
…the last thing we think about is whether we can moderate our standard of living and increase our standard of giving.
When it comes to providing for our family, do you not think that God will supply you with what you need to provide?
He will provide for all your needs, including that of the family members who are depending on you.
Paul says that he has learnt to be contented in all things (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV). That’s what we should aspire towards.
3. Is there anything wrong with hustle culture if it means I’m putting in my best efforts?
Bernard: When you take the hustle culture and what it stands for, and put it against the truth, which is the Word of God, what do you see?
You see rebellion. It is for the love of mammon. It is rhetoric and a belief that if we are more powerful, we will be more recognised.
This actually is a symptom of a much deeper problem: We all want to be our own gods.
The insidious, underlying motive within hustle culture is the desire to be like God, which completely opposes the desire to be like His son.
There is a price tag that people don’t realise. You’ve gained the whole world but lost your soul.
Timothy: Hustle culture is gonna kill you. It will sap and drain all the energy and all the spiritual life out of you.
If you feel you have to hustle, it is the Butcher. The Shepherd leads, the Butcher drives.
The Butcher will drive us because he wants to slaughter us. The Shepherd will lead us to still waters and green pastures.
If you get into hustle culture, you will compare with all your peers. You will be drained of your passion for your job.
To me, this is the scheme of the devil – it’s all for the love of money. It all revolves around the big dollar sign.
4. How should I be stewarding my money?
Bernard: It’s important to be familiar with financial literacy, financial education and financial disciplines even before a person starts work.
This is one area where I feel that the church can play a much bigger role.
There are some of the some generic financial principles on social media, but none of it actually points back to the community or to God. None of it. Everything is about you.
If we remember the Parable of the Talents, we know that we need to be a good steward in order to multiply.
But the second part of the question is: Multiply for what and for who?
A talent of gold in current day value would be worth at least USD 1 million.
When God looks at our abilities, He thinks of something big.
When He made you, He entrusted you with certain abilities. He sees something in you and He wants you to display it.
It’s His glory in you.
The starting point of true stewardship… is knowing who our Master is.
For the servant that hid the talent in the ground, he switched his assignment.
He switched what he knew was the right thing to do for the Master, because he knew the Master to be a “hard man”.
The starting point of true stewardship and knowing what to do with resources that the Lord has entrusted to us, is knowing who our Master is.
It is knowing what our assignment is and knowing that even if He gave us the ability to multiply it – the wealth is not for us.
It is knowing that God will still reward us with more than enough to give us a very good life, with more than enough to give away.
Klaudia: Giving to God, that’s a commandment. Set aside your tithe, then save.
A lot of people spend first and save whatever is left behind. But you should be setting aside your savings first and spending whatever is left.
Basically, it boils down to three S’s:
- Share (donating or giving to a charity on your heart)
The concept of prudence is important. Whatever money that you have, be accountable for it. Know where your money goes, especially in this cashless society.
Timothy: What we need to understand and believe is that everything belongs to God. Everything comes from Him.
He can give it to you, and He can take it away. And because the money comes from Him, He will want to know what you did with it. You have to account for it.
The core principle of stewardship is: Am I doing the will of the Master? The more you give, the more you will receive. You can never out-give God.
Ultimately, it’s between you and the Holy Spirit. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in all your decisions, including what you do with your money.
5. What are some practical handles moving forward?
Timothy: Make seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness your priority. If you have to make a choice between the job and God, always choose God.
Surround yourself with a group of friends who will live by these values and encourage each other along the way because it’s very easy to become discouraged. It’s very easy to get knocked off course.
Spend time in prayer and worship, remind yourself of these principles and allow God to lead you for the day.
Bernard: Our background shapes our beliefs, which in turn drive our behaviour.
If you subject yourself to the world, your beliefs will actually become conformed to the patterns of this world.
If you subject yourself more to the Word of God, your beliefs will be conformed to God’s patterns and transformed by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:1-2).
Here are five things that we can practise:
- Develop a love for the Word of God and what it says about money
- Watch our social media diet – it cannot be more influential than the Word of God itself
- Create a financial plan and hold ourselves accountable to those who are more mature
- Make it a point to give financially
- Volunteer to serve the less fortunate
Indeed, when you go down to the ground and take time to volunteer where people are underprivileged, you look at life differently.
Klaudia: Keep track of your expenses; there are many applications out there that can help you. Be the master of money and not its slave.
Money is not evil. Money can do a lot of things, include improving another person’s life, providing help to the needy and advancing God’s kingdom.
But if you fall in love with money, that’s a big problem. It cannot buy time, happiness or health. It cannot buy salvation or heaven.
Use money to serve Him. Remember God in the days of your youth!
- Define work. Define money.
- How does the Bible define those terms? Or what does it have to say about them?
- Where are the discrepancies between your definitions and the Bible’s? Is there a reason for that?
- How has this article challenged your perspective on work and money? What handles can you apply?