BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- You probably won't find a copy of the King James Bible on the "business" or "personal finance" shelf of your local bookstore or library.
But while the ancient nature of the text may not offer much insight for those consulting it for advice on the derivatives market or the moral underpinnings of Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) playing "both sides" of a deal, there are still plenty of financial lessons that can be applied to modern life.
|The Ten Commandments are just the beginning of Biblical financial lessons that can be applied to modern life.|
As in any holy book, especially one with writings that span centuries, there are some seeming contradictions and passages open to interpretation. There is also certainly a fair debate over whether certain passages should be treated as literal guidance or more malleable allegory. Your own faith, view of religion or academic viewpoint will certainly come into play.The following are 10 areas of financial guidance that can be found in the pages of the Bible:
10. Avoid greed
A strict, literal reading of some Bible passages might not sit well with the wealthy. In championing the poor and oppressed, rich men are often cast in a negative light. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25) is an oft-quoted passage that might not sit well with those looking to amass and preserve wealth. Nor is the famous warning: "But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness" (Timothy 6:9). Even harsher words, particularly scary for the current wave of gold bugs: "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire" (James 5:1).
9. Reduce debt
Debt only empowers the wicked and drags down hope for your prosperity, the Bible says. Those ancient warnings against money lenders are just as relevant today for households that have maxed out credit cards, sought the immediate gratification of rent-to-own plans or taken on mortgages beyond their means. Proverbs 22:7 cautions: "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender's slave." Bob Lotich, who created and oversees ChristianPF.com, a personal finance website that draws upon biblical teachings, says that bit of wisdom helped change his life. "I remember having a ton of debt burdening me and I really did feel like a slave to various lenders," he says. "For me, I decided to work to a debt-free lifestyle -- knowing that it may take me longer to get some of the things that I really want, but that the financial peace would be worth it. I get email all the time from readers who feel so burdened by the debt load they are carrying, and since I have been there myself I know the feeling. The Bible warns us about debt from thousands of years ago, and I think one of the best things most of us can do is to follow that old, wise advice." Those who leapt into subprime mortgages they couldn't afford or have a car in danger of being repossessed might have been spared a lot of grief if they contemplated the guidance in Proverbs 22:26 to "not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you." As for those who profit from debt, banks may not be inclined to heed this warning found in Exodus: "If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest."
8. Save more
For years, the rate at which Americans saved was so low it could nearly qualify as a rounding error. Scared into reducing debt by recession, the nation is a bit more serious about tucking aside some of each paycheck. Students of the Bible would certainly see this as a lesson that has long been stressed. Corinthians 16:2 offers this advice for sticking to a savings plan: "On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come."
7. The subprime mortgage crisis
As for those considering just walking away from an underwater mortgage, Psalm 37:2 might be seen as handing out some stern guidance: "The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives." Ecclesiastes 5:5 also warns that, "It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay."
6. Pay your taxes
Conservative talk radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh may have missed an important passage when he tried to use the New Testament as a basis for supporting tax cuts for the wealthy during an April broadcast. "Taxes and budget cuts, what would Jesus do?" Limbaugh asked. "Well, what would Jesus take? That's the question people need to ask to put this in perspective. Of course the answer is, nothing. You want to start equating yourselves and your policies to Jesus Christ, you better first start asking, what did Jesus take, from whom, and how did he go about it? What was his plan for redistribution?" Critics fired back by pointing to numerous occasions where Jesus defended taxation and, more broadly, the redistribution of wealth. "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's," is a famous quote from Matthew.
5. Be a good boss for an ethical company
As an employer, are you always looking for ways to trim your payroll, reduce benefits or crack the whip for greater productivity? Are you outsourcing manufacturing to sweat shops? Are overseas vendors so stressed by your demands that some are actually killing themselves? The Bible warns that you should start trying to earn that "World's Greatest Boss" coffee mug. "Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you," says James 5:4. "The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty." Proverbs 22:16 similarly warns: "He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty." As for employees, working hard is a recipe for success. Proverbs 10:4 puts it as, "A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich."
4. Avoid "Madoffs"
Even the ancient writers who crafted The Bible's many books knew something that many investors targeted by fraudsters seem to forget -- if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Proverbs 14:15 cautions that, "The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps." Think you can get rich quick? Think again, says Proverbs 13:11. "Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow." The con men themselves don't get off easy. Proverbs 13:11 admonishes that, "Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it." More direct is the lack of wiggle room found in the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."
3. Diversify your portfolio and assets
The Bible doesn't delve into portfolio rebalancing or the value of emerging markets weightings. But in a far more poetic way, it suggests a careful distribution of your assets. "Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth," Ecclesiastes 11:2 says, relaying a lesson from King Solomon.
2. Leave a legacy
The first instance of a biblical estate plan goes all the way back to Abraham in the book of Genesis. At God's urging, he left "everything he owned to Isaac" and subsequent heirs all provided a will to dictate how their post-death belongings would be distributed. Proverbs 13:22 promotes the value of such a legacy: "A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children."
1. Give to charity
Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the many other wealthy captains of industry who have pledged much of their wealth to charity may have a slightly better chance of squeezing through that eye of a needle. The good that comes through philanthropy is a recurring theme in the old and new testaments. Proverbs 28:27 says: "He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses." A little later, Proverbs adds that "He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor." "Go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven," is the advice Jesus offers a rich man in the gospel according to Mark. Just don't go issuing a press release or slapping your name on a plaque to trumpet your largess. "When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:3). "I believe we all have a responsibility to take care of each other and to love our neighbor as ourselves," ChristianPF's Lotich says. "But it truly is exciting to have guys like Warren and Bill step up and give in the way they have. They raised the bar for what is expected out of billionaires, and I think the precedent will result in a lot more charitable giving in the years to come." -- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
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