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Biblical Definition of Thrift

Saving by using resources sparingly is the classical definition of “thrift.” Scriptures encourage thrift by pointing out the dangers of materialism. Thrift, by definition, is the wise management of money and resources. Sometimes it means being frugal. To understand thrift, first let us look at any dangers associated with it:

(John 12:4-6) 1 – “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

Motives mean everything. Why is someone thrifty, frugal? Is the motivation based on a foundation of Godly behavior? In the case of Judas Iscariot, he was only interested in maximizing his part of illicit gains. Judas was not being thrifty!

Next, consider whether the pursuit of thrift passes the commonsense test. As Jesus was hanging on the cross, four Roman soldiers, divided His clothes by lots (tossing dice). While they were not aware of it, the soldiers were fulfilling the prophecy found in Psalm 22:18. Here, David writes, “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” The apostle John in 19:23-24 tells us that Jesus’ coat was seamless. This is a sign of high quality. Jesus’ coat was the same quality of clothing as that worn by the high priest in Jerusalem’s temple. The soldiers decided that because of its value, they would keep it intact.

Thrift also does not mean buying cheap things! Jesus had only one robe, a high-quality robe. We can see this better when looking at the construction of buildings. The effects of thrift on architecture can affect the safety and life span of buildings. Compare today’s buildings with those built hundred years ago. There is nothing wrong with quality. Jesus did not have a closet filled with low-cost robes. He did not need an “estate sale” to liquidate His assets after His death. Jesus had what was necessary to sustain His ministry in the world. Jesus had enough!

Finally, thrift or frugality does not mean using unethical practices to save money. Sometimes there is reason why something is cheaper. Was child labor used? Were the working conditions in manufacturing unclean or unsafe? Thrift should never mean using substandard materials. Lower costs should never lead to products being more dangerous to use. The real purpose of a thriftful life is to lay a foundation for “generosity.” In Acts 2, the picture is not of a group of people seeking to conserve resources:

(Acts 2:42-47) – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

The purpose behind the “thrift,” in Acts was “generosity.” The people were selling their possessions and belongings. They were distributing the proceeds to all, as many had needs. Their thrift came by gathering for worship and meals together. The people had generous hearts. Their impulse was not to accumulate, not to store up and keep their wealth. The Bible also points out the futility of storing up for yourself. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

(Luke 12:16-20) – “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?’”

Thrift, frugality have its place in the Christian life through self-control. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. As believers, we should all seek to be good and faithful stewards of what God has given us. Our frugality, however, must never take a back seat to generosity. The focus of thrift is to turn perishable cash into the imperishable Kingdom of God. It will be the best return on investment we will ever get.

(1 Timothy 6:18-19) – “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Example of Biblical Thrift

Based on our definition of “thrift,” it may be more productive to talk about self-control than frugality. It’s important for Christians to learn to live within their means. The Christian life is about learning how to control one’s desires and to put the desires of others above our own. Self-control is willing to sacrifice and save when caring for oneself, while it is willing to spend on others in need. The world tends to view thrift and frugality as pinching pennies no matter what. For our first Bible story, we go to a parable.

(Matthew 25:14-30) – “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest. “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have plenty. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’“

Jesus tells the story of the 5 talents (bags of gold) to tell us how God expects us to be good stewards and investors of our resources. From this story, one sees both risk and self-control. It’s important for Christians to learn to live within their means. It is also important for Christians to learn to control the self’s desires and to put the desires of others above our own. A healthy balance of Holy Spirit inspired generosity and self-control will always be more becoming of the believer than just being thrifty.

(1 John 2:15-16) – “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

Frugality and self-control have other important benefits. Our Bible tells the story of Joseph in Genesis chapter’s 37 through 50. Joseph was the most loved son of his father. He was given the famous robe of many colors. God would speak to Joseph through his dreams. His brothers, jealous of his favored status, sold him into slavery to a traveling caravan of Ishmaelites. He was taken to Egypt and then sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. In Egypt, God’s presence with Joseph enabled him to find favor with Potiphar and the keeper of the prison. Joseph interpreted the dreams of two prisoners, predicting that one of them will be reinstated but the other put to death. Joseph then interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh. The message of Joseph’s dream was to expect seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh recognized Joseph’s God-given ability. He is promoted to the chief administrator of Egypt. During the seven years of plenty, Joseph organized a program to save the surplus grain. You can call it a “Rainy Day Plan.” Joseph’s planning was correct and when the famine comes, Egypt is saved from starvation.

As the famine comes, there is a shortage of food in Canaan where Joseph’s family lives. This forces Jacob to send his sons (the ones who sold Joseph into slavery) to buy grain from the Egyptians. Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother remained at home as his father fears losing him, as he did Joseph. When Joseph finally sees his brothers again, he conceals his identity. He accuses them of being spies and tells them to return with Benjamin or he will not sell them grain. The ongoing famine forces Joseph’s father, Jacob to send his sons back to Egypt with Benjamin. They are invited to dine at Joseph’s house. Joseph then tests the character of his brothers by placing a silver cup in the sack of Benjamin and falsely accusing him of the theft. When Joseph’s brother, Judah, offers to stay in place of Benjamin, Joseph knows that his brother’s character has changed. He reveals that he is their brother, the one they sold into slavery.

Joseph then explains they need not feel guilty for betraying him as it was God’s plan for him to be in Egypt to preserve his family. Joseph tells them to bring their father and his entire household into Egypt. They are to live in the province of Goshen because there were five more years of famine left. Joseph supplied them with Egyptian transport wagons, new garments, silver, and twenty additional donkeys carrying provisions for the journey. Jacob is then joyously reunited with his son Joseph.

The story of Joseph’s life is an example of the sovereignty and grace of God available to those who live faithfully and righteously. Despite being sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph remained faithful. He continued to trust in God to deliver him from harm. God’s plan may not always be obvious to our limited perspective. But “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Ideas to Explore

One of the simplest ways to demonstrate thrift is to organize the group around a fund-raising goal. For example, the goal might be to purchase food and gifts for a needy family for Christmas. Once the goals are set, establish a list of projects that can generate funds toward the goal:

  • A yard sale comprised of multiple households, even church wide if possible. Items are donated, sales minus expenses go toward the fund-raising project.
  • Saving and harvesting scrap aluminum cans, parts, etc. Aluminum brings a nice return at the recycling center.
  • Give up program. Give something up for a month or two. Put the savings in a jar. Consolidate funds at the end of the program. Ideas might be ordering small instead of supersizing, give up French fries, try water instead of a soft drink, etc. Make sure that the cost of the item you avoid goes in the jar.
  • Be creative. How much can you really save?

Examples of Historical Thrift

Our founding fathers such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all promoted thrift and stewardship of resources. The ethic of “thrift” had originated in Europe during the late eighteenth century. Aligned with values later called “the Protestant work ethic,” thrift emphasized hard work and strict money saving practices. Private and municipal savings banks were founded throughout Europe. By 1816, Philadelphia had its first saving bank, the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (PSFS). The Saving Fund Society encouraged individuals to save money for mortgages and retirement. The idea of saving provided a form of economic insurance in case of debilitating illness or the death of a family’s primary wage-earner. This form of institutional savings became popular in the Philadelphia area. By 1853, there were three other savings fund societies formed. In other Northeastern states, where six hundred savings banks in operation by 1930.

The existence of banks or savings habits did not guarantee, of course, that people would have the skills or desire to save or be thrifty. For some, habits are difficult to change. Making saving a priority over spending money on other luxuries, such as games, alcohol, or tobacco is not always easy. Some did not trust banks with their small amounts of hard-earned cash.

During the American Revolution, the comforts of the family depended upon the thrift, energy, and thoughtfulness of women. Much of this was done through education and art. Needlework was the one art in which women controlled the education of their daughters. By the 19th century, most American women knew how to sew. This was not only acceptable work for women; in many cases, it was necessary work. All colonial women sewed their family members’ clothing and other domestic textiles until the introduction of ready-made garments. Making quilts also fell into the realm of women’s work. Many girls learned plain stitching, necessary for making household textiles and clothing, through completed “stints” of hand stitching patchwork. It was an excellent form of reusing bits and pieces of worn items. Today, quilting continues as an art form.

Food was also an area that needed stewardship. During the American Revolution, a soldier’s daily rations were defined on June 10, 1775, by the Massachusetts Provincial Council. The set the daily allowance or ration for its troops in Boston as:

  • One pound of bread
  • Half a pound of beef and half a pound of pork; and if pork cannot be had, one pound and a quarter of beef; and one day in seven they shall have one pound and one quarter of salt fish, instead of one day’s allowance of meat
  • One pint of milk, or if milk cannot be had, one gill [half a cup] of rice
  • One quart of good spruce or malt beer
  • One gill of peas or beans, or other sauce equivalent
  • Six ounces of good butter per week
  • One pound of good common soap for six men per week
  • Half a pint of vinegar per week per man if it can be had.

In colonial times, food shortages frequently accompanied poor harvests, particularly in urban areas that had little access to produce. As early as 1710, requisitions by the British army made wheat scarce. Merchants hoarded the remaining supply to raise prices to a level that colonists couldn’t afford. This allowed them to export the wheat to more lucrative European markets. Food riots broke out in Boston three times, which led to a law prohibiting the export of wheat.

Food shortages returned during the American Revolution. Food was either blockaded by the British or requisitioned by the colonial army. Merchants often hoarded commodities like tea, coffee, sugar, and flour. Between 1776 and 1779, 30 food riots broke out in the colonies. They were led by women who struggled to feed their families while their male breadwinners were off at war.

On July 24, 1777, a crowd of angry Boston women drew carts and wagons to the warehouses of merchant Thomas Boylston and demanded the keys. Boylston refused. According to Abigail Adams, “one of the women seized him by the neck and tossed him into the cart.” Realizing the women wouldn’t yield, he handed over the keys. “They tipped up the cart and discharged him, then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into wagons and drove off.

The idea of thrift and frugality is driven by supply and demand. When the supply is adequate to fill the demand, thrift is a fleeting thought for most. It is not until there is a high demand that the benefits of thrift and savings come to bear.

Ideas to Explore

Have a quilting group come in and speak to your own group. If up to the task, design and create a quilt. Everyone should contribute both fabric and sewing skills. Raffle the quilt off and use the earnings for one of the service projects later. Don’t miss this opportunity to teach everyone how to sew, fix a button or tear in a seam. This is a skill that lasts a lifetime! Make sure each member of your group gets a small gift, a sewing kit. Needles, threads, a few buttons, some straight pins, a pair of small scissors, and a pouch to keep them in.

Let your group see if they can survive the day on the rations of an American Revolutionary Soldier. And yes, you can find non-alcoholic beer!

Examples of Historical Thrift Occurring in Florida

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is a private, nonprofit organization that collects, stores, and distributes donated food to more than 550 feeding partners in six Central Florida counties: Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia. Last year, with the help of numerous donors, volunteers and a caring, committed community, the food bank distributes food and meals to partner programs such as food pantries, soup kitchens, women’s shelters, senior centers, day care centers and Kids Cafes. The need is great. 1 in 7 Central Floridians are struggling with the reality of hunger and food insecurity.

One of the most powerful ways to help close the gap on hunger in Central Florida is to help the organization financially. The Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is noted for its frugal management of resources. For every $10 contributed, the food bank can provide 40 meals for struggling families, seniors, and kids. Their fund efficiency ratio allows for 97% of contributions to be used directly for programs that help people. Because of their responsible use of resources, the food bank is rated 4-star charity by Charity Navigator. Second Harvest is a tax-exempt charitable organization under IRS 501c(3). In 2019/2020, Second Harvest proved over 73 million meals to families, children, and seniors in Central Florida.

In 2020, Second Harvest provided:

  • Bring Hope Home: 4,443 deliveries | 76,068 meals
  • Fresh Produce at School Markets: 183,039 meals
  • COVID-19 Relief Boxes: 16,606 boxes | 200,981 meals
  • 7-day Breakfast & Lunch Boxes: 498,393 meals
  • Family Meal Boxes: 71,600 meals

In addition to helping feed those in need of help, Second Harvest also transforms dozens of lives directly every year. Economically challenged adults who graduate from a 16-week culinary training program are placed in ‘better than minimum wage’ jobs that set them and their families on a path to self-sustainability. The organization is located at 411 Mercy Drive, Orlando, Fl 32805. Their phone number is: 407-295-1066 and website is https://www.feedhopenow.org/

Second Harvest Food Bank relied on more than 39,000 volunteers last year whose hours totaled 111,420. There are various volunteer opportunities offer fun and unique ways for individuals and groups to contribute their time, talents, and resources to help Central Florida’s neighbors in need.

Ideas to Explore

Volunteer in a thrift shop, Meals on Wheels program, Second Harvest, or other food bank.

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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