The Apostle Paul and Abraham Maslow on “Needs” and “Wants”

What is the guiding principle when considering wealth? Contentment. Paul says this in 1 Timothy 6:

6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

My wife and I are planning a move to Cincinnati to plant a church this summer. As we survey the various housing options available, it creates quite a stir in our hearts concerning “needs” and “wants.” All people agree on certain needs: food, clothing, shelter, etc., but there are other things that we may call “needs” that quite certainly belong in the category of “wants,” such as a house with a garage, 3 bedrooms, central heating and cooling, and so on.

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Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist, summarizes in a chart a “hierarchy of needs” which every human being has. As the lower needs are met, the person is then freed to pursue the higher level needs. A starving person, for example, is not concerned with self-actualization because his physiological needs have not yet been met.

Maslow is no friend to Christianity, but his hierarchy is helpful in identifying what are the “felt needs” of human beings. While these are not derived from Scripture, they can be instructive.

Christ came to meet the all the needs we experience as humans, from the deepest needs to the most basic needs for food and shelter. What we see in the text of I Timothy how God cares for the whole person: Paul urges Timothy to “command and teach these things (4:11)” and to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (4:13),” but he also gives lengthy instruction regarding the care of widows and the general attitude Christians should have about money.

Essentially, Paul’s teaching is that the body of Christ is a further incarnation of Jesus; everyone looks to Jesus for his or her ultimate needs while looking to one another for assistance in meeting our lower needs. This can be seen also in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done” (higher needs to bring about God’s kingdom on earth) as well as “give us this day our daily bread” (lower needs for food and clothing).

How, then, should we view money? I humbly offer this:

1. God is the provider of needs, we are stewards of his gifts. Sure, you may have earned the paycheck to buy bread, but God gave you a mind to think and hands to work. He has enabled you to provide for yourself.

Paul says this in I Tim 6:17-19

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

2. Contentment. There are always bigger and better things than the things we currently have. Strive to be content with what we have.

3. Recognize that the majority of your “needs” better qualify as “wants.” That doesn’t make it wrong to desire them or buy them, but we are being deceived if we think we “need” a new car when our 1998 model runs just fine. A person “needs” a car when his own car is no longer dependable and he can’t get to work otherwise. With this attitude in mind, we can have more clarity when claiming the Scripture’s promises that God will always supply or needs in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19).

4. Recognize that our highest needs are only fulfilled by Christ. It is an easy temptation to think that “like would be so much easier if I only had…” This is dangerous because it entrusts to material things a power than only Christ has.

These ideas are all interrelated but the common thread is the same: Godliness with contentment is great gain.

2 thoughts on “The Apostle Paul and Abraham Maslow on “Needs” and “Wants”

  1. well, to be honest, its complicating but makes sence.i dont see why the religion part has to step in cos i get kindov lost in the whle ideya ov the ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. basically this is not all that new to me and i know the wants and the needs i just dont get wai .. try not to do lots of clothes shopping for no reason. 😀 xx thankooh xx

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