Mo money, mo problems.
If you’ve grown up in America, you are one of the richest people in the world. Most people reading this are in the top 5%. And like me, you were probably taught by the popular culture and its media that money makes the world go round. You were taught to love money, to pursue it with your life. You were challenged to get good grades in school so you could get into a good college so you could land a career in a lucrative business so you could have a lot of money some day. That money would then provide you with everything you ever wanted. Then, once you have accumulated a bunch of possessions and amassed a pile of money for your financial security, you die. This is difficult to swallow. The bible speaks a whole lot about money, so let’s examine what it has to say.
During his sermon on the mount, Jesus talks about our pursuit of money and the things it provides (Matt 6). He makes statements like, “don’t store up for yourselves treasure on earth where things can be stolen or can rot”, “where you treasure is, there your heart is also”, and “you cannot serve both God and money”. Right before he tells a parable about a rich fool, Jesus says, “Be on your guard against all kind of greed. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12). Interestingly enough, Jesus teaches that we shouldn’t be concerned about what we will eat, drink, and wear directly following both of the aforementioned. In another instance, he challenges a certain yuppie to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor because he is too reliant on his financial security (Matt 19). Luke 16 is scary. Jesus has just told a parable about a smart manager of resources and the Pharisees “who loved money” were pretty angry with him. So he said, “You are the ones that justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.” The point Jesus was making with his parable was that God gives more and more to those who can be trusted with it to do His will. The story that follows all this is even more disturbing, you should check it out.
You can either serve God or you can serve money.
I believe we let ourselves off the hook too quickly on this matter. I think we love money way more than we are willing to admit to ourselves. I’ve often pondered the question, “what would I do if Jesus asked me to give up every material possession I had in order to follow Him?” My answer is usually shrouded in some type of justification for keeping everything I have, directly followed by a dismissal of the subject as I claim, “Jesus would never ask me to do that nowadays”. I think each one of us should at least consider for a moment that we may be guilty of serving money over God and come to grips with the possibility that we could be sinning in our manifested hesitation to answer differently than the yuppie eventually did. Does Jesus have the audacity to ask me to give up something that makes me feel so secure?
Right after the yuppie walks away in Matt 19, Jesus says it’s close to impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. What does that mean? Am I rich? And most disturbing, what does it mean for us when Peter replies by reminding Jesus that they have left everything behind to follow Him?
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells His famous parable of the talents. In this parable, three servants are given different amounts of the master’s money to handle while he is away. Notice that all the money is the master’s, temporarily distributed to His servants. Basically, the servants must give account for how they invested the money for His purpose while he was away when he returns. I think this parable showcases the proper view of money: a resource to build God’s kingdom until Jesus returns. On that day, each one of us will have to give account for what we did with the resources he entrusted to us. And money just happens to be one of the most significant resources we have as Americans.
It is frightening to think that how we handle money is in some ways a reflection of our relationship with God. It’s disturbing mainly because it’s one of the most seductive temptations, especially in a culture that glorifies it like ours does. It’s easy to crave. People who don’t have it want it. People that have a lot of it want more of it. It’s sexy. So it easy controls us if we don’t take control of it first. This is not a popular topic to write or speak about – because we don’t like someone else telling us what to do with our money. That’s why we have all learned to skillfully glide past these incredibly difficult statements Jesus makes about it.
So where do we go from here? Should all of us sell our possessions and give the money to the poor? Should we continue to pretend Jesus never said these things? Or should we find some type of middle ground? The only thing I am convinced of is that we have to do something. So here are a few things I believe to be very biblical about money.
#1: Give to God off the top with the understanding that it’s not yours. Some people say 10% to your local church so they can continue to equip people to do the work of the ministry. The early church model in Acts was 100%, meaning they gave whatever they didn’t need to help each other out. Paul traveled around taking up a collection for the fellow churches that were experiencing economic troubles and persecution, encouraging people to give what God put in their hearts to give. While we quote that scripture a lot, I think it only works when we see God as God and money as a tool to give Him glory. Otherwise it becomes easy to justify giving less. Our money goes where our hearts are. So when our hearts are aligned with God’s, we invest our whole selves – including our temporary financial well being – into His eternal purpose.
#2: Figure out how much you need to live on and be generous with the rest. Avoid the temptation to adjust your lifestyle to your income. Your raise could mean monthly groceries for a single mom struggling to make ends meet or it could mean a bigger cable package. I’ve just offended myself. And you. Ask that God begins to help you see your money as a resource to express God’s love rather than to obtain more stuff. Does God give us more so that we can have more, or so that we can bless other people? May these words of Jesus haunt us: “a mans life does not consist in the abundance of His possessions”.
The bottom line is that Jesus is quite clear about the dangers of money. I often find in my own life that I’ve already discounted His message according to my cultural bias (whether I’m truthful about it or not). I can only pray that over time I become more sensitive to the words of Jesus, willing to adjust whatever I can in my own life to align more perfectly with Him.
If you are interested, here are some other places that talk about money: 2 Corinthians 8, 9. 1 Timothy 6:3-10 and James 5:1-6