In a world filled with special interest groups it is not easy to pick a subject of vital importance to everybody. One exception is M-O-NE-Y, the way most of us spell "Relief." Somewhere I read the observation: "When it comes to money all men have the same religion." This may not be the gospel, but it is not far from the truth.
What is money? Basically two things. (1) Money is a medium of exchange enabling us to trade goods and services without having to barter. (2) Money is also a device for calculating value. All our earthly possessions can be translated into dollars that measure, or reflect, what we are "worth" financially. By either definition money is extremely convenient, one of man's very best inventions.
What is money? It may not be what makes the world go around, but the world would probably come to a screeching halt without it. For in the workings of everyday life we have to mess with money each and every day, either making it, spending it, or both. As matters now stand money in some form is indispensable to our existence and well-being. It is a subject we are all interested in, not just academically, but practically and emotionally. Since the Bible is a book that deals in all matters of deep human concern, and since money certainly falls into this category, it would be odd indeed if the Scriptures were silent on the subject. Even a quick glance will reveal that the Bible is not odd in this regard. Hardly a page passes without some reference to money or money-related items. It is one of the foremost topics of the topical Bible.
What does the Bible say about money? A lot. But of all Bible truths that come through loud and clear, the loudest and clearest is that money poses a great threat to those who wish to follow the Lord. It is a handicap and a hazard. It is downright dangerous, especially too much of it. Instead of saying "In God We Trust" on front, our greenback bills ought to carry a warning label stronger than a pack of Camel cigarettes. What I am saying is not a "deducted" conclusion of mine, but is a stated fact; stated, in fact, by the highest authority-the Son of God. According to the Simple English Bible, Jesus himself said: "I am telling you the truth: it will be hard for a person with lots of money to enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:23). This is about as simple as simple English can make it. But in case someone might misunderstand, Jesus went on to illustrate this truth. It will be as hard, he said, for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (vs. 24). Just how hard is that? Hard enough to be "impossible" with men (vs. 26). While this familiar passage does not suggest it will be easy for poor folks to make it to heaven, it plainly says that those with "great possessions" will encounter special difficulties.
Two things about this text have troubled me over the years as I have listened to myself and others talk. Jesus said that "a rich man" will have a hard time entering the kingdom. In the first place, most of us do not believe any such thing, regardless of who said it. As a matter of fact we tend to distinctly DENY what Jesus distinctly said. I say this because we always consider money a blessing-an undiluted, unadulterated blessing. And this is without limit. The more the money, the greater the blessing. We seldom (never say "never") think in any other terms. This is why we say a person who makes $100,000 a year is "doing good," but if he makes $200,000 he is "doing BETTER." To us more is better. The way we look at it is that the more we make the "better off' we are. Have you eve heard anyone talk differently?
Over the years I have heard man Christians speak in financial term about how "well" their children are doing, what with raises, bonuses, promotions, etc. In all this time I can remember hearing just one Christian a lady, express the hope that her children not end up with a lot of money for fear that they might be hurt by undue prosperity. The fact is you see, most of us do not see any danger in money at all. The more WE have the better we like it. because money in sufficient quantity is what we think puts us "in GOOD shape.'
In the second place, no matter how much of this world's goods we have we are very, very reluctant to identify ourselves as being "rich" people. Just as "old" means ten years older than we are, so "rich" refers to those who have x-amount more than we do. One thing sure, WE can certainly slip through a needle's eye with no trouble. When Jesus spoke of "a rich man" he was definitely not talking about any of us. It's not that we necessarily claim to be "poor;" it's just that we do not wish to concede that we are "rich." At the very best (or worst) we will admit to being only "middle class."
But seriously now, let me ask a pointed question: By Biblical definition are you a "rich" person? (I have already asked this of myself and think I know the answer). The Bible word for "riches" speaks of abundance, having above what is necessary, more than enough, a surplus. In this respect would you call yourself "rich?" I do not mean "rich in ~ but "rich in this world." You are not, you say? Let us see.
You are an American, a citizen of "the RICHEST nation on earth, "and being "middle class" are situated right in the midst of this richness. What does that make you? Do you have a comfortable place to live? Is it dry, with the air perfectly conditioned, warm in the winter and cool in the summer? Does it have plenty of ready water, hot in the sink and cold in the refrigerator? What about labor saving devices with finger tip controls? A washer and dryer perhaps? How many TV's reside at your house? Just one? (Maybe you ARE poor). Color? Remote control? Surely there would not be a VCR on top. What does cable cost per month? How many "changes of raiment" are hanging on your racks? When you dress, especially up, do you worry about being color coordinated? Does "something to wear," in your dictionary, refer to having clothes, or does it speak only of fashion and style?
Do you have all that you want to eat every day, even more than is good for you? If you are not on a diet, and really wanted to, could you dine tonight on most any kind of food (beef, pork, fish, fowl, fruit, nuts, cookies, cake, ice cream, or sauerkraut) that your little taste buds cry for? Is the house you live in fully furnished? Are the drawers, closets, attic and/or storehouse also full of "stuff?" Do you own land you are not using? Livestock? Any other kind of stock? Do you have any jewels or precious stones hanging around? Do you use any kind of vault? Why? Do you have money stored down at the bank that you have not touched in years, and do not plan to touch any time soon? The question is, WHAT WOULD IT TAKE to make a person "rich" today?(________) Please fill in the blank and send it right away.
Yes, "rich" is indeed a relative term. And clearly, some relatives are richer than we are. O.K. So we are NOT "rich." Who is? I take it SOMEONE out there is. Whoever it is, Jesus said, will have trouble making it into the kingdom. Why? For one thing money is deceptive. Jesus said so (Mk. 4:19). It deceives us because it promises satisfaction but does not deliver it. It promises security but cannot provide it.
Money is also like any other form of power, a great pride-producer. Which is why Paul said, "Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not highminded..." (1 Tim. 6:17). He warned the rich in this regard because they are the ones most in danger. Poor folks cannot afford to be too highminded. But mainly money leads, or misleads, good people into a lifetime of misplaced devotion, of seeking it, saving it and serving it. This is why Jesus again warned, "No man can serve two masters.. .ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Mt. 6:24). Paul made it even stronger: "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Tim. 6:9).
Yet as dangerous as the Scriptures portray money to be, it is never said to be sinful within itself. Like any other inanimate object possessing neither life nor soul, money has no character or moral connotation. It is not, as some claim, "the root of all evil." It may in fact be the root of much good. Paul did say, however, that the LOVE of money is the root of all KINDS of evil. Of this there can be no doubt. Let us therefore make no mistake here. Whether we be rich or poor, money is something we have to deal with in this life. If we expect to go to heaven we must learn to deal with it very, very carefully especially in the following two regards.
The one thing money does best is move. Unless it is forced to stop while visiting a miser, money is forever on the go. Money comes in and money goes out. It flows. For some it seems always to go out more rapidly than it comes in. This is why there are so many debtors. For others money comes in faster than it goes out. This makes them wealthy after awhile. How much money should flow through the hands of a Christian? From all I read in the Scriptures, there is no restriction on the amount of cash a disciple can handle. The amount is "immaterial" so to speak. What God is concerned about is the "flow;" that is to say, God has revealed to us principles dealing with the MOVEMENT of money, how we attain it and how we appropriate it.
Money can be acquired in a number of ways. The old gentleman on tv used to remind us that some make money the old fashioned way-they earn it! They WORK for it. Although "work" is a four letter word increasingly more difficult to define these days, it continues to be the most dependable and honorable way of bringing money in. But is it wrong for a Christian to accept money he did not work for and earn? Not necessarily. Have you ever received a gift? Some folks inherit wealth. Someone else earned it, but they get it.
As far as I can see, there is nothing especially dishonorable about being the beneficiary of a well-to-do-will. Funds obtained in this fashion do not give a person quite as many "bragging rights" as hard-earned cash, but there is nothing unethical or unscriptural about it so far as I have been informed. Wealth may also come as a result of sheer luck, what Solomon called "time and chance" (Eccl. 9:11). You may strike oil on a piece of your worthless land. Or who knows, by the time you read this I may have won that TEN MILLION DOLLAR JACKPOT they keep writing me about. Some "lucky" person no doubt will win it. What if you are the lucky one? Will you take the money although you did not work hard enough to deserve it? As you can see, there are several "more or less" legitimate ways to come by money. Other ways are not so legitimate.
Some get money by stealing. This is another "old fashioned way" of getting it. Many thieves are honest. They steal openly, with a gun. Others are skillful enough to rob you without a gun, legally. In any case, if the net result of "stealing" is to end up with something that we do not rightly deserve, then there is a variety of possibilities.
We can steal by MIS-REPRESEN- TATION. The "Christian" car dealer who rolls back the speedometer is a thief. We can steal by EXTORTION. The "Christian" lumberman who triples the price of plywood during a hurricane scare down on the coast is a thief. Even man's law will nail him for that. We can steal by LAZINESS. In business, time is money. The "Christian" employee who steals time from his boss is a thief. He may as well steal the plywood and sell it. We can steal by FRAUD. The "Christian" boss who pays his help minimum wage when they are worth more, strictly because he knows they cannot get another job, is a thief. James had a word and a warning for thieves who "keep back by fraud" the wages of their workers. Again I like the Simple English version, which says, Men harvested, and their pay is screaming against you for justice." (Jas. 5:4).
Furthermore, it has been my observation that there are at least three parties that even "good Christians" do not mind beating out of a little money from time to time; (1) the government-because the politicians are just wasting it anyway, and besides, I am already paying a ton of taxes; (2) an insurance company-because they have plenty of money and it is not really like stealing from a specific person; (3) your parents-because they don't mind, or at least will not complain and certainly not prosecute. The New Testament says: "Let him that stole, steal no more" (Eph. 4:28). But clearly, there is more to it than this. Perhaps Jeremiah said it better: "As the partridge sitteth on eggs and hatcheth them not (which she did not lay), so he that getteth riches AND NOT BY RIGHT, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at the end shall be a fool" (Jer. 17:11). What all this means is, money needs to move toward us only in a RIGHT way. As long as this is the case, as long as no UNrighteous method is used in the acquisition of wealth, no harm is done (I suppose) no matter how many dollars flow into the bank account.
There is more to money, however, than accumulating it. Money is made to be spent. This is its primary excuse for existing. Some understand this all too well. Therefore they spend and spend and spend. They spend even money they do not have, using another wonderful invention called "credit." (Perhaps we best not go into that.) In any event most Christians realize that God has given to us principles to govern this part of the "flow" also; that is, God is interested in how we appropriate the money in our possession. We must use our resources in a right way. We know this. But to a lot of Christians this means only two things. First and foremost it means that we must give to God FIRST. God wants His part off the top. Translated, this means that on Sunday, every Sunday, and only on Sunday, we must put some money (theoretically 11%, though no one strictly enforces this) into the collection plate. We have all been schooled and trained to put money into the church pot every Lord's Day. It's the way we give to God. We have been "pot trained" so to speak.
Now please understand, there is no criticism raised here to the practice of passing a money pot around, or to the habit of putting a donation into it when there is a financial problem of common interest to several Christians. This is ONE way of discharging the monetary responsibilities of our faith. But it is not the only way. Also, most of us understand that a Christian ought not to "waste his substance with riotous living," as did the prodigal boy of Luke 15. In other words, for a Christian to spend money on sin is definitely sinful. But is this all? Is anything involved beyond these two items?
After these two considerations have been duly complied with, many professing Christians have concluded that how they proceed to spend "their" money is THEIR business. As long as they obtained it honestly, and as long as they gave the Lord his "fair share" on Sunday morning, and as long as they are not spending it "on harlots" and such like, THEN they feel free to spend what they have any old way they choose. Is this conclusion correct?
Admittedly, money is made to be spent. But how? From a sinner's standpoint, faith has nothing to do with money, how it is made, how it is spent, or anything else. A Christian's point of view is different, or should be. A true disciple does not make ANY money without God in mind; nor does he spend ANY money without God in mind. The Christian like the sinner, makes money in order to spend it. He just spends it on other things and for different reason.' A previous passage (Eph. 4:28) say not only, "Let him that stole, steal no more" but it goes on to say: "But rather let him labor, working wit. his hands, the thing that is good THAT HE MAY HAVE TO GIVE to him that needeth." Paul was a good example of his own teaching (Act 20:33-35). He spoke of "these hands. They were rough, working hands that handled heavy tents. He made money with them. How did he use what he made? He said he used it to take care of his own necessities, and then the needs of those who traveled wit him. In reality Paul only reflected the teaching of Jesus, who said, "It more blessed to give than to receive.
But let's not talk about how should be. Let's talk unhappily about how it IS. In the estimate of many modern churchgoers the above passage ought to be revised to read, "Let him that stole, steal no more, but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good that he may have to consume upon his own lusts." I say this on the basis of appalling evidence.
Many "good Christians" today have only two questions when it comes to buying ANYTHING. Do I want it? And, Can I afford it? If they decide they want it, then they have only one question. Do I have, or can I get, the money? As they see it (assuming, 0f course, they gave a good donation Sunday), this is the ONLY issue governing any expenditure. The idea is, if I want it and can afford it (or manage to pay for it), there is no( reason not to buy it. This is the philosophy that allows affluent Christians to squander vast sums on needless gadgets, expensive status symbols and personal vanities while a needy world dies daily in poverty and sin. This is a dreadful mistake
The truth is, money is too precious to waste; especially when it belongs to the Lord. According to the Scriptures we are merely caretakers of what really belongs to God. We touch it only briefly as it passes through our hands. Therefore, all we need to be concerned about is the cash flow-where the money comes from and where it goes.
I truly believe that we as Christians will give "account" of all the monies that pass through our "account." I also believe that most of us could not stand an audit. We have been prodigal children, extravagant to the extreme, selfish to the core. What we have not saved, we spent; and the vast bulk of what we spent was on OURSELVES. You doubt it? Cheek your check book. Check your receipts. Do a little adding up. The TOTAL amount of money we spend in a year as a DIRECT consequence of faith is not likely to equal the cost of the "face lift" we put on our house to make it "look prettier;" or the new boat and motor, or ONE of our lavish vacations. Why, we may spend more EATING OUT this year than we do supporting the proclamation of the good news about Jesus.
Perhaps it would be good, for the sheer pain of it, to do a little test. Take a moment and simply compare your "faith money" and your "fun money." On one side of the ledger take every dollar you spent last year because, and only because, you are a Christian. Do not limit this to what Uncle Sam allows on the IRS form, but include every penny you let go strictly and solely because you serve God.
On the other side of the ledger add up all your mad money, every dollar you spent strictly and solely for your own personal pleasure. You need not include the cost of conveniences and creature comforts, though these are debatable; just figure what went for fun. You may as well start with your vacation (now one of the inalienable rights of middle class Americans, and fast becoming a Christian duty owed to the family); include the cost of gas, meals and motels, along with the price of fares and admissions. Add to that all ticket stubs for the year, for sporting events, movies, concerts etc. Don't forget the before and after treats. By all means take your tv investment, repairs, cost of cable, movie rentals and the like. Also include the price of any books (novels) and magazines (modern) and tapes (non-religious) you bought. Candy and gum are too minor to count, but be sure to add the coke (cola) bill. I'll not mention the tobacco and/or liquor bill for obvious reasons. Also do not forget (if you are a real sportsman) to count the cost of fishing equipment, shotguns and shells, golf clubs and fees, and the cost of getting to and fro. If you are a lady don't forget what all those little "outings" with the girls cost, not to mention the cosmetics. Remember also all the holidays and parties and special occasions, and all the odds and ends I cannot possibly think of. Once you get your total entertainment bill, add up every cent you spent being "rich toward God." Be fair and include everything; your Sunday contribution and, let's see, uh, well, you know, everything else. Now compare the totals. Need I go on?
Having said all this, let me now "cop out" before I finish. The point is not to suggest that we must take a poverty oath and live as ascetics the rest of our life. It IS to suggest we may have lost our perspective. I presume tentatively, and believe hopefully, that God does not mind if we spend "a little bit" on our own selfish selves. I searched and searched, trying to find a verse that says so. I finally found this one. Paul said that God has "given us richly all things to ENJOY" (1 Tim. 6:17). Please note that Paul was speaking TO the rich, ABOUT their riches. While this is not enough to justify the "prosperity gospel," it does sort of sound like God is not totally displeased to see His children enjoying some of this world's good. If this is not the case, we are all in a heap of trouble.
I do worry from time to time, however, about us rich Christians. Sometimes I worry seriously. Mainly I wonder about the fine line between a prudent enjoyment of God's material blessings and the ongoing quest to attain "The Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous." We do need to be reminded (to help us draw that line) that the financial aspects of our personal faith, or the faith aspects of our personal finances, cover A LOT MORE than "not stealing" on the one hand, and making a Sunday contribution on the other. Faith touches everything we do. This includes how we get our money and how we spend it-ALL of it. I offer all this only for what it is worth, of course. And you can keep the change.