Do You Have Money?
Do you have money or does money have you? Do you love stuff? Is your greatest joy the accumulation of money? Is money an avenue of worship or a way to fulfill your cravings? Is your money an extension of your deep devotion and desire to honor Christ? Or is it an extension of your inability to stop unwise impulses?
Jesus knew the power that the love of money has over us. He knew that our desires and our money are closely related. Jesus taught in Matthew 6 that how we relate to money and personal needs and wants are expressions of worship. “Covetousness is as the sin of idolatry,” Scripture says. Money can also be an idol (Colossians 3:5; 1 John 5:21). Before we can achieve any success in handling our finances we must set our heart’s love on the right thing or more properly, the right person. All of our issues with money and how to use it springs from the affections of our hearts. If we love God first, then other priorities begin lining up in proper accord.
Briefly let’s observe Jesus’ teaching on God, worship, desires & money and highlight a few principles and practices that can help us honor Christ with our finances. I propose that what is needed most, as is always the case, is a shift in our perspective and our priorities. Most of us have been more deeply impacted by our materialist culture than we care to admit. If we desire real transformation we need more than methodology, though we need that too and I will propose it, but we need a complete abandonment of the “values system” that our present culture is espousing concerning money. Christ is not teaching Fiscal Conservatism though there may be many lesser points at which Christ’s teachings and fiscal conservatism can agree. For the Christian, the proper way to handle one’s money is a necessary outgrowth of their worship and obedience to Jesus Christ. Our faithfulness to Christ is first; our methodology then springs from that. The method grows from faithfulness. This will be my guide throughout our discussion. I will attempt to raise practical methods for us to handle money by expounding on Christ’s teachings in Matthew chapter 6 and other Scripture passages.
The first shift in our thinking, a sort of repentance if you will, must be a rejection of the consumerism that is rampant in our materialistic times. Believers in Christ must reorient themselves to be productive and not mere consumers. The Apostle Paul wrote that if a man does not work, let him not eat. I call your attention to the spirit of this text. Every person should be productive, a contributor and not a mere consumer. I realize this is more an application of the passage than a strict interpretation. I certainly do not mean to take away from the strict interpretation of the passage but I believe the application will stand up to scrutiny. We must forsake the self-satisfying practices of our culture. We must change in our minds from being primarily consumers to being predominantly producers.
Producer Versus Consumer
In his book, White Savage, Fintan O’Toole recounts how the Native Americans hurt themselves during the colonial days of America by becoming consumers of the white man’s goods.
“In Europe, consumerism remained, for a long time, the preserve of the elites. The Iroquois and other Indians of north-eastern America more accurately reflected Europe’s future than its past because they were all consumers. Their entire societies came to depend on the purchase of manufactured goods. In their adaptation to European colonization, they created a new kind of Economy, and it could not survive without using commodities it did not make for itself. The basics of wearing clothes, even conducting traditional ceremonies – all came to involve the use of European consumer goods. While, in Europe, exotic imports were desirable luxuries, for the Iroquois they became vital necessities.”
“Aside from alcohol, though, it was not European products themselves but the Indians’ to learn the mysteries of their manufacture that revolutionized their cultures. At first, many Indians were confident that the ‘Quera or good Spirit’ would teach them how to make these essential European commodities ‘when the that good Spirit sees fit.”
Many Native Americans became so enamored with the alluring treasures sold by the new consumers that they forgot how to make their goods. Consumerism so captured their minds that they didn’t seek to learn how to produce these products themselves or even how to repair them when they broke. They simply became dependant on outsiders, salesmen, and traders to offer them more and newer goods. Soon they forgot one of the key characteristics that distinguished them from the colonists: how to care for themselves, how to be producers. A reversal of sorts was taking place. The colonists who knew little of how to produce in this environment were at first learning from the Native Americans how to survive. Meanwhile, the Native Americans adopted the consumerism that was more characteristic of the colonists.
This tragic failure of many Native Americans saddens me, having Cherokee Indian in my lineage. But the problem of forgetting to be producers is not a new one. Consider the words of Ecclesiastes 5:9, This is gain for a land in every way – a king committed to cultivated fields. In other words, a nation prospers when its leaders are committed to those who produce goods. If a king or a president, as the case may be, encourages consumerism poverty will be the result but if people are encouraged to work, to make and to produce the result will always be prosperity for the whole nation.
In the same chapter, verse 12, the Preacher of the Ecclesiastes observes, Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him or her sleep. Again notice that those who work and produce are rewarded with rest while those who eat and consume, living lavishly, are overcome with cares. The writer is encouraging, by his observations, a certain way of life over against another, i.e. the productive life over the consumer life.
A consumer philosophy is pushed on us from the day we’re born. T.V. commercials, magazine ads, billboards, internet ads, pop-ups, e-mails, and telemarketing all encourage us to reward ourselves by purchasing something for ourselves or someone else. Our holidays, which are supposed to be “holy days” (what the word means), have become not much more than bigger buying occasions. Think about it. When was the last time you celebrated a holiday but spent no money? Not even for food? Do you even remember how? Even our friendships push us in this direction. When our buddies tease us about not having the latest gadget, seeing the hottest movie, or going to the best places it tends to extend a social pressure, of sorts, for us to conform. What about your house, car, your clothes and so on? All these press you and me into the mold of becoming consumers rather than producers. Jesus taught us that our lives shouldn’t be about stuff.
31 therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33
Jesus wasn’t saying, “Do not work.” He was saying “Don’t live for things and stop being consumer-driven” (if you’ll allow me to apply it directly to our discussion here). Life is to move in the direction of God. Materialism is wrong. Love God first. This love will mold you (not press) into your Maker’s image. He will provide all you need and some to give to others for His glory.
Planner Versus Impulse Buyer
You’ll notice that I’m not giving you little “hints” about controlling spending or managing finances. You may have read enough magazine articles that my division headings led you to conclude that that was my aim. No, Jesus teaches us that what we do with our money is an issue of worship. A new set of rules will not help you in the end even if they are successful at breaking your bad habits. Moralism does not bring us to God nor transform our hearts. Only Christ can do that.
So what does “Planning Versus Impulse” have to do with following Jesus? For you and me to give Christ our desires we must plan to do it, make provisions for godliness. We cannot simply allow the culture or our cravings to keep us captive, ready to render obedience at a moments’ notice. Consider our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount again, The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness (Matthew 5:22, 23). Jesus is saying that if you look at the things of this world with lust in your eye you will cause even good things to be used in a bad way. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes this powerful point in his classic book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Referring to this passage Lloyd-Jones argues that our love for treasures affects us morally and causes us to plan accordingly by acting on impulses. I contend that The Doctor is correct. Furthermore, we must plan to do the right things with our money. We must surrender our will to the will of our King. We must set our affections on things above thus relocating our treasures from earth to heaven, from one kingdom to another. So the battle between impulse spending is more important when we place it in the proper perspective. How can I fill my eye with good, invest in my neighbor’s life, give to the gospel and use my money for the worship of Christ if my lust controls my decisions and my wallet?
Saver Verses Spender
Our society praises the spender, the one who throws money away on all sorts of things. But if your heart is to move your treasures from this earth to the kingdom of heaven then you must change your methods. Another way to do that is to switch one’s practice from that of spending to one of saving. Change gears, as it were, in your habits. I say this not that one might have more money, though that is inevitable when one keeps more than he spends. No, scripture says that a man should store up to be able to give to his children (Ecclesiastes 5:13,14, Proverbs 13:22) when he dies. This will be impossible for many who simply refuse to give up being spenders and adopt the lifestyle of a saver.
Someone, will no doubt ask how Proverbs 13:22 is to be balanced with Matthew 6:19-21? “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth or rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” First, we must understand that our calling to care for our family in a Christ-honoring way never contradicts the New Testament teaching on treasuring Christ in heaven. The Bible is teaching us to care for our family financially in a way that moves them God-ward not toward materialism.
Giver Versus Greedy
The reason we should be producers, savers, and planners is so that we can be set up to be givers. As we’ve seen in the above-quoted scriptures we should fight against the impulse to be greedy. We should save while resisting the temptation to be greedy. The difference between being a hoarder and being a saver is the difference of intent. The woman who saves so that she may give does not hoard. The hoarder is greedy. She is like the parable Jesus told about the farmer who simply built more and bigger barns to hold his grain. God judged that man for his greed (Luke 12:13-21). Greed is lust and lust is idolatry. But when Christ is our God we produce, save and plan so that we may give….and honor.
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. They are to be good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 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. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Honorer Verses Hedonist
Now we get to the heart of the issue. Jesus told his disciples, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the others. You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).” What you and I do with our money is a matter of worship. This is a profound question. Jesus says, do you serve your money or do you serve God with your money? This applies to all, not just those we might consider rich. Even the poor must decide what he will serve in his heart. The question is one of worship. People serve what they worship. That is why “devotion” is one synonym for worship. We devote ourselves to what or to whom we worship. We do obeisance to it. We serve it. Many think they have money but the truth is that money has them. Jesus is not calling us to live without money any more than he is calling us to live without clothing (Matthew 6:31-33). He is not saying “Do not save. Do not plan.” No, he is saying “Do not worship money. Do not let your worship-love be toward money.” Worship and love God through Christ and make your money serve Him as you do.
5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said,“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5, 6
Love You All,