The Christian and Money
Two sins in the Old Testament are particularly characteristic of the unbelief of the people of Israel: idolatry and fornication. Unfortunately, we, too, have to be warned against them very seriously in the New Testament. However, we are also warned against many other dangers. One of these seems to be an especially great danger for a Christian: the love of money. There are many references to it in the second part of God’s Word.
Greed for money in the New Testament
None of the New Testament writers omits this topic. They warn us over and over again not to put our trust in material or financial assets for we can lose these overnight. So many things can go wrong. True, we can cover some risks by insurance (such as fire), but God has many ways to bring home to us the transitory nature of riches. Nor does it have to be an investment portfolio that loses its value dramatically. God has many ways to discourage us from putting our confidence in assets we have tried to protect. Those who think they are secure because of their material wealth are greatly mistaken. There are many cases in the history of Christianity that warn us against this misconception.
You can increase your material wealth if you are constantly occupied with becoming richer. But you can also protect it by ignoring the needs of fellow believers and other people. The writers of the New Testament condemn both sharply.
There are many expressions we can use to describe the fleshly tendency of men and women to rely on material things: greed, envy (in the financial sense), tight-fistedness (concerning the poor), inheritance disputes, etc. Who would claim that he or she has not got a weakness here? No one should be quick to absolve himself or herself from such an attitude. It is a danger for both the rich and the poor. Often a rich person wants to become even richer, sometimes even by unrighteous methods, but the poor are in danger of being envious of the rich. If this is the case they too may end up making every effort to become rich as well.
A few examples taken from the writers of the New Testament show how multifaceted this topic is:
Matthew: ‘Jesus said to him, If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. But the young man, having heard the word, went away grieved, for he had large possessions’ (19:21–22).
Mark: ‘And he said, That which goes forth out of the man, that defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, go forth evil thoughts, … covetousness’ (7:20–22).
Luke: ‘And a person said to him out of the crowd, Teacher, speak to my brother to divide the inheritance with me. But he said to him, Man, who established me as a judge or a divider over you? And he said to them, Take heed and keep yourselves from all covetousness, for it is not because a man is in abundance that his life is in his possessions’ (12:13–15).
John: ‘But whoso may have the world’s substance, and see his brother having need, and shut up his bowels from him, how abides the love of God in him?’ (1 John 3:17)
Paul: ‘For the love of money is the root of every evil; which some having aspired after, have wandered from the faith, and pierced themselves with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things’ (1 Tim. 6:10–11, cf. 1 Tim. 3:3; 2 Tim. 3:2; Heb. 13:5; etc.).
James: ‘Now if a brother or a sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one from amongst you say to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled; but give not to them the needful things for the body, what is the profit? So also faith, if it have not works, is dead by itself’ (Jas. 2:15–17; cf. Jas. 5:1–5).
Peter: ‘having a heart practised in covetousness, children of curse’ (2 Pet. 2:14).
Jude: ‘and given themselves up to the error of Balaam for reward’ (v. 11).
To know and to act
Everyone knows that the following oft-quoted statement of the Apostle Paul to Timothy is a fact of life: ‘we have brought nothing into the world: it is manifest that neither can we carry anything out’ (1 Tim. 6:6–8). No special revelation is necessary to grasp that when we are born we do not bring possessions of any kind with us. We come to this earth naked. The same goes for the end of life here: no one can take a single penny with him or her for what lies beyond. Nonetheless, we often live and act as if our material possessions have been ours for hundreds of years, as if our existence, our success and our happiness are dependent on our wealth. How short-sighted we often are! Anyone who reads the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes carefully will be open to this conviction. Solomon had everything you could imagine in terms of earthly possessions in those days, but despite this he was left with a sense of inner emptiness.
Christians possess riches that far surpass earthly ones. God has given us spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus (see Eph. 1:3). These are heavenly in nature so we will enjoy them in heaven fully but we can also enjoy them down here now. In contrast, we will have to leave our money and possessions here; in fact we have to leave them here.
Why then do we cling to them so much? Why are there inheritance disputes time and again among believers? The Lord once refused to deal with an inheritance matter (see Luke 12:14). To inherit material things is often more important to us than taking up our spiritual inheritance, the faith which our spiritual forefathers have followed. We strive for earthly possessions rather than directing our hearts to the heavenly ones. How easily we put our trust in material wealth, instead of putting it in God that He will keep us safe and help us in the challenges that confront us here! Sometimes God shows us how transient and unstable earthly possessions are. But sometimes He also leaves us to our earthly-minded way of life. In this case we will only realise later the spiritual loss we have incurred, maybe only at the judgment seat of Christ.
Does the love of God abide in us?
We have already quoted the words of the Apostle John in his first epistle. They are very touching: ‘But whoso may have the world’s substance, and see his brother having need, and shut up his bowels from him, how abides the love of God in him’ (1 John 3:17)? Today, many of those the Lord has redeemed possess far more than what is necessary for life. Yet we often find it difficult to open our hands when we see a brother or sister suffering need. God tests us as to how far we have a heart for those who need help and whether we are willing to give them something from our abundance: ‘how abides the love of God in him?’ Love is an abstract term but it always shows itself in practical ways. God has shown His love for us by giving His Son. We show our love to our fellow believers through the actions we take on their behalf. We will not be able to enjoy the love of God if we do not deal with the needs of our brothers and sisters in a loving way.
Paul once wrote: ‘But if any one does not provide for his own, and specially for those of his house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than the unbeliever’ (1 Tim. 5:8). This verse refers particularly to widows but we could apply it to anyone who has lost their breadwinner through some circumstance of life. Those believers who are near to us require our special interest. God takes care of them, but He wants us to take care of them too.
Anyone who clings to his money, who loves what he has more than the Lord and His people, will suffer spiritual decline sooner or later in consequence of his greed. Our words may sound ever so spiritual but they are worthless and hollow if good works do not adorn our lives. God will not bless such an attitude.
A person who loves the Lord, and therefore also His people, shows this in practical ways. He will be richly rewarded for doing so. This is not material reward, generally speaking. However again, it is also true that the Lord not only gives us a reward in the future, but that there is no one who serves the Lord with his possessions and is generous today ‘[who] shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time: houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the coming age life eternal’ (Mark 10:30). The reward of the Lord is always overabounding. The question is: Where are we seeking reward?