How would you know if you love money in the way the Bible warns us against?
“Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’” (Heb 13:5).
Here are some questions:
Do you regularly compromise your true values in order to get more of it?
Do you ever sin in order to get it?
If you are self-aware enough to know your motives, do they have anything to do with impressing other people so that their affirmation makes you feel good about yourself? If so, you don’t just love money, but you love the approval of people. Deadly combination.
I would bet that some of you answered no to all of these, but you still feel worried that you love money. It is because you like money and you may have been taught that liking anything is bad. After all, the verse says, “be satisfied with what you have.”
But does that really make sense?
Maybe you would say it this way: Liking anything more than God is bad. That is certainly true, but do you like anything more than God? How would you know?
I’m a dad. It does not bother me to see my children enjoy something. In fact, I like it. I have never had one of my children show any sign that they like or love me less because they like another thing or person.
I don’t think we love God less when we love something else too, unless it is something that puts us at odds with him. For instance: it is something that causes us to sin, to lie, to cheat, to get angry or anxious.
Is there a godly way to be satisfied with what you have and also work to get more? What if you didn’t have a job? Would you be satisfied with what you have, or would you go get a job? If so, does that mean you love money?
I am potentially facing a large medical bill in the near future. Should I be satisfied with what I have, which is not enough to pay it, or should I be thinking of ways to make the money I need to pay the bill? I think God put me here to work to provide for myself and my family and to be generous towards others when I can. This means solving problems, particularly the problem of staying alive. I can do that and at the same time trust God to provide, knowing that, even as I work, he will never fail me or abandon me.
They waste a lot of mental energy trying to justify things that don’t need to be justified.
Making money — No matter how well we teach that the Bible says money itself is not evil, but rather, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10), people– Christians and nonChristians alike– think that money is evil.
The poor are, rightly, held up in Scripture as important to God. They are. That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you if you are not poor. It only means that God does not allow us to look down on someone because they are poor.
But if you feel ashamed of making money, then you have to find ways to convince yourself to be okay with making money (since you need money to live). That is hard mental work, and there is a contradiction that is inherent and will prevent you from accomplishing it. You will rationalize and self justify making money by offsetting the fact with some kind of charitable motive on the other side of the balance.
This is what you are seeing when businesses announce that their purpose is to give to charity. They say, “We want to give back, so we are donating…” My question is, “Why are you having to give back? Did you steal your profits from someone?” Their answer is actually, “Yes,” because there is an assumption that any money made from others is stealing. But is it? NO. But since all money is evil, you should be giving your product away. There is that contradiction. What would happen if you gave your product away? In most cases, you will run out of products. You will not be able to provide for your family.
A business is profitable if they provide something valuable to others. If they don’t figure out a way to provide value at low enough overhead to make a profit, then they will not stay in business. In a free country with the rule of law, the market will sort this out just fine.
Rather than think of ways to “give back,” think about what you are giving for the money you are paid. Whether you are in business for yourself, or you are an employee, the principle is the same. If you are being paid for the service you provide, then it is a probable sign that you are being valuable to whoever is paying you.
By all means, give to charity. Help the poor. But it will never make up for doing evil. If making money is evil, no amount of giving or religion will suffice to ease your conscience. The attempt is wearing you out and tying your mind in knots. You need the money, so you work, but you feel terrible about it, so you don’t thrive as you should. You’re too busy devising ways to feel good about yourself. Impossible, since you are an “evil profit seeker.”
Putting People First — Countless manufacturers and construction companies have the motto posted everywhere: “Safety First.” Really? How much can I make going around being as safe as possible? What does it pay to sit in a bunker eating soft food inside a bubble suit? IT PAYS NOTHING.
The reality is that these companies must put profit first, and so they must put providing value to a customer first. Safety is super important, but it is second at best. In the same way, I think there is wrong thinking against the idea of putting people first. There is a great book about managing the finances of your business. It’s called, Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz. The book is about making sure you don’t eat up all your profits by not budgeting and then spending too much on expenses. That’s all. Common sense.
But I heard an accountant call into the Dave Ramsey Show to ask his opinion about the system. Apparently a client who was paying her to work for him had wanted her to read the book and work that budgeting system in her accounting of his business. She called Dave to ask if he’d ever heard of the book and what he thought of it. It was obvious from her questions that she had not read the whole book yet.
Dave, who I have usually found really helpful in the area of personal finance, went on a rant. He had a serious issue with the wording “profit first.” He slammed it with zero understanding of what the book was about, and then he gave a speech about “putting people first.” “Put people first and the profit will come” (he said with a thick and confessing southern accent). He made the author of the book look like a money grubber who hated people. Through the whole thing, the accountant laughed along at the stupidity of her client, saying, “that’s what I thought.”
Dave’s erroneous point was that it somehow makes money to put people first. I had a friend who was an accountant, and she really hated her job. I asked her why she was working there, and she had obviously done some hard mental and theological work to come up with a palatable answer. It was the kind of answer that can really ease your conscience when you a) make a lot of money, b) make it doing something you are ashamed of—A.K.A. anything besides social work or being a public school teacher. She said, “My purpose there is to love the people, to serve them.”
I said, “So you hate the job and want to quit, but you love serving people. Easy. Quit and go volunteer at a shelter. You’ll be more fulfilled, because you’ll see a closer connection to the fact that you’re helping people.”
She said, “Well, I can’t, because I need to make money.” Right. So, again, why do you work there?
“To make money.”
“Do you do something for this money?”
“Yes, I work hard.”
“So stop trying to justify it, and just learn to enjoy it.”
It’s really great to serve people and help people, and you should love everyone. Jesus said so. But when it comes to adding value, you have to provide something valuable. You should do it lovingly, but it can’t be just anything.
Dave was wrong. Putting people first is not going to pay your bills. First you have to answer the question of what you are going to provide. You generally can’t make a profit honestly unless your service or product is valuable for some reason. Putting people first is great if you mean you need people to pay you for the value you add to them. Dave is correct that being attentive to people’s needs is a great way to get them to pay you. After that, Profit First is simply the old adage of save off the top, which I’m certain Dave approves of.
My friend was ashamed deep down, because she knew she was working a job that was hard and she didn’t enjoy it, because she liked that it paid a lot. She needs to reevaluate her priorities. It may be that the money is not really that important. It may be that she is betraying her own values by working there for the money. If so, then this would in fact be a sinful love of money, and she would be suffering for her sin.
But it also may be that the money affords important things in her life that tip the balance toward working a difficult job for now, so that she can have the benefit of what that money can provide. That’s perfectly acceptable.
But what she must not do is pretend otherwise. If she pretends she is working there only because she wants to serve others, she’ll know she is lying to herself and everyone else. When you know you are living a contradiction, lots of bad things start to happen in your life. When you know you cannot trust yourself, then you earn the anxiety and fear that come about to push you around.
There are more contradictions, but if we can grasp just those two, it will have a profound impact on the way we live. Be honest, and root out contradictions. You will lose the handicap that has kept your life and performance mediocre and has nearly crippled you with anxiety.
Do you still get angry? Do you fight with others in actuality or even in your own mind? Do you know why? I do. And I think you can stop. In fact, I think your whole life can change if you can understand two verses of the Bible.
James 4:1-2 “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.”
The secret to the Christian life, that is, the answer to the question: How shall we then live, is given in these two verses.
James is writing to Christians in a church. They are fighting with each other pretty intensely over something or other. What is it? It doesn’t matter. They should not be treating each other this way, because they should not be feeling so murderous and angry.
Why are they feeling murderous and angry? Because they have “passions” at war within them.
This is “lusts” right? No. It’s the word for “pleasures,” the same word we get our word “hedonism” from. My translation:
“Why do you fight? You want pleasure, and your desire for pleasure is at war with another one of your desires for pleasure, AND, with someone else’s desire for pleasure.
So, desire for pleasure is wrong? Sure, if you don’t want to have any enjoyment of life at all. But is that what you want? Is that what God wants for you? You might be thinking: “No, God wants me to have pleasure in him.”
But how will you do that if you shut down your pleasure mechanism, which is what you’d have to do. You’d have to train yourself to be stoic. If you’re stoic, you won’t take the right kind of delight in God.
So, desire for pleasure must not be wrong, and I guess I can take pleasure in some things.
Ok, logically, that must be true. So it’s ok that we take pleasure in some things. So how is it that our pleasures get at war inside us and with others?
I think it is because we have not done the hard work of prioritizing our life and values.
Pleasure is something I get when I gain something that I value: God, success, sex, cake, something beautiful, lot’s of things. The lack of pleasure comes from not getting those things when I’d like them, or losing them when I had them. It feels bad. It feels like pain, or depression. It should feel bad. This is not sinful.
So here’s how I do it: I set priorities logically based on what I perceive to be the facts of reality and causality. These are the things that I value, that is, the things that I act to gain or to keep. I make sure these things are the proper things for the way God has called me to live.
It starts with my ultimate purpose: To enjoy and glorify God. He is my highest value. If I were thrown in a dirty dungeon to starve to death, I’d still have my highest value. You want your highest value to be the hardest thing for anyone to take away.
My penultimate purpose is my life: I believe in the biblical principle stewardship, so I believe life is not about what you have, but what you do with what you have. The most basic thing I have is my life. While I am on earth, I value staying alive and enjoying it if I can without corrupting my other values. Because of this, my next value is…
My health: I can’t do any of the important things of life if I not only don’t stay alive, but don’t have any strength or energy.
My work: I have to produce something in order to provide for me and my family. You could convince me that my family is a higher value than my work, but in the sense that I would tell a young man who wants to find a wife and have a family that he needs to get a job first, I put producing as a higher priority. If I don’t, all the Millers (that’s me and my wife and kids) die. I also put handling finances/investing in this category, and any mundane daily work as well. I put dishes, diapers, home repairs, and lawn work in this category. Work is producing some kind of order. But this would not justify workaholism, because my next value is…
My wife: Marriage has to be attended to. It is such an important part of joyful life and it brings attention and glory to God. I want my marriage to be fulfilling, and encouraging. Romance, connection, and cooperation are the key areas of focus and all equally important.
My Children: The kids come before any other relationships outside the marriage. I won’t put friends, church members, or extended family before my kids. The areas of focus in order of importance are: Their faith, love between us, character training, education. I suppose I might put my home in this category as well, because my home is the place for my family to live.
My church: For me, this is mixed up in my work, since I am a pastor, but I still try to think of my church as my church family separate from thinking of my job as the pastor of that church. Otherwise, worshiping on Sunday with my church family feels more like work and less like gathering with my brothers and sisters in the local expression of the worldwide Body of Christ. One is not restful, the other is.
Service to the community, the poor, and my geographical neighbors: This is not optional for Christians. We make time for it after the other things. If you are tempted to put this before the stuff above, seriously rethink that logically.
Extended family: They technically come before service to the community, but none of mine live close.
Leisure: Reading and playing the piano are my leisure activities. I don’t have time for any others (well, Mario Cart with my kids too), although there are things I would do if I had much more time (fishing, golfing, playing softball, singing in a choir).
Nice things: Having something I like is a bonus, but not a huge priority. I’d like a nicer car (I have 2006 Hyundai), but I value financial freedom more.
That’s the main stuff. To get any of it out of order will cause confusion, a war of pleasures/passions. For instance. I say I value family over reading. If I am trying to read more than I really have time to, and one of my kids is trying to get my attention, I might blow up on him. If I am aware of my value priorities, then I would get the proper pleasure from putting my book down, a lesser value, and talking to my child, a greater value.
Some of these values could seem like they are equal and need to be balanced as though they were. What I mean is, they are all important when it is possible to have them all in the course of your regular life. Work is really important, but things get messed when you cross a line into the other really important things in your life. So you balance intelligently based on your true and righteous values. You pick your values based on principles. If you currently don’t feel like making your health a high priority, then you need to readjust based on logic, not on what you feel like. If you don’t feel like putting your wife ahead of your friends, then you need to readjust your values based on logic, based on truth, based on what you thought was best when you were in your right mind with God with some space for visioning and planning.
Have you taken space for visioning and planning? Do it. Figure out what is important, and make those things important. Your “pleasures” will begin to align with your values in the right order. They won’t be at war with each other, because each of your values will know its proper place. Your emotions, the pleasure and pain mechanisms, will begin to serve you. This is the secret to never having “fights and quarrels.” It is the secret to a peaceful enjoyment of a powerful and productive life abundant. It is a life that glorifies God and brings a smile to the face of your good Father in heaven, who loves you very much.
Besides part ten, “thou shalt not murder,” I’ve most been looking forward to this post. When I write anything, often my goal is to flesh out thoughts. This will be that, and if you are reading it, that is a bonus for me.
The seventh commandment says you cannot take other people’s stuff. “You shall not steal” (Ex 20:15).
Once again, I start out wondering how there could be a principle behind such a straightforward law. Shouldn’t this be one where God the Father gets to say, “Because I said so!”? It seems like that’s what he wants to do, since this is one of the commandments with zero explanation.
God should get to say whatever he wants, and we should listen. But I am committed to this project of considering his laws as principles, so how is the law of keeping our hands off someone else’s stuff to be applied as a principle to live by? In other words, what does this commandment say about God and about the way he has created the world to work? What does is say about how he has created mankind to relate to one another?
This commandment is tied closely to all the others, especially the commandment prohibiting murder. God does not want us to murder, becuase life is precious. Life is precious because God created it. Existence exists, and the way we must live springs from this fact. A person is a created thing. A created thing has a right to be. And humans especially have a right to be. Continuing to “be” is a key purpose for our efforts in life, and the most fundamental way we glorify our Maker.
This requires us to have the stuff we need to exist.
There is something profound about possessions. Jesus said a man does not get his identity from his possessions. He said it this way, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk 12:15). Then he told the parable of the rich fool whose land produced abundantly, so he tore down his old barns, built bigger barns, and relaxed. This was foolish, because he died the next day.
Whatever else this means, it means that “life” does not consist in what we have. “Life” is something else. But then, who cares if someone steals our abundance of possessions?
This apparent contradiction is why Christians are confused enough on this point to never save enough, AND/OR never give enough.
A man does not get his identity from his possessions, but possessions do get (part of) their identity from the man or woman who owns them.
This is tied to the principle of stewardship. God stated it again when he told Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Gen 9:3).
Everything in the world belonged to the man who lived on it alone with his family. What was the purpose? To live. It was God’s stuff that he gave to Noah to use for life. This is what he gives us our stuff for. When we possess it, we become stewards of it. This means that we become responsible for it. We own it. Our name is on it, but it is for God that our name is on it, because his name is on US. We belong to him.
I believe that this is profound. I own something. My life does not consist of that thing. My life owns that thing. That possession does not own me, but I have put my name on it. I don’t get identity from it, but it gets identity from me. It is not just a car. It is Jeff’s car. It is not just money. It is Jeff’s money to use for Jeff’s life for the glory of God (because Jeff’s money is God’s money, because Jeff belongs to God). If it is going to be given away in generosity, it is going to be given away by me, because I am generous. If it is going to be hoarded, it is because I am stingy, and I am hoarding it.
God will and does hold me accountable for that. And possession and identity are important to God. Stewardship and responsibility are fundamental biblical principles. He does not want someone else to take what belongs to me for the same reason he does not want someone to kill me. This is a part of my life once I put my name on it. I am using it to further my life. Whether it is food for my physical sustenance, or even if it is something for my “spiritual” sustenance, like a piece of art. If it furthers my life according to my biblical values, to take it, is to violate my life as you would by any use of force and violence against me.
We are not to steal, because to steal is to subtract from life, it is to kill. Sometimes it looks explicitly like that. If you took the last scraps from a starving man, he would die because you stole his property.
This still does not mean a man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions. His life is still something separate and spiritual. Jesus told his parable and made the comment because two brothers were fighting over their parents’ estate. Jesus saw they were greedy for the possessions. He saw that they thought “things” were the key to their value, their identity. The opposite is true.
Now, I think Christ would say, “Do not steal other people’s stuff.” But I also think he would say, “Let them steal yours if they are going to do that, because my Father in heaven will take care of you.” I believe he wants us to trust God that much.
Why? Because there is a fine line between knowing you have responsibility for your stuff, which is to further your life, and being fearful that God will not take care of you, or just plain old loving money and possessions more than God.
Jesus and his Father want us to be free. Money is important, especially if you are trying to raise a family. And I imagine that most Christians feel some guilt about making very much of it, but we shouldn’t. We should make the most we can if we can do it without compromising biblical values and our Christian character. We should live in such a way and think of it in such a way that we could still be happy in God if we lost it all and were made to start again.
We should not be like the man with the bigger barns. What is the point of relaxing for the rest of your life and not being productive? Have you ever seen anyone who did that? I’m thinking of what happened to George Foreman when he first won his title. He retired young to go fishing and hang around drinking beer and spending his money. He nearly died until he became productive again, even gloriously coming out of retirement to box professionally again and sell grills.
Humans aren’t made to be unproductive, even when it seems they no longer need to be.
So What Does This Mean for How We Relate to One Another?
Everyone has a God-given right to his or her life, and they have a God-given right to what possessions they have their name on. It is theirs to dispense with, whether it is sold, or given away. When we relate to others, we relate as traders, value for value. We seek win-win arrangements with everyone from our boss, to our customers, employees, spouses, children, neighbors, and even our rivals. Life is truly not meant to be a zero sum game. The seeming inequalities that exist are an illusion, because abundant life means there is enough for everyone who uses their God given capacity to produce and stewards it appropriately. In our trades we create value and should both win.
When this is not happening, it is because someone is violating reality and righteousness. But for those people, there are ways that God ultimately deals with them and evens the score.
Theft comes down to force, just like murder, and they are in the same category of taking away from a person’s life. I know there is more to say. Feel free to comment if you want to continue the conversation.
“19 And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (Jn 3:19-21).
Jesus said this to Nicodemus a few sentences after he said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” Whoever would believe would have eternal life, but whoever would not “is condemned already” (Jn 3:18).
To believe in Jesus is to love the truth, the light. Jesus himself was the light of the world. Jesus is the revelation of who God is. He is the revelation of right and wrong. He is the revelation of goodness and evil. He is the light of all reality.
This means that Jesus is bad news for anyone who hates the light.
Jesus is bad news for anyone who likes avoiding the truth about anything whatsoever.
Jesus is a light shining on the world to show what is there and to expose the true nature of what is there.
The only way to be in the world is to love the truth. Love what is right. Love knowing. Love reality. Hate evasion. Hate darkness. Hate falsehood. Don’t hate people, but hate what people do when they lie to themselves and others.
The only right way to live is to conform to what is reality. To refuse to conform to reality leads to death. To whatever degree you fail to conform is the degree that your life will not be working properly. This is the degree to which you do “wicked things” (v20). Doing wicked things is synonymous with living by a falsehood.
To do something “wicked” you need to forget some facts that exist. (‘Facts that exist’ is a redundant phrase, actually). You need to forget that there is a God who cares what you do and sees you. You need to forget that the thing you are doing will likely cause you harm. Maybe you want to get drunk. You must forget that God says not to and that your body has been created to function optimally without too much alcohol.
Maybe you’d like to steal some money from somewhere so that you can buy the things that you think you need more than your integrity. You need to forget, again, that there is a God who cares what you do and sees you. You need to forget that this is not your money, but that it belongs to someone else. You need to forget that you may get caught and punished. You need to forget that God is a God of justice, and that no one gets away with anything false forever.
Maybe you think you need to lie to someone to protect your reputation with them. You need to forget AGAIN, that there is a God who cares what you do and sees you. You need to forget that the person you are lying to is important, and deserves to be told the truth. You need to forget reality and attempt to bend it to your will. You need to forget that it is impossible to do that and that reality always catches up with a lie. At very least, you are now a slave to the one you are lying to.
Maybe you want to merely spend money you don’t have yet. You need to forget that math is not something that is subjective. Numbers are objective. You need to fail to count your money. You need to fail to consider what bills you will have to pay, and what amount of money you currently have, and how much you will realistically make in the near term. You need to fail to consider that you have some long term goals and obligations that will come for you, even if you pretend they are not coming. You need to forget that there is another entity who will not be paid when you default on your commitment to pay for the item that they are now without. And you need to forget that there is a God, who is still totally connected to the reality that you have CHOSEN to evade. You also need to forget that he doesn’t want you finding identity in the stuff you buy, or finding idols in the comfort from the stuff you buy.
Because such a thing as reality exists, your life will only work right if you subject yourself to reality. This is living according to the truth, and it starts with the reality that Jesus Christ came as the light in the dark in order to redeem you from your sins. He came so that you could have abundant life (Jn 10:10). Abundant life springs forth from the honest life of conforming to reality, that is, loving the truth. And when you love the truth, you know that your “works have been carried out in God” (Jn 3:21).
Yesterday I wrote about horizontal versus vertical relationships and Jesus’ call not to “exercise authority” over others in part one of a multi-part post about how Christians should relate to other people. Today I want to talk about the concept of “Justice,” a word that I’m sure we misunderstand quite a bit.
Justice (Value for Value)
After part one of this discussion you might be thinking, “I understand that we aren’t supposed to dominate others, and that we are equals with everyone we meet, but what about all the verses that say I’m supposed to make myself lower than everyone? Aren’t I supposed to put everyone above me?” Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” And Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:26). You already know that no one is supposed to be your head, that no one is supposed to personally dominate you. But how should you see others? How should you look at other men and women who you are supposed to “consider better than yourselves?”
The word justice is the right word for beginning this thought process. God has created us in his image. He is perfect. A key part of the Gospel message is that God’s justice is impeccable, perfect. Because of this, he had to send his Son to die for us, to redeem us, justify us, save us. The fact that God’s justice is perfect means that the justice in the universe is perfect. It doesn’t always seem like it, and indeed, the Psalmists complain about that (Ps 58). But time is the key ingredient. No one ever gets away with anything. This is why confession and repentance is so crucial. By confessing and repenting you can clear the decks. Your confession is your not getting away with it. The universe, that is, the creation is a just place because the Creator is just. When we live in his image and pursue abundant life as his delegates, we are to pursue justice.
Justice is a misunderstood term. Social Justice means many different things to many different people, but very often it has the unfortunate circumstances to be misapplied. When there is a perceived injustice, often well-meaning people seek to correct it. There is nothing wrong with the desire to correct injustice, but because we are so twisted and broken, we often create greater injustices by our attempts. Social justice and how to go about it are beyond the scope of this post, but for my current purposes, I’d like you to see justice in light of how we relate to all people around us.
Honesty, integrity, and love must go together in each and every single, solitary interaction that you have with a fellow image-bearer.
Your spouse, your children, your friends, coworkers, neighbors, highway sharers, shoppers, and anyone else, deserve your integrity and love. This means that when you face them, whether it is for one half of a second, or until death do you part, you must be just in your interactions. You must be honest. You must trade with them horizontally, value for value. You must remember that God loves them more than you do. You must see them as God sees them, an image-bearer with the potential to be saved. You must show up on their radar screen with total integrity.
Those Closest To You
Remember that part of what we have been created for was relationship. Everyone you interact with is a relationship of some distance. You cannot be equally close with everyone, so you have had to make some choices. One the one hand, you should treat everyone the same. Everyone deserves your honesty, your courage, your kindness and love, your exhibition of the image of God, that is, your Christlikeness. Everyone deserves your integrity and your authenticity. And this is not for their sake alone, but for the sake of justice, and for your sake. If you have to pretend in any sphere of your life, you will be damaged. The less time you can live being your true self, the more difficult it will be to live the life that Jesus was trying to give you when he died for you and told you to lose your life to find it. When you are being your most honest yet loving self, you are “finding your life” (Mt 10:39).
Let’s see what this looks like with your spouse. If you don’t have one, imagine that you do. You approach the relationship as someone whose identity is in Christ. You know who you are. You know where your happiness lies. You did not get married in order to become happy. You got married in order to share your happiness with another, and to accomplish God’s purposes with someone who you have entered into a one-flesh, permanent-for-this-life union, most likely (but not definitely) for the sake of producing godly offspring for the glory of God and the good of the world.
With your identity, that is, your sense of self, and your purpose and happiness rooted already in God, you come to this person ready to give love and support and ready to trade value for value. Does this sound like a business transaction? It is similar in kind in that true value is not a zero sum game. Capitalism gets a bad name because of those who engage in it dishonestly in order to steal from others. But that is not capitalism. It is theft. It is crime. True capitalism can and should be perfectly loving. Consider that you have an old drill you don’t need because your friend gave you a new and better one. You don’t have room in your garage for two, so you decide you need to get rid of the old one. You thought you might give it to your other friend, but it turns out he has a better one already. You also realize you’d like to take your wife out for dinner, but you don’t have the money set aside for that. Maybe you could sell that drill you don’t need anymore to someone who needs it and has expendable income he’s been saving for a drill. You advertise online and within a day you get an offer that is acceptable to you. You meet up and trade the drill for dinner with your wife. You no longer have the problem of an extra drill and no money for dinner. Your “customer” no longer has the problem of no drill. Value has been created by the fact that not only has neither party taken advantage of the other, but dinner for you and your wife is more valuable to you than the drill was. The drill is more valuable to the other guy than his money was. To top it off, your wife, who gave up nothing at all, gets treated to dinner.
This is how capitalism should work, on the basis of justice and value for value. Why is this so? Because that is how God designed all just relationships to work. I’m not saying that a marriage or friendship should be modeled on a business transaction. I’m saying that a right relationship is a right relationship. An honest relationship is an honest relationship. It makes no difference whether two people are married or meeting one time in a parking lot to trade cash for a drill. How you show up as a true human is the very same. The only difference is in the degree of closeness.
So with my spouse, everything should be totally honest. I also believe that I should love everyone, especially her. So all my interactions with her are not only to be honest, but loving. I should want the very best for her for the sake of justice and righteousness in all our interactions. This costs me nothing, because no godly transaction is zero sum, meaning it is not win-lose. It can only be win-win, and value can only be created, not diminished, when conducted this way. If you conduct all your relationships the same way, the only difference being the commitment to closeness with those you’ve chosen to be closest to, you will have all great relationships, especially your marriage relationship.
Tomorrow let’s look at the word “discrimination” and see if there is not a good way to discriminate that is just.
In part one of this post, we learned of the Gospel and the restoration that Jesus bought for us on the cross. We learned about the atonement that Jesus, fully God and fully man due to his birth to a virgin by the Holy Spirit, accomplished, bringing us peace with God. This was the most crucial step toward healing the world and mankind of the effects of the fall and Adam’s rebellion.
We learned that Jesus paid for all our sins, and that he showed us what it truly meant to be human, what it was supposed to have meant all along to be an image-bearer of God put on the earth with authority to create and rule. When we believe and put our faith in Jesus, he causes us to become a new creation, no longer enslaved to the sin that bound us and kept us from pursuing life for the glory of God, or our own sake, and more importantly, for his sake and his glory. Because we have been made new, we can begin to live the way God intended.
Then we began to look at the sermon on the mount to see what Jesus considered to be the mindset and attitude of a godly image-bearer. We learned that the inward condition of the heart is more important than the outward actions. In general, our outward actions will be a reflection of our inward state. But in our fallenness, we often have some dishonest and selfish reasons to put on an outward show. Whether it is about controlling anger and lust, giving or fasting in secret, taking oaths, loving our enemies, or anything else, why we obey God is more important than that we obey him. True belief will lead to an obedience that is not done for the reward of the praise of men. Rather, true belief leads to an obedience born out of the certainty that to obey God is the abundant life. It will lead to good results, but more profoundly obedience is the good result. It is the reward, because it means that we are free from the necessity of sin, or what Jesus called, “slavery to sin” (Jn 8:34).
Seeking the Kingdom
Now we will look further into the sermon on the mount, away from deeds practiced to be seen by others, and into states of being, states of the heart. Look now at Matthew 6:19-21:
19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
And then, in 24:
24 “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 other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Now Jesus is talking about one of his favorite subjects, money. He doesn’t seem to be speaking of it in the same terms as he was in Matthew 5. There the emphasis was on the nature of giving and why you should not give to charity in order to be seen by men. Here it seems Jesus has in mind the heart attitude that loves money for its own sake. Whether the issue is the desire for luxury and comfort or security and status, the issue is the same. You can’t take money with you into heaven, and you cannot serve money and the accumulation of wealth without becoming a slave to it, a worshiper of it. And if you worship money, you do not worship God; in fact. you will despise him for getting in the way of your money-making.
You may have heard that money is evil. It is not, just as it is not the root of all evil. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6 ), but even then, you need to understand that money itself is neutral. Here’s what happened. When men accumulated on the earth, they likely struggled with one another because of sin. But at some point, sinful though they were, they realized that they could trade with one another value for value. One had a pig he didn’t need, and the other had a bundle of spears he wasn’t using. “How many spears will you give me for this pig,” said one. “Twelve,” said the other. And they made a good trade. The pig was more valuable to the new owner because he needed it, and the same goes for the spears. At some point, someone figured out that they could substitute metal and jewels for products, because it was hard to carry a pig to the spear market every time you wanted to shop. But if a pig is worth three pieces of metal, then the pig farmer could carry twelve small pieces of metal that would represent four pigs. This is much easier than carrying four pigs. And money was born.
Money wasn’t in itself a problem, because you could be as greedy for pigs or spears as you are for money. Love of money is the problem, because greed is the problem, and money is usually associated with it. But if you took away money and currency and still had bartering, you’d still have a greed problem. The love of money may be a root of all kinds of evil, but greed is the root of evil concerning money. Jesus used money. Jesus was not evil, so he used money in a way that was not evil.
Now that that’s out of the way, what is Jesus warning against? It seems that, although Jesus often addressed the issue of accumulating wealth for the sake of appearances and status seeking, here he seems to be speaking simply of the security that one feels will be attained by the accumulation of wealth. In this case, the admonition is against laying “up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (19). The reason has to do with the heart. Profoundly, he points out in verse 21 that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Instead he counsels to lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven. It’s easy to think that Jesus simply means give all your money away to charity and you’ll be rewarded in heaven. But we know that God expects us to provide for ourselves (2 Thes 3:10), and for our families (1 Tim 5:8). We know that if our rent is due Friday, but we get paid Monday, we need to save our rent money at least until Friday in order to be good stewards and show good character to our landlords, reflecting well on the God we serve.
Surely it does mean, to some extent, that we would give money away. That seems like common sense. But it also means using the money for what money is used for, which Jesus and his disciples did, but in a way that displays trust in God and keeps him first, our purposes in him second, and money, only as a neutral tool in the process. In verse 24 it says that, “No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money.” If God is your master, then you are his servant. As his servant, make money your servant, so you can fulfill your job as his servant.
This really started to make sense to me when I realized something about the responsibility I have at the church where I serve as an elder and pastor. One of the responsibilities of our elder board is to steward the money that the members give to the church. We pay the rent on the building, staff salaries, insurance premiums, giving outside the church, and a host of other things that a nonprofit “business” like a church needs to operate. I have a hand in both budgeting that money and spending it. And, compared to my personal finances, it is a whole lot of money to manage. Over the years I’ve stewarded millions of dollars for the purposes of the church. Here’s the thing:
I’ve never once been confused about whose money it was. It was not mine, although I helped manage it.
It belongs to God and his church for the purposes that he has called us to in our city. Simple as that. For me to help myself to some of it (I do get a salary by the church. I have nothing to do with what I am compensated. There are other men responsible for that) would be evil and wrong, theft even. It would disqualify me from ministry and qualify me for prison.
It occurred to me one day that my personal finances should be thought of in the exact same way.
My money is primarily God’s money, for God’s purposes for my life. This includes provision for me and my family, investment in business and mission work, and investment for the future care of my needs if possible (retirement), so that no one else has to supply it. When the leaders of our church are planning and praying for God’s leading in direction for our church and the mission we’re on, profit is never a consideration. Paying the bills is. Keeping our agreements with landlords and vendors is. Maybe building a reserve amount to have in case of emergency is. But building a wealthy church is not anyone’s goal, nor should it be. The same goes for personal finances. Seeking to make a profit as a good steward is right and good, but trying to rich for the sake of getting rich is never the point.
With the church’s money we budget faithfully and somewhat conservatively so that we are financially healthy. We follow biblical principles, operate honestly and wisely, and trust God completely. Tomorrow we will look in part 6 at the next section, which shows how Jesus wants his people as individuals to think the exact same way, especially the part about trusting God completely.
The last two posts looked at the sermon on the mount to consider Jesus’s prescription for the restoration of men and women on the earth. First we looked at his words on anger and murder, then his words on lust and sexual sin, and we noted the extreme freedom that his viewpoint brings to those who have ears to hear and want something better than what passes in the world for happiness and fulfillment.
Next in the sermon on the mount Jesus discusses divorce. In light of what he says about lust, this one should be easy. Then oaths: If you are a truly honest person, you don’t need them. Then retaliation: Don’t retaliate, because you are free from anger. And, love for enemies: Having this will free you from anger and the need for retaliation. After this, in Matthew 6, Jesus moves into subtler territory and gets at the heart of a prevalent issue in the human condition: Doing things, even religious things, to collect the praises of man.
First, he addresses the subject of giving. Most people have a hard enough time making themselves give away any money at all. Often, ministries and charities make use of our fallen nature to manipulate us to give, and that usually revolves around other people knowing what you give. Whether it is in a church where the pastors make it known that they see who gives what, or it is a philanthropist getting their name on a hospital wing, most know that people will tend to give more in public than they will in private. Why is this? There can only be one answer to this question: Because we are giving what we are giving to be seen by men, rather than God. Jesus saw the problem with this and called it out in verses 1-4 of Matthew 6. He said, to paraphrase, that we should not let anyone see us giving to the needy. If we “practice our righteousness before other people,” then we will receive the reward we are clearly looking for, the esteem of others. When we have received that, then there is no more reward to be had by God.
This is tragic, because Jesus died to set us free from the shame brought on by sinfulness, first seen in the garden (Gen 3:10). It is this shame that compels us to practice righteousness in order to be seen. These righteous acts are like the fig leaves covering Adam and Eve. The reward that Jesus desires for us is freedom from this shame. When we are free, then we are free to give in secret.
The reward that the Father will give us is that of freedom from the bondage of needing the approval of others that we have been seeking to cover our shame, or our sense of worthlessness.
Rather than fig leaves, Jesus is the animal skins that the Father so lovingly gave to Adam to cover him by his work, instead of Adam’s. Jesus says to us by his coming and his death for us that we have no need to hide behind the approval of others. When we as Christians give in secret, we reinforce the truth and starve out the lie. That reinforcement strengthens us at the core, bringing us more peace, more joy, more stability in Christ, more of the good kind of pride, better fellowship with God, because there is less hiding. The reward of the praise of man is a cheap substitute that will not pay off in the end and keeps us from the real prize.
Praying in Secret
All the very same principles apply in the area of prayer. If you want to see someone put on a show, put them in a corporate prayer session. I am a pastor, and I weekly battle the temptation when praying at the end of a sermon to “perform” the closing prayer. I don’t even realize when I’m doing it! It’s easier for me to notice when others are doing it. Granted, it takes a great deal of freedom to become the kind of person who will pray in front of others in the exact same way that he or she prays alone. You don’t have to want to put on a show for that to be what happens. I would say that for 99% of us, it is the default. But Jesus shows us here that by refusing to participate in the normal way of doing it, praying, at least partly, for show, and instead just pouring out your heart to God when you are praying with others, or even praying only alone for a while, we will receive a reward from God in the way of answered prayer, and as with the giving in secret, in the way of a strengthening of faith and character.
Next, after teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches his disciples that they must forgive others or they will not be forgiven by their Heavenly Father. This is some strong language. To fail to forgive others keeps you in the bondage of sin and hell, and proves that you’ve yet to understand and accept God’s forgiveness, either because you don’t think you need it, or you don’t think he is kind enough, or loves you enough to forgive you. If you are holding any unforgiveness, stop everything and deal with it. God will help you.
Briefly, fasting is a spiritual discipline that can be helpful in learning to abide in Christ. It is also super impressive to the churchy crowd that is impressed by that sort of thing. Knowing this, Jesus warns against the hypocritical tendency of religious folks to fast and make it clear to everyone how miserable they are because they are so holy and are not eating. Once again, what is at issue is the bondage of needing to put on a show, for whatever reason, to impress others. The more you will engage in these sorts of practices without telling anyone, the more you will be transformed into the likeness of Christ.
The rest of the sermon on the mount deals less with living for the attention and praise of man, and more with an inward heart towards God. We will discuss it further in the coming days.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (or pride in possessions) — is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. — 1 John 2:15
At first this sure sounds ominous. If we read it a certain way, we must take some drastic action.
Don’t allow yourself to love anything in the world. No certain food, no pleasure, no sex, no entertainment, no work, no sport, no relationships, friendships, nothing can be desired.
All of the above is evil and proves that you don’t love God.
Pride of life? Think of yourself as lowly, a worm.
Look at the world and hate all of it.
Along with this, give away everything you have that you like, or just give away everything. Don’t take care of yourself. But do take care of others. Don’t eat. But do feed others. Work, but don’t pay your mortgage. But pay your neighbors’ mortgages until you have no more money, and then you can rest easy, unless you realized that you could work a few more hours a day to pay your other neighbor’s mortgage.
Did you find yourself enjoying something or someone in the world? Shame on you. Get rid of it.
Some Biblical and Logical Problems with This Interpretation
It cannot be that this is what John and the Holy Spirit meant. The Bible (and logic) refutes this interpretation.
[btw – this is what critics of faith have against us. They say, “look, you don’t do what the Bible teaches, you must be hypocrites.]
The Logical Problem
The logical problem first: I could not live if every time I am thirsty I give water to someone else (my neighbor). If you agree that that is true, then you will open the door to a logical premise. The individual must first care for himself before he can care for others.
“If a man will not work, he will not eat” (2 Thes 3:10). Paul says this because he knows that proper stewardship begins with a stewardship of self. As humans we are to take care of whatever God has given us to take care of. It would be morally wrong, sinful, disobedient to God to fail to do this.
I must drink when I am thirsty. Jesus did. I must eat when I am hungry. Jesus did.
But I must not love food and drink more than God.
But No Helping that Hurts
I must work to pay for my food and shelter, my family’s food and shelter, and then I can think about helping others with theirs.
But I cannot give to others in a way that robs them of the privilege of being human and becoming self-reliant, which is a high trait of godliness. When I give, I must give properly.
And I cannot coerce anyone else to give. It may be efficient (doubtful), but it is immoral.
To love the Father and not love the thing he has created, seems to be antithetical to loving him. I must assume that John’s meaning is that the love of things and the love of God need to be in their proper place. Do I love something more than God—meaning, could I not live without it? Then I have broken the commandment and proved myself to not have the love of the Father in me.
But if in fact I know that I love God more than his good creation, and can live without any of it, then I am probably on righteous grounds.
Am I to hate anything that God has created? No, unless by hate the world (the way Jesus says it) you mean compared to God.
Am I to consider myself a worm? Only in comparison with God. Am I tempted to think of myself higher than God, or higher than someone who has excelled beyond me? Then I should happily consider myself a worm.
But if I see that God is high above me as my creator and the source of all good, then I should see myself properly as the crown jewel of his creation. I should joyfully strive to be the greatest version of that that I am capable of becoming, always content with who I am intrinsically as an image-bearer and adopted son of God in Christ, but lovingly and joyfully reach upward to be better, learn more, fly higher for love of God, for the glory of God, for the joy of being a man.
I will love mankind more this way. I will worship God more when I see man in his glory. I will acknowledge greatness with humble joy, and seek to emulate it.
Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Mt 6:33).
The Biblical Problem
These things were clothing, food, and drink. Jesus was saying not to worry, YOU were going to get clothing, food, and drink.
He doesn’t say to hate clothing, food, and drink.
Paul says to Timothy:
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 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. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim 6:6-10).
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.
20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.
Always be prepared to be stripped naked. You may die naked.
Don’t let that change one thing about you fundamentally.
He even admits that food and clothing are good to have. Loving money in this sense is the evil of seeking money for money’s sake. But it would be nonsense to tell someone to be indifferent about the fact that we need money if we are to have food and clothing. Again, you may lose it all. If losing your money would diminish your personhood, then you have built yourself wrongly on possessions.
Then rich Christians are acknowledged (17). Their temptation would be haughtiness because of their wealth. Again, since wealth is uncertain, they are in danger. They could not be “stripped” of their wealth and remain confident, free, joyful.
They are in a good position to do good works, seeing their money as a trust from God to do good.
And then Timothy is charge to guard the “deposit entrusted” to him. This is money language. But it is more likely that money itself, currency, is from the language of God. Meaning, Paul isn’t borrowing from accounting to tell Timothy to guard his “wealth” (his calling, his knowledge, his faith, his opportunities), But accounting borrows from the language of stewardship. Money falls into that as a neutral representation of wealth and the power to gain what is needed either for one’s own needs, or to help others.
Helping others can come in the form of charity, but it can also come in the form of business and production.
One More Fact of Logic
Giving is only meaningful if the gift truly belongs to the giver. This alone is proof that God allows us to bring our possessions under our identity (in a certain sense). The great sin of most people is that they bring their identity under their possessions. And what makes it an even greater sin is the “pride” that has them do that for the sake of comparing themselves to others in order to develop self-esteem from comparison. This is a great evil, and it always ends in pain.
The “world” then is the kingdom of darkness that runs on envy and the bad kind of pride that relies on recognition and validation from others. In the world is domination, and coercion, and bondage, and manipulation, and lying in all its forms.
“Do not love the world or the things of the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (possessions).”
The desires of the flesh are extras that are needed to fulfill cravings. The pride of life is the life of comparisons.