The USE and abUSE of money
In Luke 16 Jesus told two stories about money. Both begin with these words: “There was a rich man.” The first one shows that money can be used for gain, while the second shows that it can lead to ruin.
The Shrewd Manager
In the first, the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus gave a lesson about money (Lk. 16:1-13). It is clear that this is the purpose of this message, because afterwards “the Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus” (Lk. 16:14). Jesus had more to say about money and possessions than about any other subject. It was a theme in almost half of His parables. Since Jesus had so much to say about it, we’d better pay attention.
A rich man employed a manager to look after his business (Lk. 16:1-8). After he heard that his manager was wasting his wealth, he called him in to explain his wastefulness and dishonesty, and then to dismiss him. Maybe the manager was making money on the side and had a high expense account.
Knowing that he would lose his job, the manager then thought of a scheme to help him when he was unemployed. He went to people who owed money to the rich man and offered them a substantial discount so they’d favor him in future. The debtors were farmers who owed the master rent, which in those days was paid in goods. These debts would have been a significant portion of the annual production of a farm. When the master found out, instead of being angry about the 20-50% cut in his profit, he commended the clever manager. The rich man admired him for planning for his future by providing friends for himself. Even though the manager had been wasteful and dishonest, he was shrewd in planning for his future. Jesus commended his use of money, not his dishonest business practices. Jesus drew three lessons from this story.
Lesson 1: The Best Investment
The first lesson is: “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:8-9). He compared two groups of people: those without a personal relationship with God are “the people of this world”; those with one are “the people of light” (Eph. 5:8; 1 Th. 5:5).
Jesus used this story to teach a lesson that Christians can learn from non-Christians. He said that unbelievers provided for their physical future in this world better than Christians provided for their spiritual future in heaven. People generally use more creativity and effort to make money than Christians do to advance the gospel. Like the shrewd manager, unbelievers are usually smart when it comes to money; he prepared for his future and so do they. Likewise, Christians should prepare for their eternity in heaven. Let’s look at how.
Believers are to use money while they can. Notice that He says “when it is gone” (16:9), meaning that it won’t last forever. The manager only had a short time to act, but he used the opportunity. Facing a deadline, he made a plan and acted before the opportunity was gone. We are also facing a deadline when our material resources will be gone, or we will be gone from this life. Do we have a plan to influence our world before that deadline, or are we letting opportunities pass by? We should be using our money and resources so others will benefit spiritually and welcome us into heaven when we die. This means making friendships that will last forever by helping people accept the Savior by such means as hospitality, giving to missionary work, helping the needy.
Here’s a way to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Mt. 6:20), a way of transforming material things into spiritual things that will last forever. It’s investing in eternity – spending our money on things that will last forever. Let’s invest our material possessions that don’t last forever so people will obtain spiritual blessings that are eternal. As Christians have a future in heaven, the lesson is that we should use the resources that God has given us to ensure that we have friends in heaven. God wants us to be wise managers.
Paul also wrote that those with material resources are to use them in a way that reaps eternal dividends. He said to the rich: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:18-19).
The Bible says that we brought nothing into this world and will take nothing out (Job 1:21; Eccl. 5:15-16). But this passage says we can take friends with us! Spiritual friendships survive death. When Paul wrote that we take nothing out of this world, he meant physical things (1 Tim. 6:7). Jesus said we should invest our money in people because they have eternal souls and can go to heaven. Our best investment is in people we’ll see in heaven. There are only two eternal things in this world – people and God’s Word. So they are the best investment.
Lesson 2: The Way To True Riches
The second lesson is: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Lk. 16:10-12). Each of the three sentences in this passage points out a similarity between two things: “little” and “much”; “worldly wealth” and “true riches”; and “someone else’s property” and “property of your own.” Jesus used these three illustrations to show the way to true riches. Let’s look at each one.
Why did the master dismiss the dishonest manager? Because he had been unfaithful with “very little” the master couldn’t trust him with anything. Here we see a similarity in behavior with what is “very little,” and what is “much.” In this story, the “very little” is the physical realm of money and wealth, while the “much” is the spiritual realm to which the physical is compared. If you are trustworthy with a little, God knows you can be trusted with a lot. The principle is that one who is trustworthy in managing money can be trusted with true riches of spiritual life – like peace, security and a sense of God’s presence. How we manage money, including our faithfulness in giving, is a measure of our spiritual life. How one uses money is a measure of inner character. There is a parallel between our behavior in the physical and spiritual realms.
The “who” in Luke 16:11-12 is God and the “true riches” are spiritual blessings that are certain and eternal, not uncertain and temporary, like money and wealth. So God repeats the message: if you are not trustworthy with money, God will not trust you with spiritual blessings.
All that we have – our money, time and talents – belong to the Lord and we are to use them for Him. These are “someone else’s property” that only belong to us for a while. “Property of your own” is a reward in this life and the life to come for faithful service for Christ (1 Cor. 3:8-14). The message is repeated once again: if we are disobedient with regard to the use of money and wealth and other material things, then we will not have spiritual power in our lives. This could be a significant reason for spiritual weakness among believers today.
Lesson 3: Money – Master or Servant?
The third lesson is: “No servant can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money” (Lk. 16:13). This verse raises the issue of whom we serve. Bob Dylan wrote this refrain in his song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”: “But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed/You’re gonna have to serve somebody/Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Here he’s saying that the only choice is whom you serve.
The conclusion that Jesus drew from this parable is that we have a choice – either love God or money. Money is either our master or our servant. Jesus said we cannot live to make money and serve God at the same time. If the reason we are living and working is to make money for the things that money can buy, then that is our god, and we cannot serve the living and true God. We can’t serve God while using our money to continually raise our standard of living.
To love God is to love people, but to love money is to be selfish. If we succeed in our pursuit of wealth and a higher standard of living, we become increasingly self-centered. If we fail in our pursuit of wealth this leads to self-pity, bitterness and jealousy. Money is not given only for our benefit, but also so we will use it to help those in need. If God blesses us with money, possessions and abilities, let’s use them to invest in eternity. Let’s look now at those who abused money – the Pharisees and a rich man.
The Greedy Pharisees
“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight’” (Lk. 16:14-15). When the Pharisees heard these lessons about money, they sneered because they didn’t accept that there was a link between one’s use of money and their spirituality. Although they were religious leaders who professed to serve God, they loved money. They were greedy – they wanted to build up wealth in this life, not the life to come.
Paul warned that the love of money leads to all kinds of evil, sadness, ruin, destruction and backsliding (1 Tim. 6:10). Jesus also said the Pharisees were hypocrites. Outwardly they behaved like spiritual men, but inwardly they were detestable and sinful. They had a good reputation, but a rotten character. They were unfaithful to the God they claimed to serve. The biggest factor in handling our three main resources of money, time and energy is our attitude.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees from their own Scriptures (Lk. 16:16-18). The New Covenant began when John the Baptist preached about the kingdom of God. Until that time the Old Covenant teaching of the Law and the prophets applied. Many responded to the message brought by Jesus and the early Church. But while Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom of God, the Pharisees were teaching the Law. Paul wrote, “All who sin under the Law will be judged by the Law” (Rom. 2:12). Jesus knew that they were breaking the commandment against coveting by loving money (Ex. 20:17). He judged them guilty of a sin as bad as adultery – unfaithfulness to God.
The Rich Man
Next Jesus recalled the life and destiny of two men (Lk. 16:19-31) on the opposite ends of the social spectrum. One was a rich man who lived in great luxury, the other a beggar named Lazarus who begged for food at the rich man’s gate. Clearly, the rich man felt no need to help Lazarus.
But death changed everything. When Lazarus died his body was most likely carted away to the dump and burned with the rubbish. The rich man also died and was given the finest funeral money could buy. Yet when they died an amazing reversal occurred. Lazarus’ spirit went to “comfort” in heaven, while the rich man’s spirit went to “agony” in hades. They had different eternal destinies because Lazarus had trusted God while the rich man had trusted in his wealth.
There was a great chasm between hades and heaven. Their choice on earth determined their eternal destiny and there were no second chances. It’s too late to help someone after death. The rich man was conscious after death. He was tormented in hades and communicated with Abraham who was in heaven. He even became concerned about the welfare of others, something he neglected while on earth.
Jesus also said that the desire for wealth is a barrier to following Him: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). The rich man lived for money, but he went to hell. He had no time for God. The size of his bank account didn’t impress God. In this passage we see that hell can be avoided if a person listens to God and repents (Lk. 16:29-30).
Constructive And Destructive Aspects Of Money
Luke 16 teaches us about the use and abuse of money. The parable of the shrewd manager teaches that we should use money for eternal purposes – to further the kingdom of God. The best investment is in people that we’ll see in heaven. Don’t just pray for the unsaved; “pay” for them as well. This is a long term investment that brings the dividend of friends in heaven. It is a way to transform our money into the spiritual realm. This brings spiritual blessings into our lives and rewards in heaven. Our management of God’s money determines if He can trust us with spiritual blessings. In fact, how we use money is a measure of our spiritual life. For each of us, money is either our master or servant.
On the other hand, loving money is a barrier to loving God; it leads to spiritual weakness. This is a short term investment that we can’t take with us after death. Unfortunately, anyone, whether religious or not, can abuse money. The Pharisees were greedy and hypocritical in their love of money, and the rich man lived for it. So if money is our master we are in danger of missing out on heaven like the rich man, and it’s too late to find this out after we die.
See the first article in this series:
- Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 1
What Should Be Our Attitude Toward Money And Wealth?
In the first part of this series we looked at the positives of money and wealth; now we’ll consider the negatives – the bad news and warnings in the Bible about our attitudes toward money and wealth.
I live in an affluent country abounding in material goods. Our consumer society views greed as good, particularly for the economy. A recent newspaper editorial said, “Longer working hours and higher levels of debt mean that Australians are working more to own more and consume more.” We are very busy improving our standard of living. Money is a measure of success.
In Haggai’s prophecy (520 BC) the temple was in ruin and needed rebuilt. He questioned the people: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? … Each of you is busy with his own house” (Hag. 1:4,9). They were using the same cedar paneling in their houses as that which was to be used in the temple (1 Ki. 7:3,7). They were looking after themselves, but neglecting God’s things. The song, “Revive us, O Lord” says it this way: “Idols have captured our land/We worship the works of our hands/Lord for too long we have built/Houses on sand.”
Greed Is Sinful
Paul wrote: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:9-11). From the context we see that those who wanted to be rich were not content with what they had, and were determined to increase their standard of living; they were opposite to those who were content with their physical circumstances (6:8). This desire to have more is also called “greed” or “covetousness.” The Greek words to describe this are “pleonexia” (“a desire to have more” in a bad sense), and “philarguros” (money-loving).
This passage says that greed is destructive because it leads to dishonest behavior and becomes a dangerous habit. Is money evil? No! It’s the love of money (or greed) that results in evil. Greed brings anxiety and a wasted life. It is a sin associated with many kinds of evil. It causes people to neglect their spiritual life and wander from the faith. Greed does not buy happiness. We should flee from the love of money and develop Christian character instead (6:11).
Jesus said this to His disciples: “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Lk. 12:29-31). What a warning! We live in a world that runs after money. The tenth commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife … manservant or maidservant … ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17). It’s sinful to desire what God doesn’t intend for you to have. Greed is as serious as murder, adultery, stealing, lying and idolatry which are also in the Ten Commandments. Paul himself was convicted of this sin (Rom. 7:7).
The Bible lists greed with other serious sins (Mk. 7:21-23, Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9-10; Eph. 5:3-5; Col. 3:5; 2 Tim. 3:2-5), and says that it defiles us and makes us unacceptable to God. Yet our society sees greed as acceptable, respectable, even desirable. We have a problem.
Greed Is Idolatrous
When a man asked Jesus to help him obtain his inheritance Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk. 12:15). Is success measured by how much we own? When we judge people by their income, clothes, cars and housing, we’re acting like pagans. Are possessions the principle things in life? Will life be better when we make more and get more? Such thoughts don’t come from God; they come from advertisements.
Jesus told the story of a rich man who was devoted to gaining wealth, but who died before he could build bigger barns for his good crop (Lk. 12:16-21). Instead of using his abundant crop to help the needy, he greedily stored it up for himself so he could retire early. Jesus also said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt. 6:24, Lk. 16:13). Money and things can be false gods. Paul said that greed is idolatry, because the greedy want things more than they want God (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). They are more devoted to money than to God.
The Fruit Of Greed
Greed is associated with the following behaviors.
Hoarding: Jesus condemned the hoarding of money. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21). James condemned the rich for hoarding their wealth instead of putting it to work for the benefit of others (Jas. 5:3). Hoarding is the opposite of giving.
Self-Sufficiency: The church in Laodicea felt self-sufficient. They said, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (Rev. 3:17). However, although they were materially rich, they were spiritually poor. Likewise, the rich were warned not to put their hope in wealth (1 Tim. 6:17). James told them, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (Jas. 5:5) or judgment. The greedy are like cattle that continue to fatten themselves, unaware that they are destined for slaughter. They are spending on themselves when there are many in need.
Indifference: Greed can also lead to indifference to others’ needs. The rich man who “was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day” didn’t care about Lazarus, the diseased beggar, who lay at his gate (Lk. 16:19-21). Because of his selfishness and lack of faith, he suffered eternal punishment. Paul told Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant” (1 Tim. 6:17). The wealthy are likely to look down on those who do not have as much money.
Worry: Jesus told His disciples not to worry about the future, about food and clothes, but to “seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31). A desire for wealth and an obsession for maintaining one’s wealth leads to a life of worry instead of peace. We worry about money when we have it, and when we don’t have it.
Waste: Selfish people can really waste money. In the parable of the prodigal, the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance and then traveled to a distant country and “there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Lk. 15:13).
Dishonesty: James condemned acquiring wealth by dishonesty. His example was failure to pay proper wages. He said that God was aware of this: “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” James rebuked harsh treatment of others, particularly employees (Jas. 5:4-6). In this case the rich exploited their employees by underpaying and overworking them.
Ananias and Sapphira were punished for dishonesty when they lied about the amount of money received from the sale of property (Acts 5:1-11). Another example of wealth from a sinful enterprise was Demetrius who made silver shrines of Artemis (Acts 19:24-25). He made money promoting idolatry.
Barrier To Heaven
Jesus said that the invitation of eternal life was like an invitation to a banquet (Lk. 14:16-24). But the invitation was rejected by those who were devoted to the things they had bought, to their business and occupation. They didn’t get to taste the banquet. A greedy attitude for material wealth is a barrier to heaven.
The rich young man who asked what to do to get eternal life shows that coveting wealth is an obstacle to trusting Christ (Mt. 19:21-22; Mk. 10:17-22). Living for money and possessions makes it difficult to follow Christ. Jesus said it was hard for a rich man to enter heaven (Mt. 19:23-24).
Hindrance To Spiritual Life
Greed can be the downfall of the godly. Greed ruined Lot when he moved to the plain of Jordan (Gen. 13:10-11). In the parable of the sower, a farmer scattered seeds. Some seeds fell among thorns which choked the plants so they did not mature and bear grain (Mt. 13:7). Jesus explained that this is like those who hear the Word, “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the Word making it unfruitful” (Mt. 13:22; Mk. 4:18-19; Lk. 8:14). Because of their greed they become preoccupied with making money and lose interest in spiritual things. There is no fruit for God in their lives. Material prosperity can often lead to backsliding, as it can choke one’s spiritual life like weeds spoil a crop. This is because wealth gives a false sense of self-sufficiency, security and well-being.
The Futility Of Greed
Even if greed brings wealth, it’s so unreliable that one shouldn’t trust it (1 Tim. 6:17). Economic depressions, unemployment and disasters can destroy wealth. Jesus warned the rich: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Lk. 6:24). Those who fail to use their wealth to benefit others have already received their reward, the gratification of self. Like flowers, wealth only lasts awhile (Jas. 1:10-11).
In the story of the selfish farmer, “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:20-21). When he died he lost everything. Jesus warned His disciples about the temptation of getting rich: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). Greed can lead a man to miss out on eternal life. Although a winner in life, he’s a loser in death. The fruit of greed is all around us. How can we live in a money-loving world and not serve the god of money?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be rich – God’s way. He wants us to be spiritually rich: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Here the Greek verb “to be rich” is a metaphor for salvation. The materially rich need to become spiritually rich: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich” (Rev. 3:17-18). True wealth consists of being “rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21; 2 Cor. 6:10). Our heavenly inheritance will endure for eternity (1 Pet. 1:4; Heb. 10:34).
A New Way Of Thinking
How can we know God’s will about riches? Instead of copying the world’s greedy behavior we need to let God transform us by changing the way we think (Rom. 12:2). We need to be aware of the spirit of greed in society and dare to be different. We need to reject the world’s endless desire for a higher standard of living. Are our hearts set on seeking God or money? Do we provide so lavishly for ourselves that there’s little left for God’s work?
The Bible tells us to watch out for greed, flee from it and kill every greedy desire (Lk. 12:15; Col. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:10-11). Greed is a hindrance to the spiritual life (Heb. 12:1). We need to learn that life is more than money and what it can buy. Eternal life is more valuable than money and possessions. We can only flee greed by pursuing values such as “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Does the fruit of the Spirit counter the advertisements and lifestyle messages you see daily (Gal. 5:2-23)?
Greed can hinder our service for God. Are we willing to downsize, not live for money and possessions and be content with what we have (Mt. 6:31-32; 1 Tim. 6:8, 17; Heb. 13:5)? God knows our needs. We should practice being content with what we have and being generous in giving to others. We shouldn’t waste our money on get-rich schemes, gambling or chain letters. Instead, we should use our money to help others benefit spiritually (Lk. 16:9).
Enjoying God’s Wealth
The Bible teaches that greed is a serious sin, a form of idolatry. It has no place in the Church. Its fruit includes: hoarding, self-sufficiency, indifference, worry, waste, and other sinful behaviors. It is a barrier to heaven and a hindrance to spiritual life. Worshiping money is futile because material wealth is fleeting, uncertain, and of no benefit beyond this life. Instead, Christians should enjoy their true and lasting wealth that comes with salvation and eternal life. Our behavior should be transformed as we adopt God’s way of thinking and as we pursue godliness in all things including our attitude toward money.
Published, March 2007
See the next article in this series:
- Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 3
What Should Be Our Attitude Toward Money And Wealth?
Recently I read an article entitled, “Wisdom Of A Wealthy Achiever.” The subtitle was, “Smash The Myths Of Wealth.” It said that Proverbs promotes wealth as a benefit of wisdom, and that God was referring to wealth when He told Abraham, “I will bless you” (Gen. 12:2 NIV). From these references, the writer concluded that wealth is to be desired. Some religious figures say that God will bless those who pursue material wealth. But where do they get these attitudes about money and wealth? Let’s see what the Bible says.
Indeed, Abraham was blessed with wealth (Gen. 24:35), and Psalms and Proverbs say this of the man who reverences God: “Whatever he does prospers” (Ps. 1:3); “Blessings and prosperity will be yours” (Ps. 128:2); “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth” (Prov. 10:22).
In the Old Testament, riches were often a mark of God’s favor – for example, Job and Solomon were rich. But not all rich men were good – for example, Nabal and the King of Tyre. David wrote, “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked” (Ps. 37:16). In the Old Testament God promised earthly material blessings – Abraham was promised the land of Canaan and many descendants; and obedient Jews were rewarded with long life, a large family, abundant crops and protection from their enemies (Dt. 6:2; 28:1-8).
In the New Testament, the Church is promised heavenly blessings (Eph. 1:3), such as: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, sealing by the Holy Spirit, an inheritance (Eph. 1:4-14), grace (1 Cor. 16:23), peace (Phil. 4:7), and eternal life with God (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Pet. 1:4). These blessings are imperishable. In the New Testament wealthy men are often seen as godless – for example, the rich farmer who planned to build more barns and enjoy life, and the rich man with Lazarus (Lk. 12:16-21; 16:19-31). Jesus said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:23). But not all rich men were ungodly – for example, Joseph of Arimathea, Zacchaeus and Nicodemus.
Let’s look at passages written to the Church on this topic. In this series we will look at the positives of money and wealth and then we will look at the negatives. We will begin by looking at three key passages.
Commands For The Rich
God’s instruction to those who are already rich is: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). God is the source of enjoyment, not riches (6:17). He gives us money to use for good works and to help the needy (6:18). This wise use of money has eternal benefits (6:19).
Christianity doesn’t guarantee wealth (2 Cor. 8:1-15). The Macedonian churches experienced poverty, but still shared with believers in need (8:2). We don’t need to be rich to be generous. The order of giving is first, give yourself to God (8:5), then He will take care of your needs. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33). He will provide the necessities of life.
Jesus was the most generous person ever: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (8:9). He gave up heavenly riches to bring us spiritual wealth. Likewise, we should be willing to give up our money to help those in need.
Three principles are given: give willingly (8:12; 9:5); the size of the gift is irrelevant (8:12); the gift is to gain equality among Christians (8:13-15). Like the manna in the desert, those who had too much shared with those who didn’t have enough (Ex. 16:18). Manna couldn’t be hoarded; neither should money.
The Benefits Of Generosity
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6-8). Generosity brings spiritual blessings (9:6). We are to give cheerfully (9:7). God will supply us with the resources to share with others (9:8,10). Generosity also results in thanks and praise to God (9:11-14). Of course, God is the greatest giver and Jesus was the greatest gift (9:15). “God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
Work For Your Food
Now let’s look at some New Testament principles related to money and wealth. Paul worked hard to support himself while preaching and teaching; even though he had the right to the support of other believers (1 Cor. 4:12, 9:6, 11-14). He warned believers in Thessalonica not to be idle. And he set an example by working night and day so he would not be a financial burden but a model for them to follow (2 Th. 3:8-9). He wrote, “While we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Whoever does not work, should not eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we appeal to such people … get to work. Earn your own living” (2 Th. 3:10-12 nlt).
Paul also said, “Work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Th. 4:11-12). As the world judges Christ by how we behave, we should support ourselves and not rely on others for the necessities of life.
Provide For Your Family
When Paul was discussing the care of widows he wrote, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God … If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:4,8). We should provide for our family and relatives when they are in need so they do not have to rely on the church for necessities. It is only the church’s responsibility when the needy have no family.
Pay What You Owe
Paul said that the governing authorities are established by God. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Rom. 13:6-7). When Jesus was asked whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22:21). So, we should pay our taxes, fees, fines and loans. This means being honest and reliable in financial matters. Remember, when Zacchaeus came to faith he repaid those he had cheated as a tax collector (Lk. 19:8-10).
Support Christian Work
In the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus said we should use our money and possessions so others will have eternal blessing: “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:9). There are many instances in the New Testament of churches giving aid to needy churches (Acts 11:29-30; 24:17; Rom. 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:1-5). For example, the believers in Jerusalem were poor because of famine or persecution (Acts 8:1; 11:28). Also the church at Philippi supported Paul’s missionary work as a “partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5; 4:14-18). Preachers, teachers and ministries need their needs met (1 Cor. 9:11-14). We should support Christian works and workers financially.
How Much Should We Give?
How much should we give? Ten percent? That was the taxation for Israelites in Old Testament times. The New Testament doesn’t say how much; just to be regular and generous in giving: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:2).
We are to give: according to need, so no one will be needy (Acts 2:44-45; Rom. 12:13); according to ability, “as much as they were able” (2 Cor. 8:3); and as planned, and not under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). Jesus is interested in our giving. He watched the crowd putting money in the temple treasury, and a widow gave “all she had to live on” (Mk. 12:41-44).That was sacrificial giving.
Attitudes Towards Money And Wealth
Thankfulness: Paul said God created certain things not to be denounced, but to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4-5). God gave money and possessions to be used thankfully. We should not denounce them as evil, but thank Him for them. We should worship Him, not our money and possessions.
Wisdom: If Christ is our Lord, we are His stewards. He provides our money and possessions, and we should use them wisely. In the parable of the talents, Jesus approved of a wise investment as a way to earn income (Mt. 25:27; Lk. 19:23). There is a link between the physical and spiritual, between money and heaven (Lk. 16:9). We are responsible to exercise wisdom in our use of money.
Contentment: Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20). That’s how the disciples were sent out – not wealthy. Otherwise, people would follow with the hope of becoming rich. Peter told a beggar, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). Jesus and Paul were poor (2 Cor. 6:10; 8:9; 11:27). The kingdom belongs to those satisfied with having their needs met so that more money can go to God’s work.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5). When Paul warned about false teachers who were teaching because it paid well, he wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Paul also wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:11-12). Because God will never abandon us, we should be content with the money and possessions we have, and the necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter.
Generosity: Jesus told His disciples to “sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk. 12:33-34). In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul encouraged generosity. Christians should share with God’s people in need, and practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13; Eph. 4:28). This means providing their daily necessities (Ti. 3:14). Also, the rich are to be generous (1 Tim. 6:18-19). This is investing in heaven. The Bible teaches that God will meet the needs of the generous (Phil. 4:19). We need to be generous with what we have. Our standard of giving is more important than our standard of living.
Spirituality: The early believers chose to be true to Jesus rather than keep their possessions: “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Heb. 10:34). Like Moses who forsook the treasures of Egypt, they valued spiritual possessions above material ones (Heb. 11:25-26). Also, they didn’t favor the rich: “As believers … don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jas. 2:1-4). There is no place in Christianity for this.
Constructive Aspects Of Money And Wealth
God does not want us to be rich or poor. He wants us to: work for our food; provide for our family; pay what we owe; support Christian work; and develop the attitudes of thankfulness, wisdom, contentment, generosity and spirituality with respect to money and possessions. Christ became poor and the apostles gave up money and possessions for the sake of the gospel. Jesus told His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Lk. 9:23). “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt. 6:24).
So let’s be devoted to Jesus, and follow and serve Him in how we use our money and possessions.
Published, February 2007
See the next article in this series:
- Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 2
In the beginning God created the universe and it was excellent in every way. But Adam and Eve’s disobedience affected God’s creation. Today all creation groans with pain, and longs to be released from its slavery to decay and death, and to live in a world free from sin. In the future, God will judge the ungodly, as He did in Noah’s day, but this time by destroying His creation with fire not a flood. Then He has promised to replace it with a new creation that is perfect and free from sin (Gen. 9:15; 2 Pet. 3:7-13).
That’s the big picture of the material world made up of atoms and molecules that we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. It is essential for living, providing such things as air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and materials to use from farms, mines, forests and factories.
We can have three possible attitudes toward the material or physical world: we can idolize it, despise it, or use it to honor God. Let’s look at each view and its consequences.
Idolizing The Material World
Ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun and the Nile River as gods. There were also sacred animals such as the cow and the crocodile. Remember Aaron’s golden calf (Ex. 32:4)? There have also been sacred mountains and trees, and some people have even worshiped images and shrines.
Most of us do not idolize such things today, but materialism dominates the thinking of many. For example, many believe that the physical world made itself; so there was no separate Creator. Also, many consider possessions and pleasure to be their goals in life.
What does the Bible say about this? According to the Epistle to the Romans, people who worship idols have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” It also says that “although they claim to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:25,22 NIV). This means that rejecting the Creator-God is a lie, and living for possessions and pleasure is a lie. Such people are “worshiping” creation instead of the Creator, and adoring what is made instead of the Maker. They are foolish, living for something they cannot keep (Mt. 6:19).
We should not “run after” material things nor live for money and possessions; instead we should be content with what we have (Mt. 6:31-32; 1 Tim. 6:8, 17; Heb. 13:5). God knows our needs. As our time on earth is short, we should not be taken up with the things in our lives (1 Cor. 7:31).
What is the consequence of this way of life? Living for possessions makes it difficult to follow Christ (Mt. 19:23-24). Such people use excuses to reject the gospel (Lk. 14:16-19). It also crowds out the Christian’s chance of maturing (Lk. 8:14). Unfortunately this is evident around the world today. As in life we reap what we sow, these behaviors are often a result of being devoted to the material world (2 Cor. 9:6).
Warnings about our attitude toward money can also be applied to the material world: “The love of money (or the material world) is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). So idolizing the material world is a great source of evil. Christians should always remember that Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money (or material things)” (Mt. 6:24).
Despising The Material World
The opposite view, that of despising the material world and looking down upon it, can be traced back to Plato, the Greek philosopher who lived about 400 b.c. He valued the soul and mind much more than the body and nature. Then in the first few centuries a.d. the Gnostics thought that all matter was evil. They only valued the unseen spirit and believed that the body was worthless. They minimized contact with the physical world.
Christianity in the Middle Ages also concentrated on the heavenly realm, so nature was absent from their art. This view of the world has crept into some forms of Christianity today, where the only interest is in heavenly things, in saving the soul and getting to heaven. Little emphasis is placed on the proper pleasures of the body or the proper use of the intellect. Bodily senses and pleasures are despised and regarded as being evil.
What does the Bible say about this? Colossians 2:20-23 describes such people as living under many rules and regulations. They have long lists of don’ts: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (v. 21). These are merely the wisdom of sinful people (v. 22), not God’s intention for us today, as the New Testament gives us general principles, not detailed rules. Remember, the Jews had the best set of rules in the world, but they couldn’t follow them! These rules may seem good. They may appear to make you love God more and to be very humble and to have control over your body. But they don’t really have any power over our desires (v. 23). They only result in pride.
The consequence of this way of life is a list of useless rules. We are driven internally, not externally. It is the attitude of the mind that is evil, not the material world (Mt. 15:10-20; 1 Tim. 6:10). Remember, everything that God created is good (1 Tim. 4:4). “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood (the material world) but against … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Eph. 6:12). So the material world is neither evil nor against us; it is with us, sharing both our suffering and our longing to be released from the influence of sin (Rom. 8:18-23).
Using The Material World To Honor God
If the material world is not an idol to be devoted to nor an evil to be despised, then how should we view our material world? As created by God, it was very good; and although now spoiled by sin, it still belongs to Him. So it shows God’s unique power (Rom. 1:20). Also, it is sustained by God: “In Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).
Adam was to work the material world, take care of it and receive food from it (Gen. 2:15-16). As a consequence of the fall into sin, this work is difficult and many struggle to survive (Gen. 3:17-19). The thought of needing to work for our food is repeated in the New Testament (2 Th. 3:10). Paul thanked God for food before he ate; likewise we should be thankful for the physical resources that God provides for us (Acts 27:35).
People still have some of God’s image, which gives them extra value (Gen. 9:6). God loves all people (Jn. 3:16), body, soul and spirit. In fact, God loves people more than anything else in the material world, and to demonstrate this Jesus healed their diseases (Mt. 4:23) and died for their sins.
Jesus had a body and lived in the material world (Heb. 2:14). Our bodies and the physical world will be transformed one day, like Jesus was after His resurrection (Rom. 8:18-23; Phil. 3:21). The believer’s body is like a temple where the Spirit lives, and which God bought with the blood of Jesus. So we should use our bodies to honor God (1 Cor. 6:20). The same principle can apply to the physical world of which our bodies are a part.
We are urged to give our bodies to God (Rom. 12:1), and are told, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13). Here we see that the body can be viewed as an instrument or a tool which can be used for good or bad purposes. Again, the same principle can apply to the physical world.
This means we should honor God in our way of living in the material world. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we need to work out what this means in the various areas of our lives such as: work, housing, transport, care of our bodies, recreation, sport, how we use our money and possessions, nature and the environment, art, music, literature, movies and TV. What are our dreams and goals?
“Nothing in creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). When God replays the video entitled “This is your life,” our lives will be shown for what they are (1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:10). Will we be assets or liabilities for Him? Will there be much evidence that we honored Him in our material world? Will His life be obvious in ours? (2 Cor. 4:11).
How Christ Used The Material World
It is instructive to be reminded of how Jesus Christ used the physical world in what He said and did, teaching spiritual principles and helping others. Parables, metaphors, similes, and illustrations from the material world were used liberally in His teaching of the disciples and the people. In this way, people had a visual impression of the truth being taught and they would have been reminded of it whenever they came across the object or situation in everyday life.
Christ healed diseases, calmed the storm and fed the hungry – for the benefit of people. He taught that God knows all about our circumstances and will provide our material needs (Mt. 6:33; 10:30). Likewise, we should remember to use the material world and life’s circumstances to teach spiritual principles. Helping to meet others’ physical needs is part of being Christ’s ambassadors on earth (2 Cor. 5:20).
The Material World Is Not The Sinful World
Sometimes the Bible uses the words “earthly” and “world” to describe the sinful nature. For example, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2,5). “Do not love the world or anything in the world” is explained as referring to sinful craving, lust and boasting (1 Jn. 2:15-16). Also, “earthly” wisdom is described as “unspiritual, of the devil” (Jas. 3:15) and “jealousy and quarreling” as “worldly” (1 Cor. 3:3).
This is an example of metonymy – the rhetorical technique of using one thing to represent another thing to which it is related in some way, such as “crown” instead of “king.” It is a figure of speech, like a metaphor, where words do not take their literal meaning. Here the words are linked because sin entered the world via Adam and Eve who were created from the physical world (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:47). So when “earthly” and “world” are used in this manner they mean “sinful,” not “material.” They are contrasted with “heavenly” which is used metonymically to mean “divine,” as Christ came from heaven to bring divine life (Phil. 3:19-20; 1 Cor. 15:45-49). Confusion regarding this distinction can lead to falsely despising the material world and considering it evil.
Although the Bible says believers are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), we presently live on planet Earth. Our time here is relatively brief and our planet has a finite future (2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12). Considering our destiny, we can be pictured as strangers visiting Earth (1 Pet. 2:11).
The physical world is not an idol to be devoted to; this is a lie that results in evil behavior. Also, it is not an evil to be despised; this attitude results in a list of useless rules. The Bible shows us that the material world should be valued and used to honor God.