“And He said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourselves against every form of greed, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 BSB)
“Is it right for a minister to live in a mansion?” Recently I read an article about an American pastor who was criticised for building a multimillion-dollar mansion for himself. There is an anecdotal tale about Pope Innocent II who was showing Thomas Aquinas the riches of his treasury and jokingly remarked, “You see, the Church is no longer in that age in which she said, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” “True, holy father,” replied Aquinas; “neither can she any longer say to the lame, ‘Rise up and walk.’”
Both stories illustrate how money and Christian witness are intricately linked, and it is therefore vital to gain a scriptural perspective on the use of money. All of us need money to manage our day to day affairs, and most of us feel we could do with a bit more than we now have. Few find it easy to be neutral or detached on the issue of money. Different Christian groups have stood at opposites ends of the spectrum in their approach to wealth and this has added to the confusion among believers, many of whom may sincerely wish to honour God with their money. Older puritan groups have tended to view money as a source of unmitigated evil, while modern prosperity preachers see it as a sure sign of God’s blessing.
On the topic of wealth, the scripture gives us broad guidelines on which to base our decisions, and considerable freedom to decide on the specifics regarding its stewardship. The concept of ‘stewardship’ is important because God is the Giver of every good gift and everything we have in this world, whether inherited wealth, talents or the ability to earn money, come from Him. With great freedom comes great responsibility. We have no right to treat our ‘own’ wealth or position as though these were all part of an unquestioned personal fiefdom; rather we must bear in mind that we are merely overseers and foremen, tasked by God with the proper management of His estate, and will one day be called to give an account to the rightful Master.
The eye of the needle: There is no sin in being rich – the followers of God have included kings, rulers, landowners and wealthy businessman as well as people of more modest means like fishermen and the ‘Carpenter’. God is concerned primarily with the purity of our hearts. Many who choose poverty and austerity can grow self-righteous, hard hearted and hypercritical of fellow Christians who take a different view. Paul was clear that a sacrificial lifestyle is pointless if the underlying motive is anything but love.
Yet Jesus warned his disciples, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24 ESV). The rich young ruler desired to follow Christ but turned back when called to give up his wealth. While it is true that the poor may put their security in their purses rather than in the promises of God, the rich often find it harder to wean themselves from the desire for more wealth. The key message here is that it is easy for anyone, but especially the rich, to become overly attached to money; and while all of us should guard against the love of money, the rich probably have to make a greater effort in this direction.
Desire for riches: Money also opens up unique possibilities for both good and evil. The love of money, and not money itself, is the root of all evil. This distinction is important. “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” (1 Timothy 6:9 ESV). The media gives us daily glimpses into the lives of wealthy celebrities, and their tragedies are a warning to us all. Money does not bring happiness, nor does it appease the craving for more. The lust for money is a treacherous bait to entrap souls – it moves so quickly from being a servant to becoming the undisputed master of our lives. So Jesus warns us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19 ESV). As Christians, we must pray specifically for the grace not to fall into this temptation, otherwise we could find ourselves on a very dangerous path.
The acquisition of wealth: Being ‘blessed’ with money is not necessarily a sign of God’s approval, yet it is often the fruit of hard work, thrift and industry, which God approves of. “There is profit in all hard work… “(Proverbs 14:23 HCSB). Wealth gained through hard work and honest means is blessed. Anyone who resorts to dishonest or corrupt means to acquire money, rejects His authority over their lives. “A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapour and a deadly snare” (Proverbs 21:6 NIV)) and “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labour increases it” (Proverbs 13:11 NASB). Those who seek to get rich quickly or through fraudulent means find themselves ensnared in many ways – on the wrong side of the law, in debt, and robbed of all peace of mind – as they live their lives outside the blessing of God.
The handling of wealth: God promised Israel His protection over the inheritance He had granted them – “It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end” (Deuteronomy 11:12). The watchful eyes of God are over our possessions when we acknowledge His lordship over our wealth and substance. Israel was commanded to 1. Bring their tithes and offerings to the house of the Lord, 2. Be generous to the poor, the widow, the fatherless and the alien, 3. Not to covet their neighbour’s possessions, 4. Not to steal or acquire money by wrongful means and 5. Cancel all outstanding debts owed to them in the year of the jubilee. By doing these things, they acknowledged God’s authority, and enjoyed His blessing and protection over their wealth.
Father, teach us how to be blameless in our handling of money. Grant us the grace to be free of all selfishness and covetousness. In Jesus’ name.