The Christian's attitude to money

We begin by returning to the opening text from the first study in this series: our Lord's words from Mat 6:24:

'No-one 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.'

The message from Jesus is clear: if we want to serve God we must despise money. To despise something is to regard it as inferior, worthless or contemptible.

The NIV gives the word 'money' a capital letter which suggests that mamonas (the Greek word used) was the name of a deity in Jesus' time. But that was not the case: mamonas was simply a common word for wealth and material possessions. However for Jesus to say that money can be a person's master highlights the fact that money can be, and often is, a god to people.

Many people in this world worship at the altar of materialism. Their desire for money and possessions is the most important thing in their lives and occupies the place God should occupy. The increasing popularity of lotteries and gambling and the growing claims culture underlines that fact.

A rich ruler

Luke's account of the rich ruler shows the hold money can have on a person.

A certain ruler asked him, 'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'

'Why do you call me good?' Jesus answered. 'No-one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: "Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother." '

'All these I have kept since I was a boy,' he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, 'You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. (Luk 18:18–23)

This man genuinely desired eternal life and asked Jesus what he must do to obtain it. He'd lived a moral life since he was a child; but our Lord knew the position money occupied in his heart, so he told him to give it all away and follow him. The man was very sad when Jesus said that because he had great wealth.

If this man had despised his wealth he would have had no problem giving it away. Jesus looked at him and said: 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Luk 18:24)!' That doesn't mean we must give everything away to be saved. It's not having riches that prevents us from entering the kingdom of God, it's the position they occupy in our hearts.

Hidden treasure and a pearl

Christians must not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom 12:2). We now possess something of far greater value than the material things we once prized. This is illustrated in the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl.

'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.' (Mat 13:44–46)

Jesus wasn't teaching that we can buy our salvation but that we must surrender everything to obtain it. It's called Lordship. Who is the Lord of our lives, is it God or Money? Jesus asked the rich ruler to prove that money was not his master; to prove that it had no hold on his life. But unfortunately, in his case, he couldn't.

That is particularly sad because, apart from his love of wealth, the man had lived a moral life. Outwardly we would have thought he was a righteous man, but God looks at the heart. There was something in his life that was preventing him from giving himself completely to God, and Jesus exposed it.

Would we be prepared to give up earthly treasures to embrace spiritual ones? What means more to us in life: salvation or material things? Is there anything we love more than God or wouldn't give up for God?

Zacchaeus

Jesus said that it's hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, but Zacchaeus was a rich man who did enter the kingdom.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.' So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, 'He has gone to be the guest of a "sinner".' But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.'

Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.' (Luk 19:1–10)

Tax collectors were notorious in Israel. Not only did they collect taxes from their fellow Jews, they collected more than was necessary and kept the extra for themselves.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and had grown wealthy as a result. But what did he say to Jesus? He said, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.'

Zacchaeus not only called Jesus Lord that day, he made him his Lord. I think he would have had very little left if he'd given half of his possessions to the poor and paid back four times the amount to those he'd defrauded but, in saying that, he proved that money was no longer his master.

And what did Jesus say in reply? He said, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.'

The Bible says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. He then made his faith complete by what he did (Jam 2:20–24). Zacchaeus received Christ and then produced fruit in keeping with repentance (Luk 3:7–13). He, too, made his faith complete by what he did and, in so doing, became a true son of Abraham.

When Jesus said it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, his disciples asked, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God (Mar 10:23–27).'

Even though it's hard for the rich to be saved because of the hold money has on their lives, it's not impossible, because when God moves in a person's heart all things are possible.

The love of money

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. (1Ti 6:10)

Money is not the root of all evil as some mistakenly believe, rather the 'love' of money is 'a' root of all 'kinds' of evil. There are many roots of evil, of which the love of money is one.

Paul said that some Christians had wandered from the faith because of their desire for money: money had become their god. The love of money can be a snare to Christians and we should guard ourselves against it.

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. (Ecc 5:10)

Money can be a cruel taskmaster. Those who love it will never have enough of it; their desire for it will never be satisfied; they will always want more. But God wants us to be free from every bondage. Jesus has come to set the captives free (Isa 61:1)!

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)

There is nothing wrong with money, wealth and possessions as such; the problem comes from the position they occupy in our lives, and our attitude towards them. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were rich men, but they will all be in heaven (Mat 8:11).

Godliness with contentment

The overriding message of the New Testament on this subject is that we should be content with what we have. Paul wrote:

But 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 with that. (1Ti 6:6–8)

Those words were inspired by the Holy Spirit. God wants Christians to be content with food, clothing and salvation because spiritual riches are of far greater worth than material ones.

Paul said he had learned to be content whatever the circumstances. He knew what it was to be in need and he knew what it was to have plenty. He had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation—whether well fed or hungry; whether living in plenty or in want—he could do everything through him who gave him strength (Phi 4:11–13).

Sometimes he had an abundance (Phi 4:18)—and God does, and will, give us things for our enjoyment (1Ti 6:17b). When he had those things he was content, but he was equally content without them.

Spiritual riches our goal

He went on to say:

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. (1Ti 6:9)

Christians who want to become materially rich expose themselves to temptations and traps and harmful desires that can ruin their faith. It's fine to be rich if God has purposed it for us (eg 2Co 9:11) but, even then, it shouldn't be our main aim in life: the spiritual is always more important than the physical.

God was pleased Solomon asked for wisdom rather than wealth. By allowing him to choose what he wanted God tested his heart. His answer showed that spiritual things were more important to him than material things. God did make him rich, but he hadn't requested it (1Ki 3:5–13).

In the 1st Century AD, Laodicea was a centre for banking and a prosperous city. The Christians there were also rich and proud of it, but their wealth didn't impress Jesus. He said they were poor in his eyes and should buy from him gold refined in the fire (ie faith, 1Pe 1:6–7) so they could become truly rich (Rev 3:17–18a).

What does this mean? It means that a Christian can be materially rich, and yet spiritually poor; rich in the sight of men, but poor in the sight of God. And by Jesus telling them to buy faith from him means there's a price to pay for it.

Our faith grows when we go through trials, even fiery trials: that is the price. Likewise the price we pay for spiritual maturity is persevering through trials of many kinds (Jam 1:2–4).

The New Testament doesn't put a premium on material wealth, but on spiritual wealth. It wants us to be rich in faith (Jam 2:5), rich in generosity (2Co 8:2) and rich in good deeds (1Ti 6:18). These are the riches we should desire.

Salvation is all that matters

Paul said that we bring nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. That sounds obvious, but it's a profound truth and should affect the way we view material things.

When we die we leave all material things behind us: everything we've worked for, everything we've gained. The only thing we take with us is our salvation, and that is the only thing that matters. Compared to that, everything else is meaningless and a chasing after the wind (Ecc 1:1–14).

The apostle Paul was well aware of this and totally focused on it:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Phi 3:8–9)

Paul said that for Christ's sake he had lost 'all things'. The Greek word used means all and everything. Whatever he'd possessed on earth before he was saved, was now gone.

Was he upset about it? Not at all. He regarded them as 'rubbish' (Greek: refuse, dung) compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing his Lord Jesus Christ. His only desire was to be found in him and to possess his righteousness.

Michael Graham
January 2006
Revised June 2011

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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