In many cultures around the world, it’s not uncommon for someone to ask you how much you earn and expect an answer. That’s not very British. We don’t like having conversations about money, yet it’s something the Bible talks about a lot, and for good reason. Our attitude to money is one key measure of our faith. Jesus challenges us that our treasure reveals our heart (Matt. 6:21).
However, although we don’t like talking about money in our culture, its influence is everywhere. One famous quote, which has evolved over the years and was used by the actor, Will Smith, goes like this: ‘People spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.’ That seems such a sad pursuit and yet as Christians we’re not immune to this.
We need to learn a better way, a more godly way, to think about and handle our money. This better way is not easy. It’s a huge undertaking for us to think differently and may take a while to implement if we’re not already used to it.
Our weekly or monthly pay cheque usually comes with our name on it. We think of it as ‘my money that I have earned’, but that’s not quite true. A right thinking about money begins by recognising that whatever money we get our hands on, we’re not owners but stewards. We don’t earn, we are given.
Everything that exists is not only made by God but also owned by him (Ps. 24:1). In the first two chapters of the Bible, having made everything to be very good, God gives us our lives as he breathes into our lungs. He gives us everything we need to thrive, from vegetation and animals, to natural resources, even gold. He also gives us responsibility to rule what he has made. He takes everything that is rightfully his, and puts it in our hands. He asks us to care for it with the same kind of care with which he cares for it himself.
When it comes to money, we might protest that since I’m the one who put in the effort at work, the money belongs to me. Yet, the knowledge, energy and skills we expend in our workplaces come from God (Deut. 8:18). If the ability to work is a gift from God, then the earnings of our work are first and foremost his. We are merely stewarding both the attributes he has given us and the recompense we receive from those attributes.
Far from making work onerous or pointless, this principle should encourage us to work. Doing honest work is a good and God-glorifying thing. Paul writes that the converted thief should give up stealing and find honest work (Eph. 4:28). Furthermore, we are encouraged to recognise that instead of working primarily for ourselves or our boss, we are in fact working for the Lord (Col. 3:23).
Money can be dangerous. Despite the fact that money is a gift to us from God, like so many of his gifts we are prone to abuse it and become ensnared by it. Jesus explained that we cannot serve both money and God, and Paul wrote that the love of money is the source of all kinds of evil (Matt. 6:24; 1 Tim. 6:10). It’s not only wealthy people who are in danger. Having little money, but desiring more, can be as dangerous as it is for the person who has more money than they know what to do with.
One of the main issues is idolatry. We make idols of things when we put them in the place of God and we expect them to do for us what God should do. Whereas God should be the source of our satisfaction and security, the desire for money becomes an idol when we expect it to satisfy and bring security. We think, ‘I will be happy if I can only get a bit more,’ or, ‘My future will be fine if I have enough money coming in.’ To think like this, is to expect that money will give us what only God can truly provide, and therefore we make money into an idol.
That doesn’t mean that money itself is bad and we should never have it. Money is a gift from God. The teacher in Ecclesiastes recognises that being able to enjoy our wealth and possessions is a gift from God (Ecc. 5:19). In Paul’s instructions for the rich, having cautioned them not to idolise wealth, he then acknowledges that as they ‘put their hope in God’ they can then enjoy whatever God has given them (1 Tim. 6:17). Therefore, if God is preeminent in our lives, and we recognise money as his gift to us, enjoying it in that manner, we glorify him by appreciating his gifts.
If the dangers with money are wrapped up in selfish desires for more of it, then the antidote is being open handed, selflessly giving it away.
In the Old Testament, this was required of God’s people and was proportional to their income. The practice of tithing was giving a tenth of everything to God. Though, with all the different kinds of tithes, many theologians reckon that the total amount a normal Israelite would give would be somewhere in the region of 20-30% of their entire income. On top of the tithes were offerings, and all this giving would be used to maintain the worship of the community, to provide for the ministering tribe and to care for the poor (Deut. 14:28-29).
Whether or not we should still tithe today is a matter of discussion amongst Christians, but the New Testament certainly encourages generous-hearted, glad giving that is proportional to our income ( Cor. 8:12; 9:6-7). In Ephesians chapter 4, where Paul encourages converted thieves to work rather than to steal, this was not merely so that they would do the right thing but so that they could be generous and share what they earned to help the needy (Eph. 4:28).
If we have witnessed the generous kindness of God, by giving his Son, in ways that the Old Testament believers were only gazing at in the distant future, then surely our eagerness to give in response should excel theirs? We might ask is 10, 20 or 30% even enough?
Our generosity with money needn’t necessarily be limited to our giving to our local church, but it certainly ought to be predominantly directed there. As we give to our local churches, it will ensure that the same three kinds of need that the Old Testament believers met will similarly be met today. Our giving will maintain the worship of the community (including our outreach), it will provide for those who are ministering (within our local church and those further afield) and will help take care of the poor. As we do that, we will be investing in the work of God’s eternal kingdom and investing in eternity (Matt. 6:20).
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