God and Money
The Bible in I Cor 1:18 says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but it is the power of God to those who are being saved. Paul goes on to say in 1:20 that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world. In 1:25 Paul says that the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. In 2:6 Paul tells of God's secret, hidden wisdom that God destined for our glory before time began. Finally, in verse 13 Paul says that he spoke not in words of human wisdom but in words taught by the Holy Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
Here Paul is contrasting the ultimate futility of the world's wisdom with the ultimate truthfulness and powerfulness of God's wisdom. He is talking about the upside downness of the cultural principles of the Kingdom of God compared to the cultural values of the economic, capitalistic culture we live in.
What we are going to talk about today is totally antithetical to our capitalistic culture's values. I want to warn you up front that you will have to consciously struggle to understand and put into practice the truth and power of the foolishness of God's upside down principles about money and grace in the Kingdom of God.
At Urbana this year, we have heard a lot abut our King Jesus and the Kingdom of God. However, there are two mega-Kingdoms that are in mega-conflict. We must choose which one Kingdom we will be citizens of. We will either be citizens of the Kingdom of God or citizens of the Kingdom of this world, or more specifically the Kingdom of Materialism.
Geri Rodman on Sunday evening told the stories of herself and two friends who came to Urbana together. All three made commitments to follow Jesus at that Urbana . Remember how one friend subsequently chose to live in the Kingdom of Materialism, and Geri, herself, spent eight years there.
The Bible has a lot to say about materialism, money, and wealth. Our purpose today is to dig as deep as we can into the Bible for the next hour so we can make the right choice between the two Kingdoms.
Wealth in the Context of God's Economic System for Israel
Material wealth as God's blessing in Old Testament was modest. This was because, if it was God's blessing, it was in the context of Jubilee which was the linchpin of God's economic system for Israel.
What was Jubilee? God said that the Promised Land was His and that the Israelites were just aliens and tenants on His land. When Israel arrived in the Promised Land, God gave every family enough land so each family could live comfortably and participate fully in the community according to God's principles and statutes. This land was the family's permanent inheritance, and it could not be sold permanently. An Israelite could only sell the use of his land until the next Jubilee. Jubilee was the year after the seventh Sabbath year; i.e. it occurred every 50 years.
There was a related parallel principle called the Sabbath Year in which three things happened: all debts were canceled, all indentured servants were freed, and the land was not actively farmed; it "rested".
Here's how Jubilee worked. If the family leader became ill and could not work the land, or if he was what Proverbs calls a sluggard or a fool, he could sell the use of his land until the next Jubilee; however, he could not sell the land itself. After he used up that money, he would have to offer himself and his family as indentured servants to another land owner At the end of seven years or at Jubilee, whichever occurred first, the servant family was released with a liberal supply of animals, grain, and wine so it could start over. When Jubilee came it was God's command that the family return to their original property–-it was not an option, it was a command.
What was to be the result of God's economic system for Israel? There were to be no permanently poor. Since wealth consisted of the land and animals, everyone had the opportunity to experience God's blessing of modest wealth, but no one could become really rich.
This was the basic economic system that God specified for Israel and the use of His land. God said that as a result of this economic system there should be no poor:
"However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none." (Deut 15:4-6)
However, God quickly adds in Deuteronomy 15:11 that there would always be poor people in the land. This would occur for at least two reasons: some people would not manage their land properly and successfully, and some people would be oppressed by those who wanted more land than God allowed.
Jubilee and the Sabbath Year are described in detail in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15. There are a lot of details that are important that we do not have time to talk about today. I would strongly recommend that you spend several days meditating in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15. They are rich with guidelines about how we should limit our wealth and share our wealth with fellow-believers today.
The Psalms and Proverbs are full of references to wealth as a blessing of God. However, they must always be read in the context of the restraints on wealth found in God's economic system for Israel. Psalm 112 is a perfect example.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who is ardently devoted to his commands. His children will be mighty in the land; a blessed generation of upright men. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteous kindness endures forever. Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for He is gracious and compassionate and righteous. Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his business with justice and integrity. Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes. He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteous kindness endures forever; he will be powerful and respected...
Here the right and righteous use of wealth is shown in the full context of a man who is blessed because he fears the Lord, is ardently devoted to His commands, and uses his wealth for the benefit of the poor.
How serious was God about the justice, equal opportunity, and humility of His economic system? Almost the entire book of Amos and much of Isaiah is a diatribe, condemnation, and prophecy about Israel's abject flaunting of God's system. Here are some examples:
On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished, declares the Lord.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to you husbands, "Bring us some drinks!" The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: "The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. Amos 3:14-4:2
You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. (Amos 5:11-12a)
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)
Hear this, you who trample the needy and annihilate the poor of the land, saying, "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?"-–skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
"In that day," declares the Sovereign Lord, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign Lord, "When I will send a famine through the land-–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. (Amos 8:4-6, 9-12)
The prophet Isaiah's warnings about wealthy religious people are especially important in the context of the wealth that is possessed by evangelical Christians in the United States.
Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and until there is room for no one but you to live in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: "Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. (Isaiah 5:8-9)
Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 'Why have we fasted', they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'
"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? "No, this is the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? To share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?...
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Is 58: 1b-7, 9b-10)
Isaiah's promise of future restoration is obviously a restoration of God's economic system based on Jubilee:
They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat... My chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. (Is 65:21-23)
The prophet Micah directly condemns those who violate God's Jubilee economic principles.
Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields (other's capital) and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance. Therefore, the Lord says: "I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity. (Micah 2:1-3)
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, Oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)
Jubilee and Sabbath year have profound implications for how Christians are to relate economically and socially to each other today and how we are to treat wealth. Israel was primarily an agrarian economy. Capital consisted of land, farmhouse, and farm animals. Each family had a limited amount of land and there was no land that could be purchased permanently because of Jubilee. The amount of wealth that could be accumulated was very modest because one could not accumulate large land holdings. This capital was passed on within the family from generation to generation.
The father's responsibility was threefold: to provide for his family from the produce (income) derived from working the land(capital), to maintain the value of the land by following Sabbath Year principles and farming industriously and intelligently, and to teach his children the skills needed to maintain the value of the capital for the next generation. The only capital he could accumulate and pass on to his children consisted of: the ability to provide for his family (hands on education), his family's portion of land, (capital), and the farmhouse.
The land could not be sold in perpetuity because the land belonged to the Lord, and He had given each family a portion of it as their permanent inheritance to be passed on from generation to generation. The equality of wealth distribution and equal opportunity were more important than the right to accumulate property. Returning the land at Jubilee was not a charitable courtesy. It was a foundation of God's economic system. God wanted each family to own the resources to produce its own livelihood. This speaks against the concentration of capital ownership amongst either the state or an elite few.
The United States was primarily an agrarian economy when it was founded. It became an industrial economy in the 19th century. It became primarily a service economy in the 20th century. We are a capital-intensive economy. It costs about $100,000 of capital investment to create and sustain one job today in the United States. Therefore, we live in a non-agrarian economy that is very capital intensive in which one usually provides for his family and/or himself and/or herself by working for someone else who has provided the capital to create the opportunity to work. This creates real tension for a Christian business person that can only be resolved by understanding whose kingdom we live in. This will be developed later.
A good question is: what is the inheritance (wealth) that a Christian may reasonably plan to pass on to his children in the context of Jubilee? I believe that the maximum responsibility of a father includes providing his children with the education needed to provide for their family in the context of today's capitalistic economy, helping his children acquire their first home, and possibly helping them purchase their first car--all in such a way that they don't enter adulthood laden with debt.
Let's summarize wealth in the Old Testament. Modest wealth within context of God's Jubilee economy is a sign of God's blessing. God's Jubilee economy provided every family with the equal opportunity to own and pass on to the next generation modest wealth, but it eliminated the opportunity to become exceedingly wealthy. The Israelites were not content with modest wealth and acquired great wealth by oppressing fellow Israelites, by permanently acquiring their inherited lands, and by reducing their fellow Israelites to permanent servitude.
This is very important to understand, because so much of today's wealth and prosperity gospel is based on the misunderstanding that wealth as a blessing in the Old Testament was unlimited. It was not. It was modest wealth within context of God's Jubilee economy.
God condemned those who became exceedingly wealthy and denounced their attempt to worship Him with their wealth as an abomination. God was so disgusted with Israel that He allowed them to be defeated militarily and exiled to foreign lands.
Wealth as a Sacrament
In order to transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament attitude about wealth we need to look at wealth as a sacrament in the Old Covenant. God showed His grace to Israel by: delivering them from slavery in Egypt, giving Israel the "Promised Land", and giving each family the land (the capital) the family needed to provide for itself. The land and its produce together resulted in modest wealth which was a sign of God's blessing--a kind of sacrament. God's salvation was a deliverance from physical slavery and oppression and the Promised Land was the particular physical place of God's blessing on this planet.
In the New Testament, wealth is turned upside down. God shows His grace to you and me by: delivering us from slavery to sin, adopting us as sons and daughters, and welcoming us as citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do the good work in the Kingdom that God prepared in advance for us to do.
God's free gift of Jesus' incarnation, death and resurrection is the source of our wealth. As the apostle Paul says:
We were saved by grace (the free gift of God) through faith; and not even faith was from within ourselves; it also was a gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
It is highly significant that Jesus was sold for money (30 pieces of silver) under the world's money system.
Wealth in this world is no longer a sign of God's blessing. The only wealth that is a sign of God's blessing in the New Testament is the forgiveness of sin and an abundant new life as citizens in the Kingdom of God.
The wealth of this world is thus reduced to money. Since money has no place per se in God's work of salvation, money is no longer directly related to the form of wealth that is a gift of God. Money now refers primarily to the idea of exchange--Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver.
Wealth expresses primarily the idea of abundance. Jesus said:
I have come so that you may have super-abundant life. (John 10:10)
The apostle Paul said:
Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him. And through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:15-22)
This transition of the meaning and form of true wealth for a Christian is very important; it is very critical. If you are to understand the New Testament's constant diatribe against material wealth and riches, you must understand that God's grace (His good giving) is no longer signified by a place in a physical Promised Land on this planet. God's grace is totally represented by the gift of Jesus and new life in the Kingdom of God. Wealth is no longer what comes from a place in the physical Promised Land. Wealth is Jesus and new life in the Kingdom of God.
Kingdoms in Conflict —- The Conflict Between the Economic Systems of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the World
Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy) defines "kingdom" (or "queendom") as the realm where my choice determines what happens. It is the range of my effective will--whatever I have the say over is my kingdom. This having dominion is the core or likeness of the image of God in us. It is the destiny for which we were formed-–to reign. In the creation covenant, our job description was to collectively rule over all living things–-plants and animals.
We were (and still are) meant to exercise our "rule" only within the context of God's delegated authority as God's coworkers in the creative enterprise of life on earth. In our fall in the Garden of Eden, we mistrusted and distanced ourselves from God; and then naturally from each other. Instead of reigning "with" God in His Kingdom, we decided to set up our own kingdoms and queendoms. If we couldn't trust God who made us, we certainly couldn't trust anyone else.
We now live in a fallen world that is in constant conflict; hence, our natural dominion is greatly decreased. However, when we submit to God in Christ, our rule or dominion begins to increase, and the effect of the fall begins to diminish. In accord with God's original intent, we begin to experience the individualized kingdom that God prepared for each person from the outset of creation:
For we are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10)
God's own Kingdom is the range of His effective wil?-where what He wants done is done. When we pray "Thy Kingdom come", we are asking that God's Kingdom will take over at all points in the personal, social, and political order where it is now excluded. God's intent is for me to learn to mesh my individual kingdom with the kingdoms of other believers within His good Kingdom. We then enjoy individualized reigns under the reign of God without isolation or conflict.
There are two mega-kingdoms that are in mega-conflict. The Kingdom of this world consists of the principalities and powers of this world that are in rebellion against God and those who have taken Satan's advice and live in either active or passive rebellion against God and His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God consists of those who: have repented of their rebellion, have recognized that Jesus is Lord, and now exercise their rule and reign under God's rule and reign. Followers of Jesus live in a
different kingdom with a
different culture under a
different economic system with a
The currency of this world is money, the "currency" of God's Kingdom is grace-–free and abundant giving.
The apostle Paul directed us:
As citizens (of the Kingdom of God) to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (good news) of Christ, to stand firm in one spirit contending together with one mind for the faith of the gospel without being frightened by those who oppose us. (Phil 1:27-29)
The apostle Peter said that:
We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God who have received His mercy. (I Peter 2:9-10)
Peter then urges us:
As aliens and foreigners in the world, to live such excellent lives among the pagans who are the residents of the world that they may see our good work and thus glorify God. (I Peter 2:11-12)
The Kingdom that God established before the fall was characterized by goodness and abundance. Indeed God promised Israel that if they followed His rule and His economy they would live in abundance and would not become poor. Because of their natural rebellion they did not follow His rule and His economy. Through Christ, God is now building His Kingdom wherever anyone will submit to His rule.
For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.(Col 1:13)
God's Kingdom is still characterized by goodness and abundance. Money as a store of value or medium of exchange loses its value in an economy where goods are so plentiful that no one needs to store them or buy them. In the Kingdom of God everything is freely given and freely received. Grace is the "currency", Money has no value.
George McDonald in The Curate's Awakening (which was originally written in 1876) tells a wonderful story about wealth and money as they relate to God's Kingdom economy based on grace, giving, and serving:
Tell them your vision of the shops in heaven, said Rachel.
Polworth stopped, took a deep breath while the others waited expectantly. Then he began.
"'And now,' said my guide to me, 'I will take you to the city of the righteous, and show you how they buy and sell in the kingdom of heaven.' So we journeyed on and on and I was weary before we arrived. After I had refreshed my soul, my conductor led me into a large place that we would call a shop here, although the arrangements were different and an air of stateliness dwelt in and around the place. It was filled with the loveliest silk and woolens--all types and colors, a thousand delights.
"I stood in the midst of the place in silence and watched those that bought and sold. On the faces of those that sold I saw only expressions of a calm and concentrated ministration. As soon as one buyer was contented, they turned graciously to another and listened until they perfectly understood what he had come seeking. And once they had provided what the customer had desired, such a look of satisfaction lingered on their faces, as of having just had a great success.
"When I turned to watch the faces of those who bought, in like manner I saw complete humility--yet it was not humility because they sought a favor, for with their humility was mingled the total confidence of receiving all that they sought. It was truly a pleasure to see how everyone knew what his desire was, and then made his choice readily and with decision. I perceived also that everyone spoke not merely respectfully, but gratefully, to him who served him. And the kindly greeting and partings made me wonder how every inhabitant of such a huge city would know every other. But I soon saw that it came not of individual knowledge, but of universal love.
"And as I stood watching, suddenly it came to me that I had yet to see a single coin passed. So I began to keep my eyes on those who were buying. A certain woman was picking out a large quantity of silk, but when she had made her purchase, she simply took it in he arms and carried it out of the shop and did not pay. So I turned to watch another, but when he carried away his goods he paid no money either. I said to myself, 'These must be well-known persons who trade here often. The shopkeeper knows them and will bill them at a later time.' So I turned to another, but he did not pay either! Then I began to observe that those who were selling were writing nothing down concerning each sale. They were making no record of each purchase or keeping track of what was owed them.
"I went out at last with my guide and we seated ourselves under a tree on the bank of a quiet stream and I began to question him. 'Tell me, sir,' I said, 'the meaning of what I have seen. I do not yet understand how these happy people do their business without passing a single coin.' And he answered. 'Where greed and ambition and self-love rule, there must be money; where there is neither greed nor ambition nor self-love, money is useless.' And I asked, 'Is it by barter that they go about their affairs? For I saw no exchange of any sort.' 'No,' answered my guide, 'if you had gone into any shop in the city, you would have seen the same thing. Where no greed, ambition, or selfishness exists, need and desire can have free rein, for they can work no evil. Here men can give freely to whoever asks of him without thought of return, because all his own needs will be likewise supplied by others.
By giving, each also receives. There are no advantages to be gained or sought. The sole desire is to more greatly serve. This world is contrary to your world. Everything here is upside down. The man here that does the greatest service, that helps others the most in the obtaining of their honest desires, is the man who stands in the highest regard with the Lord of the place, and his great reward and honor is to be enabled to spend himself yet more for the good of his fellows. So when one man asks, "Give me, friend, of your loaves of bread," the baker or shopkeeper may answer, "Take of them, friend, as many as you need." That is indeed a potent motive toward diligence.
It is much stronger than the desire to hoard or excel or accumulate passing wealth. What a greater incentive it is to share the bliss of God who hoards nothing but always gives liberally. The joy of a man here is to give away what he has made, to make glad the heart of another and in so doing, grow. This doctrine appears strange and unbelievable to the man in whom the well of life is yet sealed. There have never been many at a time in the old world who could thus enter into the joy of their Lord. Surely you know of a few in your world who are thus in their hearts, who would willingly consent to be as nothing, so to give life to their fellows. In this city so it is with everyone.'
"Could it be?" wondered the curate, breaking the silence that followed.
"Not in this world," asserted the draper.
"To doubt that it could be," declared the Polworth, "would be to doubt whether the kingdom of heaven be but a foolish fancy or a divine idea."
Wealth and Money in the New Testament
Jesus clearly and starkly sets forth the choice we have:
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate God and love Money or he will be devoted to God and despise Money. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Mt 6:24)
Or you can reverse the proper nouns:
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate Money and love God; or he will be devoted to Money and despise God. You cannot serve both Money and God.
In our materialistic culture these are cutting words that go against the foundational values of our capitalistic system. And it's obvious from the context of the surrounding verses that Jesus intended exactly what He said and purposely did not intend to leave us any wiggle room.
Jesus makes this stark comment about God and Money in the context of two commands. One command precedes and the other follows:
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 treasure in heaven... For where your treasure is there your heart will be also. (Mt 6:9-21)
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear... The pagans run after these things, but your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and food and clothing will be given to you as well. (Mt 6:25, 32, 33)
Jesus gave us two commands bracketing a decision we must make. If we make the right decision about serving, loving, and being devoted to God and hating and despising Money, we are putting our confidence and trust in God. Then Jesus' commands are easier to follow.
This is the basic teaching in the New Testament about money. Everything else is just commentary.
Jesus used the Aramaic word "Mammon" which is a comprehensive word that includes all kinds of material possessions, money, and the money system, i.e. Materialism. Jesus says that Mammon is a "master"; i.e. He personifies it and considers it a sort of god or idol. Ellul (Money & Power) says that God as a person and Mammon as a person find themselves in conflict. Jesus describes our relation to both of them in the same way: it is the relationship of servant and master. Jesus is not describing a relationship between us and an object, but between us and active agents. Ellul says that when we claim to use money, we make a gross error. It is really money that uses us and makes us its servants by bringing us under its law and subordinating us to its aims.
Money creates the buying-selling relationship--everything in the world is paid for in one way or another. Likewise everything, in one way or another, can be bought, including human beings. Its most tangible forms are slavery and poverty. Poverty leads to the total alienation of the poor.
This alienation permits the wealthy in their power to impose their law and conception of life on the poor. It is this purchase of the person that corrupts the money relationship as described in Revelation:
The merchants of the world will weep and mourn over the fall of Babylon because no one can buy their goods anymore–-jewelry, linen, luxury items, etc., and the bodies and souls of men. (Rev 18:11, 13b)
People are thus seen as objects to be bought and sold not as people created in God's likeness.
if you love Money, you hate God; or if you love God, you hate Money. It is as simple as that.
Paul told Timothy that the love of money is a root of all evils. This is the context:
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. 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 evils. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (I Timothy 6:6-10)
Paul goes on to say:
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. (I Timothy 6:17-19)
The apostle James, referring to this buying and selling relationship says:
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. (James 5:1-6)
A rich man who said he fully obeyed the law asked Jesus what good thing he must do to get eternal life. Jesus said:
Sell your possessions, give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me. (Mat 19:21)
As the young man left sadly because he had great wealth, Jesus said to His disciples:
It is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God's Kingdom. (Mat 19:23)
In the parable of the sower, Jesus listed three conditions where the seed of God's Word did not take root and bear fruit.
This is how Jesus described the seeds sown among thorns:
They hear God's word, but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:3-8)
Jesus also said:
Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. A man's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. (Luke 12:15)
To explain this truth, Jesus told the parable of the rich man who produced another good crop who said to himself:
I have no place to store my crops, I'll have to build bigger barns. I now have plenty of good things laid up for many years; I'll take life easy.
This was God's response: You fool. This night your life is demanded of you.
This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.
Then Jesus said:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 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. (Luke 12:32-34)
It is often said by evangelical Christians that Jesus talked more about money than about any other subject. Their implication is always the same: Since Jesus talked about it, it is good. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus' teaching about money was that it is a false god. Jesus often told people to give all their money away. Jesus often used money in parables like He used other things they were familiar with. To say that Jesus was encouraging wealth accumulation in the parables in which He used money is like saying that Jesus encouraged ruthless rulers to kill people who disagreed with them (Luke 19:12-27). It is categorically not true that Jesus encouraged wealth generation and/or accumulation in any way.
It was about 1984 or 1985 when I began to realize the corrosive power that Money possessed; and that I, while a believer, had subjected myself to Money's power and dominion. I finally asked God not to make me wealthy, because I didn't want to be tempted by something that could easily cause me great misery and eat my flesh like fire. About the same time I came to realize that Jesus had great compassion for the poor. I shall talk more about that in my other seminar.
About the same time, I also came to realize that the central purpose of my life on earth was to have Jesus' likeness and image fully recreated in me.
And we, who with unveiled faces all behold, contemplate and reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (II Cor 3:18)
And we know that to the ones loving God He works together all things for the good of those who have been called according to this purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29)
Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility considering others better than yourselves, looking not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, although continuing to be in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but He voluntarily emptied Himself of His glory as God, taking the very nature of a servant, becoming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death--even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:2-11)
But whatever was to my profit I now consider a worthless loss for the sake of Christ. 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 is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. (Phil 3:7-12, 20-21)
To become like Jesus is to have access to all the true wealth of the universe.
Paul warned Christians about our interpreting the Bible through the values and lens of our culture:
Do not be conformed to your culture or age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may determine what God's will is. (Rom 12:2)
American evangelical Christians have become conformed to our culture's view of money and possessions. This is called syncretism. Remember Monday night when Ray Aldred, the native North American, stated that the Western church has tried to westernize native Americans because of their concern about syncretism creeping into the church from Indian culture. Remember when he said that the Western church is blind to the syncretism of the modernity and materialism of American culture that permeates the evangelical church. That is exactly what we are talking about today. We have reinterpreted obvious biblical teaching so that it is virtually indistinguishable from our culture's mindset. This is perhaps best demonstrated by hearing what the early church leaders taught about wealth, possessions, property and poverty.
The following are quotations from the writings of early church leaders as translated by Avila in Ownership: Early Christian Teaching to show how the early church fathers from 100AD to 350AD understood Jesus' and Paul's teaching on wealth, property and poverty:
He who holds possessions...as gifts of God...and knows that he possesses them for his brothers' sake rather than his own...is the man who is blessed by the Lord...a ready inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
"Make to yourselves friends from the mammon of unrighteousness that when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal habitations." (Lk 16:9) Thus Jesus declares that all possessions are by nature unrighteous, when a man possesses them for personal advantage as being entirely his own, and does not bring them into the common stock for those in need; but that from this unrighteousness it is possible to perform a deed that is righteous and saving, namely, to give relief to one of those who have an eternal habitation with the Father. (Clement of Alexandria)
Did you not come naked from the womb? Will you not return naked into the earth? (Job 1:21). Whence then did you have your present possessions? If you say, "By chance," you are godless, because you do not acknowledge the Creator, nor give thanks to the Giver. If you admit they are from God, tell us why you have received them.
Is God unjust to distribute the necessities of life to us unequally? Why are you rich, why is that one poor? Is it not that you may receive the reward of beneficence and faithful distribution...?'
You who make your own the things which you have received to distribute? Are you not greedy? Are you not a robber? Will not one be called a thief who steals the garment of one already clothed, and is one deserving of any other title who will not clothe the naked if he is able to do so?
That bread which you keep, belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong. (Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea)
For it is written: "Make unto yourself friends of the Mammon of iniquity." For him, then, who knows to use them, they are goods; for him who does not, they are rightly evils...They are goods if you bestow them to the poor, wherein you make God your debtor by a kind of pious usury. They are goods if you open the barns of your justice so that you may be the bread of the poor, the life of the needy, the eye of the blind, and the father of the orphan children.
Look at the birds of the air (cf. Matthew 6:26)...If there is enough produce from the abundance of harvest for the birds of the air who do not sow, yet nevertheless Divine Providence gives them unfailing nourishment, then indeed greed must be the cause of our need...We lose the things that are common when we claim things as our own...Why do you esteem your riches when God has willed your food to be common with others? (Ambrose, Bishop of Milan)
But we possess many superfluous things, unless we keep only what is necessary. For if we seek useless things, nothing suffices...Consider: not only do few things suffice for you, but God Himself does not seek many things from you. Seek as much as He has given you, and from that take what suffices; other things, superfluous things, are the necessities of others. The superfluous things of the wealthy are the necessities of the poor. When superfluous things are possessed, others' property is possessed.
Speaking through Haggai, the Lord said, "Mine is the silver and mine the gold" (Haggai 2:8), so that those who do not wish to share what they have with the needy...should understand that God commands this sharing not as being from the property of them whom He commands this sharing, but as being from His own property; so that those who offer something to the poor should not think that they are doing so from what is their own.
About leaving a large inheritance Augustine said:
He who made you, He Himself feeds you from the things which He has made. He feeds your children Himself, too. For do you entrust your children to your inheritance better than to your Creator...Why does such a one not give to the poor? (St. Augustine)
It is clear that the early church interpreted Jesus' teaching very literally. We should too!
How Citizens of the Kingdom of God are to use Money as aliens and strangers in the Kingdom of the World
I made a conscious decision to serve God and not to serve Mammon. This was my dilemma: while my citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, I still live on earth--in a foreign country that has an economy with rules that I must play by.
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (I Pet 2:11)
This was my problem: How do I live as an alien and stranger in this culture and age and as a citizen of the Kingdom of God using this culture's Money without serving it. The answer is found in II Corinthians 8 and 9. I would strongly recommend that you spend several days meditating on these chapters. The context is that Paul is gathering a collection to take to the super-poor in Jerusalem. Paul uses the Macedonian churches (who were very poor but not destitute) as an example to encourage the Corinthians to give generously.
Let me read and comment on portions of II Corinthians 8 and 9
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace of God that He has given among the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they imploringly pleaded with us for the favor (grace--charis) of sharing (fellowship--koinonea) in this ministry to the saints. (II Cor 8:1-4)
What was the grace (the good gift) of God that He gave to these extremely poor Macedonians? It was "rich generosity" that was beyond their ability. Note their attitude: they imploringly begged Paul that he would extend to them the gift of allowing them to fellowship with the Jerusalem church by giving money out of their extreme poverty.
And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. Now just as you excel in everything-- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. (II Cor 8:5-9)
Paul talks about the grace (the gift) of being able to give to others. In verse 9, Paul urges the Corinthians to follow Jesus' example. Although Jesus was rich, He became poor for my sake so that I through His poverty might become rich so that although I am consequently rich, I might become poor so that others through my poverty might become rich. In the Kingdom of God, I am rich because Jesus impoverished Himself, and my great opportunity as a follower of Jesus–-as one who wants to cooperate with God in remaking me into Jesus' likeness–-is to impoverish myself so that others may become rich. Notice the phrase grace of giving: To the one who has resources, the opportunity to give them away is a grace-–a gift from God.
And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He that gathered much did not have too much, and he that gathered little did not have too little." (II Cor 8:10-15)
In verse 13 Paul says that they should give until there is equality between the churches in Jerusalem and Corinth.
What does that mean today? Our wealth in the United States relative to the poverty of our inner cities and relative to the third world is many, many times greater than the wealth of the Macedonians who were extremely impoverished relative to the even poorer church in Jerusalem. In verse 14, Paul is literally saying that the Corinthians should give so much that the church in Jerusalem is able to regain its economic self-sufficiency so that in a future time the church in Jerusalem will be able to financially help the church in Corinth. Note that Paul doesn't say "if"; he says "when". He is sure that if the Corinthians give all the way to equality, they will have given away all their savings, and that without that safety net of money in the bank or stocks and other investments the Corinthians will someday be impoverished themselves. Paul says that at this time the Corinthians plenty will supply what the believers in Jerusalem need, so that in turn their plenty wil
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (II Cor 9:6-11)
In verse 6 Paul explains the principle of giving by the law of sowing and reaping. If you sow generously you will reap generously. If you give generously, God will give you an abundance of grace. Verse 8 says that God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times having all self-sufficiency, you will also have an abundance for every good work. In verse 9 Paul reminds them of the man in Psalm 112 who fears the Lord and is ardently devoted to His commands who we read about earlier: He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteous kindness endures forever.
Do you see the picture of this man broadcasting by hand his seed generously and broadly? His righteous kindness lasting forever is a fulfillment of Jesus' command to store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Verse 10 is a commentary on verse 9. God who supplies seed (capital) to the sower and bread (production) for food will also increase your store of seed and will enlarge your harvest of righteousness that lasts forever. Verse 11 is a commentary on verse 8. You will be made rich in every way–-spiritually, financially, and socially so that you can be generous on every occasion and so that your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. Verses 8-11 are the only justification for wealth in the New Testament: You will be made rich so that you can be continually generous so that God will be thanked. This is the only place in the New Testament where it says that God makes us rich in an economic sense. Notice that God makes us rich
Verses 12-15 explain how my generosity results in thanksgiving to God.
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (II Cor 12-15)
Paul in Romans 12:8 identifies financial giving as a spiritual gift. Paul says if your spiritual gift is giving or sharing, give generously and openhandedly with a singleness of purpose with no expectation of return benefit. If you blink you will miss this in Paul's list of spiritual gifts. Giving is not included in the two other lists of spiritual gifts. This is hardly an encouragement to accumulate economic wealth. This is as positive as it gets for wealth accumulation in the New Testament. I think you can now understand why I asked God not to make me wealthy.
In closing let me summarize what we have covered:
1. In Israel, God's economic system, including Jubilee, provided every family with the equal opportunity to own and pass on to the next generation modest wealth, but it eliminated the opportunity to become exceedingly wealthy.
2. God condemned those who became exceedingly wealthy and denounced their attempt to worship Him with their wealth as an abomination.
3. Jesus presents us with a decision: If I serve, love and am devoted to God, I will hate and despise Money.
4. When I serve, love, and am devoted to God, I will not store up treasure for myself on earth, and I don't need to worry about life.
5. Jesus never in any way encouraged wealth accumulation for oneself on earth.
6. If I do store up treasure on earth, it is for the sole purpose of giving it away. It must not be for myself.