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« Your Legal Relationship: Jesus as Judge | Main | Your Spiritual Relationship: Jesus as the Spirit of God »

Your Economic Relationship: Jesus as True Riches 

Have you ever prayed for more money?  Have you, at least, asked God to help you to pay for something, like a decent car or a college education?  How did that work out?  God does help us with legitimate needs, but I went through a stage of life where I saw disgusting amounts of money going to undeserving people in Las Vegas or state lotteries. At the same time, I saw huge spiritual needs going unmet. It bothered me that millions of dollars wound up in the hands of crime lords, and drug cartels.  I prayed for a big windfall of profit to come to me so I could give it to righteous causes.  I thought it was a legitimate prayer.  How could God refuse?  Sorry.  It didn’t happen.  I finally figured out that God didn’t trust me to do what I said I would do.  He also let me know that He was doing the job of being God just fine, and He didn’t need my help.  (Another principle called free moral agency was also at work.)  I’m ashamed that this maturity lesson didn’t take place until after I was into middle adulthood.

Money.  It has started more wars, incited more riots, ended more lives, corrupted more people, ruined more marriages, broken up more friendships, caused more arguments and burst more bubbles than any other commodity known to man.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:9-10. But, on the other hand, money has solved more problems, provided for more families, started more businesses, met more societal needs, built more bridges and rescued more debtors than any other instrument of power.  A feast is made for laughter, And wine makes merry; but money answers everything. Ecclesiastes 10:19.  

Money moves empires, crowns dynasties and drives history.  More often than not, it is possible to analyze events and predict future trends by looking at monetary issues.  “Follow the money,” a favorite saying of observers of the world scene turns out to be a fairly accurate heuristic.   Some outcomes are positive, some negative; some good, some bad; some creative, some destructive.  It is evident, then, that money itself is neither the problem nor the solution.  The real issue is how we use the money we have.

The question before us now is “How does a believer handle money?”  Do Christians operate from a different set of values from secular people in their financial dealings?  Yes, they do.  Does the presence of Christ in a believer’s life influence money matters?  Absolutely.  A relationship perspective proves to be the only correct way for Christians to understand money and wealth.  We must treat money as though we were managing the assets of a third party.  We hold it in our hands, not in our hearts.  This understanding positions us, not as heirs, owners or producers, but as stewards of an estate.  We all desire to invest money prudently and spend money wisely, and there are shelves loaded with books to help you do those things, but our concern here is much more fundamental: how does your relationship with Jesus inform your economic life?  Out of the many scriptural principles that govern the finances of a believer, here are ten that reflect the relationship aspect: 

You Do Not Own Your Money

All of us are merely guests in the house of the Lord.  The Psalmist David made it clear that God is the Owner: The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. Psalm 24:1. Since we are beholden to our Landlord, our attitude must reflect our status.  It is both presumptuous and arrogant to claim rights and authority to assets that do not belong to us. “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,” says the LORD of hosts. Haggai 2:8. If you do not own the money in your possession, then using it requires permission, approval, and blessing. 

Jesus set the example for us in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He prayed, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Matthew 26:42. If Jesus would not violate the will of God with His life, how can we violate it with our money?  We must not use our money for things contrary to God’s will, without God’s approval and void of God’s blessing.  To do so sends the signal that we own what we have, and therefore we have the right to do with it as we please. 

Your Trust Is in Christ, Not in Money

It is human nature to want security.  Conventional wisdom tells us that the more money we have, the more secure we are.  But the message of the Bible contradicts this secular philosophy.  Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 1 Timothy 6:17. For one thing, the market is unstable, and one can lose a fortune in an instant, as anyone who studies economics knows.  But, more importantly, the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ, is the best insurance policy for eternity that we could ever find.  Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5.

Of course, we need to invest wisely and make money work for us whenever we can.  The writer is saying, however, is that even if our investments go south, and all is lost, our true treasure will never be touched. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21.  Happiness and security is not tied to your money but to your Master.

Money Can Be Dangerous

Not only does money represent security to the carnal mind, but it also feeds into a sense of power and control.  Wealthy people are vulnerable to entitlement attitudes that make them feel superior to others.   Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches 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 the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:23-25.

Forces of nature, like electrical storms or raging floods, cause much havoc when there are no restraints on their raw power.  That same electricity and water, however, become subservient to the will of man when tamed by grids and dams.  Likewise, the evil that money can do changes into much good when the user maintains a right relationship with Jesus Christ.   The relationship keeps attitudes about money in submission to righteous and holy ideals.

One more thing about the danger of money.  You don’t have to have it to fall under its influence.  Those who desperately crave money can be tempted to commit crimes, participate in unethical schemes or risk their good name and integrity to obtain it.  Money has an elusive nature, though, and people who sell their souls to get it usually find that, in the end, it wasn’t worth the price they had to pay for it.

All Financial Blessings Are from God

All wealthy people did not get rich by nefarious means.  Most of them either worked hard for it or got it by inheritance. Nevertheless, pride can often creep into the heart of the rich and deceive them into believing that they alone were responsible for their happiness.  Remember, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17.  

I, George Washington, President of the United States of America, do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us. 

-Adapted from Geo. Washington archives.

If you are wealthy, stay humble.  Never boast.  You may have worked hard or been smart enough to get gain, but there were intangibles that lay beyond your control.  Your health, your freedom, your opportunities, the economic climate and the cooperation of others around you were also responsible for your success.  These are blessings from God, and they call for gratitude on your part.

Tithes and Offerings Belong to God

While we cannot cover the broad subject of tithes and offerings here, we need to include some essential points.  The classic verse used for this principle is in Malachi. “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation.  Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” Malachi 3:8-10.  This pronouncement was under the Old Testament law, but it remains valid for us as well.  The principle of tithing predated the law in that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek.  (Genesis 14:18). 

The Apostle Paul, raised in the Jewish tradition, also instructed the church to bring offerings in a manner reminiscent of Malachi’s exhortation.  Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.  If the church was to be a viable entity in the world, there had to be a means for its support.  It was most likely the same divine plan that had enabled the Hebrew priesthood to live and work. 

The phrase “as he may prosper” (the KJV inserts “God” into the verse as the One who prospers) strongly suggests that a rule of thumb be used to measure the prosperity.  The tithe, or the tenth, was the logical coefficient since the Jewish people were accustomed to that standard.  At any rate, they understood that it was God who blessed all giving.  Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38. 

Finally, if anyone should balk at giving—even a tithe—Jesus spoke of another standard. Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.  So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Mark 12:41-44.  When we come to the end of our lives, God will measure our giving by how much we have left. 

Spend Your Money for Service, Not Selfishness

If our money is a gift of God, then His purposes should guide its use.   Jesus told a parable that reveals His will for our spending.  “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16-21. 

This man’s total focus was his personal welfare and the preservation of his wealth.  Jesus did not condemn him for re-investing into his business, but for his self-centered and self-absorbed attitude. He should have earmarked some of his surplus for ministry to others.  We must recognize the relationship factor in the application of this parable.  Existing in oneness with Christ means that we reflexively mirror His posture of service.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” 2 Corinthians 12:15. 

Greed and Covetousness Is Sin

Greed is wanting more than you need, and covetousness is wanting what someone else has.  Both fall into the category of lust, and the Scriptures strongly condemn them as sin.  This lengthy passage from James needs to be fully processed.  Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you. James 5:1-6.  Although the word greed is not mentioned, its portrayal is clear.  Extortion, exploitation and fraud spew like sewage out of the greedy soul. 

The Old Testament law labels covetousness as sin, as in “Thou shalt not covet.”  Covet simply means “to desire earnestly,” but in the context of sin, it means “to desire unlawfully,” or “to secure illegitimately.”  If you give yourself to covetousness, you unleash at least two dysfunctional forces.  One, you throw yourself into personal unrest, and, two, you introduce tension into your relationship with your neighbor.  To covet not only causes personal disharmony, it foments social conflict as well.  Peace cannot coexist with covetousness. 

Rather than an avaricious spirit, we are urged to be content. Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  1 Timothy 6:6-8. When we are content with what we have, God adds His blessing to us.  Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Matthew 6:31-33.

Your Spiritual State Is Not Measured by Money

A widespread heresy, called “Prosperity Theology,” or the “Health and Wealth Gospel,” has recently corrupted the value system of many Christians.  Essentially, it holds that anyone in the will of God will prosper in body and finances, and those who get out of the will of God suffer sickness, disease and poverty.   This doctrine causes people to disconnect actions with results.  The Bible teaches us that laziness or foolishness result in poor health and bad finances, not the favor or disfavor of God.  (Proverbs 6:9-11; 20:13; 23:31).  Neither does the accumulation of wealth signal the pleasure of God.  The rich man who went to hell as opposed to the beggar Lazarus who went to paradise conveys Christ’s value system.  (Luke 16:19-31).  Also, as referenced in the opening paragraph of this chapter, evil men often acquire great wealth.  Their riches are not to be interpreted as God’s approval of their spiritual state.

Jesus also pronounced a blessing, not to the rich, but to the poor.  “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Luke 6:20-21.  The corollary follows a few sentences later.  “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” Luke 6:24-25.  That is wealth from God’s perspective. 

How do we really measure riches?  This question is summarized by the Apostle Paul and addresses the core mission of this book.  But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;   that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11. Christ is our True Riches.

Personal Wealth Is Not the Main Goal in Life

Many things compete for first place in our lives.  The disciples vied for notoriety when they expressed their desire for a prime place in the coming kingdom (Luke 9:46). The rich, young ruler wanted to inherit eternal life, but he would not unseat his love for great riches from the throne of his heart.  (Matthew 19:22).  Judas lusted after an earthly kingdom and chose to betray Christ when it didn’t happen as he envisioned.  Money, wealth and riches seduce many into thinking that these things represent the ultimate goals in life.  It is an insidious lie.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:9-11.

You Represent Christ by Your Management of Money

Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with saying “Preach always.  Use words if necessary.”  Unfortunately, there is often a wide disparity between what we say and what we do.  A profligate cannot preach sacrifice with credibility.  Neither can a philanderer preach fidelity, nor an atheist faith.  Believers must be able to demonstrate their devotion to Christ by the way they live their lives. 

The depth of your relationship with Jesus Christ will be illustrated by the way you handle your money.  Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this principle may be found in the story of the alabaster box.  And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. Mark 14:3. Some of the disciples thought it was an outrageous act of wastefulness, but Jesus rebuked them and defended her.  “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Mark 14:6-9. 

This woman equated her love for Jesus with her collection of exquisite perfume.  That was far more impressive to Jesus than the market price of the ointment.  One, therefore, cannot divorce his or her material possessions from the desire of the Master.  Our relationship always precedes and shapes our behavior.

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