Monthly Archives: December 2013

For the Love of Money – Part 3

Part 3 – Treasure of the Heart = Root of All Evil

For the love of money is the root of all evil… – 1st Timothy 6:10a

*          *          *          *

Heart and MoneyThe relationship between Christian’s and money is a tricky subject.  Money is intertwined with us for a plethora of reasons, the most obvious being that it is required to live in our current civilization.  We might also point out that nearly all humans have the inner desire to give their loved ones the best things this world has to offer – and that requires money.  Consistent with our internal need for money, the Bible unequivocally speaks out against laziness (Rom. 12:11; 1 Thess. 4:10b-12; 2 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:18; Col. 3:23; Prov. 10:14 ).  Perhaps most telling of all is the design of humanity, which is driven towards building things; as if productivity were embedded into our very nature.  1st Timothy 5:8 even goes so far as to say that not providing for one’s family is equivalent to denying the faith.

So, if it is a natural thing to desire money to provide for our loved ones, if our design drives us toward productivity, if it is biblical to work hard and earn money, and if we are dependent on money for our very survival, then why does money have such a stigma where Christianity is concerned?  Why do we sometimes feel guilty for wanting more, or not giving enough?  Why are there so many questions about wealth and luxury?  If work and money are both natural and Biblical, then why should we ever feel guilty about ambitiously pursuing wealth, and building and earning all we can in this life?  Well, just as I stated in my previous post – I’m glad you asked.

In Part 1, we concluded that the capable, obedient Christian will work hard to earn money, to provide for themselves and their family, while also dealing responsibly with the resources God blesses them with, to ensure they are productive members of society, who can deal honestly with all people.

In Part 2, we concluded that since Christians are going to work, have money, and manage their money responsibly, then God expects them to give generously and cheerfully.  Contention arises in Bible stories such as the story of Ananias and Sapphira or the story of the Rich Young Ruler, when scripture seems to indicate that Christians are expected to sell everything and either give it all to the poor, or give it all to the work of the Gospel.  However, through study of the Bible and through common sense, we concluded in Part 2 that the command to “sell everything” was not universal.   In fact, if someone were to examine both stories properly, I contend they would not come away with a command to sell all of their belongings.  Rather, they would see that God is less concerned with a person’s possessions and money, and infinitely MORE concerned with a person’s heart.  Which brings me to the final portion of this three part study on Christians and money.

Woe to the Rich

After reading this post and studying the scriptures that will be presented here, I hope you will obey God by giving regularly and also by giving irregularly.  Once giving is part of your regular walk of faith, I hope that your obedience to God can help you find rest in the peace of Jesus Christ, guilt free; knowing that obedience to God should lead to a clear conscience.  God does not want His children to wonder what He expects of them.  He wants them to know what He expects, and knowing He wants them to obey, and obeying, He wants them to have a clear conscience, and to have His peace, which surpasses all understanding  (Phil. 4:7; Acts 24:16; Hebrews 3:16; 1 John 3:20-21; Col. 3:15; 1 Cor. 7:15).  After all, how useful can a Christian be to God if they are buried in guilt?  Let us, therefore, throw off every guilt and every sin that weighs us down, and obediently run the race of faith with a clear conscience (Heb. 12:1).

To remove this heavy shackle of guilt, we must first examine and properly understand what is perhaps the most difficult passage of scripture concerning Christians and money.  Upon first reading this passage, it seems to fly in the face of the concept that earthly wealth is okay, and therefore refute everything I have written on the topic thus far.  Stated simply, the passage we will discuss seems like a brutal indictment against anyone with wealth.  However, just like the previous sections of scripture that we covered (Matt 19:16-24 and Acts 5:1-11), I believe we miss a very important lesson if we either ignore this passage because we are afraid of it, or if we incorrectly and guiltily dismiss it thinking “well, the Bible simply does not want Christians to be rich.”  Neither should be our approach.  For if we properly understand this passage, then I believe we will finally have a proper perspective on how God expects Christians to view, earn, manage, and deal with money.  And so, without further ado, let us examine James 5:1-6 below.

James 5

Woe to the Rich – Happiness, Hope, and Temporary Treasure

Let us begin with verse 1 –

Go to now [translated “Come now“], ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

I’ll admit, stating that rich people need to “weep and howl” for the miseries that are coming for them does not sound like a promising way to begin a message on the acceptability of riches.  However, James does not issue these righteous imprecations lightly.  There are several reasons why the rich people to whom James is writing deserve such a harsh proclamation of their forthcoming condemnation.  The first reasons can be seen in verses 2-3

James 5:2-3 – 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.  3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire.  Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

The context is vital in this equally harsh set of verses.  Earlier in the same book, James describes the temporary nature of riches as similar to the flower of grass, which burns away in the heat of the rising sun (James 1:10-11).  His message there is clear – earthly treasures do not last.  The message in James 5:2-3 is partially the same.  The treasures of the wealthy audience to whom he is writing, will NOT last.  Their riches will be corrupted, their garments motheaten, their gold and silver cankered and rusted.  This is a clear description of the temporary nature of treasures, which should be a resounding lesson to us, that neither our happiness nor our hope should rest in them.

*          *     Happiness     *          *

Treasure in Heaven

In fact, James 5:2-3 reads very similar to Matt. 6:19-21, which records Jesus saying, “19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.  21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

This lesson in Matthew is not an anti-money lesson – as has been sufficiently demonstrated, money and work are expected of Christians.  Rather, Matthew 6:19-21 is a lesson on perspective.  The lesson’s purpose is to help people discern the value of where they are investing.  Are you doing as the rich people of James’ day were doing and heaping up treasures on this earth?  Is your wealth on earth worth more to you than your relationship with God?  Are the temporary treasures that you possess taking place in your heart above the things of God?  If so, just realize that everything you have on this earth will not last.

Even if moths, rust, and thieves do not ruin our treasures here on earth, then at the very least, death will separate us from everything we spent a lifetime building.  There is probably no better example of this truth than the story of King Solomon.  If we look to 1st Kings 3:3-15, we will see a young Solomon praying to God for the wisdom to rule over the kingdom of Israel which had been handed down to him from his father King David.  Solomon could have asked for riches, long life, and victory over his enemies, but he didn’t!  Solomon merely asked for the wisdom to govern and lead God’s people.  This prayer pleased God so much that He promised to give Solomon not only the wisdom he had requested, but also all of the blessings Solomon had NOT asked God for; including great wealth.

Picking up the story in Ecclesiastes 2:1-18, we see that Solomon had indeed become rich and powerful beyond any other king.  His good fortune reached such unprecedented levels that in Ecclesiastes 2:10 he says, “And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them.  I withheld not my heart from any joy…”  Now, if you or I say that we take what we want, it really does not mean much.  We have limited resources and limited power.  However, if the monarch of a powerful nation says whatever their eyes desire they take…well, that means a great deal.  For Solomon this came in the form of riches, land, power, and even wives.  1st Kings 11:3 says that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (Insane, I know).

Solomon had everything he wanted, because he took everything he wanted.  However, in ironic fashion, Solomon’s story in Ecclesiastes 2:1-18 – and really the entire book of Ecclesiastes – reads like one of despair and hopelessness.  It is ironic, because wealth, success, fame, and power are what the world tells us will bring happiness.  Yet the book of Ecclesiastes demonstrates quite the opposite.  Specifically, in verse 18 of chapter two, we find out why all the wealth in the world could not bring Solomon happiness, when he says, “…I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun; because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me,” (Eccl. 2:18).

Solomon was blessed by God with earthly wealth and power that has never been equaled.  And yet, Solomon realized that in the end, he could not keep any of it.  This is why, over and over again, Solomon concludes that riches of this earth are meaningless (lit. vanity).  This is also why the lessons from James and Jesus ring so true – treasures on this earth simply will NOT last, because if they are not stolen or destroyed, then we will eventually be separated from them through death.  Only a relationship with God is eternal.  This is why Jesus also said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

We can do no greater disservice to ourselves than if we neglect our eternal soul.  If we spend our entire lives pursuing success, fame, fortune, and all of the other things this world has to offer, only to find in the last day that we were lost, separated from God through sin, then we have inflicted upon ourselves the greatest tragedy mankind can experience.  If we do this, then we sacrifice eternity for temporary happiness.  Only God’s kingdom is everlasting (Dan. 7:14), and only work toward His kingdom will endure forever.  If you come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and the Savior from your sins, or invite someone to do the same, then that is something that moths, rust, and thieves cannot destroy, and praise be to God that it is also a work that will overcome the grave (1 Cor. 15:52-58).  Please do not misunderstand me.  I am not saying that Christians should not be happy on earth.  We can and should be.  However, I am saying the happiness of Christians should transcend their temporary earthly status.  As the Apostle Paul said, “…I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content…” (Phil. 4:11).  And again in that same chapter of scripture Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).  The Point? If you truly wish to be happy, it will not be found in the temporary things of this life.  But rather, it will be found in your eternal relationship with God.

*          *    Hope      *          *

In addition to finding happiness through investing in eternity instead of this temporary physical world, both James and Jesus provide at least one other lesson for us in these passages as well. They both want us to consider worthiness of where we place our hope.  In our passage, James 5:3 ends by saying that his audience had, “heaped treasure together for the last days.”  In reading this, you get the sense that the rich people of that time found their security in their wealth.  Almost as if their wealth made them feel safe, like it was their storehouse and their provision to protect them from whatever might come in life.  To put it simply, they had placed their hope or their faith in earthly goods.

Have you ever heard something described as “lukewarm”?  This means that the item is neither hot, nor cold.  One of the more famous usages of this word comes from Rev. 3:14-18.  Here, the Apostle John writes to the lukewarm church at Laodicea and describes several issues with their walk of faith.  In verse 17, John explains one reason this church is considered “lukewarm” saying, “thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.”

A lot of people relate this Laodicean church to the American church.  I am not going to draw any prophetic parallels here, but we can certainly see some practical parallels.  Sometimes we act like we do not need anything from God.  We fool ourselves into a false sense of security, thinking that our earthly wealth can empower us or protect us more than God can.  We tend to think that we are self-sufficient and do not need God for anything, because “we can do it on our own.”  However, the message in scripture is consistent throughout – earthly riches will not save us in the end.

If our passages in James 5 and Matthew 6 can be seen as warning us against basing our happiness in temporary things, the warning is equally clear against placing our hope in temporary things.  How foolish is it to place our faith, hope, and trust in earthly things?  How foolish are we to think that wealth in this life provides us any real stability, safety, or protection?  Death can call for any of us at any moment.  Will wealth spare us from our mortality?  Of course not!  Why then do we often act as if earthly treasure will protect us or make us self-sufficient?  Why do we trust in the work of our own hands as if they provide us with some sort of independence from God?

Imagine the number of things we are dependent on for life: air, water, food, shelter, climate, etc.  While wealth might help us acquire some of these things on earth, God created them all.  None of life’s necessities exist apart from God.  Beyond creating these necessities, scripture teaches that God also sustains all things (Col. 1:16-17).  This means that He not only made them, but they endure only because He wants them to.  We are never independent from God, because we are dependent on the creation that He has made and continues to sustain.  Even more, we are part of that creation that is sustained by Him.

Working to provide for ourselves is good, but never does our ability to provide replace the true provider.  God is the true provider.  He holds our next heart beat in His hands.  Heaping up treasures for the last day will help us no more than it did the rich people in James 5.  Judgement will still come to us all, and when it does, no amount of earthly wealth will save us.  Only a relationship with Jesus Christ will save us when that great Last Day comes and God judges mankind (cf. Rev. 20:11-14).

Point 1 Summary: The riches of this world are not evil, but to have a Biblical perspective, a Christian must realize that earthly riches are infinitely less valuable than eternity, because they will not last and they cannot save you.  The only enduring happiness and the only true hope humans have beyond this life comes through none other than a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Place your faith in Him, and you will not be ashamed, but will have confidence at his coming (1 John 2:28).

Woe to the Rich – The Unbalanced Scale

Unbalanced ScaleA careful reader will quickly realize that I have not satisfactorily appeased the very real threat of James 5:2-3.  While I believe everything I wrote in the previous section is truth, we should also recognize that the rich people to whom James was writing were guilty of much more than simply placing their happiness and hope in earthly treasures.  If we reread verses 2-3 we get a sense that their very riches are going to be used against them as evidence in the final judgment.

James 5:2-3 – 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.  3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire.  Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

Notice it says their riches will be a “witness” against them.  How can the Bible be okay with hard work and earning money while also using gold, silver and other treasures as evidence against the rich in the day of judgment?  Well, just as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, the real trouble for James’ audience was not their wealth, it was them.  Here’s what I mean – let’s look at a few other verses in this passage to see specifically why James says the wealth of his rich audience will be used against them as evidence of their well deserved forthcoming condemnation…

James 5:4 and 6 – “4 Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth…6 Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.”

If you follow the logical progression of these verses, we now see that the rich people to whom James was writing were ONLY able to “heap up” the their treasure (verses 2-3), because they had defrauded the laborers of their field.  Get this imagery, then – imagine their banks of silver and gold growing full and fat only because they were cheating other people out of the money that was rightly owed to them.  This starts to paint a clearer picture as to why the rust of their money is a witness against them.  This is NOT a message against saving for your kids college or for a rainy day.  This IS a message against dishonest practices.  These rich people were only able to store up treasure because of fraud.  As such, the very rust of their coins stands as a witness against them, testifying of their corrupt dealings with their laborers.

The message is, once again, simple.  Christians are called to deal fairly with people in ALL of their business dealings.  James’ wealthy audience were NOT being honest.  This is why a few verses later, James encourages his less fortunate Christian brothers saying, Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the lord…” James 5:7a.  James’ Christian brothers were being cheated out of money, so he encourages them to be patient, because Christ would return again one day, and we know that when He returns, HE shall right all wrongs (Rom. 12:19).  James’ brethren were being dealt with unfairly and if we are to understand verse six as referring to the result of their unfair treatment (killing the just), then they were also being dealt with quite mercilessly (NOTE: there are a lot of different opinions as to who the “condemned and killed” in verse six are actually referring to.  For the sake of this post we will not go into the possible interpretations as the main point is still clear: the wealthy were acting fraudulently and God was going to punish them for it).

Proverbs 11:1 teaches something that all Christians should know, “A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.”  This is a reference to a measuring scale used in bartering.  A scale that is unbalanced would measure a dishonest value for a person’s goods to be traded.  God expects our “scales” to be honest and balanced.

Remember from Part 1 that one of the goals of working hard and managing our money well is so that we can “walk honestly” toward all men (1 Thess. 4:10-12).  While on earth, we are representatives of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  If we defraud people, if we are known as dishonest cheaters who will do anything to get ahead, then we are poor ambassadors indeed.

Point 2 Summary: Christians are called to deal honestly with all people.

Woe to the Rich – A Matter of the Heart

There have been a lot of Biblical principles presented in this three part study on money.  However, I believe we are still missing the underlying principle that connects all of the lesser instructions on how Christians should deal with money.  Fortunately, I believe James 5:5 provides this key underlying principle that we have been missing.  In fact, I believe it speaks directly to the core problem that all Christians must be aware of when wondering how to deal Biblically with their money.  And so, it says, “Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.”

The issue in each story we have covered has been an issue of the heart.  In our passage here, James basically tells the rich people that they are, in essence, like a pig that gets fed a special diet, to fatten it up, for the purpose of being led off to the slaughter house.  In other words, the wealth of James’ audience, and all they enjoy on the earth is simply preparing them – in a negative sense – for the final judgment.  God’s judgment is coming, and these people are greedy, cheaters of men.  Their wealth is a testimony to the unbalanced nature of their scales, the corruption of their practices, and ultimately, it is a testimony to the true master of their heart.  They love money.  Money rules them.  Money is what they seek, store up, and place their hope in; because of this, the only thing that awaits them is judgment.

Many people incorrectly quote 1st Timothy 6:10 when they say that money is the root of all evil.  Let the record reflect, money is NOT the root of all evil.  Look at what the passage actually says…

1st Timothy 6:10 – “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

The crux of this entire study on how Christians are supposed to deal with money really comes down to this one thing – what has your heart?  Is it money?  Or, is it God?    Money had the heart of James’ audience.  Was this not also the problem with Ananias and Sapphira, as well as the Rich Young Ruler?  They loved their riches more than they loved God.  Remember in Matt. 6:19-21, after Jesus finished commanding us to store up our treasures in heaven instead of on earth, He gave us a final warning, saying “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  What has your heart?  It’s either God, or it’s the things of this world…

Matthew 6:24 says, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon [Mammon – Syriac word for riches].”

God should have a person’s heart – money should not.  When we incorrectly think that we do not need God, when we falsely believe that our best investment is on this earth, when we foolishly place our trust in this world’s riches, or think that this world will suffice, we are wrong.  If we believe that money, luxury, fame, success, power, or any other self-indulgence is what can truly make us happy, then our satisfaction will always be fleeting and our contentment always circumstantial.  If we cheat and defraud others, then we are guilty of sin.  If this world has our heart, then God does not, and we are forfeiting our eternal soul for a temporary world that will never satisfy and we will ultimately lose.  If this present world is all that we care about, then all we are doing is fattening our hearts for the day of slaughter.

Therefore, I echo what the Apostle John says in 1st John 2:15-17,

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.

Series Conclusion: Advice for the Good Steward

Money ChecklistMoney is not evil; loving money is.  Enjoying the good things in life is not evil; letting the good things in this life become the figurative “gods” of your life, is.  A Christian does not need to give away everything they own (unless God tells them to), nor should they feel guilty about owning nice things, but they should also give charitably and cheerfully, regularly and irregularly.  We should realize that all blessings ultimately come from God, and we are nothing but stewards of the gifts He has given.  Pray about how God would have you manage the money He has entrusted you with.  Pray when you give, pray when you save, and even pray when you spend.  Once you have prayed, if you are doing nothing contrary to scripture and God gives you no conviction to do anything else, then live your life guilt free; but remember, while we can have money, money should not have us.

We do not own and cannot keep this world’s goods, so I pray you find your happiness in a relationship with Jesus Christ, who offers you an eternity of abundant life.  Save, be responsible, plan and prepare, but if God convicts you to do something, then DO IT!  Work hard, and feel free to enjoy the things of this world, but always have the proper perspective toward it.  Love others, give generously, and above all invest in the work of the Lord, because it is eternal and when everything else has faded away, it sure will be nice to have true treasure that lasts.

God Bless,

Obie

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