The following article was adapted from a sermon delivered by the author at Fossil Creek Church of Christ on Wednesday evening, March 6, 2013.
Eccl 5:11 “When goods increase, they are increased that eat them; and what advantage is there to the owner thereof, save the beholding of them with his eyes?”
He says that he began 2012 as a new year devoted to God’s providence because that’s what “came to him.” He called it his “year of providence.” Remarkably, his business success soared in 2012. He earned more money than any year prior. And he attributed it to God’s providence, but he uses providence and miraculous interchangeably.
She tells me that she has a past due tax bill and mounting bills. She’s not sure how she’s going to dig out. On at least 3 occasions she announces that miraculously, in the nick of time, she gets a contract, makes a sale or has something else happen “out of the blue” that relieves the financial pressure. God always provides just in time. Her career is full of up’s and down’s. Things are never predictable or stable, but somehow she gets by because she thinks God comes through in the end. She also believes in miracles.
Another man starts a new business venture because God called him to do it. He can’t describe how God did that, other than to say it was an urge he couldn’t resist. He’s going to make more money in this venture than anything he’s ever attempted because he’s convinced that’s what God wants. It becomes successful and it’s all because God wants him to achieve financial success. His success proves he was right about it all.
A different man tells me about his “cross to bear” – this struggle he’s having with his business. And just like these other people, he’s got a twisted view of God, the Bible and money.
From Abraham’s wealth to the widow with only 2 mites. From the opulence of King Solomon to the despair of the poor widow helped by Elijah. From Job’s prosperity before and even more so after Satan tested him to Peter and other apostles who dropped what they were doing, and left what they had to follow Christ. From Lydia, the seller of purple, to blind beggar of Jericho. The rich man and Lazarus, perhaps the culminating lesson contrasting earthly life with eternity.
Money, financial resources, possessions – the Bible has much to say about their role in our lives.
Rich or poor can have salvation in Christ. Money, financial success and possessions won’t help us reach heaven any more than lack, want or poverty will. Christ is no respecter of persons according to Acts 10, Rom 2, Eph 6, Col 3, James 2 and 1 Peter 1.
Christ said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt 10, Matt 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9)
“If any man would” indicates every man has the ability to choose for himself, to make the decision to serve God or not. To decide to “come after” Christ is to make up your mind to follow Christ, walk in His footsteps and obey His gospel.
First and foremost, it involves self-denial. A person who would follow Christ gives up his own ambitions and aims in favor of what pleases God. This person is no longer ruled by self-service. “Take up his cross” literally means to lift or raise the suffering and death that came with serving Christ. It’s crucifying the old man of sin so we can walk in newness of life. It’s a full devotion to Christ above all else. This teaching is central to God’s view of money, possessions and all other earthly resources or ambitions.
Many Christians tend to lean toward the belief that wealth is sinful and wrong. That God wants us to embrace poverty and lack. Joel Osteen-type false doctrine advocating a gospel of abundance and earthly prosperity, coupled with the false belief that Christ condemned financial wealth has led many in the Lord’s Church to a false notion that God mostly approves of a life devoted to want and need. We have to be careful that we don’t believe money is the unpardonable sin…instead of unrepented sin.It doesn’t help when we see financially successful brethren flaunt their wealth. Like Naaman, they’ll use their wealth for others, but it’s got to be showy and they need to be seen for it. At the other end of the spectrum…it doesn’t help when we see financially successful brethren flaunt their wealth. In the spirit of Naaman, they’ll use their wealth for others, but it’s got to be showy and they need to be seen for it.
Money is a big deal. Not having it can be as dangerous as having it. It can ruin our homes, spoil relationships, devour our time and take us away from God. As with all things, we need to find out what God really has to say about it. The Scriptures have a lot to say about money. As with most Bible topics, a single article or sermon can’t be comprehensive.
I want to accomplish four things in this article:
1. To show you that making money or earning wealth is not sinful.
2. To show you that God’s word warns of the temptations and challenges that come with yearning and earning wealth.
3. To show you that the sin often condemned regarding wealth isn’t the possession, but the use of it and the prominence we allow it in our lives.
4. To provoke you to further Bible study and sober consideration about money in your own life.
Psalms 49:6-13 “They that trust in their wealth, And boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him; (For the redemption of their life is costly, And it faileth for ever;) That he should still live alway, That he should not see corruption. For he shall see it. Wise men die; The fool and the brutish alike perish, And leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, And their dwelling-places to all generations; They call their lands after their own names. But man being in honor abideth not: He is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly:”
The Psalmist gives a description of the spirit and way of worldly people. No matter how rich men get, they’ll still die and be buried in a space no larger than a closet.
Material wealth or a lack of it won’t save our soul. The KJV renders verse 8, “For the redemption of their soul is precious.” It’s so precious that only the blood of our Savior has enough value to purchase our salvation!
Death asks a question of all men: “Where is your wealth?”
The parable of the rich farmer in Luke 12 reveals what everyman understands, even if they don’t always behave like it. We can’t take our money or possessions with us. They’re earthly. They can only exist here.
God doesn’t view earthly wealth as inherently evil. Solomon was a man of great wealth – gained through legitimate activities. He wrote that a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. (Prov. 13:22)
Solomon also recognized that wealth makes friends, even though the friends it makes aren’t always desirable. (Prov. 19:4) Material wealth properly gained and properly used can accomplish good.
In Eccl. 2:24 and Eccl. 5:18-20 the wise man taught that there’s nothing better in life than for a laboring man to enjoy the fruits of his work. The story of Joseph shows us the power of a godly person who is a high achiever and faithful steward in his career.
The Scriptures show us poor and rich alike who are righteous and others who are unrighteous. Money and material wealth are neither inherently righteous nor unrighteous. It’s how people acquire it and use it that matter.
The Bible reveals the various aspects of money. The Scriptures teach us about debt, how money can compromise us, how money can become the primary object of our lives, how we can be guilty of covetousness, how greed can overtake us, how we can be wasteful, how we can be stingy and selfish and how wrong it is to trust in money. They also show us how we can accomplish good with what we have – no matter how much or how little.
Christ taught in Matt. 6:19-21 that we should not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth because they’ll decay, or be stolen. Rather, we’re to lay up treasures in heaven because they’ll last on into eternity. Further, He tells us “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
There are two big issues in these verses: Selfishness and misplaced priorities.
Christians are warned against laying up for ourselves and putting our trust in earthly wealth. People will often misinterpret this to mean that Christians can’t be financially successful or earn wealth. That’s not what Jesus taught. What He taught is that we can’t be fully devoted to God and serve mammon. Mammon means money! Hate here has the same meaning as in Matt. 10:37 “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” We can’t love money, or making money, more than we love God.
It’s not limited to money though. We can’t put anything or anybody before God. God must be the priority of our life.
Any Bible discussion about money is sure to consider the conversation Christ had with the rich young ruler in Luke 18. An apparently sincere young man seeking guidance and counsel from the Lord because he sought eternal life. What could be more appropriate? He knew the commandments of God in the Old Testament law and he had been faithful to them. When Christ pointed out those things he seemed quite pleased – knowing of his fidelity to those things. But when Christ told him there was something lacking – he was immediately depressed. Christ told him to sell what he had and give it to the poor so he could have treasures in heaven.
Too often people mistake this man’s sin as being rich, but being rich financially isn’t a sin. That wasn’t his problem. He couldn’t share his wealth. He couldn’t surrender it. Wealth happened to be the god he served instead of Jehovah.
After the young man went away sorrowful, Christ told the apostles – “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God. For 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.” (Luke 18:24, 25)
That prompted this question by the disciples in verse 26: “Who then can be saved?” They mistook the Savior’s admonition for the young man to sell everything he had and the apostles realized nobody does that. But what Christ condemned was his selfishness and putting something else before God.
Jesus answers the question of who can be saved. He says that all things are possible with God even though they may be impossible with men. God can save anybody who will submit to Him. Rich and poor alike can be saved if they put God first in their life.
Peter chimes in to acknowledge that he had given up everything to follow Christ. And in Luke 18:29, 30 Christ answers Peter: “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or wife, or brethren, or parents, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this time, and in the world to come eternal life.”
“Manifold more in this time” means Christians will have higher value in this life after surrender to Christ than before. This is where so many people twist the Scriptures. Christ said nothing about wealth or financial prosperity. He wasn’t talking about money, business or career success.
Christians – with a full relationship to God and Christ, and our joint fellowship with each other – hold a value beyond anything that money will buy. Our devotion to God is worth whatever we surrender. Eternal life speaks to the ultimate reward. This is the true measure of where we place our treasure!
Luke 9:57, 58 “And as they went on the way, a certain man said unto him, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”
Christ simply had no interest in physical wealth or possessions. It prevented people from following Him thinking they’d get rich. In Acts 8 Simon, the converted sorcerer, proves people needn’t look at following Christ as a means of gaining earthly things.
Matthew 16:26 “For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?”
Again, two general temptations come with increased wealth: selfishness (which can foster covetousness and highmindedness) and too much devotion to the wealth. Those are the deceptive realities of financial wealth. Those are also the stern warnings given in Scripture.
Luke 12:15 “And he said unto them, Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
It’s not about the amount of money we have. It’s not about the amount of money we lack. It’s about how we use what we have, how we permit it to take up residency in our lives.
We mistakenly focus more attention on the abundance, but God emphasizes covetousness and our possessing wealth. Those sins can be equally practiced by the impoverished as they can by those who have much. Poor and rich alike may be given to covetousness.
God instituted work for mankind at the creation. Nothing has changed. 2Th. 3:10 “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat.”
1 Timothy 6:17 “Charge them that are rich in this present world, that they be not highminded, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;”
Satan wants people to forget God. Satan wants us to forget that God is in charge. Money, whether it’s in abundance or lack, can do that.
James 1:17 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning.”
We’re indebted to God – this is the only debt a Christian can take on for which he cannot repay. All other debts in your life must be debts that you pay off – but you’ll never repay God. Self-centeredness, covetousness and accumulating more are the temptations of being rich. They’re not necessarily automatic, but they present special challenges. They’re snares that can catch the financially successful Christian. They can also affect others, too.
James 2 depicts a scene of two men entering an assembly. The rich man enters and everybody falls all over him. They offer him a great seat. They honor him. The poor man enters and is treated as lowly as the amount in his bank account. Verse 4 is a question: “Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” They made a harsh judgment based entirely on wealth or the lack of wealth.
1 Corinthians 1:26 “For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:”
“Calling” here is the one call made to all men – the call to obey the gospel. It doesn’t mean our vocation in life, even though you’ll hear many religious people use it that way. God calls all men to obey and be saved. Not many successful people – by the world’s standard – are going to obey the Gospel. The reason is clearly stated in Scripture.
Mark 4:18, 19 “And others are they that are sown among the thorns; these are they that have heard the word, and the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.”
Money, fame and other earthly accomplishments can cause godlessness because we can become infatuated with the pleasure they bring. The cares of this life – including our wealth – can choke God out of our lives.
You’ll remember the rebuke of Amos 6 about those who were “at ease in Zion.” Being at ease isn’t a good thing when it comes to our preparation for heaven. Hoping to be rich so we can take life easy isn’t hoping for something wise. God wants us to stay busy in His vineyard.
2 Peter 2:15, 16 “forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the hire of wrong-doing; but he was rebuked for his own transgression…”
Balaam tried every way possible to preach what Balak wanted to hear. Why? Because he wanted money and possessions that Balak could give.
1 Timothy 6:5 “wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain.”
1 Timothy 6:9, 10 “But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
“Minded to be rich” are those who desire to be rich. They’re prone to the temptations particular to their quest. Loving money too much is the root cause of all kinds of evil. Paul tells Timothy that some, who were so driven to reach after money, had been led astray.
Perhaps the greatest summary of money’s role in our spiritual lives is found in Proverbs 30:8, 9 “Remove far from me falsehood and lies; Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is needful for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is Jehovah? Or lest I be poor, and steal, And use profanely the name of my God.”
Our ability to earn wealth is a blessing. Whatever talents and opportunities we’ve been given should be highly prized. Like the men in the parable of the talents, we should wisely use whatever opportunities we’ve been given. We should do our best to accomplish whatever we can, knowing that God is on the throne of our life.
Our determination to use our money to help others is the wisest, godly use of our wealth. Wealth isn’t the sin. Heaping it to our own lusts, being covetous and selfish is the sin. Putting it before God is the sin.
At the conclusion of the parable of the rich farmer whose life was required the very night he was making plans to store up even more wealth for himself we read this verse…Luke 12:21 “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
There is a treasure that each of us must lay up for ourselves. There is a wealth that we seek for ourselves, but even that treasure is one we’re obligated to share. Salvation. Redemption. Forgiveness. Christ calls it treasure! He also calls it being “rich toward God.”
Yes, the Lord’s work needs us to be industrious, even prosperous. The Church and the Lord’s work needs our contribution and sacrifice. Preachers need support. Needy saints require our assistance. Widows indeed need support. The Church and the spread of the gospel need resources! But we must be mindful of the temptations that can arise when good increase. We must also be aware of the snares that can come to those who are never satisfied with what they’ve got…no matter how much or how little they may have.
1Tim. 6:3-12 “If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content. But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of the faith, lay hold on the life eternal, whereunto thou wast called, and didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses.”
Study these verses privately, but pay special attention to verse 5 because Joel Osteen and those conversations I recounted at the beginning include people who don’t know or understand these passages.
Godliness is not a way of earthly gain. It’s not the road to financial prosperity. Nor is it the road to poverty and want. God gives Christians the guidelines and warnings about money and the role it serves in our lives. Like all of God’s commandments, it’s up to each of us to obey and remain true to what pleases God.
Faithful stewardship, self-sacrifice, helping others and contentment are the principles taught in the Scriptures. Godliness with contentment is great gain according to the gospel. Not money, fame or anything that the gospel calls “corruptible.” Great gain is defined as those things that can go with us beyond this life.
We want to lay hold on eternal life and make sure we’re using our possessions, including our money in ways that God approves. Study the lives of Bible characters and you’ll find God required each of them to give their best. From their stewardship as slaves (or employees) to their responsibilities as masters (or bosses)…God’s standard is the same.
Behave like a Christian in every role you play in life. Represent Christ and the Church well. Do your best work. Accomplish what you can. Be responsible. Be accountable. Help others. Serve others. Serve God. Our collective prayer is that the Lord will bless us today with the things we have need of. Jesus Himself taught that each day will have enough problems…there’s no need to fret about tomorrow when we’re serving God and doing what He commands. No promise is made of financial prosperity, but there is the promise of being cared for by a God who loves us according to Matt 9:19-31. Listen to the final few verses of that passage…
Matt. 6:31-33 “Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”