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Money Issues

How do we as Christians cope with money? “We are in the world but not of the world.” What does that mean? Is money a Gift from God to richly enjoy, or is it Mammon, the rival master?

For the Christian, all of life falls under the Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ. This includes money matters, and our attitude towards wealth and poverty. It is not surprising then that economic matters are prominent in the teachings of the Bible and the social ethics of the Christian church. Money is portrayed positively in some parts of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Abraham, Job and especially Solomon were very wealthy indeed. Proverbs tells us that "The blessing of the Lord makes rich and adds no sorrow" (10 v 22), and (10 v 4) “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich”.

Of course the Old Testament has warnings about wealth. We must not forget the source of our wealth, “Remember the Lord your God for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth" (Deut 8 v 18). Also Ps 52 v 7 which says not to trust in our wealth, but trust in God our stronghold. Further, the possession of wealth comes with the obligation to care for the needy: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord” (Prov 19 v 17). These were given at the time of the tithe, the Sabbath, and the Jubilee which all served to remind the Israelites that their wealth was ultimately the Lord’s and that they were to use it to His glory.

In the New Testament money has a more negative emphasis in a society which was often poor and oppressed. Wealth was often gained at the expense of others. Jesus spoke often about money. Perhaps the best known scripture on the subject is that “The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Tim 6 v 10). For Paul, the opposite of covetousness is contentment, and this is the foundation of his Christian life (Phil 4 v 12).

The Biblical teaching on money is twofold: money is a gift from God, a sign of His blessing but it is not to be a god in itself. When we find we need money more than we need God, it has become idolatry. Poverty is not virtuous nor is wealth sinful. But true wealth, the Bible teaches, is not material but spiritual.

St. Augustine wrote in his commentary on Psalms 72 that covetousness is a sin that tempted the poor no less than the rich: “It is not a matter of income, but of desire. Look at the rich man standing beside you, perhaps he has a lot of money on him but no greed in him, while you who have no money are filled with greed”.

In the Protestant era the ideal was the clean simple comforts of the middle class. The careful stewardship of possession was seen as a very serious God-given responsibility. The greater the possessions, the greater the responsibility to use them for the glory of God, and by increasing them by restless effort. Martin Luther saw three conversions necessary for the believer, conversion of the heart, of the mind, and of the wallet.

John Wesley urged believers to practice business to the glory of God: “Make as much as you can, save as much as you can, and give as much as you can”.

The Puritans pursued an ethic of industry, moderation, and simple living. Ironically this ethic produced great wealth. They were keenly aware that riches could turn one from God, saying that, “Religion begat prosperity, and the daughter devoured the mother”.

Ambrose, who was Bishop of Milan and lived 340 to 397 taught “Possession ought to belong to the possessor, not the possessor to the possession. Whosoever therefore does not use his patrimony as a possession, who does not know how to give and distribute to the poor, he is the servant of his wealth, not its master. The man belongs to his riches, not the riches to the man!”

Apparently a balanced and well-integrated perspective on finances was seen, not as an impossible ideal, but as realistic and practical, though not likely to be achieved without a struggle. While the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself was reprehensible, wealth as a fruit of labour in a calling was a sign of God’s blessing.

So we see that money is a blessing from God, but the love of money is sinful. In personal attitudes towards wealth these two ideas are harmonised in the biblical concept of stewardship. Stewardship welcomes money as God’s gift, but remembers that our property is ultimately God’s. We are entrusted with it for a time, and we will be held accountable for our use of it.

Ralph Winter is the head of the U.S. Centre for World Mission. To achieve our God-given goals, he says, we need to make personal economic sacrifices, to develop a “war-time mentality”. He says if his fellow Presbyterians in the U.S. were to live at the standard of living of the average Presbyterian minister, it would free up $2 billion dollars for missions work, three times the amount currently given for missions by U.S. Christians. Americans he says, give no more to missions that they spend on chewing gum ($700 million per year). When we say we support missions, he asks, how serious are we?

Stewardship is a key concept. Money is not bad, it is a tool that can be used for incredible good, if it is not misused. Jesus told parables praising the enterprise of the stewards who invested their trust funds and doubled the amount. Can we use our money to make more money, and thus increase our potential to accomplish good things with it?

Thought: How does money motivate you? How much do you think about money? How important is money to you?

Excerpt from Christian History magazine