What Is Money?
People hold widely divergent views about money. Some view it as the root of all evil and believe that poverty brings one closer to God. Others accept the health-and-wealth gospel: that Christians are almost automatically destined to become financially successful if not fabulously wealthy. Those who hold either of these contradictory ideas think it comes directly from the Bible.
Is money good or evil? To lay a foundation for managing one's finances, we must begin by considering what money is and whether it is proper for Christians to accumulate wealth.
Wealth and the Bible
The first time the Bible mentions someone with a lot of money, it speaks of a righteous man, Abraham, who "was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold" (Genesis 13:2). Later we find God promising that through this man's descendants all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). Abraham was wealthy, but he was also "the father of all those who believe" (Romans 4:11).
God is not opposed to riches. In fact, He is the originator of financial blessings (1 Samuel 2:7; Proverbs 10:22) and reminids us that personal diligence can also lead to wealth (Proverbs 10:4).
When we have more money than we need for normal expenses, we are wise to save some for later use. The Bible speaks well of the saver, noting that the ant wisely stores up food for the winter (Proverbs 6:6-11). It speaks favorably of someone who would provide for his children and grandchildren: "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous" (Proverbs 13:22).
Spiritual traps to avoid
These positive examples, however, do not give the whole picture. The follower of God who wants to make money but continue to follow God must avoid certain spiritual traps. It becomes easy, as a person accumulates worldly goods, to view money—ratherthan God—as a source of protection and stability (Proverbs 18:11).
The apostle Paul talked about money and temptation: ". . . 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).
It is from these words that some people get the idea that the Bible teaches that money is the root of all evil. However, Paul wrote something considerably different: that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Money itself is not an evil, but elevating money and material wealth to a greater priority than it is properly due is a great spiritual trap.
In this passage Paul elaborates on the perspective toward wealth that Jesus Christ had given many years earlier. In speaking of a Christian's proper priorities (Matthew 6:24-33), Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and mammon" (verse 24). The English mammon is translated here from a similar Aramaic word that means riches, especially riches that turn one's attention away from God.
While recognizing that people have physical needs, Christ emphasized that our priority must always be God. Jesus taught that we must "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added . . ." (verse 33).
Paul's comments to Timothy teach us not to make money a god or to allow it to come between us and God. Money is simply a tool that can be used for either good or bad. The key lies in our attitude. Paul adds this advice to the wealthy: "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. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life" (1 Timothy 6:17-19, emphasis added throughout).
Can we seek wealth and eternal life?
On another occasion, a young man asked Jesus Christ what one must do to inherit eternal life. After Jesus told him he must keep God's commandments, the man responded that he had kept them from his youth (Mark 10:17-20). "Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, 'One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.' But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
"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'" (verses 21-25). (See also "The Eye of a Needle" )
Notice the disciples' reaction when they heard Jesus' comments about how difficult it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom:
". . . They were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, 'Who then can be saved?' But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible'" (verses 26-27). Eternal life is a gift given to those who humbly seek God (John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10). Everyone, whether rich or poor, must rely on God's mercy for eternal life.
A lesson in priorities
Jesus explained that eternal life is a spiritual issue of paramount importance. The wealth of the man was not intrinsically wrong. But his misplaced priorities—his improper attachment to material wealth—was. Christ perceived that the man was more interested in his money than God. Indeed, the young man was despondent over Christ's words "and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (Mark 10:22).
God has revealed in His Word, the Bible, all essential knowledge that humans need to come into harmony with His ways in both spiritual and physical matters. God has given His people specific instructions for supporting the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 15:1-2; 26:12-14). His Word even gives instructions for how His people should provide financially for annual religious observances (Deuteronomy12:17-18; 14:22-27).
Jesus took the lesson of spiritual and financial priorities a step further. "Then Peter began to say to Him, 'See, we have left all and followed You.' So Jesus answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life'" (verses 28-30). Here, Jesus promises physical and spiritual rewards for putting Him first.
So He clearly is not against prosperity—provided we don't make it the greatest priority in our lives.
Keeping priorities straight can be quite a challenge for people who have been blessed with material goods. The rich must not glory in their riches (Jeremiah 9:23). We must remember Christ's instruction regarding our priorities: ". . . 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 6:20-21).
People are prejudiced
People can be prejudiced about money. Sometimes the wealthy despise the poor, and sometimes the poor despise the rich. Jesus did not hold such biases. He ate with tax collectors and sinners, was called their friend (Matthew 9:10; 11:19) and ministered to the poor (Matthew 11:5).
Yet He showed no partiality and could also be found with the rich (Matthew 27:57; Luke 19:1-10). A wealthy man so admired Jesus that he buried Him in his unused family tomb (Matthew 27:57-60). Jesus Christ died for all of humanity, regardless of anyone's social or financial standing.
The Scriptures we have just reviewed show that money is neutral—neither good nor bad. Our attitude toward it, however, is important. Money tests our allegiance; it makes apparent whether we are committed to God or to our possessions. At best, money is a tool we use for important purposes. In the next chapter we will see that Christ taught that a Christian has financial obligations—to God and his fellowman.
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