Your loving give me a thrill,
But your loving don’t pay my bills
Now give me money (that’s what I want))
Over the last couple of months I’ve been blogging about holiness. It’s a topic I think is undervalued and frequently dismissed but gets at the heart of what we are created for and long for.
In my last post on this subject I began to address the ‘how’ of holiness. We become holy by grace, through faith. Holiness is not something we earn or achieve; it is the gift of God’s presence and character in our lives that we accept by trusting him.
Faith is a word that is often misunderstood. We can imagine that faith is passive either because it is a part of our given identity like our nationality or because it implies little more than believing something with our minds. Neither of these really gets at what Christians mean when we speak about faith. For Christianity faith is most closely related to trust. It is not passive; it implies action.
Jesus’ brother, James puts it this way: ‘faith without works is dead’. In other words, our relationship with God is expressed in what we do. As Jesus says, If you love me you will keep my commandments.
Over the coming weeks I want to explore what holiness looks like in three of the central areas of human life: money, sex and power.
We’ll only be able to scratch the surface of these issues. I recommend following up with the three books mentioned in the Further Reading section at the end, although, as ever, no book is a substitute for actually reading the words of Jesus and his followers.
It’s All About the Money
Money is a massive part of our lives. How we think about it (or don’t think about it) is one of the most difficult and important ethical choices we face. Yet for all of its significance for us we don’t like to talk about it.
Zachary Boren wrote about this in in the Independent.
After surveying 15,000 men and women, researchers from University College London found that people are seven times more likely to tell a stranger how many sexual partners they’ve had, whether they’ve had an affair, and whether they’ve ever contracted a sexually-transmitted disease than have a chat about their income…
[UCL] Researcher Soazig Clifton said: “Most people once they’ve started an interview with us, will tell us anything. They feel so liberated.
“They are loving talking to a stranger about sex. They’ll tell us about their affairs, all of their partners, they’ll tell us all kinds of different things but the one thing they won’t tell us is how much they earn.”
Jesus and his followers were not nearly so cautious. They spent more time talking about how we behave with money than almost any other ethical issue.
When the Biblical writers talked about money they spoke about it in two ways.
- It has a dark side, a power that can control and dominate us and which we need to be freed from.
- It also has a light side where it no longer controls us and where it can be used to help others.
Over the next two posts I’m going to address each of these areas, beginning with the dark side of money.
The Problem of Money
When we look at how Jesus talked about money and wealth, we are confronted by how negative he often is. Let me give you some examples.
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.”
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money [or more literally, mammon – a personification of wealth as a god]” 
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
This isn’t limited to Jesus. His followers wrote very similar things.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.
As we read texts like that, even allowing that some like James are using exaggerated images to make their point, two things become clear:
- being rich is not, of itself, a sign that God is blessing us or pleased with us just as poverty is not a sign of judgment; and
- money is not neutral.
It is this second point that I want to focus on. Money isn’t just a tool that we are able to use or not use for good or bad. Naturally speaking it begins to acquire a power over us. It doesn’t serve us; we come to serve it. It begins to claim our worship, our lives and our freedom. At heart it dethrones God.
This might sound like an exaggeration but I want to suggest it is actually quite close to the truth. I’m thinking about how we speak about buying things. For example, I sometimes find myself saying that I ‘need’ new clothes. It is almost never true but somehow I convince myself that it is. Or what about the feeling that buying stuff whatever it is gives us? That sense of excitement and thrill as if this new book or cardigan or car is what is going to make us happy and complete us.
There is nothing wrong with these things as such but the way we speak and feel raises a question about who or what is in control and why our perception is so out of joint with reality.
The Christian ethicist, Richard Foster puts it like this:
‘For Christ money is an idolatry we must be converted from in order to be converted to him…Money has many of the characteristics of deity. It gives us security, can induce guilt, gives us freedom, gives us power and seems to be omnipresent. Most sinister of all, however, is its bid for omnipotence.’
There is something more here than just a tool that we choose to use well or badly. Somehow it has more power in us and over us than that. We need to be set free from it before we can then use it for God.
The Gospel and Money
This is where we come to our foundational principles.
The gospel is about grace – that when we couldn’t be free, God came to us to set us free. When Christ died he overcame all the powers that control us and bind us.
St Paul puts it this way:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
To put it another way, Christ is victorious over everything that comes to control us, including money.
‘For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’
We may feel guilty for the way we have used money, abused others to get it, or been complicit in systems that are unjust. We may know that at times we have served money rather than God. But Christ has come to us so that we can be forgiven for all of it.
More than this, Christ has come to set us free from its power – so that money and wealth can become neutral again. It doesn’t need to dominate us. When we have received that freedom, we can use money without being under its power.
In my next article I’m going to think about how we can cooperate with God’s work so that it becomes a reality for us.
You can find a book of 9 reflections covering the material I’ll be sharing in these posts by clicking here. You can also check out our website to hear talks on the same subject.
If you’re interested in reading more, here are some of the resources I have found particularly helpful and which I have used to prepare these articles.
Foster, Richard J., Money, Sex and Power (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009)
Hays, Richard B., The Moral Vision of the New Testament (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1996)
Hosier, Matthew, Sex Talks (Amazon, 2011)
Piper, John, Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power (Epsom: Good Book Company, 2016)
Wesley, John, The Complete Sermons (Hargreaves Publishing: Kindle Edition)
 Money (That’s What I Want), Barrett Strong.
 James 2:14-17
 John 14:15.
 Zachary Davies Boren, ‘Talking about money is Britain’s last taboo’, Independent (19 September 2015) < http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/talking-about-money-is-britains-last-taboo-10508902.html > [accessed 26 October 16].
 Luke 6:24-25
 Luke 16:13
 Matthew 19:24
 1 Timothy 6:9-10
 Foster, p.28.
 Colossians 2:13-15.
 Colossians 1:13-14.
Image Credit: Pool of Money, Photo Bucket