Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone[1] 

Introduction

Before the summer we were studying holiness and had begun to think about how this is worked out in our relationship to money, sex and power.

In my last post I looked at the way Jesus and his followers spoke about money. We saw that Jesus spoke about money in two ways – a light side and a dark side. Naturally money tends to control us rather than being controlled by us. Yet when Christ died he made defeated the powers that control us and made it possible for us to be free.

I unintentionally left the series on that note over the summer. Now I want to return to examine the lighter side of money. I can only touch on these issues. I highly recommend following up with the materials I mention at the end.

The Lighter Side

When we are free from their tendency to control us, money or possessions can be a source of blessing for us and for others and can be used to deepen our relationship with God. For example:

  • when the wise men came to visit Jesus they brought extravagant gifts fitting for a king;[1]
  • wealthy women supported Jesus and his followers;[2]
  • Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement’, used his property and investments to support the early church;[3]
  • Cornelius, an early convert, is told by an angel that God has seen his ‘prayers and gifts to the poor’; and[4]
  • St Paul speaks about the spiritual benefits of giving. [5]

These are just examples but they should suffice to show us that in its proper place, under God, money can be good.

In the rest of this article I’m going to set out some principles for how we can cultivate the light side of money, and then look at practical steps we can follow to implement them.

God is the Provider

A good and godly attitude to money and possessions begins with the acknowledgment that God is the provider and owner of everything.

God has made a beautiful and bountiful world for us to use and enjoy. It is this creation that is the source of our wealth and which we receive as a gift.

Jesus’ brother, James, who is severely critical of people getting rich at the expense of others, writes of the joy we can take from God’s gifts to us:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.[6]

Scripture goes further, however. Not only is God the provider of everything, He is also its owner. So we are told that God said to Job:

‘Everything under heaven belongs to me.’[7]

In the same way, the Psalmist says:

‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.’[8]

Ultimately, therefore, all our wealth, all our money, comes as a gift from God.

This removes a reason for us to be anxious and prevents us being too possessive. As Jesus taught:

[W]hy do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.[9]

Controlling and Using

If God is the true owner of everything then we do not truly ‘own’ anything. We are entrusted with it by God not only to enjoy it but to use it for the good of others – to bless and build them up, to care spiritually and physically for them.

We see this in the life of the earliest church. Luke records that in those days:

‘All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.’[10]

This is more than just giving our possessions away. In some ways that is too easy. We are trusted to take what we have been given and work with it so that we can care for each other. For example, Barnabas managed his property well and therefore was able to help others when they needed it most.

‘Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.’[11]

This shows that the issue is more subtle than not earning money or managing property it is what we intend to use it for. My hero and spiritual guide, John Wesley, famously put it this way:

Having, first, gained all you can, and, secondly saved all you can, then give all you can.[12]

Wesley lived this out. John Piper, the American pastor and scholar explains quite how far Wesley took this:

In 1731 he began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. In the first year his income was £30 and he found he could live on 28 and so gave away two. In the second year his income doubled but he held his expenses even, and so he had £32 to give away (a comfortable year’s income). In the third year his income jumped to £90 and he gave away £62. In his long life Wesley’s income advanced to as high as £1,400 in a year. But he rarely let his expenses rise above £30. He said that he seldom had more than £100 in his possession at a time.

This so baffled the English Tax Commissioners that they investigated him in 1776 insisting that for a man of his income he must have silver dishes that he was not paying excise tax on. He wrote them,

‘I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread.’

When he died in 1791 at the age of 87, the only money mentioned in his will was the coins to be found in his pockets and dresser. Most of the £30,000 he had earned in his life had been given away. He wrote,

‘I cannot help leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors.’[13]

In all of this our pattern is Christ himself, [w]ho being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross![14]

Practical Steps

So, how do we put this into practice? I want to suggest four disciplines that will make money a blessing for others and for ourselves:

  1. Read Scripture with an eye to the teaching on money and how used.
    It is easy, particularly in the West, to miss quite how often Jesus and his followers talked about money or how often the Old Testament prophets railed against the abuse of the poor. The first step we can take to change how we think about and use money is to notice what Scripture actually has to say about it and then resolve to follow it.
  2. Pray about how we should use money and talk with other believers about it.
    If we’re going to make the good use of money an important part of our lives then we need to be willing to talk about it. Obviously we will want to choose those we trust to share this aspect of our life with but we need the help, support and prayers of others about our finances just as much, if not more, than we do about other areas of life.
  3. Give money away.
    There is nothing better for breaking the anxiety that money brings us, or its tendency to dominate and subsume everything than to give it away. It is a way of trampling on a false god. We encourage people to give money to care for their families, to build the church up, and to care for others both for the good it does for others and because it liberates the giver to be free from money’s grasp.
  4. Finally, work hard but work to live, don’t live to work.
    In the area I live (the London commuter belt) this is a big one. We need to regularly ask ourselves why we’re doing what we are doing, whether it is truly necessary, and whether we are valuing people over profits.

Money can be a tremendous blessing but only if it is used under God. Ultimately he is the source of our blessing and our treasure.

Tune in next week when we’re considering how our pursuit of holiness affects how we respond to power.

[1] ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, Joni Mitchell.

[1] Matthew 2:7-12

[2] Luke 8:2-3.

[3] Acts 4:36-37.

[4] Acts 10:2.

[5] 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.

[6] James 1:17.

[7] Job 41:11.

[8] Psalm 24:1.

[9] Matthew 6:25-34.

[10] Acts 2:44-45.

[11] Acts 4:36-37.

[12] From Sermon 50: The Use of Money

[13] John Piper, ‘Happy Birthday, John Wesley. Two Silver Spoons and Thousands of Souls’, <http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/happy-birthday-john-wesley-two-silver-spoons-and-thousands-of-souls> [accessed 1 November 16]

[14] Philippians 2:1-11.

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