There are some topics about which it can be hard to discern what the Bible teaches. Some of Jesus’ own teachings in the Gospels can seem muddied by his parable style.
But there is one topic that Christians can be sure of how they should approach it: Money.
“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.” – Matthew 19:24
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – Luke 16:13
I was reminded of the scriptures above when I was recently checking my monthly budget and also my full financial picture through an online budgeting tool. This wasn’t anything unusual, as I probably check in on both of those things multiple times per week. But why do I feel the need to do that?
There are many layers to it. Certainly part of it is the (false) sense of security that I place in money both in the present and in the future (planning for things like vacation or college or retirement). Another part is the fascination I have with investing, and the pride I feel when my investment decisions pay off. And, frankly, part of it is because my family’s financial situation is fairly stable and secure.
When we read passages like Matthew 19 or Luke 16, it’s easy to see the ‘plight’ of the rich and quip, “Yeah, but I wouldn’t mind having that problem.” Would you rather be poor and struggling to make ends meet while also struggling to live the Christian life, or would you rather have a solid income and just deal with the challenge of not making money an idol? After all, would I even be taking the time to dig deeply into this issue and write about it if I were instead sincerely worried about paying the bills?
But it’s really not a rich or poor issue. The punchline is that money is likely an idol for everyone, rich or poor. The rich treasure it and place their trust in it. The poor desire it as a means to reducing pain and trouble, thinking it will make their lives easier.
As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:9, “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.” Those who are rich and those who are poor each can desire to be rich.
Pursuing wealth for wealth’s sake and for the comforts that it brings is disastrous, particularly for a Christian. Your pride grows. You view every person and opportunity as a potential transaction on which you can cash in. Everything becomes a means to an end. Even if you don’t drift all the way to criminal corruption, your heart is changed. Your relationships suffer.
So when I check my bank accounts or obsess over the stock market or look for the next job that could possibly pay me 5%-10% more just to make those margins in my financial picture even a little wider, who am I serving? It’s not Christ. It’s not strangers in need.
Christians should be the opposite. We are supposed to prioritize love and fellowship and giving over materialism and comfort. Making more money should only be a gift in the sense that we are able to serve as a conduit to pass that gift to someone in deeper need than us — the outcast, the downtrodden, the immigrant, the recovering addict. It’s not our money, after all. Our hearts should never be divided about who and what we are pursuing.
So for someone who is poor, the charge is to keep their desire centered on Christ alone and not in the pursuit of money. But for the rich person, it’s a two-pronged battle — keeping their pursuit on Christ AND their security in Christ.
You see, those with little worldly security don’t really have many other options. They can more easily go all in on Jesus because there is nothing else to lose. But those who have lots of worldly security can feel like they have a lot to lose, and that keeps them from trusting the Lord completely. That’s why Jesus calls out the rich as being unlikely to enter the Kingdom, and it’s why he tells the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions. There truly is an extra burden on the rich when it comes to following Christ.
So it might seem like pandering to tell a poor Christian that they’re better off than a rich Christian. But in Jesus’ eyes, in His eternal perspective, that’s the truth. And it’s a sobering truth for someone like me swept up in the American current of success and comfort and career.
How can we reorient our hearts and our values? How can we view our bank accounts or our future planning as worthless compared to the deposits we are making in our walk with Christ and our relationships with others?
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me.” – Hebrews 13:5-6
Or this wisdom from John Piper in Desiring God:
“We can be content with simplicity because the deepest, most satisfying delights God gives us through creation are free gifts from nature and from loving relationships with people. After your basic needs are met, accumulated money begins to diminish your capacity for these pleasures rather than increase them. Buying things contributes absolutely nothing to the heart’s capacity for joy.”
We must embody a contentment with our circumstances that only comes from a deep, bottomless reliance on Jesus and His work for us on the cross. All else is folly if not for that reality, and yet because of that reality we should be the most content people in all the world.
He promises to give us all that we need in this life, and then to bless us with all we could ever imagine (and more!) in eternity.
So stop worrying about what you don’t have if you don’t have it. And certainly stop worrying about getting more of it if you already have it. Give of whatever you have freely.
Do not make money an idol, and give up the pursuit of it as a central motivation of your life.