Money: 4 questions, 4 principles & 5 lessons

There are few more powerful forces in the world than money, the wanting it, the having it, the losing it, the using it causes great upheaval in the hearts of men and women all over the world.

As Ian Paul notes,

It is Jesus who characterises Mammon as a rival to God in Matt 6.24 (‘You cannot serve both God and Mammon’) as well as Luke 16.9, 11 and 13. It is the ‘deceitfulness of wealth’ which is one of the three causes of the unfruitfulness of the seed in the Parable of the Sower/Soils (Mark 4.19). For some, such as the ‘Rich Young Ruler’, wealth is an obstacle to discipleship (Mark 10.22), and Jesus does not think he will be the only one. It has been said that there are around 500 verses in the Bible on prayer, around 500 on faith—but 2,350 on money!

Most people think that in order to be happy, they need just a little bit more.

Oxfam recently claimed that the top 1% of the world’s population would soon own as much as the other 99%. To be in the top 1% you need to earn around £24,000. Another study asked how much you needed to earn to be ‘happy’. Answer? £35,000. So to be in the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest people is apparently not enough to make you ‘happy’.

Yet they would reject the idea, that they could share the fate of one recently minted billionare. Markus Persson (creator of Minecraft) said on twitter,

Hanging out in Ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I’ve never felt more isolated

Money, as the old saying goes, can’t buy you happiness even if it does buy you a mansion in LA.

Your money will cause court cases when you die, and if you share it too freely it may even cause court cases while you’re alive. The drive to consume and the desperate need to keep the hamster wheel spinning drives international politics. Orthodox Greece being forced to open its shops on Sunday by secular northern Europe.

And while some wonder if this is the beginning of the end for capitalism it’s unlikely to go anywhere, anytime soon.

The approach of Pericles may no longer popular but as Christians we need to have a robust approach to handling money; to think about it, to acquire it and to use it Christianly.

In order to get good answers it helps if you ask good questions. Tim Challies mentions four questions that John Wesley applied to money.

  1. “In spending this money, am I acting as if I owned it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee?”
  2. “What Scripture passage requires me to spend this money in this way?”
  3. “Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?”
  4. “Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?”

Thinking about those questions should likely cause a readjustment in many people’s budgets.

Ian Paul offers four biblical principles that help us in relation to wealth:

  1. Sabbath (Ex 20.8)—in its context, this was primarily an economic discipline. As a farmer, you had to trust that God would provide in six days’ work what you needed for seven days’ living.
  2. Jubilee (Lev 25)—restoration of resources. This directly motivated the Jubilee Debt campaign
  3. Generosity—a key mark of the New Covenant people of God (Acts 2.44–45, 4.32; 2 Cor 8.9, Phil 2.5)
  4. Simplicity—seek first the kingdom of God (Matt 6.33)

Lastly Jeremy Bouma draws five lessons from Paul for rich Christians, from Keith Krell’s and the late Verlyn Verbrugge’s new book Paul and Money.

  1. Money-love roots evil
  2. False teachers seek dishonest gain
  3. Ministry leaders: seek financial integrity
  4. Care for widows
  5. Meet people’s needs

I would summarize in this way:

  • How we earn money: marked by industry
  • How we handle money: marked by integrity
  • How we spend money: marked by generosity
  • How we use money: marked by simplicity

Finally as Douglas Wilson notes

“Wealth enables you to sit on top of the world (Dt. 8:18). Mammon enables the world to sit on top of you (Matt. 6:24)” (Rules for Reformers, p. 169).

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