It's been over forty years now, but I can still remember a large jug of liquid that my dad stored in the utility room of our basement. I can't even tell you what was in the container. I don't remember its color or size. But I do remember something about the label. There was a picture of a human skull and a pair of crossed bones on it. I remember learning that that was the universal sign of poison. It was the manufacturer's way of warning everyone-literate and illiterate, adult and child-not to swallow the stuff inside. It was clear that-unless I wanted to assume room temperature prematurely-I had better not mess with that bottle of liquid!
As I visit churches around the country presenting the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar I run into a lot of people who don't realize that there's a skull and cross bones warning on their money.
In a less literal, yet equally important way, I want you to think of this as a "skull and cross-bones" article. This is where I hope to challenge you to get a God's-eye view of money. I want to warn you of some of the pitfalls that money can lead to. Because teaching people money management, debt control, and investing for the future, can be like playing with a beautiful candle in a room full of dynamite. It is so easy to turn virtue to vice, and allow a healthy interest in asset management to become an unhealthy focus on materialism.
Hopefully we can explore the way God wants us to view money and material goods without going to either of the extremes that are so prevalent in today's church. Without a Godly viewpoint, we are easy prey for those who preach a non-biblical theology of money. Usually it plays out in one of two extreme teachings: On one end of the spectrum are those who pitch a form of "Christian prosperity" that isn't much more than a sanitized form of greed; and at the other extreme are those who would urge a vow of poverty. As is the case with God and all His creation, balance in the area of money is critical.
Jesus had a curious approach to money -- He didn't seem to care whether a person had a lot of it, or not. Jesus looked at hearts-not check books. From the widow and her mite to the numerous street people, the Gospels are full of stories about Jesus befriending and ministering to the poor. He associated with lowly people and recognized their value before God even when the rest of society (including established religion) viewed them with contempt. He championed their cause and urged His followers to love, feed, clothe, and show them hospitality.
Jesus also had wealthy friends. I have long suspected that Mary, Martha and Lazarus must have had a large home in order to accommodate Jesus and His apostles when they came into town for a visit. And, let's not forget the story in Luke 8:13, of "...Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out their private means." (NASV) Apparently, women who had both pedigree and piles of cash financed Jesus' ministry! And do you remember Matthew, one of Jesus' apostles? He was a tax collector and, based on his ability to entertain, probably pretty well heeled financially. At Jesus' death, a wealthy disciple named Joseph supplied the burial chamber.
In His parables, Jesus made use of wealthy people. It took financial resources for the good Samaritan to minister to the injured man beside the road. The Bible says, that he "...brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.'" (Luke 10:34,35 NASV) This good man had more than good intentions-he had the resources to check his injured friend into a hotel. And, folks, we all know that you can't stay at a Hilton for free!
The Gift of Giving
Sooner or later you will run into some well intentioned Christian who implies that your ability to earn money is somehow less worthy than the ability to preach the Good News or serve in a foreign mission field. When that happens don't retreat into a cave feeling like a spiritual pigmy! Simply ask the good brother to tell you where he thinks the money comes from to finance great ministries, pay the missionaries' salaries, build Christian schools, and feed the hungry. Then, flip over to this spot in Romans 12:3-9:
"For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment; as God has allotted to each as a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophesy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness." (NASV, emphasis mine)
Here, Paul lists seven spiritual gifts. Many Bible teachers believe that all Christians are blessed with at least one of these gifts. If these gifts are distributed throughout the community of believers-then the fellowship will be strong and healthy. The fifth gift in this list is the gift of liberality. (The New King James Version translators render it by saying that if his gift "is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously.") Well, excuse me, but doesn't it just make common sense that if one gives liberally-he first has to have something to give? And, in order to have something to give, it is reasonable to assume that this individual probably is good at making and investing money.
The Critical Balance
Please remember this: If we allow anything to get between God and us, we are in trouble. In today's materialistic, money driven society Christians must be cautious. The culture tells us that our value and worth is based on our wealth and clout. All around us we see friends, co-workers, and even other Christians who have built lives focused on acquiring the stuff of this present world.
One of the places in Scripture that always makes me tremble when I read it is the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Here Jesus analogizes the way five groups of people respond to God's message by comparing them to various types of farmland soil. One of the soil types was thorny ground. Speaking of this person, Jesus says this "is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it (the word), making it unfruitful." (verse 22, NIV, emphasis mine)
Wealth can be a blessing from God, but it is also a burden. With money comes responsibility. Jesus warns us that "from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." (Luke 12:48b, NASV)
Christians with money have temptations and spiritual battles that other people don't face: "How much is too much?" "How will I teach my children not to love and trust money?" "Where is my own faith: In God, or in money?" "How can I avoid elitism, and remain close to hurting people?"
As long as you're struggling with questions like these you're probably doing pretty well. Remember, Jesus tells us to store our treasures in heaven. The truth is: The guy who dies with the most toys is still dead.
Steve Diggs presents the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar at churches and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve on the Web at www.stevediggs.com or call 615-834-3063. The author of several books, today Steve serves as a minister for the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.