How People Today View Money
We live in the time of approaching judgment that the Bible calls the Last Days. In his prophetic description of our time, Paul said that three obsessive loves would possess the hearts of men.
1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy. . . ,
4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.
2 Timothy 3:1-2, 4
The first is self-love (v. 1). In fulfillment of this prophecy, our age has produced Self magazine, the psychology of self-esteem, and strange religions exalting self as god.
The third love characteristic of the Last Days is love of pleasure (v. 4), or hedonism. Again, no age fits the prophecy better than our own. The electronic and chemical stimulants created by modern technology allow a man to live in a virtually unceasing state of self-gratification.
The second love is implicit in the word "covetous" (v. 1). The word in Greek is "money-lovers." People have always loved money and the things money can buy. But in our day, the pursuit of money has become a madness. The most dramatic proof of this is the phenomenal growth of gambling. When I was young, the only place where gambling was legal was Las Vegas, but today casinos are everywhere. Most states even have government-sponsored lotteries. On a trip to Texas some years ago, before the devastations of Katrina, my wife and I were shocked to find that the entire Gulf Coast was becoming a huge gambling resort.
What is gambling if not love of money in an extreme form? It is the use of money not to buy anything worthwhile, but only to buy a chance for more money. Yet what is the real chance of winning a big lottery? At best, perhaps one in fifty million. So, if you bought a lottery ticket every week for fifty years, you could increase your chances of winning to about one in two thousand. In other words, you would have to keep up regular buying of lottery tickets through two thousand lifetimes just for a reasonable chance of winning once. Gambling is a fool's investment.
How the Bible Views Money
In appraising money, the Bible does not hedge words.
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
1 Timothy 6:10
In other words, men will commit all manner of evil to get money, and once they get it, they will use it for every evil purpose.
If money is on such familiar terms with evil, is money itself an evil thing? There was a heresy in the early church called Gnosticism, which taught that everything in the world of matter is evil, that good exists only in the realm of the spirit. Gnostics regarded money as evil, and not only money, but all goods and possessions, even the foods we eat, even the human body itself. But Gnostic teaching cast aside the teaching of Jesus.
11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. . . .
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
Jesus is saying that nothing you put in your mouth is evil. Indeed, no mere thing, with existence only as a physical object, is evil. A gun in itself is not evil, although in the hands of a criminal it might become an instrument of murder. Television is not inherently evil, although it carries putrid programming. A dollar bill, considered just as a piece of paper, is not evil, although an addict might use it to buy illegal drugs. Evil can exist in one place only—in the heart of a person. The enemies of God shelter within their hearts all the darkness of the universe.
What a Believer Should Want
But though money is not itself evil, Paul says that the love of money is a terrible vice. Should we therefore have nothing to do with it? Let us examine the Scriptures to determine what our view of money and wealth should be.
We can build a complete and balanced view on the foundation of the following text:
8 Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
9 Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
This text advises us to seek neither poverty nor wealth. Yet in church history there are many examples of people who thought themselves virtuous in seeking one or the other.
- Certain Catholic religious orders require their initiates to take a vow of poverty. The members of the Franciscans and Dominicans originally held no property whatever. To support themselves, they went about begging. So, they became known as begging friars, or mendicants. But a vow of poverty is unscriptural. God never intended us to distance ourselves so far from money and goods that we must depend on others for handouts.
- Certain preachers on TV today go to the opposite extreme. They say that God wants to give all His children health, wealth, and happiness, and that the only barrier to obtaining these things is lack of faith. They claim that if a man has faith, he will receive an outpouring of material blessings. But if Christianity were truly a road to riches, it would be impossible to build churches fast enough to accommodate all the greedy people who wanted to join.
The text quoted above teaches a middle road. It encourages us to seek only those material things necessary to sustain life. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11), a deliberate allusion to verse 8 of the aforementioned text in Proverbs. What is our daily bread? Jesus uses this one basic food to represent all the material things we need for life, strength, and ability to carry out our God-given responsibilities. The Bible never provides a detailed list of these things, because they vary according to circumstance. What a man needs depends on when and where he lives, as well as on his position and calling. The question of what your necessities are is between you and God. Whatever they are, you can trust God to provide them.
In abject poverty, there are two dangers.
- Our text in Proverbs advises us that constant deprivation of the things a man needs to live in reasonable comfort and health might make him bitter against God.
- If poverty beats a man down to the level of desperate need, he might turn to crime. Thievery is rampant in our country, but little of it is done by people in danger of starvation. Yet in some countries a common motive for theft is real poverty.
Poverty was widespread even in Western countries a few generations ago. To defend themselves from poor people, the prosperous classes prevailed on the courts to deliver extremely harsh penalties for crimes against property. In eighteenth-century England, for example, a street urchin who stole a piece of bread to fill his belly could be sent to the gallows. A more humane system of justice arose in the nineteenth century largely through the efforts of public-spirited Christians. Their crusade to eliminate social evils such as cruel punishments, slavery, and child labor was an outgrowth of the Wesleyan revival, which not only turned many to Christ, but also awakened in many a sense of duty to help others.
What a Believer Should Not Fear
Although poverty is dangerous, a believer need not fear it. God assures us that He will keep us from dire want.
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
Although life may bring us many other troubles and difficulties, we as believers will never go hungry. So, if we lack food, we may approach God and boldly remind Him of His promise to feed us, and we can be sure that He will.
Yet there are two exceptions to the general rule that a believer need not fear hunger.
- He might suffer starvation as a form of persecution, for persecution is the lot of a believer, and God makes no promise that we will escape its effects.
12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
2 They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
In the 1930s, the Communists in Russia deliberately starved the people in certain regions in order to wipe out the system of private ownership, and millions died, perhaps many believers among them. The facts have been slow to emerge, but it is now undisputed that during collectivization the Russian leaders killed thirty to fifty million of their own people (1).
- A believer might go hungry if he refuses to work. Work is the way God has appointed for us to provide for ourselves.
15 Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.
10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
2 Thessalonians 3:10, 12
28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
Of course, the people within a family have different obligations.
8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
1 Timothy 5:8
Paul clearly teaches that a man's duty is to meet the material needs of his household. This duty is so basic that even infidels accept it without question. They know, even if some professing Christians do not, that the man of a house should be the chief bread winner.
Yet it is entirely appropriate for a wife to earn income as well.
10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
It does not follow that a woman ought to have a job outside the home. She has enough to do if she devotes her life to housework, rearing children, domestic crafts, and charity. These activities make up a noble occupation. Yet if duties at home do not keep a woman busy, so that instead of engaging in useful work, she sits around eating chocolates and watching soap operas, perhaps she needs a job.