Occasionally, my wife can tell you, I can be a bit of a tool. And if there’s one area, in our first world countries that we can be a tool – it’s money. “Money can’t buy you happiness”, spoke the great Spike Milligan, “but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.” They say that Jesus spoke more about money than almost any other topic. So that must mean he wants to give it to us right?
Wealth comes to those who are good?
According to parts of the church, God wants to make his kids rich. Only our lack of trust, lack of tithing or wrong-doing can stop God in his quest to pour out financial blessing. So if you are poor, then obviously you are doing something to stop God blessing you. The rich have blessing and to follow that line of logic – the poor then, are somehow missing the mark. Not only is this a gospel of performance and works, it’s absurd because its own logic finds not only the apostles and Jesus Christ himself, somehow outside the will of God.
Christ was so poor, on one occasion, he couldn’t afford to pay his taxes and had to perform a miracle to find the coin to pay them. Paul had to work his way around the Mediterranean as a tent maker on his many mission trips, without his private jet.
God wants to bless us. But that blessing may very well be losing all our material possessions only to discover we didn’t need them to be happy and content. Wealth is a poor substitute for blessing.
OK, so then poor is good?
Many people have thought so throughout church history. But, there are plenty of examples of good, rich people throughout the history of the church. The very Gospel of Luke was written by a 1st century historian, Luke, who researched the life of this Jesus while being supported by a rich Christian business man. St Basil of Cappadocia in the 4th Century, rather than selling his assets (seen as a noble and pious act in his day) used his family wealth to provide food and dignity for the poor and the afflicted in a time of famine. Abraham was a man of faith and wealthy to boot. Solomon was the richest man on earth in his day. Scripture groups people into righteous and unrighteous, not rich good people and everyone else.
This means that money, wealth and possessions are amoral: they are neither good nor bad and can be used for either purpose. We can choose to respond righteously with our money, whether we have little or much. If we are rich, are we selfish? Do we worship money? If we are poor, is it because of laziness or because of our own evil deeds? Are we generous with what we have? Would our lives fall apart if all our money dried up?
Grace to live with little or much
God will meet all our needs, but true blessing is in things that are not financial. God is not against money, but if God eye-rolls, then he would be constantly over the western church’s obsession with it. When we experience financial suffering or hardship, it helps us see what blessing really is, tests to see how deeply we’ve inhaled the fumes of our culture and where our happiness lies. Paul puts it this way:
“I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” Phil 4:12
And then, Paul tells us what this secret is in the following verse;
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13
Paul is not saying that he can do everything through Christ’s strength. He is saying that God gives him strength to live with little and to live with abundance. And look again – Paul needs God’s strength; his grace to live with abundance. (It’s true! You can ask any Camel that you like)
Tools; either money or me
Money is like a tool; a hammer if you will and one of many tools at our disposal. We in Australia happen to have a relative abundance of hammers, even though some of our neighbours and even some amongst us do not. I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake up thinking about hammers. I’ve never sighed wistfully and said; “Oh if only I had of spent more time with my hammer this week”. I keep it outside in the shed. I’m not emotionally connected with it, even though it’s handy to have around. If I lost my hammer, I wouldn’t fall apart, thought it would be annoying. I’d happily lend it to my neighbour, or give it away to someone who really needed it. I’d be a bit of a tool if I didn’t. There’s lots I can do with a hammer, but it doesn’t have any power over my life.
It’s a fine goal, and one we should strive for; but oh how I wish I could say the same for my relationship with money. Sometimes I am indeed a tool; money’s tool. I live in an Australia of comparative wealth. But debt and the pressures of life eat at me, like they do many Australians. Money is always trying to weasel it’s way out of the shed and take again. I’ve never particularly been obsessed with being wealthy, but even after writing this blog, I’ve decided that I would like to be. Better to have a hammer, than not! I want to be able to be generous with people and give to those in need. I want nice things. I have a family to take care of. I know it will require much grace and strength from God either way, so, if I have a choice, I want to be a righteous rich man. One who doesn’t cry if the money runs out, and puts it in it’s rightful place. ‘t our sensible modern lives – it’s easy and even acceptable to be a tool for money; hard to be satisfied in the God who made the heavens and the earth. But thankfully for us, God his grace extends even to struggling tools like me and helps us keep taking money’s hand off our hearts and back to the shed where it belongs.