Among other things, the Bible, believe it or not, is a book about money! Almost from one end to the other — from the account of Abraham's tithing and the spoiling of the kings (Gen. 14) right on down to the very last book which describes gold, silver and precious jewelry in the New Jerusalem — the Bible is filled with accounts, analogies, stories and lessons about money. Jesus Christ constantly used talents, pounds and pennies as spiritual analogies in His parables to get across vital lessons in Christian doctrine or living. But the biblical perspective of money and wealth is a balanced perspective. The Bible plainly tells us that riches, wealth and money are not intrinsically evil; it's the wrong use of such wealth and the wrong attitude toward it that is the problem. Never before in our history have we witnessed such an unbridled lust for money. Never before in our history have we been so -driven by a virtual lust for savings and monetary security. Never before have we needed more to understand and practice the biblical principles concerning monetary wealth. Never before have we needed to pray more: "Give us this day our daily bread." IN OUR materialistic, modern Western societies, money is what seems to make the world go around. But did you ever look up the word "money" in a dictionary? It actually comes from an old French word moneie. Basically, it is something that is generally accepted as a medium of exchange or as a means of payment. It actually goes back to the word. "mint," which means to stamp or coin or impress — or simply to make something into that which we know as a means of payment or a medium of exchange.
So money is what you make it. It has been almost everything from a piece of clothing to sand on the seashore, or even millstones on the island of Yap.
In the United States (and many other countries), money is represented by the dollar — originally taler, an old German term. Any dollar-conscious American traveling in South America suddenly finds himself dealing in bolivars (named after Simon Bolivar, liberator of South America), escudos, cruzeiros, pesetas, pesos, etc. — depending on which particular Latin country he happens to be passing through. Every country around the globe, it seems, has to have a different name for its particular medium of exchange — marks, francs, pounds, balasars (ever heard of that one?), lira, rubles, yen, ad infinitum.
A Universal Preoccupation But whatever you call money and wherever you go, one thing is for sure: people everywhere are preoccupied with it to the point of almost making it into a kind of universal mystique. You have probably dreamed about finding money, or being the recipient of a fantastically large check, or winning some sort of a quiz-show prize. People are universally preoccupied with money — not so much because of its beauty (there is really nothing very beautiful about a crumpled-up, old, ancient one-dollar bill — or even a one-hundred-dollar bill), but what money represents. It is the things money can buy that people are concerned with, and the power and prestige that all too often money seems to be able to buy in this turned-upside-down society of ours.
You have heard all of the old clichés that have become attached to money. One is: "Well, if money is going to make me miserable, at least I'd prefer to be miserable in style." Such almost universally applicable statements show that all of mankind, as a whole, has an innate desire for money which frequently reflects itself in apprehension, worry and concern. This universal lust and desire for money almost amounts to a strange mystique with spiritual overtones rattling around in our minds whenever we think about it.
A Warning to the Rich The book of James contains perhaps the most volatile chapter in all the Bible about riches. The fifth chapter includes a very serious, sober condemnation and warning to all the rich and the would-be rich - not a judgment against being rich of itself, but a severe admonition about the wrong use of wealth. James says: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire" (verses 1-3).
Technically speaking, gold and silver simply do not rust. So James is writing in a spiritual vein about the corruption of wealth even beyond the grave — and what it does to any man or woman who would set their hearts on it for strictly selfish uses or purposes.
Wealthy people do not always understand what the apostle Paul knew down to the depths of his being: "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" (I Tim. 6:7). The old saying that "you can't take it with you" certainly squares with the Scriptures. But it hasn't stopped people from trying. Some of the greatest monuments on earth are a direct consequence of the desire of famous and wealthy people to take their wealth with them. The elaborate devices used to seal Pharaohs in their tombs were employed not so much to protect the bodies of these ancient Egyptian rulers, but to secure and safeguard all the material wealth they hoped to take with them beyond the River Styx (the life beyond the grave).
James continues:" Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days" (5:3). Does this scripture even remotely imply or infer that there is something intrinsically and inherently wrong with being rich? The answer is an unqualified "no," especially when you put this verse together and in concert with all of the other scriptures on the subject.
Did you know, for instance, that your heavenly Father is a multibillionaire? God Almighty owns everything — the entirety of the universe and all of the continents and the oceans. "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts" (Hag. 2:8).
So is there something wrong with gold per se? No, gold is just a lifeless metal ranging all the way from very, very light yellow (actually "white gold") down to a deep, dark orange. Gold is the most malleable metal extant on the face of the earth. One ounce can be stretched into a thin wire that will conduct electricity for twenty-five miles — a wire far thinner than a strand of human hair.
From time immemorial, because of its scarcity and because of its beauty, gold has been very much in demand. But did you know that all the gold that has ever been discovered could be packed away in the hold of just one sea tanker? Maybe in this perspective we can all begin to understand how much gold has really been found in the history of the world.
Gold, of and by itself, is worth absolutely nothing — with the exception of fillings in teeth, jewelry and as a conductor of electricity. Neither is money — whether in the form of dollars, pounds, escudos, lira, francs, pesos, etc. Mediums of exchange are worth only what value people place upon or attach to them. It's strictly a confidence game — and when people lose confidence in the government backing the money, then that particular means of payment is virtually valueless.
The Wrong Use of Wealth God's Word does not condemn wealth as such. But the apostle James clarifies what is condemned concerning riches in the Bible. Verse 4: "Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth." These rich men were doing something that was totally unjustifiable in God's sight. They were abusing the responsibilities that wealth automatically thrusts on those that would possess it. The basic commandment against stealing (Ex. 20:15) was being flagrantly broken. Workers were either being totally rooked out of their wages, or the wages were so pitifully low as to make it virtually impossible to keep a body together.
Continue with verses 5 and 6: "Ye have lived in pleasure [at the expense of your laborers] on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just [the righteous, Psalm 119:172]; and he doth not resist you." So it's not simply riches that are being condemned; it's the false and unethical methods of obtaining them and their outrageous, shocking, unashamed abuses.
Wealth and riches, garnered by the blessings and prosperity emanating from God Himself, are right and good. There are many, many scriptures corroborating this biblical truism. "... Whatsoever he [the righteous man] doeth shall prosper" (Ps. 1:3). "And the Eternal was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man..." (Gen. 39:2). "... No good thing will he [God] withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11). "A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children [grandchildren)" (Prov. 13:22). "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health," God says through the apostle John (III John 2). Jesus Himself said: "... I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
And, of course, our multibillionaire heavenly Father dwells among solid gold, silver and precious stones. Even the feet of our living Saviour, Jesus Christ, are like burnished gold and bronze, pictured with a brilliant face that shines like the sun in its strength (Rev. 1:13-17).
"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered..." (James 5:1-3). So, once again, it's a matter of the proper attitude toward wealth and riches. As David warned: "... If riches increase, set not your heart upon them" (Psalm 62:10).
Continuing in the fifth chapter of James: "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient..." (verses 7-8). James is teaching people who are miserable, poor and afflicted (not being paid a fair wage) to wait upon God for vengeance. "... Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Eternal" (Rom. 12:19). Those that have come by their wealth by nefarious and illegal means, along with those who have kept back honest wages from others, are going to have to reap exactly what they have sown.
But James is not the only New Testament figure to comment extensively on the subject of riches and money. You would be absolutely amazed at how many times Jesus Christ used wages, talents, pounds, "the mammon of unrighteousness," and money in His parables about the Kingdom of God. Why? Because people's minds from time immemorial have been hung up on money! One disciple in particular really had his mind focused on money. He happened to be the treasurer (the one with the money bag) for Jesus Christ and the other eleven disciples. His name was Judas Iscariot.
Judas didn't like the way Jesus conducted the Work of God; he didn't like the way Christ spent money; he didn't care for the way Jesus allowed money to be spent on Himself (i.e., the account of the• woman with the alabaster box of precious ointment).
Finally Judas, who incidentally was a thief, conspired to betray Jesus for a fairly large sum of money — 30 pieces of silver.
Lazarus and the Rich Man The most famous of all so-called biblical "attacks" against rich men is found in the sixteenth chapter of Luke. Jesus said: "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his [the rich man's] gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores" (verses 19-21). And you're probably familiar with the rest of the story of how the beggar and the rich man both died and how that this account is not an example of an eternal, ever-burning hellfire. (If not, read our free booklet Is There A Real Hell Fire? — part II of which explains the entire story of Lazarus and the rich man.)
For my purpose in this article, the point I want to bring out is compacted into verse 25: "But Abraham said [to the rich man], Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."
Why should that be so? Because the rich man never lifted a finger to give even the tiniest percentage of his wealth to Lazarus. He wouldn't even give a pittance or crumb from his table to this terribly destitute and hopelessly diseased beggar. He had no mercy! There was Lazarus sitting by his door every day. Apparently he never even paid any attention to him.
No condemnation here about the man being rich; the riches were not what was wrong with him. It was the rich man's absolute determination not to part with a penny of his wealth even in the stark face of abject human misery. The rich man was condemned because he did not discharge his duty to Lazarus; he plainly abused the (wealth God had allowed him to have.
The Rich Young Man The same overall biblical principle is brought out in a different setting in Matthew the nineteenth chapter. "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he [Jesus] said unto him... if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (verses 16-17). Verses 18 and 19 show that Jesus was talking about the Ten Commandments. "The young man saith unto him [Jesus], All these things [points, tenets] have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?" (Verse 20.)
Then Jesus Christ said a very strange thing: "... If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me" (verse 21).
Is this a command from Jesus Christ to everybody in this world with an income over $10,000 a year to sell their homes, hock their wedding rings, give up all their possessions including their automobiles, appliances and furniture, generally wipe themselves out financially to the point of bankruptcy, and then come and follow Him? (Where would you go to follow Him? How will you eat? Where will you sleep? What will you live on?)
No, of course not. The very plain scriptural meaning, especially in context with other verses on the subject, is that Jesus was offering this young man a special discipleship — the opportunity to become a future apostle — a position as a minister and a servant of His in the early New Testament Church.
But the young man just didn't have the vision to see how "treasure in heaven" was going to help him all
Wealthy people do not always understand what the apostle Paul knew down to the depths of his being: "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" (I Tim. 6:7). that much. "But when the young man heard that saying [about giving up his material goods for treasure in heaven], he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions" (verse 22).
Then Jesus explained the lesson to His disciples: "... Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (verses 23-24).
People have rationalized that this means the narrow aperture in some fabled Middle-Eastern city where camels were constantly entering — the architects being so stupid that they made it impossible for the camels to squeeze through unless their packs were removed — drawing the obvious spiritual analogy that you have to get rid of your riches in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is unlikely, however, that anyone would build a city gate so low or narrow when he knew that hundreds of camels would have to enter it every single day.
No, Jesus Christ is talking about something that is physically and humanly impossible! And the disciples understood what Jesus meant. "When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible" (verses 25-26).
The Rewards Now and Later Then the account continues on in the same thought. "Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" (Verse 27.) Peter was saying sort of in the vernacular: "We're not like that rich young man. We forsook all. We had businesses. I had my fishing fleet with my nets and my boats. And here we are pretty far up in age. We shucked all of our investments to follow you. What's going to be our reward?"
"And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration [the resurrection] when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (verse 28). Quite a reward, isn't it?
Each was guaranteed, upon qualification, a fantastic, fabulous position of rulership in the Kingdom of God — possessing untold wealth and prestige.
But what about the here and now? Jesus continued: "And every one [this is not just speaking of the disciples] that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (verse 29).
Mark makes it a little plainer. "But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time..." (Mark 10:30). And in Luke's account: "Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time..." (Luke 18:30).
All true Christians, who have really repented of their sins, given up what God required of them and followed God's ways by overcoming and improving themselves, have eventually been blessed materially as well as spiritually.
The Parable of the laborers The account in Matthew continues in the same monetary vein: "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first" (Matt. 19:30). What did Jesus mean by this enigmatic statement tacked onto the end of His promise of material and spiritual rewards for every true Christian?
He begins to explain in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (next chapter). "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour [9:00 a.m.], and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth [12:00 noon] and ninth hour [3:00 p.m.], and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour [5:00 p.m. — just before quitting time] he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
"So when even [evening] was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour [nearly at quitting time], they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the good-man of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
"But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?... Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine
In such arduous economic straits, it's pretty hard to maintain, in our day-to-day existences, the right attitude toward money and material possessions. But Jesus absolutely requires it of every true Christian! own?" (Matthew 20:1-13, 15.)
That question would be answered in the negative in the United States of America. Our society would be 100 percent on the side of the people who complained about their wages.
Was the Householder Unfair? But think about that parable for a minute. It supports a true free-enterprise system in which a man has a right to govern his own private property. The householder had said: "Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me [in a contract] for a penny?... Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?" (Verses 13, 15.)
Way late in the day the householder had found some stragglers who didn't have jobs. He was very generous to give them such a good wage for so little work. So why should those who had received exactly what they had contracted for be angry at a boss who was so generous?
Because we are heavily influenced by the so-called "fairness standards" of this society, we have difficulty accepting this parable spoken by Jesus Christ of Nazareth, our Lord and Saviour and soon-coming King. But such is the way Christ's mind works! "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9). We can't seem to understand the way Jesus Christ would handle money because we're so attuned to the hue and cry of this society in all of its various national guises.
But the spiritual analogy intended by this parable comes through loud and clear. Notice verse 16 which caps off the parable. "So the last shall be first, and the first last...." Jesus doesn't want someone in the first century coming to Him and saying: "But Lord, why did you call me then? Why did I have to live, work, struggle, travel and finally be martyred? Why couldn't I have had it easy like those last few who repented at the eleventh hour in the last moments of the Great Tribulation? How can they be in your Kingdom? They put in so little time."
"Give Us This Day..." What does Jesus Christ tell us even in the Sermon on the Mount? In the simplest and most straightforward teaching of Jesus found in Matthew chapters 5-7, as well as in the sample Lord's prayer, He stresses again and again that we are to ask for our "daily bread" — consuming the goods of the earth as we have necessity and not taking "anxious thought" or "undue thought" about tomorrow. The Bible admonishes: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof!"
Notice Christ's instruction specifically: "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11). What is the meaning and principle behind this, one of the most famous petitions in all of the Bible? This scripture certainly doesn't advise you to lay up for a "rest-of-your-life" emergency. Yes, it's good to salt some cash away for a rainy day — but not for a rainy three years or a rainy decade.
Some people have made their all-consuming desire for security into a virtual god! It practically absorbs all their thoughts and energies. They are absolutely driven by a desire to put away for an emergency.
I get a big kick out of some of these TV quiz shows. Some of them should really be labeled "unbridled lust." One particular program shows people in these glass cages with dollar-bills being blown about in circulating air. And there they are trying their level best to grasp onto a few bills out of the air — it's the craziest thing• you ever saw. Quite a demonstration of human nature!
Another program pictures a money tree with bills pinned on it in the shape of a Christmas tree. Do you know that the contestants become almost mentally incapacitated with lust so obvious that it's embarrassing? People gibber; they can't remember their own names; their eyes bulge out — you would almost expect steam to be coming out of their ears; they're gasping; they're jumping up and down. The lust, the jealousy, the greed and the vanity you see exposed in these people's eyes is nothing short of incredible!
Jesus, in all these biblical instructions and examples, is trying to create in us an attitude and approach toward monetary wealth that I'm afraid we all fall very short of. The Western world has plunged into some very formidable economic straits and difficulties. Unemployment in the United States is 8.9 percent and rising. Many large corporations are cutting loose or closing down an innumerable number of peripheral, unprofitable operations — causing more and more unemployment. In such arduous economic straits, it's pretty hard to maintain, in our day-to-day existences, the right attitude toward money and material possessions. But Jesus absolutely requires it of every true Christian!
Increasingly people are letting their minds focus too much on the subject of monetary wealth and security. There is one very poignant biblical example that continually warns us of the end result of letting lust for money begin to virtually rule our minds.
Ananias and Sapphira "But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession [which they owned outright], and kept back [withheld surreptitiously] part of the price, his wife also being privy to it [a willing accomplice], and brought a certain part [while posturing that it was all], and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? [this was not Communism] and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? [no one was forcing him to give it to the Church] why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God" (Acts 5:1-4).
And then follows the account of the sudden death of Ananias and his wife Sapphira (verses 5-10).
Many others were selling their property and giving the proceeds to the apostles openly and aboveboard (Acts 4:34-37). But Ananias and Sapphira were caught up in this posture of pretense. They were posing in front of the congregation as great givers — while privately holding back a portion of the selling price. Their carefully concealed (they thought) covetousness literally killed them!
There is a very important and vital lesson in this account — even over and above a sober warning against lying and lust for material possessions. Once you decide privately and deliberately in your own mind — just between you and God — to give something (usually money in today's society) to Him, it is no longer y ours!
Should We Not Ask? This great Work of God does not operate out of some secluded, protected glass cage with an invisible shield freeing it from all of the ups and downs of this society. God just does not conduct His Work in such a fashion. (He never has!) He is using a body of fallible human instruments (subject to the monetary pushes and pulls of this world) to do His vitally important work of preaching and publishing the gospel around this globe of ours.
God's Work is affected by the economic downturns of this sinning society. Continually we have to pore over and figure out more inexpensive ways and methods of getting the job done (see my special letter in the Update section of the June issue).
But God wants His people to give — even to sacrifice — in order to get this great Work done! So I'm not afraid to ask God's people to give of their financial means in order that we might give this world a solid warning and witness before its sins come crashing in on it — and it is forever too late! I'll explain further in the next article of this two-part series titled — "God Loves a Cheerful Giver."
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