He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. -Jim Elliot*
In California we have seen firsthand the destructive nature of uncontrolled fire. We’ve also felt the warmth from a camp fire or a heater on a cold night. We even use fire in a favorite family activity, BBQ! Is fire destructive or constructive? It depends on the situation. We need to understand the power of fire and the importance of control. Fire always has the potential to become dangerous; it must be carefully monitored.
As a boy, our family camped often. My dad was a fireman and it is safe to say that I, on more than one occasion, heard him say, “Don’t play with fire, you will get burned or burn something down!” He had seen the destructive power of fire and also understood my lack of respect for the potential danger.
Money, like fire, has two faces or two sides. We’ve all seen the way money effects people; we’ve read stories of those who have won the lottery or lost it all. Money can be both constructive and destructive. Unlike fire, when money is out of control in our lives, the destruction can be subtle. Money plays to our pride and destroys us from the inside out. The constructive side of money is empowering, not enslaving; it is loose hands, not tight fists; it is peace, not anxiety.
Two Faces of Money
Money is neutral – Money is simply a pledge of assets, a means of payment, a medium of exchange. Money is morally neutral. Money can be used to support the advancement of the kingdom of God, or support a terrorist organization. Money can be seen as a gift from God to be used for His work, or the source of false security, identity and pride.
Money’s true value and potential is determined by the hands who hold it. We need to understand money’s potential for constructive or destructive work, and very few of us can keep that clear line on our own. We will deceive ourselves without the honest input of people we trust who are around us. Like water, money is a gift from God. Water can refresh but when water is out of control, it leads to flooding and destruction.
Money and the Fallen Man
The Story of Zacchaeus
Zacchaeus was a wealthy man who made his money by extorting the Jews as a tax collector. Jesus called Zacchaeus to come to Him, and he responded wholeheartedly to this unexpected offer (Luke 19:1-10). What followed was Zacchaeus opening up his home and inviting Jesus to dine with his friends and relatives. This alone was an incredible act of faith, but there was more – Zacchaeus said he would give back all that he had taken and more! Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to your home.” Did Zacchaeus buy his salvation? Did the act of giving back money save him? No! Salvation came because though money had ruled his heart, he set aside that idol for true riches in Christ. This was clearly indicated by Zacchaeus restoring stolen funds – returning the money was the fruit of his salvation.
The Rich Young Ruler
Because of sin in our hearts and in the world, money now has the power to enslave us. In Mark 10:17-31, we read the story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal…'” The ruler said, “Teacher, all these have I kept since I was a boy.” Jesus said, “One thing you lack…go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me.” At this he went away sad, for he had great wealth. Jesus said to His disciples, “How hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” It is difficult for us to trust in God when were is no physical or obvious need.
The Bible talks frequently about money and the spiritual dangers that go with it. In Luke, several of the parables relate to money – the two debtors, the rich fool, the tower builder, the lost coin, the unjust steward, the rich man and Lazarus, and the parable of the pounds. The Pharisees are called lovers of money (Luke 16:14). John the Baptist warns people against discontentment with their income (Luke 3:13). Jesus warns us to watch out and be on high alert against greed (Luke 12:15), against worry about money (Luke 12:22), against frantic over-work (Luke 12:30, and against deriving a sense of one’s worth and identity from economic achievement (Luke 12:15). If money, comfort, and reputation are too important, you will not enter the kingdom of God (Luke 6:24-26).
The Disciples and Us
Jesus did not ask His disciples to sell everything they owned and give the money away. Jesus invited His disciples to follow Him, to leave behind their fishing boats, their careers, their families, their comfort zone. Jesus does not want all of us to leave our families or give up our careers, but He does want to be on the throne. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). It is easy for us to rely on money and material goods when we don’t live intentionally with our eyes and hope on Jesus.
*Jim Elliot – American born Christian missionary who was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. Jim was 31 years old when he gave his life for the sake of the Gospel.