Being rich is not necessarily a sin, and being poor is not necessarily a virtue. The issue is not how much (or little) we have, but what we do with it.
“The wicked borrow and do not repay,
but the righteous give generously.” (Psalm 37:21)
We live in a ‘consumer society’, in which we are defined by our possessions: what we wear, what sort of car we drive, what kind of house we live in (and where), what gadgets we own. A very large section of our economy is devoted to selling us ‘stuff’ (and persuading us that we need to buy it). More ominously, the finance industry (which makes money out of money) is booming. So what we have, we hoard; and what we don’t have, we spend (using our credit cards right up to the limit). Our relationship with money has become seriously distorted; it is no longer our servant, but our master. And we know what Jesus said about trying to serve two masters… (Matthew 6:24)
Christians, however, must resist the cultural pressure to make an idol out of money. We are called to live by a completely different set of values!
Most people in the world are motivated by ambition or greed (Ecclesiastes 4:4). This is why and how advertising works. Consequently, society runs on (and is also dictated by) acquisitiveness and competitiveness. A vicious circle is set up in which our most destructive urges are pandered to, encouraged, and cultivated. Political and economic thinking ends up being locked into the mindless pursuit of an ever-increasing (and ultimately unsustainable) standard of living – because money is addictive (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
We have seen a shift in attitude taking place over just the last few decades: to be in debt, a situation that our grandparents made strenuous efforts to avoid, has become not merely ‘normal’ but something to be aspired to! Millions of people in the UK are living beyond their means, borrowing money not just for mortgages but to pay household bills and to buy ‘luxuries’ such as holidays.
What Christians should aspire to is not wealth but contentment. Paul writes, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12) This is truly counter-cultural! If we know and trust a God who is loving and faithful, and well able to meet our needs, our financial status becomes irrelevant.
“There is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12,13) To have everything we need is sufficient to be content (I Timothy 6:8) – indeed, research has shown that once you have ‘enough’, increasing your wealth doesn’t make you any happier! Perhaps some of us should be praying for less, rather than more…
We are accustomed to regarding our possessions as our own. But in actual fact, everything in this world belongs to God (Psalm 24:1); we are merely the stewards of what He has seen fit to lend to us. ‘Ownership’ is an illusion: it is really God’s money, not ours! (I Chronicles 29:14) If He has given us a lot, that is both a privilege and a responsibility. What are we to do with it?
As Christians, we have a number of obligations. The first one is to our immediate family: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (I Timothy 5:8) We are responsible for the wellbeing of our spouses, children and elderly parents, and must not neglect them.
Secondly, we must meet any obligations that we have in society; in other words, we must pay debts and taxes (Romans 13:7). Before taking on a debt (be it loan, mortgage or whatever), we need to be reasonably confident that we can make the necessary payments on time.
Thirdly, we are to be generous with what we have left over. Any surplus (once necessities and outstanding debts have been taken care of) is not for our use alone; it is for sharing.
It would be difficult (and intrusive) to dictate exactly what Christians should or shouldn’t spend their money on. But most of us would benefit from looking at our lifestyle and considering whether we could simplify it. Do we really need all our electronic equipment? Do we really need to renew our wardrobes and upgrade our mobile phones every year? Here are a few other suggestions (some of these are good for our health and the environment too!):
Share expensive equipment (like lawnmowers)
Buy a smaller house, and fewer gadgets and toys
Walk whenever possible, instead of driving
Lower the thermostat by a degree or two
Eat a vegetarian dinner one night a week
Treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21)
In this world, money is naturally very important to us. Our natural instinct is to hoard – and yet there is no security in earthly wealth. Nothing in this world is safe: if it does not succumb to rust, thieves or vermin, it will depreciate in value as a result of inflation. Heavenly treasure is a much more secure investment! Also, our time here is relatively short, and when we die we shall have to leave behind everything that we have accumulated. It is more logical to invest in the things that will be of value in the next world. The things that last for eternity (relationships, knowledge of God, Christlike character, and good deeds) should be more important to us than material possessions.
So how do we accumulate treasure in heaven? By doing righteous deeds on earth – and one of the most basic of these is giving away our earthly wealth in order to help the poor (Luke 12:33). “Command [those who are rich in this world] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (I Timothy 6:18,19) There may well be ‘no pockets in shrouds’ – but by being generous now we can actually send our money ahead of us…