Money figures largely in our thoughts. We occupy a lot of time thinking about it, about how much we have got, how much we need, how much we earn, how much we spend. The New Testament also has a lot to say about money, and what it says is quite remarkable because it is the opposite to what we normally think about money.
Before we examine what the New Testament says about it we need to ask ourselves whether we are willing to accept God’s thoughts on the subject of money when these are clearly announced in the pages of the Bible and particularly taught by Jesus himself. Does God the Creator know more about the management of money than we do, and are we willing to accept his words as the rule for our conduct in this subject to which we give so much of our attention? Christian obedience means complete obedience and not only in those things where we happen to agree with God. Christian faith means trusting God even when our own views seem to suggest the contrary.
The first thing to note in the Bible teaching about money is that affluence is unimportant. Having a little more or a little less is irrelevant to life. Jesus taught this very clearly when he said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk 12:15). From this it follows that the first virtue to be cultivated with regard to the handling of money is the virtue of contentment. Thus, Paul teaches clearly that having food and clothing, with these we should be content (1 Tim 6:8). His remarks are in the context of his condemnation of Christians who think that the Christian life, and particularly the Christian ministry, is a way of making money and becoming rich, and he comments, “the Christian life with contentment is great riches”. Godliness with contentment—that is the apostle’s recipe for living, and what wonderful peace it brings, complete release from the rat-race. We are to live within our circumstances, for our circumstances are God-given. God is sovereign. The silver and gold are his. He is able to multiply money if we need it as easily as he multiplied the loaves and fishes on the hillside in Galilee, or as he multiplies the grain by turning it into the ear of corn through his rain and his sunshine and the fertile soil of his creation. If we look after God’s affairs, he will look after us.
The second point about money that the Bible underlines is an obvious one, namely that affluence is unreliable. We can lose it quickly, and we all lose it at all events at death or in old age when it is no use to us (as we are too weak to do anything with it). Jesus, therefore, warned his disciples not to be rich in this world but rather to be rich in the next, rich towards God. He told the story of the rich farmer whose fields had produced abundant harvests. Instead of thanking God he simply said, “What will I do? I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry’.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”. And Jesus added, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God” (Lk 12:18-21).
Money tempts us very strongly to put our trust in it, but it is a very uncertain thing, and after all is completely under God’s control. Thus, the apostle tells Timothy, “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.
Affluence is unreliable. It is a snare to rely on money for the future. Our trust must be in God, who is in charge of our future and who will supply our needs, because he cares for us.
In considering the Christian use of money it is important to realise that we must act responsibly in the use of the money under our control. The first principle that we may mention is that we must be willing to share our money with those in real need whom God’s providence brings within the orbit of our life. It is not as though we have to go without in order that others might have affluence, but rather that we might share our blessings with those who have need of our help.
There are two great obstacles to sharing. The first is greed. We want more and more for ourselves. Greed is self-centred, and can only be cured by God. We must call upon him in prayer to give us his Holy Spirit so that our attitudes to life may agree with his character. God himself is a giving God. He gives us everything to enjoy fully. He has given us his Son to be our saviour. When we love God we will be able to love our brother, so we will rise above greedy and selfish use of our money and share our resources with those who have real need. Greediness grows if encouraged—we may be surprised how greedy we have become without noticing it. Of course, gambling is essentially greed, and an individual or a community that indulges in gambling (and it doesn’t matter how small the sum), will become more and more greedy, and therefore less and less inclined to help one another in times of need. Gambling has this effect even if the sum is small because its motive is just as much greed as if the sum is large. It is sad that the Government is encouraging this vice of greed in order to obtain taxes. For it will undoubtedly have an evil effect on community and community response in times of crisis. Moreover, the greedy person is not a happy person. He is never satisfied with his self-centredness.
The other obstacle to sharing our money is fear. We are frightened that we will leave ourselves short if we give it away; not short perhaps in the present, because we can estimate that, but in the future with all its uncertainties. The answer to this sort of fear is faith in God’s faithfulness in the future. It is he who has given us our present possessions and he has promised that, if we seek to do his will, he will give to us what we need when we need it. God is in control of every event in our world, including the business world, and the world of our own private life. He has promised us heaven and a wonderful heavenly inheritance, and Christians should live in the light of that promise. He has promised provision for the rest of life that is this side of heaven, and we should live in the light of this promise as well. So when you are tempted to hesitate in helping other people in their real need as you come across the need, remember God’s promise to be faithful. He who has given us life will give us the means to sustain life and not only our life, but the life of our children too. Indeed, as St Paul says, the love of God is such that we have no grounds for fear. He wrote, “God who spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not freely with him give us everything?”. We have a great inheritance in the future. Christ has provided it through his death, and we have already begun to enjoy it through his Spirit. If we keep our thoughts on this inheritance, we won’t clutch to ourselves what God has given us in this life, but will share it with generosity. Sharing is the first great principle in the use of our money.
In considering the Christian’s use of his money, another principle to be remembered is that no-one, whether Christian or non-Christian, should ever have as a primary aim, the aim to make money. This is because such an aim, when it is the primary aim, is self-centred and we should never be self-centred in our actions towards others. The use of money, whether in business or in any other way, brings us into contact with people, and all our contacts and relationships with other people should be with the object of serving them. This is the principle on which human life has been made by God. This is the principle exemplified by Jesus Christ, the Son of God “who is among you as one who serves”. If we aim primarily at making money when we are in contact with other people, we aim at something selfish; we are looking to our own self interests rather than the interests of those with whom we are in contact, and this remains true whether we expand the concept of self into self and family, or into religious objectives in which we are interested.
Consequently, in our use of money, whether we are conducting a business or developing a property or investing in shares, our primary aim and motive must never be to make money but rather to see how we can serve other people with the money God has put in our control. This applies to all people but especially, of course, to Christians and the Christian church.
For example, if we have a block of land which we wish to develop, it must not be primarily to make money from it; but we must ask ourselves whether through the development we are serving the community. Similarly, if we are landlords, we must, in conducting our business with our tenants, not primarily aim to make money out of them but rather to serve them, since we have been put by providence into this position of serving them as landlords. We are not to get rid of our tenants because we find serving their interests inconvenient. If we are businessmen, our business must be conducted to confer benefit on our customers, and similarly directors of public companies must not be primarily interested in the size of the profit which they are able to announce in their annual report to the shareholders, but they must be primarily concerned with the people their company comes into contact with through its business. All this does not mean that we are not to make money. Of course we need to make a profit if we are going to maintain our home and family, and if we are going to have money to invest for the better development of community resources; but the primary aim and motivation of our actions when we are in relation to other people must not be to make money but rather to serve those other people within the parameters that the need to maintain the service, through having enough to live on and develop our resources, requires. In a word, no-one, Christian or non-Christian, in using his money, should have as his primary aim the making of money, or even the conserving of his equity, but his aim should always be that which Jesus had, namely true concern and service for his neighbour.
The money under our control, or the property which we own, is simply that part of God’s creation which we have the responsibility for using. And we must use it in accordance with the character of God, its creator. Our using it will bring us into contact with people. This means that we must serve them in our using it, for serving other people is the true motive for actions in our relations with other people.