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What Jesus Taught about Money

What do do? - dollars

by Dennis Pollock

If you didn’t know much about the Bible, you might suppose that Jesus never said anything at all about money. After all, money is so… non-heavenly! We might suppose that Jesus talked only about love, peace, brotherhood, and so forth. We would be wrong. In fact Jesus had quite a lot to say about money and materialism. On the other hand, if you grew up on a steady diet of the “prosperity gospel,” you might assume that Jesus made it abundantly clear that He wants every one of His disciples to revel in opulence, living in the finest houses, driving only the most luxurious cars, and raking in cash day after day in such enormous sums that it takes a great deal of effort just to figure out what to do with it all. You would also be wrong.

Jesus was a Teacher. Within the pages of the four relatively short gospels of our New Testament He addressed all sorts of life issues and questions. And since money is, for better or for worse, something we all need and about which we all must make some fairly major decisions, He was quite open in speaking on the subject. What’s more, Jesus needed money Himself. In order function as our High Priest, and live under the basic rules of humanity, He had to deal with money for the support of Himself and His disciples. Sure, He multiplied fishes and loaves a couple of times, but these were the exception and not the rule. Normally He did just like everybody else of His generation. He bought food and paid for it with the currency of the time. And since He did not work at a secular job during His ministry days, He depended on others for the support of His ministry. Luke describes several well to do women who were major supporters: “Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance” (Luke 8:2, 3). He even had a treasurer who kept the common money bag – Judas who would eventually betray Him. What a privilege it would have been to have lived in those days, and been a financial supporter of His ministry! Wow!

Jesus knows full well that we need money. He is not so “heavenly-minded” that He forgets that we live in a physical world, and have physical needs that normally must be purchased with dollars, naira, euros, shillings, pesos, or whatever currency your nation uses. But He also knows that men and women can easily be obsessed with money until our passions override all moral boundaries, destroy character, and consume all our time and energy. Someone once said, “Money is our god; how to get it is our religion.” Sadly, in many cases that is not far from the truth.

We find no definitive sermon by Jesus about money in the gospels. Rather we must hunt piecemeal for His various sayings and teachings on the subject. In some cases He speaks not of money directly, but of the materialistic perspective that results from an overemphasis upon money. The best way to discover Jesus’ attitude toward this subject is simply to read through the four gospels and underline every verse written in red that pertains to finances. But since we don’t have the time or space for that, let us consider a few representative passages.

Investments

In His famous “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus takes some time to address the issue of money and our physical needs. The first thing He tells us has to do with where we should ultimately invest:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Jesus tells us two things here. First is where we should invest our money and secondly, why we should do this. Actually before telling us where we should invest, He tells us where we should not invest – we are not to “lay up our treasures on earth.” Hoarding and saving up inordinate amounts of money is not recommended. Rather we are commanded to “store up for ourselves treasures in heaven.” Since it is physically impossible to transfer money from our bank accounts here on earth to an account in heaven, He is clearly speaking of using our money to further God’s work and bless other people. Spending not all, but significant amounts of our available resources in this way is pleasing to God. Our Heavenly Father is not against the idea of saving money, but He is against that selfish, insecure, covetous practice of hoarding every spare penny we can obtain, and never sharing with the less fortunate or promoting the work of Christ.

We are given two reasons why investing in heaven rather than storing up everything we make on earth is a wise policy. First Jesus tells us that on earth, thieves may “break in and steal” our money. Of course few of us worry about physical theft with money we put in the bank. But still, even there our money may not be entirely safe. First, the thief of inflation can destroy our wealth. If our money is in the stock market, the thief of a depression, recession, or correction can devastate our hard-earned money. Or we may just decide one day to take it all out and invest it in some business which will soon go bad, and drain us of every cent.

Location of the Heart

But if that reasoning is not sufficiently motivational, Jesus gives us a far bigger concern. He tells us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Even if our money grows and multiplies until we become rich beyond our wildest dreams, and we have enough funds to last us through a dozen lifetimes, there is a very real possibility that our heart may be somehow bound up with our wealth, chained to our financial state, until we become useless to God, hopelessly enslaved to our bank accounts and stock portfolio, and drained of every trace of spiritual passion. Our Lord goes on to say: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 6:24).

In His famous parable about the seed sown on four types of soil, Jesus brings up the question of money in connection with the seed “sown among thorns.” This is seed that can never grow to maturity. It has its life choked by the surrounding weeds and thorn bushes. Jesus tells us that this scenario pertains to those “who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18, 19). Notice the phrase “the deceitfulness of riches.” Not just money, but deceitful money.

So just how is money deceitful? It is deceitful in that it creates the illusion that it has the answers to all our needs, when it most decidedly does not. Many feel that if only they had money, they could be happy, they could be secure, life would be fulfilling, they would be a success, they would take their place among life’s winners, they could go to the next high school reunion with their heads held high. But apart from those living homeless on the streets, money does not tend to make people happier, and it certainly does not make them a success in the eyes of God. In the parable about the beggar, Lazarus, and the rich man, it was the rich man who was ultimately the most pitiable. He spent a few short years living in luxury on this earth, only to enter into an eternity of misery and destruction, while poor, penniless Lazarus lived out his few years on earth and went to Paradise, where he would live in joy and comfort forever and ever. Likewise, in the parable about the rich, foolish farmer who wanted to tear down his barns and build larger ones, so that he could store all his possessions and have enough to last him many years, God tells him in very blunt language, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” (Luke 12:20) Jesus adds a little postscript to the story, saying, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Using Money to Make Friends

African Mom and Child

Amplifying on His command to lay up treasures in heaven, Jesus commands us, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). What an interesting thought! We are to use our money to make friends. This is not a command to take our friends out to fancy restaurants, buy them expensive birthday presents, or give lavish parties in their honor. Jesus is telling us to use our disposable income to help the poor, to feed starving children, to sponsor the gospel in areas where it is little known, to share from our abundance with people who are in desperate lack. And should they make it to heaven before we do, they will be there to greet us with open arms, praising God for us and our willingness to bless them while they were in such dire straits on this earth.

To some, these commands may seem impractical. Are we to just give away large amounts of our income and live on nothing? Is God not concerned about our own needs? But Jesus makes it very clear that God both knows our needs and is more than willing to abundantly supply them. In what I consider to be the quintessential passage about money in the gospels, Jesus does not actually mention the word money. But He surely addresses the issue of needs and provision, saying:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33)

A Matter of Priorities

Here Jesus encourages us to see our material needs (and therefore the need for money) in connection with the kind and generous Heavenly Father that oversees and directs all the activities and circumstances of all people, everywhere on earth. We are commanded not to worry about our physical needs. Jesus tells us this, not because God does not care about our needs, but precisely because He does care about them, because He cares about us! It is the nature of men and women to invest much thought and concern over material needs like food and shelter, but this is not to be the case among those who follow Christ and submit their lives to the Father in heaven. It is the nature of our Father to provide for His children. This is not mere religious talk or an unrealistic, naïve, simplistic view of life. It happens to be the absolute truth! We have it on very good authority that as we make the kingdom of God the major priority of our lives, we will be amply sustained with every material need we may have.

Here we have God’s remedy for human greed and obsession with wealth. Our physical needs, including the money to purchase them are supposed to be add-ons to our lives, not the major pursuit and ultimate goal. Food, clothes, running shoes, laptop computers, printers, houses, cars, smart-phones, televisions, books, gasoline, socks, underwear, light bulbs, school supplies for our children, and everything else we need, or think that we need, or in some cases merely want – all of these are added to our lives when we make Jesus Christ of Nazareth our Lord and Savior, and declare the will of the Heavenly Father our absolute priority.

Jesus guarantees that as we pursue God and live the life of a giver, we will be amply provided for, telling us, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom” (Luke 6:38). This is the way of the kingdom, and as many can testify who have devoted themselves to follow Christ in this, it really, really does work!

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