Follow the Money

If you ever want to know what matters most to someone, simply follow the money. Money represents power and influence. It promises to give you what you want most. The same principle applies to organizations. Whether the budget is personal or public, you can learn a lot about people by looking at the numbers. That’s why Paul warned Timothy,

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
1 Timothy 6:9-10

To be clear, God does not condemn rich Christians. Later on in verses 17-19 Paul provides specific instructions for rich Christians who God has endowed with unusual wealth. The problem here is the desire to be rich, and anyone can be guilty of that. Here Paul warns Timothy, a minister of the gospel, not to use the gospel to line his pocket. Both the rich and the poor alike need to beware. A hungry craving for the wealth of this world will be as deadly as rat’s poison to any and every Christian. It is the root of all kinds of evils, we are warned. Money enables many terrible passions, like abuse of power, sexual indulgence, hoarding of delicacies at the expense of others, distraction from the good labor God has for us to do, and an irrational abrasiveness toward anything that might threaten your source of wealth.

Proverbs 30:7-9 provides a beautiful prayer for anyone who desires to escape the enticing allure of riches. The wisdom writer Agur prays to God,

Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.

With pithy conciseness, Agur asks God to give him exactly what he needs. Nothing more, nothing less. He doesn’t want too much, lest he forsake God. He doesn’t want too little, lest he curse God. These words form a model prayer for all of us. I can’t tell you how many times they have given my lips the exact words I need to pray in difficult moments.

Besides Proverbs God has given us the theology of Philippians to battle the temptation of riches. The entire book is filled with transaction terminology, but the most direct statement appears in Philippians 4:13 where Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Athletes love to quote this verse, but if you read it in its context, Paul is actually talking about the ability to be content with whatever provision God has given him. Paul thanks the Philippians for giving to him above and beyond his own needs, then reminds them God has taught him how to be content no matter what happens. Jesus Christ is our true treasure. When we seek his kingdom and his righteousness, God gives us what we need (Matthew 6:33).

In a culture obssessed with material wealth, content Christians stand out as holy pilgrims. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Like Christian and Faithful in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we must shun the temptation of Vanity Fair, even if it costs us our reputation or even our life.

Of course, most Christians are not called to walk around in rags. But we do need to guard our hearts and beware of how money may tempt us to live for something or someone other than God’s glory. Money is not an end in itself, but a means to pleasing God. So take a close assessment of your pocketbook. Follow the money. Does it lead to Christ?

~CP

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