Jesus says in Luke 12:29-34 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What on earth does he mean by this? As a pastor, I’m expected by many to have ‘the answer’ when it comes to biblical and theological questions. The question of money is one that has been keeping me up at night recently and here’s why…
When I read Jesus’ words here, and see the general way he lived his life, it makes me think we have missed the boat as American Christians on what Jesus wants us to do with our money. I’ve taken two trips to Haiti, and keep up on what’s happening globally and honestly, it’s hard to imagine that Jesus would rather us purchase a new car, a bigger house, a new iPad, or a new flat screen TV over giving these large chunks of money to organizations sustainably alleviating extreme poverty from people around the world, and on top of this, doing all of their work through the existing local churches in these regions. I’m talking about children who are born into situations where there is no food, shelter, clothing, or employment and their only chance at survival is to become sex slaves or sweat shop workers, if they are lucky. I see this and it makes me want to sell everything I have, and give it to World Relief, to aid these victims of injustice.
I wonder when we get to heaven if money is one area that, when we can finally see things from an eternal perspective, we will realize that we totally missed the boat on. We will see the children who died because we bought the newest gadget instead of giving.
I’ve never sold everything I have. Honestly if I wasn’t married, I wonder if I would. But life is typically much more complex than this. And the Bible is as well. While Jesus did tell one rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor (Mark 10:17-31), Jesus walked alongside many other rich people and he never gave this command.
The fact is, I feel guilty when I spend money on things for myself. And I’m not sure what to do with these feelings. And I enjoy life more (and feel less depressed about my guilt) when I free myself (and my wife) to spend some of the money we have earned on relaxing evenings and/or on things we enjoy.
The prevailing thought in America is that you’ve earned what you have, so you shouldn’t feel guilty if you spend it on yourself. You chose to work hard, to do your homework in school, and to study a certain field in college. You made these sacrifices, with a certain lifestyle in mind, and there’s nothing to feel guilty about. You made a choice and you’ve earned it. You give a percentage of your income away to the church and to charities and you can enjoy the rest of what you’ve earned. And there certainly is some truth in this. The ability to experience God’s awesome presence in a sunset over the ocean, or from a breathtaking view in the Rockies, requires the money to pay for these types of vacations. Money that you earned from choosing to study a certain thing in college and/or choosing to work hard in life.
Is it really a sin to have air conditioning? Because you could give this money to those in extreme poverty.
Once you start going down this road, it is never ending and can quickly become the path of legalism and intense judgmentalism. Yes I drive an old car, on purpose. But I could drive an older one. Or I could take the bus and get rid of my car and its insurance payments. Yes I live in an smaller house, on purpose. But I could live in a smaller (cheaper) one (and get rid of my window AC units, gasp!). Yes I have old electronics, on purpose. But I could get rid of them altogether. And give this money to those in extreme poverty, or to missions (or both).
And then there is the wing of Christianity that sees personal financial inflow as the direct blessing of God (because why wouldn’t a loving Father want to bless his children?), and they structure entire church ministries around how God wants you to be rich. Typically their pastors model this through mansions, private jets, and the top-of-the-line luxury cars that they own.
Is money a tool to bring life to others? Or is it an avenue for us to enjoy life more? Is it a sin to enjoy life more?
Can you see why this keeps me up at night? It would be easier if Jesus just said, “It’s okay to buy these types of things, but don’t buy those types of things.”
But I wonder how many of us never even stop to consider this. We just buy buy buy our pile of earthly treasures with no thought of the eternal implications our money could have. Rather than using Luke 12 (or anything else in the Bible) as our guide, we simply go with the flow of the American idea of what money is for.
I want to obey Scripture, and teach others to do the same, going against culture if needed. But where do we draw the lines?
I don’t know.
Jesus tells me his grace is enough for me, and that it’s okay that I don’t know.
Please post your thoughts on this topic in the comments section, with the heart of giving instruction and help to me and other readers who are wrestling with the realities of the Bible’s teachings on money.