Is More Money the Solution to My Problems?
Other than the kingdom of God, Jesus spoke about money and possessions more than any other topic because he knew that few things have the power to steal joy more than the love of money.
But I thought financial abundance was a prerequisite to joy? If only I had a little more I wouldn’t have to worry, right? If only I had a lot more I could really be happy.
That “if only” is a deceptive lure.
It is why an exceptionally wealthy man like John D. Rockefeller could say, “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”
Oh yeah, Mr. Rockefeller, well give me a chance to be rich and I’ll tell a different story.
Then Jesus shows up saying stuff like, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Jesus isn’t trying to spoil the party. He is trying to save us from spoiling true joy, which he knows is not found in wealth or stuff.
As King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:10, “Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” We always want more.
But let’s not misunderstand.
Money, possessions, and wealth are not evil in themselves. The problem is not money, it is our disposition toward money and possessions. With the right perspective, the gift of material bounty can be a tremendous blessing. Without the right perspective, it can be an enticing curse.
In order to experience the blessings and avoid the curses, I am starting a series of posts called The Generosity Challenge which will help us frame a biblical perspective on money and possessions with six, core, guiding principles.
You need to know that this subject represents a major spiritual tipping point. I’m convinced that if you will embrace these principles and put them into practice, your faith will be fueled with newfound freedom, joy, and missional enthusiasm.
You also need to know that taking The Generosity Challenge may be much more difficult than you think. It will demand tremendous courage. But I assure you that the effort will be more than worth it.
A Four-Letter Word to Eradicate
The first step in the Generosity Challenge is eradicating a certain four-letter word from your vocabulary — at least as it pertains to money and possessions.
What is the word? M.I.N.E. Mine.
Think about how dominant this word is in our vocabulary. What do I call the house in which I live? Mine. What about my car? It’s mine. This computer is mine. These clothes are mine. My savings account and stock portfolio are mine. My children are mine.
Around 1400 B.C., just before the Israelites were about to cross over the Jordan River into Canaan, Moses reminded them of a fundamental truth that would be critical for them to embrace for their spiritual health. Deuteronomy 10:14: “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (NIV)
In view of God’s rightful ownership of everything, rather than looking upon things I possess and claiming mine, I declare them his.
A story is told about the 18th-century evangelist, John Wesley, who was away from home preaching when someone brought him the grim news that his house had burned down. Wesley is said to have replied, “No, the Lord’s house burned down. I have just been living there.”
It is hard to imagine having such a stoic, seemingly rationalistic response to a house-fire, as most of us would grieve the loss of family momentoes, photographs, heirlooms and memories associated with the home.
But the principle is valid. It really wasn’t his home. It belonged to God, which gave Wesley a looser grip on his stuff.
Replacing the four-letter word mine with his takes place as we consciously transfer ownership of everything we possess back to God.
Rather than mine, I can say, “My home is yours, Jesus. My money is yours. My children are yours. Everything I have is yours. I am not an owner. I am just a steward of your resources that you have entrusted to me for this life.”
Preparing to Take the Next Step
A passage in Scripture that will help us make this transfer of ownership is Deuteronomy 8:10, 12–14, 17–18.
Remember, this is the message from Moses to the Israelites, the nation whom the Lord has delivered from enslavement in Egypt. Just before they are about to enter the Promised Land, Moses utters his last words. Words that are to define God’s people, not as those who earn what they deserve, but as those who receive what they do not deserve.
It is the same for us. Like the Israelites…
1. Everything We Possess, We Have Received
Deuteronomy 8:10 “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you…”
Not only would the food they Israelites enjoyed but the very land they would possess would be given to them by the Lord. Don’t overlook that key-word: given.
If you know anything about the Israelites, you know that they were not deserving people. They were known for grumbling and complaining. They were prone to idolatry and rebelliousness. They tended to live by sight and not by faith in the Kingly authority or and Fatherly kindness of God.
Yet God gave them a good land. They didn’t earn it or deserve it. The food they were able to grow and enjoy was a gift. It was all grace.
As recipients of God’s provision, the expected overflow in their lives would be praise to God as they acknowledged the blessing of God as the source of their prosperity.
It is the same way for us. Whether it is the food on the table or a bonus at work, a tax refund, or a boat, a new car, or furnishings for the home, mulch in the flower bed, a gas blower, a steak dinner, whatever.
They all become opportunities to praise the Giver.
Yet we also know how easy it is for a material blessing to turn our hearts away from the Giver of gifts to the gift itself, where I claim “mine, mine, mine” with increasing intensity as if what I possess is the source of my very life.
At this point, we need to recognize…
2. How the Blessing May Become a Curse
Deuteronomy 8:12–14, 17, “12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God… 17 You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’”
Conventional wisdom says that the more money you make the more generous you will become. Surprisingly, the statistics reveal just the opposite is the case. The wealthier we get, the less generous we become.
According to philanthropy.com, the state of Mississippi, which is the poorest in the U.S., ranks as the second most generous state when it comes to per capita giving to church and charity. Conversely, the wealthiest states, such as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut rank as the least generous.
But our concern is not statistics; it is what my generosity or lack of generosity reveals about my spiritual condition.
That is why Moses wrote this dual exhortation and warning. The exhortation was to cultivate a disposition of praise to the Giver as recipients — not owners but managers of God’s resources.
Then Moses warns us, knowing that with increased wealth comes the potential for an increased hardness of heart, where we no longer see ourselves as undeserving recipients but as deserving earners who have worked hard for what we have and deserve the prosperity we enjoy.
For those who experience such hardness of heart toward the Giver, Moses provides…
3. An Opportunity to Remember
Deuteronomy 8:18 “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (NIV)
Not only are money and possessions gifts we receive from God, but even the ability we have to acquire such wealth is a gift.
Your mental abilities. Your physical abilities. Your skills. Your contacts. Your personality and determination. All are gifts.
An early leader in the church named Augustine wrote, “If the things of this world delight you, praise God for them but turn your love away from them and give it to [the Giver of the gifts].” (Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, 72)
Okay. But how do we do this? We turn our love away from worldly delights and back to God by consciously…
4. Transferring Ownership Back To God
What I possess is not mine but his. Not mine but yours.
Of course, making this transfer is easier said than done.
In The Return of the King, the third part of J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings saga, the Kingdom of Gondor has been awaiting the return of the rightful king for twenty-five generations.
As representatives of the king, a line of Stewards was established to govern the Kingdom — not as Kings but as managers. The Stewards were to avoid associating themselves with any of the symbols of kingship. Instead, they were to sit upon a simple, black stone chair placed on the lowest step of the platform surrounding the empty throne. The Steward wore no crown and held no scepter.
However, the longer the Stewards governed, the harder their hearts became against the return of the King. Rather than Stewards, they began to see themselves as Kings — not as managers in the Kingdom but as owners of the Kingdom.
While they might not be called kings, they acted as if they were.
When it becomes clear that Aragorn is the rightful king to the throne of Gondor, Denethor, the Steward, responds, “I am Steward of the House of Anarion. I will not step down.”
What was the Denethor saying? “This is all mine! Mine. Mine. Mine. I will not let go. I will not transfer ownership to the King.”
In Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Tolkien’s story, we witness how claiming “mine” rather than “his” rotted the Steward’s soul.
Transferring Ownership as a Pivotal Spiritual Moment
It would be foolish to think that we can have a similar obsession with money and possessions and not suffer a similar condition of heart. This is why transferring ownership to the King is such a pivotal spiritual moment in your life.
The power of idolatry is broken. We experience freedom from the weight of possessions and a renewed spiritual joy.
But where do we get the ability to make the transfer? How do we, in Augustine’s words, “Turn [my] love away from the things of this world and give our love to [the Giver]?”
By being the recipient of the Giver’s love — love expressed in a transfer that God makes for us before we make our transfer of money and possessions to him.
This is what the cross is about — a transfer — where Jesus transferred our unrighteousness to himself and then transfers his righteousness to us.
- He receives condemnation and judgment. We receive justification and mercy.
- He received what we deserve so that we can receive what he deserves.
Through the transfer of the cross, we become recipients of what the apostle Paul called “immeasurable riches of grace” (Ephesians 2:7). Regenerating grace. Justifying, forgiving grace. Adopting grace. Enabling Grace. And a taste of joy, hope, and peace that will find fulfillment in the glorifying grace of our own Promised Land.
This and so much more is what you get when you receive the transfer of unrighteousness for righteousness that Jesus offers in the gospel.
It is receiving that transfer that empowers us to make our own transfer of ownership of all my possessions from mine to his.
- Why is the subject of money, possessions, wealth, and generosity such a difficult topic to discuss? What emotions come to the surface in your heart when addressing the issue?
- Read Deuteronomy 10:14. What is significant about the fact that God owns everything?
- Conventional wisdom says that the more money you make the more generous you will become. It makes sense. The poor need all they have, right? But when you are rich, you have excess wealth to give away. Surprisingly, the statistics reveal just the opposite. Why do you think this is the case?
- How is Moses’s warning to the people of Israel before crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land relevant for us?
- Augustine wrote, “If the things of this world delight you, praise God for them but turn your love away from them and give it to [the Giver of the gifts].” How can this be a helpful antidote for the love of money?
- Why do we say that we can’t just stop saying “mine” but need to replace that grip with a transfer of ownership, whereby we are able to say “his?” What is the practical impact of changing our terminology?
- How does the Steward of Gondor show us how hard it is to transfer ownership back to God, the rightful King?
- How can making the transfer be a pivotal spiritual moment in your life?