Faith?

Faith imageYou gotta have faith!

What does this mean?

God will provide” is another variant of this idea. The idea that “faith” is a fix-all for what we don’t know and understand or a green light to pursue any desire we can dream up.

Where does the role of faith fit into a healthy understanding of my finances?

While I’m not a theologian, I have heard a lot of people using ‘faith’ language around financial matters for a long time. We’ve discussed that some people use ‘faith’ as a reason for pursing a theological education – sometimes used correctly and sometimes used as an argument for non-logical actions. Prosperity gospel teachers have also used ‘faith’ language to create an entire theological worldview where one’s physical blessings and hardships can be the result of their faith or lack thereof.

While there are many definitions of faith, I believe there is one definition of faith that will change your entire financial worldview. Let’s walk through it:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for…”

One way I believe Paul helped explain the world was dividing it into multiple “realms”. The physical universe (your skin, bones, DNA, cells, etc.), the spiritual world (the heart, the Spirit, Faith, hope, love, peace, etc.), and the mind or your thoughts.  There are a number of examples of this (Romans 12:1, Romans 7:21-24, Romans 8:5-15, Galatians 5:16-18).

I believe when the author of Hebrews 11 (probably not Paul) is saying that faith is the SUBSTANCE, what they are saying is that it is physical thing – an action in the physical world.  This would echo what James says in the second chapter of his book that faith without deeds isn’t actually a real thing. It’s ‘dead’. Faith is itself an action based on your HOPE. Jesus said calling me “Lord” is pretty worthless if you don’t actually take my teaching and put it into “practice”.  Walt Henrichsen says we take risks in the direction of our hope. Where is our hope? Where are we taking risks?

For example, I think this definition works well with understanding salvation itself. Paul in Romans outlines a process:  Though sinful (Romans 1-3), we have justification for sins by faith (chapter 4). Hope isn’t a wish, but an eager expectation that doesn’t disappoint (chapter 5). Our hope is in Jesus (Rom 5:1-2) who is the Hope of Glory (Eph 1:11-14 and Col 1:27), saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation comes through the physical actions taken in the direction of our hope. Thus in Romans 10:9 Paul says if you take a physical action in the direction of your hope – confess with your mouth what you believe in your heart – you will be saved. Another way of saying the same thing?  Follow Jesus. Believe he is who he says he is and actually do what he teaches (John 14:15-24).

Back to finances….I believe it’s critical to articulate what I’m hoping for. This will greatly clarify my faith statements. It’s really how the scientific process works. I set an eager expectation when I construct a hypothesis. Then I take a step of faith into the unknown and begin testing (“method”) in the direction of my hope. This is quite literally gathering ‘evidence of things not seen’.

What am I hoping for in my finances?

Having more than $400 for an emergency?

Being a responsible steward of all I’ve been given?

Raising my children without endemic poverty?

Being completely debt free someday?

Going to Seminary without debt?

Paying my student loans off within 5 years?

Sending my children to college without debt?

Allowing my spouse to be able to be a homemaker?

Giving 20% of my income?

Taking a year off of work when I turn 40 to serve the hurting?

 

This can’t be hope as a ‘wish and a dream’, but rather an eager expectation. What Peter called a “living hope”.  Romans 15 calls God the “God of Hope” whom through the Holy Spirit we may “abound in hope”. Peter described hope as something we can “set fully on”. Paul described it as a product of suffering, perseverance, and character. Solomon said without it the heart grows sick.

We need to land on a specific goal, a firmly embedded hope in our heart. Then we can start by taking actions in the direction of our hope. This is an act of faith – a risk in the direction of my hope.

It can be extremely unglamorous. I have a strong hope that raising children in a stable home and remaining married to my wife will be worth it in the long run. The reality is that this isn’t the easiest or most self-gratifying way to go through life. The reality is that I don’t know what life will be like in 20 or 30 years. But I have an ever present earnest hope that my life will be better in the future if I love my wife and serve my children in the present. And so in an ACT OF FAITH, I change diapers and go to work each morning. It is an act of faith – an action believing that it will be worth it.

It’s not an exaggeration to say doing the dishes is an extraordinary act of faithfulness. This is the kind of faith that breaks down generational cycles of fatherlessness, poverty, alcoholism, and abuse.

What is my financial hope? Do I want my spouse to be able to stay home with our children? I understand it isn’t possible right now. Step one: Set my hope on that outcome. Step two: Take a physical step of faith in that direction. What can I sell? Can I work a 2nd job? Can I downsize our house or car? Can I cut our food or entertainment budget in half? Can we payoff a credit card in the next 60 days if we live on nothing?

Do you feel called to go to Seminary without incurring a crushing debt burden? That is a noble goal. Set your hope in that direction. Next, start taking steps in the direction of your hope. Have you applied to Seminary? Have you applied for scholarships? Have you applied to 10 better jobs then you have now? Have you tried doing fundraising? Have you shared your vision with 20 people?  They all won’t work, but that’s ok. We don’t know what act of faith will work unless we try. Finding out what will work or watching God reshape our hope in another direction all together – that is the miracle of the divine crashing into my finite time and place. And it will be your unique story of how God provided and your faith will be strengthened because you will have your own personal “evidence”.  “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” It always starts with an action in the direction of your hope.

When it comes to finances, I’ve often had someone tell me “you can’t do that”. The truth they are telling me is probably “I can’t do that.” I understand these are wildly taken out of context, but there are instances of Jesus being amazed by unbelief. He is saying “Why aren’t you actually doing anything?” We say “Well, because we can’t control the wind and the waves.” Apparently that isn’t a good enough reason.

Conversely, Jesus was amazed by the faith of an outsider who took action when his servant fell ill. I believe a lack of faith is refusing to take steps into the unknown in the direction of my hope. You might believe it’s impossible to pay cash for your next car. Have you considered selling your expensive car that currently has payments? Have you read any books or articles on how to do it? Have you considered driving a crappy car for 6-12 months? Have you considered what you could sell to raise the money? Have you considered driving a car with hail damage? Have you considered going with one car for a significant period of time? Have you bought a car with significantly less features for a lot less money?

I know you can because my wife and I have done all of these things. I’m happy to say we have two beautiful, paid for cars. It took my wife and me a couple of years, a string of ugly cars, several breakdowns, a few arguments when we only had one car, and an ’04 Kia with hail damage I bought for less money than I was making per week, but we did it and we’ll never go back.

I have had people use spiritual language around a financial event that causes me to wonder. They say God “blessed” them with a new car (and car loan) or God “provided” the financing for the house of their dreams.  The reality is I don’t know, maybe He did. But I do believe “The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.” I wouldn’t want the blessing of your car if it came with your car payment.  My deepest desire is a greater Hope for you. I want a greater faith in the direction of that hope.

The message for me, as well as you, is that we wouldn’t settle for good enough. The good news of the gospel is that we can participate in the Kingdom – how the world ought to be. Let’s set forth with Kingdom hope and then take audacious actions in that direction.  When someone says “You gotta have faith”, I trust they have survived suffering, produced perseverance, developed character, and nurtured a hope that is deserving of that faith.

And I hope they have enough faith to take courageous action in that direction.

Roundup

Round-up

Debt Can Limit Your Ministry

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/minimize-student-debt-maximize-christian-service

 

If You’re Into Rants (and I am), This is an Instant Classic:

https://www.facebook.com/daveramsey/videos/10153385625285886/

 

How Today’s Clergy Are Putting Their Faith in Management Training:

http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/how-todays-clergy-are-putting-their-faith-in-management-training

 

The Gender Pay Gap Among Clergy is Worse Than the National Average:

http://tobingrant.religionnews.com/2016/01/12/gender-pay-gap-among-clergy-worse-than-national-average-a-first-look-at-the-new-national-data/

 

The Racial Wealth Gap:  Why A Typical White Household has 16 Times the Wealth of A Black One:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2015/03/26/the-racial-wealth-gap-why-a-typical-white-household-has-16-times-the-wealth-of-a-black-one/#2715e4857a0b3c072abb6c5b

 

Change is Hard:

http://ssir.org/articles/entry/leading_change_through_adaptive_design

 

Does Technology Reduce the Cost of Teaching? (HT @goldiestandard)

https://twitter.com/BryanAlexander/status/692004362382479360

First Steps

hobbitWhen I’m faced with a huge task, I’m likely just to never start. That must be true not only of me but for others as well – there is even an old saying about it:

The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Interestingly, it seems like one thing God does is hide the size of the elephant and just asks us to start with a single bite.

I’m in the process of reading The Hobbit to my kids right now, and Tolkien’s tale illustrates this point in a wonderful way. The story opens with Bilbo Baggins very much enjoying his life as status quo. Between first and second breakfasts, the wizard Gandalf tricks Bilbo into hosting a party of dwarves. Through the first chapter, Gandalf ropes him into ‘an unexpected journey’ one step at a time without letting him know how big the party is going to be, his role in the adventure, what to pack, or when they are leaving. As you might imagine, before long Bilbo is locked into the quest of a lifetime.

This theme is found throughout scripture as well. From Abram setting off with an unknown destination to God sending Moses back into Egypt to Jesus disciples being asked ‘follow me’, God sends us forth in life without knowing the scale and scope of the adventure.

I can’t imagine this is an accident.

What elephants seem overwhelming to you right now? Three years of Graduate School? Your debt? Finding a job? Buying a house? Eighteen years of raising children? Becoming a good spouse? Losing weight? Kicking an addiction? Reading the Bible in a year? Running a marathon? Writing a book? Starting an organization?

These are great things in life and they don’t just seem overwhelming, they ARE overwhelming. But don’t let that keep you from starting on the journey.

Theological Education: A Dangerous Journey

Pilgrims ProgressOne of my favorite books of all time is Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress. The narrative is abridged straight from the words of John Bunyan, but what immediately captures your imagination are the beautiful illustrations by Alan Parry.

The story is Bunyan’s allegory of the Christian journey, told as an adventure including the many challenges represented by dungeons, dark forests, black rivers and intense hardship.

Today there are great financial obstacles on path to following God’s calling into occupational ministry. On this blog I address one of the biggest obstacles – pursing a theological education. Last year I wrote a breakdown of routes to pay for your theological education beside debt, but here I’d like to articulate a few of the financial barriers – the allegorical giants, dragons, and lions – someone going into occupational ministry faces.

1. Rising Education costs

For over 30 years, the cost of all higher education has outpaced inflation. This is a huge wave, and Seminaries have been swept up in its wake. This rising tide requires focused attention to avoid being drowned. You simply cannot ignore the financial aspect of pursing a graduate degree and just assume it will all work out – it requires a plan.

2. Popular teaching on Higher Education

Throughout popular culture, there has been a long term bias toward encouraging young people to pursue higher education. These people were probably well-intentioned, and often quote stats like this, but this is really post WW2 logic. Back then, you could get the appropriate degree and work as a cog in a factory for your entire career. It really was a solid plan. This type of teaching often sounds something like this:

  1. All Education debt is “Good Debt”
  2. Always invest in yourself
  3. Education is always good

I’ve talked here several times before about how highly I value a theological education – I want and need my pastor to have one. But the end doesn’t universally justify the means, and popular culture has more or less ignored the ‘how’ and just pushed young people to ‘get an education’.

3. Spiritual Misinterpretation

I linked to a really good article last month where the author said some people have “’spiritualized’ educational debt, believing that if one followed God’s call to ministry, God would take care of the finances.” This “God will provide” narrative is taken from some amazing biblical stories (like Abraham and Isaac) where God did miraculously show up and provide. If God has specifically told you he will provide, please don’t let me stand in your way. But if you believe God has told you this and you’re using debt to pay for it, I am going to push back based on the large amount of scriptures on the dangers of debt.

Don’t call being naïve a ‘step of faith’.

4. Changing Job Market

For around a 100 years in America, we’ve had a cultural that encouraged a form of ‘cultural Christianity’ where a local community attended a house of worship and financially supported local institution. Prior to this we had a ‘traveling preacher’ model, and you can trace occupational ministry back throughout history to the Levites around 1500 BC.

That is all to say that there isn’t any guarantee of what occupational ministry looks like over the next 40 years. Traditional church attendance is declining – probably in part because there isn’t a cultural pressure to attend or be a member of a faith community.

Those pursing a theological education also graduate into a career that often pays lower salaries than other careers requiring advanced degrees. This probability of lower lifetime incomes needs to considered when thinking through how much debt is acceptable to take on while pursing that education. Regardless of your and my opinion, we all agree that there is some level of debt that is ‘too much’.

Occupational ministry is also very ‘hands on’, meaning that there is a high probability that you will need to move geographically throughout your career as you take and leave various jobs. This is a challenge – a lion on the path if you will.

Finally in this category, you will need to navigate changing denominational structures over the next few decades. The ‘cultural Christianity’ we referenced earlier provided a huge financial platform for those going into occupational ministry. These denominational structures are eroding.

5. Debt is the Path of Least Resistance

Debt is certainly the easiest way to go to college right now. You simply sign your name and you’re financially able to attend classes immediately without any financial obligations until you graduate.  Water flows down hill, and because the barriers are so low this has become an industry with $50 Billion in profits.

Dave Ramsey has used the word “wander” to describe going into debt and getting out. As in, “You cannot wander out of debt”. Because its so easy, you can wander into debt if you don’t have a plan.

CONCLUSION

This has been a bit of downer. It wasn’t meant to be. The point wasn’t to address the morality of any of these things (they simply are), nor to address any solutions. Just to take what is scary in the dark and shine a light on it.

In the pictorial illustration I included above, the protagonist Christian, weary from his journey is looking for a place to stay for the night. In Bunyan’s words:

But as he drew nearer, he could hear in the darkness the roaring of lions. The only way forward was along a narrow passage, which was about a furlong from the porter’s lodge. This, he knew, was the place from which Mistrust and Timorous had fled. And Christian was never so near to running back after them.

But the porter at the lodge, whose name was Watchful, perceiving now that Christian made a halt, cried out:

Is your strength so small? Fear not the lions. They are on long chains. If you  keep strictly to the beam of light, in the centre of the path, they cannot reach you.

So Christian moved on. He took good heed to the directions of the porter. At the same time, he trembled for fear of the lions, for now they were on either side of him, straining at their chains.

And how they roared, and snapped at him! And how they tried to catch him by the foot! But Christian soldiered on boldly. And in another minute he was through and had reached the gate unharmed.

My hope here was to illuminate the lions, to be your Watchful, and to reduce fear showing that the path becomes more clear. This isn’t meant to be discouraging. In fact, I think it’s the making of great drama and a wonderful story. There is hope! You can do this.

Do you have Millionaire Myths?

The_millioner_mind_bookcoverThomas Stanley was one of the most important myth busters in America. His original Millionaire Next Door changed the way we understand wealth building in America. His book Stop Acting Rich is probably my favorite, but his book Millionaire Mind tried to address the mindset (as opposed to the practical – cut spending, investing, etc.) of the most financially successful.

Since Dr. Stanley passed away last year, Dave Ramsey has started doing a Millionaire theme hour every few months where he brings on real life average millionaires and asks them a few questions. What becomes apparent listening to a few of these is that there are a number of popular myths around those that have accumulated wealth:

MYTHS:

  1. Wealthy inherited their money
  2. Wealthy are famous
  3. The wealthy did something unethical to gain their wealth
  4. The wealthy are workaholics without families
  5. The wealthy went to a top college or university
  6. The wealthy are smarter or more intelligent
  7. The wealthy started with money (It takes money to make money)
  8. The wealthy live extravagantly (new cars, expensive jeans, etc.)

The reality – both statistically and anecdotally – is that that these just aren’t true. The vast majority are first generation millionaires (88%) that live very inconspicuous lives (1% are famous musicians or athletes), acquired their wealth slowly by saving over a long period of time, have long stable marriages, and graduated in the middle of their class with average GPAs.

Instead, in the Millionaire Mind, Stanley ranked the most important attributes:

  1. Being Honest – Integrity
  2. Being Disciplined
  3. Getting along with people
  4. Having a supportive spouse
  5. Working hard

HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO ME?

You might be wondering how this applies if you’re in Seminary or a graduate school. First, it’s amazing the wisdom of scripture (especially Proverbs) that bleeds through:

  1. “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by duplicity.”
  2. “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.”
  3. “The prudent hold their tongues.” “Blessed are the peacemakers”
  4. “A wife of noble character….more precious than rubies. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.”
  5. Hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”

If you’ve chosen to spend your life studying and teaching the scriptures, rest assured that if you practically apply what you’ve learned to your own life you are on the road to “all these things being added unto you.”

Second, critically analyze any negative thinking you may have around going into ministry. “I’m going into ministry, so I’ll never be financially stable.” “I’ll never be able to go to Seminary without debt.” Is that true? Maybe. But maybe not. God calls different people into different circumstances, but we do know that “The blessing of the LORD makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” I believe the key to that verse isn’t “rich”, it’s “no sorrow”. You can have a rich ministry with no financial sorrow. You can have a rich marriage, with no sorrow. A rich friendship without drama is a blessing from the LORD.

Third, in The Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren says God cares more about your Character than your Circumstances. You may have noticed that Stanley’s keys are all issues of character. In Seminary, you’re presented with an overwhelming amount of information – brain knowledge. But it’s important to remember that the hard work of discipleship is developing your inner life to be “the same as that of Christ Jesus”. Regardless of your and my future financial gain, we can agree that Jesus had great integrity, showed great diligence and discipline, worked well with others, and wasn’t lazy. This is why Paul said “godliness with contentment is great gain.”

The point of this post: If you’re struggling with financial matters, let’s look at:

Mind: Do I have Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) around money, the wealthy, my finances, my future? Are these true in light of scripture?

Body: Do I practically have financially destructive actions or habits in my income or outgo?

Spirit: Do I have character issues that I need to work through?

DISCLAIMER:

In reviewing this article I think it’s important to note that the scriptures don’t give a formula that teaches CHARACTER leads to WEALTH. The point of this article is that many believe that wealth and good character are incompatible or incongruent, and that certainly isn’t the case.

It’s also important to note that the point of our finances isn’t becoming a millionaire or independence – especially from God who provides all our needs (Pro 30:9, I Cor 4:7, Matt 6:11, 1 Tim 6:17, Phil 4:19). Instead I believe we can and should aspire towards ‘Freedom’, specifically from debt both current and future.

BOUNDARIES in Finances

BoundariesObviously God must guide us in a way that will develop spontaneity in us. Suppose a parent would dictate to the child minutely everything he is to do during the day. The child would be stunted under that regime. The parent must guide in such a manner, and to the degree, that autonomous character, capable of making right decisions for itself, is produced. God does the same. – E. Stanley Jones

In this summary of his transcendent book “Boundaries”, Henry Cloud outlines one of the most important principles in human development:

“Simply stated, it is this: people have a need to be in control of their own lives, and they have a need to know that God is behind that idea.”

Managing finances is a litmus test for our values. Understanding Cloud’s principle has implications for how and why we must develop financial skills.

Financially, many people confuse these two:

  1. God promises to meet all our needs (Philippians 4:19 and Matthew 6:25-34).
  2. God desires us to take responsibilities for our actions.

I believe the confusion surrounds our fixation with outcomes. It is assumed that an appropriate outcome either signifies appropriate actions or that the ‘ends justified the means’. The Bible goes to great lengths to separate the connection of SITUATION from ACTIONS: “Don’t worry about evil people who prosper”( Ps 37:7 and many others).

Money is a very outcome laden subject. For example, most people don’t realize that you can make good investment decisions that still lose money and BAD decisions that make money. The truth is that the quality of the decision making process is separate from the outcome of the decision.

In that vein, the Bible teaches us to separate our actions from God’s outcomes. We are responsible for our actions; God is responsible for our outcomes. The context is different, but this is the idea behind I Corinthians 3:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

See that the reward is for the LABOR not the growth or harvest. This is a vitally important financial concept because it releases us from the outcome and empowers us to focus on taking responsibility for our actions.

 TAKING OWNERSHIP

The vast majority of financial messes I see are caused by someone’s head being stuck in the sand. This ostrich mentality results from feeling overwhelmed by either the size or scale of the mess or the inability to navigate the complexity of it, so a person ignores the issue until it intersects with real life. Dallas Willard described this collision: “Sometimes reality is what you run into when you’re wrong.”

The unfortunate truth is that ignoring problems doesn’t lead us to less stress, worry, or increased happiness. The opposite is true – when you know you have a large financial burden, ignoring it creates inner stress and it weighs on our spirits. It ‘enslaves’ us.

Instead, as Dr. Cloud pointed out “freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.” We must take dominion over that which we have personal responsibility. This most certainly includes our finances.

Money is a little confusing for some because a critical Biblical concept of money says that “God owns it all.” This is true – what we are discussing here isn’t money but your and my DECISIONS about how to handle our money. We have to take ownership of our decisions. Again Dr. Cloud:

What ownership basically is about is the possession of what God has entrusted to us. Ownership says, “that is mine, and I am responsible for it.” It is what Jesus was calling us to in the commandment to “take the log out of our own eye first.” (Lk. 6:42) So, in order to take responsibility for our lives, we must own what is ours.

We own control over our financial decisions. When we refuse that control, , we are subjected to a life at the mercy of sales people, shiny stuff, collections callers, ‘rich people’, evil corporations, big government, debt, car payments, student loans, lower salaries, and financial emergencies. Dave Ramsey describes control over our financial decisions as ‘happening to your money’ instead of ‘wondering what happened to your money’.

POVERTY MENTALITY

Many (even those in occupational ministry) don’t understand this division of actions and outcomes and it leads to a couple of unhealthy perspectives:

“Rich people must have done something immoral to gain their wealth”

“Rich people stepped on people on their way to the top”

“I’ll never be wealthy because….”

“The system is set up so the average guy can’t win”

“The little guy can never get ahead”

“I’m not a finances nerd so I won’t ever have enough….”

“You have to have money to make money”

“The love of money is the root of all evil so I won’t ever be rich”

These perspectives connect ACTIONS and RESULTS to create false narratives. “I don’t” so “I won’t”. They have all come about because the situations described can and do occasionally occur. But correlation doesn’t imply causation.

Instead, if we come to the Biblical perspective of separating the actions from the results, we can conclude that there are some poor people whose actions we would LIKE to emulate and many rich people whose actions we would NOT like to emulate. In the same way we don’t need to envy or covet others’ wealth. Why they have it (RESULTS) isn’t our business; it belongs to God. Similarly, if you find yourself with wealth, you don’t need to feel guilty about it. The fact that you have it doesn’t validate you, your decisions, or anything else. It just is. It is the result of providence. What we do with our wealth (ACTIONS) is the more important matter over which we must take ownership.

Freedom!

freedomFreedom is a critical concept to the follower of Christ. Paul says that while we WERE slaves, now we “have been set free”.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

This quote from Galatians 5 has Paul telling the church that our spiritual freedom can and should wash over our physical lives. True freedom begins on a spiritual level and manifests in increasing waves in the physical world. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”

It is not a coincidence then that the scriptures use the very vivid image that the “borrower is slave to the lender”. Regardless of our current financial situation, I don’t see any scenario where we don’t strive toward a goal of debt free living. This isn’t a criticism but an aspiration. Whatever situation we find ourselves in currently we should be asking: Do I have it as a written goal with action steps to be debt free?

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free truth will set you free.” Are you more financially free now then you were 1 year ago? How about 5 years ago? Will you be more financially free 1 year from now? How about 5 years from now? HOW? Write it down.

MONEY: SIX VIEWS OF WEALTH

Walking through 1 Timothy 6   Dollar sign

Money is a complex subject – by some accounts about 15% of the Bible, or 2,350 verses, address the topic. There is also a crap-ton of books written on the subject (many of which are in my office, and you’re welcome to borrow). One of the most important passages on money in all of scripture is I Timothy 6, Paul’s seminal letter to his protégé. In this chapter, Paul addresses six categories of people or worldviews, from those stuck in permanent slavery to those rich in this world. A walk through this chapter will acquaint us with how it has shaped contemporary beliefs and misconceptions on money throughout history. Let’s begin.

NO HOPE OF WEALTH

1 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on.

Paul first addresses those on this earth who have no hope of ever attaining any amount of temporal wealth (v 1-2). You and I have grown up in a world that allows upward mobility, but it’s worth noting that for most of human history this hasn’t been the case. If you were born into the home of a servant, for example, that was your lot in life. Paul begins his treaty on money by addressing those who have no hope of temporal wealth; those crushed by the ‘yoke of slavery’. Paul admonishes them to treat their master with respect – not because the master deserves it but because we do everything in our power to honor God. Even if your master is your spiritual equal – your ‘brother’ – Paul teaches us to ‘serve them even better’.

In America we have a social structure that gives the illusion of full equality through legal access to citizens’ rights, but we slip into a social hierarchy that is based on personal wealth or positional power. In this reality, those who have more money are higher up the social ladder. Paul doesn’t address the morality of the social structure here – he just speaks directly to those in it. Currently there is a lot of resentment toward wealthy people, wealthy employers and corporations, the 1 percent, and strong opinion regarding what should be done about the imbalance of wealth. It may be helpful for us to remember that as we encounter those who have more wealth than us to “not show less respect….Instead serve them even better.” We do this so that God’s name may not be slandered.

HEALTH AND WEALTH GOSPEL

3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

In verses three through five, Paul directly address those who believe that “godliness is a means to financial gain.” What is the core of this belief? Pride (v4). What does this world view create? Controversies and quarrels resulting in envy, strife, and constant friction.

There is confusion on this subject because if you follow the principles of the Kingdom, you often will succeed in a worldly sense. If you ‘serve your employer even better’, as Paul urges in the previous verse, your employer will often promote you to greater responsibilities. If you ‘do unto your customers as you’d have done unto you’, you will likely gain more customers. This is natural law.

So what is Paul cautioning against? Attitude. The attitude that seeks first financial gain and tries to use godliness as the route to that end. This is what Jesus explained when he said you cannot serve both God and money. You will love the one and hate the other or vice versa. Instead, Jesus teaches to seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be added unto you.

TRUE WEALTH

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Contentment. This is the truest form of wealth. No amount of wealth is enough without contentment. You’ve no doubt heard the quote from Andrew Carnegie on how much wealth is enough: Just a little bit more.

The reality is that our circumstances are continually changing and are often out of our control. If we learn contentment, we will always be happy. Paul of course addressed this in Philippians; “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

In this letter to Timothy, Paul comes short of being content in EVERY SITUATION – instead telling Timothy in verse 8 “when I’m cold and hungry I get a little cranky”. Perhaps he hadn’t fully learned the secret yet. I guess we are all a work in progress.

PEOPLE WHO WANT WORLDLY WEALTH

9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Whoever loves money never has money enough” – Solomon

The next section of 1 Timothy 6 contains one of the 10 most well-known and misquoted verses in the entire Bible: Money is the root of all evil.

Who is Paul addressing in verses 9 and 10? Those “who want to get rich” or are “eager for money”.

The key words here all address matters of heart. As Jesus taught, God looks at the condition of the heart. “They that will to be rich”, “coveted after” and have a “love of money” all exhibit a condition of the heart that can be held by both the material rich and the poor.

The old school King James Version has some awesome language in these two verses:

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and [into] many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The word “perdition” is a fantastic one and it’s a major bummer it’s not part of our lexicon today. It “denotes the final state of ruin and punishment”.

And the KJV finishes with an incredible word picture – those who pursue worldly wealth ultimately pierce themselves through with many sorrows. This is what a life dedicated to making money looks like. It sucks. If you’ve met an   elderly person who has pursued this lifestyle, you may have instantly recognized the bitterness they have – realizing that they are going to die and can take nothing with them. Solomon penned his frustrations on this saying “I hated all the things I had toiled for because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.” The piercing sorrow of bitterness and regret.

PURSUE SPIRITUAL WEALTH

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Flee…and Pursue….” Paul commends his protégé, “But you are a Man of God and you’re going to go a different path than the road of perdition!” True wealth isn’t defined by what we HAVE (which rust and thieves can destroy), but who we ARE; our character. Paul tells Timothy to BECOME a person defined by ‘righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.’ These fruits of the spirit are what define a successful person. To these Paul says “I charge you”.

THOSE WHO ARE WORLDLY WEATHLY

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Paul wraps his treaty on money in verses 17 through 19 by addressing those who “are rich in this present world”. A teacher once explained that there are two main things to remember with a biblical world view of money:

–              Money doesn’t BELONG to me

–              Money doesn’t DEFINE me

Those are both identity issues. A follower of Christ is to identify their value as an Imago Dei (someone made in the image of God) and as a disciple of Christ by practice, not by possessions. Paul addresses our propensity to attach our identity to our wealth immediately: Don’t be arrogant (prideful) or put your hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.

In 2009, one of the richest people in the world, German billionaire Adolf Merckle, jumped in front of a train, killing himself because massive financial losses had lowered his net worth DOWN to around 9 billion dollars. When you put your pride and value in your wealth, then losing your money – which many have done – results in losing your value.

Paul is really addressing most of us in this section. By worldwide standards, we are extremely rich in this present world. Paul has some direct advice on what to do with our money:

–              Do Good Works

–              Be Generous

–              Be willing to Communicate

–              Enjoy

The first two are common suggestions that we would give anyone who has a lot of money – do good stuff and be willing to share. Maybe that’s obvious, but it’s still difficult when it’s your money. The other two are interesting.

Wealth creates isolation. You can easily isolate yourself from the poor and those unlike you. If you want to take a trip to Italy or order a $100 bottle of wine at dinner, it’s just easier to do that if your friends can afford to do the same. You don’t have to feel guilty, or wonder if maybe you should pay for everyone, or worry about your friends wanting something from you. Paul’s solution to this isolation is translated ‘willing to share’ in the NIV, and ‘willing to communicate’ in the KJV. When you think of how ‘sharing’ applies to a wealthy person, you probably default to the idea of sharing money. But I believe this passage is pushing wealthy people to engage in dialog and willingness; to be used by people, to answer awkward questions, to share stories and struggles. Communication breaks down isolation.

Larry Burkett used to say the difference between hoarding and saving was attitude. It’s hard to emphasize the importance of the end of verse 17 – God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. The attitude that everything belongs to God and he gives us “everything for our enjoyment” is the key to really enjoying money without guilt. Ecclesiastes 5:19 says “when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift from God.” Learning to enjoy wealth as a fabulous gift from our heavenly father is a spiritual skill that we must nurture and develop so we can honor God in all that we do.