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Reading adapted from Money, Possessions and Eternity, by Randy Alcorn
Were I the Bible's editor, I would cut out much of what it says about money and possessions. Anyone can see it devotes a disproportionate amount of space to a subject of secondary importance. When it comes to money and possessions, the Bible is sometimes redundant, often extreme, and occasionally shocking.
And, after all, we come to the Bible for comfort-not for a lecture on finances. If we want to know about money, we can go to Fortune, Forbes, or the Wall Street Journal. Scripture should concern itself with the spiritual and heavenly. Money is physical and earthly. The Bible is religious; money is secular. Let God talk about love and grace and brotherhood, thank you. Let the rest of us talk about money and possessions.
For serious Christians some hard questions are in order here. How could the Bible's Author and Editor justify devoting twice as many verses to money than to faith and prayer combined? And how could Jesus say more about money than both heaven and hell? Didn't he know what was really important?
The sheer enormity of Scripture's teaching on this subject screams for our attention. And the haunting and immensely important question is, why? Why did the Savior of the world say more about how we are to view and handle money and possessions than about any other single thing? Why?
Money and Conversion
The enigma deepens when we look at how closely Jesus linked money to salvation itself. When Zacchaeus said he would give half his money to the poor and pay back four times over those he had cheated, Jesus did not merely say, "Good idea." He said, "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9). This is amazing. Jesus judged the reality of this man's salvation based on his willingness, no, his cheerful eagerness to part with his money for the glory of God and the good of others.
Zacchaeus is not an isolated case. When his audience asked John the Baptist what they should do to bear the fruit of repentance, first he told them to share their clothes and food with the poor. Then he told the tax collectors not to collect and pocket extra money. And finally he told the soldiers not to extort money and to be content with their wages (Luke 3:7-14). In all three cases, the conclusive proof of a spiritual change was an altered perspective on the handling of money and possessions.
In Mark 12 we meet a poor widow. She put in the temple offering box two tiny copper coins, worth a fraction of a penny. This was the only money she had. Jesus called his disciples together to teach them a lesson from the woman. Did he question the wisdom of her actions? Did he say she should have been more sensible? No, he gave her an unqualified commendation for her choice: "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on" (vv. 43-44). Jesus enshrined her example in the Word of God that all believers in the future might emulate her faith, commitment, and sacrificial generosity.
To liquidate and disperse cheerfully the assets one had spent a lifetime accumulating was no more natural then than now. And that is the whole point. Conversion and the filling of the Holy Spirit were supernatural experiences that produced supernatural responses. While there was still the private ownership of property, the joyful giving and sharing of this property became the new "norm" of supernatural living.
If a first-century Christian were to visit us today and gauge our spiritual condition by our attitudes and actions regarding money and possessions, what conclusions would he come to?
The Story Money Tells
Money is a litmus test of our true character. It is an index of our spiritual life. Our stewardship of money tells a deep and consequential story. It forms our biography. In a sense, how we relate to money and possessions is the story of our lives.
If this is true of all men in all ages, does it not have special application to us who live in a time and place of unparalleled affluence? Take a man or woman who works from age twenty-five to sixty-five and makes $15,000 a year. In his lifetime this person of modest income by our standards will handle well over half a million dollars. He will manage a fortune. And if Scripture is true, and men must give an account of their lives to God (Rom. 14:12), then one day this man must answer these questions: Where did it all go? What did I spend it on? What has been accomplished for eternity through my use of all this wealth?
In the account of the poor widow, Mark wrote, "Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury" (Mark 12:41).
Notice we are not told, "Jesus happened to see...." No, it seems he deliberately watched to observe what people were giving.
Jesus was interested enough in who was giving what to make an immediate object lesson to the disciples about the true nature of trusting God as demonstrated in sacrificial financial giving.
If we stop to think about it, this passage makes all of us who suppose that what we do with our money is our business and only our business feel terribly uncomfortable. On the contrary, it is painfully apparent that it is God's business-that God makes it his business. He does not apologize for watching with intense interest what we do with the money he has entrusted to us. If we use our imaginations, we might even peer into the invisible realm to see him gathering some of his subjects together this very moment. Perhaps you can hear him using your handling of finances as an object lesson. The question is, what kind of lesson?
Getting Close to Home
Sometimes more is to be learned from the passages of Scripture we avoid or skim over than those we underline or post on our refrigerator. The Bible contains an arsenal of such verses on the subject of money and possessions, and they just keep firing away at us.
The more we allow ourselves to grapple with these unsettling passages, the more we are pierced. Our only options, it seems, are to let Christ wound us until he accomplishes what he wishes, or to avoid his words and his gaze and his presence altogether by staying away from his Word. The latter option is easier in the short run. But no true disciple can really be content with it.
By now some readers are long gone and others who remain are uncomfortable. I must admit that I share your discomfort. You may even be thinking, "I'd rather not deal with these issues. I'm content doing what I'm doing." But are you really content? Are any of us who know Christ, who have his Spirit within, really content when we haven't fully considered his words? When we haven't completely opened ourselves to what he has for us? Comfortable, perhaps. Complacent, certainly. But not content.
I, for one, hate to live with that nagging feeling deep inside that when Jesus called people to follow him he had more in mind than I'm experiencing. I don't want to miss out on what he has for me. If he has really touched your life, I don't think you do either.
For all these sobering implications, I must quickly add that for me the process of discovering God's will about money and possessions, rather than being burdensome, has been tremendously liberating. My own growth and enlightenment in financial stewardship has closely paralleled my overall spiritual growth. In fact, it has propelled it. I have learned more about faith, trust, grace, commitment, and God's provision in this arena than in any other.
I have also learned why Paul said, "God loves a cheerful giver," and I have found that a cheerful giver loves God, and loves him more deeply each time he gives. To me, one of the few experiences comparable to the joy of leading someone to Christ is the joy of making wise and generous choices with my money. Both are supreme acts of worship. Both are what we were made for.
I write not as a critic or crusader but as an excited learner. I feel like a child who has found a wonderful trail hidden in the woods-a trail that countless others have blazed but one which seems to the child to be as new and fresh as if it had never before existed. The exhilaration of this adventure is impossible to describe. It can only be experienced.
It's a bold statement: "Money and possessions are an index of your spiritual life." Certainly, Jesus did nothing to take the edge off. In fact, he reduced this truth to the simplest of terms when he said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21).
Your assignment for this session is to engage in an exercise of ruthlessly honest observation concerning your heart and your treasures. This week, as you interact with money and possessions-as you make purchases, walk through stores, read magazines, watch TV, interact with peers, manage your household-ask yourself this question: "What is going on in my heart right now?"
Take specific note of these (or other) thoughts or feelings (or the lack of them!) related to money and possessions that are triggered throughout the day:
Delight Dissatisfaction Envy Disappointment Anxiety Excitement Insecurity Peace of mind Gratitude Contentment Guilt Trust Greed Anger Regret
At the end of each day, have a brief time of reflection. Make a few notes in your journal or another place. What are you seeing in yourself? Is there any dominant pattern? Anything that surprises you? What summary statements can you make?
1. The reading states, "In a sense, how we relate to money and possessions is the story of our lives." Take a few moments to reflect on your upbringing. How would you summarize the story of your family's life concerning money and possessions as you were growing up?
What kind of training in money management, if any, did your parents give you, and what impact did it have?
What other perspectives about money did you catch from their attitudes and behaviors, positive or negative?
2. According to the reading, there is a sense in which our relationship to money "forms our biography." If someone were to read your biography-if they came to know you only by "reading" your attitudes and behaviors toward money and possessions-what five words would they use to describe you? (Consider asking a close friend to supplement your list.)
What truth does money tell about you that few people know?
3. Summarize the money-management principles found in Proverbs 6:6-11 and 27:23-27.
Now summarize Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6:25-34.
How do you resolve the differences between these apparently conflicting teachings of Scripture?
Excerpted from Giving by John Ortberg Laurie Pederson Judson Poling Copyright © 2000 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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