“Jesus’ advice ruined what I planned to write.”
It was the recipe for a great book. John and his wife—both financial experts—had cut their income by 80% to pursue more meaningful lives. Within six years they had two kids, were debt-free, went on several vacations, and doubled their net worth. John was ready to share the biblical principles that made this possible.
But he couldn’t. After reviewing Scripture’s teaching on money—over 1,300 verses—he realized he had missed something big.
Jesus’ Terrible Financial Advice turns even conventional Christian wisdom on its head. While it answers many of the practical questions we have—like does Jesus want me to be rich or poor? Should I give to everybody who asks? Is it wrong to save?—it goes beyond these concerns. It asks bigger questions, gives bolder answers, and offers a more comprehensive view of stewardship. Follow Jesus’ “terrible” (shocking, otherworldly) financial advice, and you’ll have what money can’t buy: purpose.
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Jesus' Terrible Financial Advice
Flipping the Tables on Peace, Prosperity, and the Pursuit of Happiness
By John Thornton, Connor Sterchi
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2017 John Thornton
All rights reserved.
The Book I Couldn't Write
"Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you."
Fifteen years ago, as a young accounting professor at the US Air Force Academy, I sat down to write a book about God's perspective on money. And I knew exactly what I wanted Him to say.
Don't judge me. It's not like I was going to put words in His mouth. Quite the opposite, really. I was intent on using the Bible as my sole resource, despite my somewhat unique position of holding a PhD in accounting in addition to years of practical experience as a CPA. I even think my heart was in the right place. I'd seen a lot of friends and family — whether rich or poor — struggle with money, and really wanted to help. Besides, I had an unbelievable story to tell of God's provision, and I thought it needed to be told.
Early in our married life, my wife, Alyssa, and I had left professional careers for graduate school. I was a CPA and Alyssa was an actuary (they specialize in the mathematics of probability). According to the Wall Street Journal, accountants invented actuaries so there would be someone more boring than themselves. So we were the original fun couple.
Our goal in returning to school was to free up time to live more meaningful lives. I planned to become an accounting professor to free up summers for youth ministry. And as we put God first, He provided for us beyond our imagination. Though our budget required that we give up over 80 percent of our income and live on an income at just half of the US poverty level, we not only survived — we thrived! After six years of grad school we were debt free, and we'd gone to Disneyland, Disney World, and Maui three times.
But wait — there's more! We also had two sons along the way, and Alyssa was able to stay home and focus on them. And instead of going bankrupt, our net worth doubled over those lean years. By putting God first and combining some simple accounting tools with a few basic biblical principles, we'd made it through the desert and were headed to the Promised Land.
As a new professor at the Academy, I polished my talk — "Who wants to be a millionaire?"— on cadets, showing them how, by following a simple plan, they could invest just $2,000 per year for seven years after they graduated, and without ever investing another cent, retire a millionaire. (If the suspense is killing you, you can visit my website, gettingrichright.com, for a short explanation of how.)
That's the book I planned to write. Because what Alyssa and I did wasn't a miracle. It was mundane. And the difference is important. You can plan for the mundane, but not for miracles.
The Blind Side
Spring break, April 2000. That's when God blindsided me — four years after completing my doctorate in accounting and ten years after becoming a CPA. I had recently read through the entire Bible and highlighted every passage I could find on wealth. So that week I completely immersed myself in the topic by typing every highlighted verse into a Word document. By midweek I had over 1,300 passages on 115 pages. Single-spaced, 12-point font. Then I classified them into twenty-three categories.
What I found was remarkably different than what I expected.
That week I penned the following:
Eeoww! I just spent the last two days typing into my computer every passage I could find in the (New Testament on wealth, and I stand convicted. It's not that I haven't read the Bible before. In fact, I've read portions of it most every day for decades, and in the last couple years read the entire Bible, specifically highlighting every passage I could find related to wealth. (No, when it comes to the Bible, you'd have to classify me as well read. But it was in my actions of the past week that caused me to react with what can be described as equal parts conviction, consternation, confusion, dread, and excitement. ... And at I stand at the crossroads, I'm scared. God, increase my faith.
Jesus' Terrible Financial Advice
Pleased that my own financial plan had come together so well, imagine my dismay when I found the following advice from Jesus: "And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well" (Matt. 5:40).
Huh? In case you missed it, let me tell you straight up that this is terrible financial advice. And on so many levels! Obviously Jesus didn't grow up in America. We love to sue people! It's our national pastime. Who hasn't heard of the woman who spilled her coffee leaving a McDonald's drive-thru, sued for millions — and won! Coffee she was holding in a cup between her legs. Apparently the cup didn't say that the contents were hot. Duh! What kind of coffee did she think she was getting? That's the only kind of coffee they sold back then. So not only did McDonald's cough up the big bucks, they now have to print on all their cups: "Warning: Contents are hot!"
What could Jesus have in mind by giving His disciples that kind of advice? If someone wants to sue you, let him?
And His follow-up was even worse.
"Give to the one who asks you" (Matt. 5:42).
Did He mean everybody? I'd be broke in a week! Why not buy my wife the shirt "I'm with Stupid!", add a big tat to my forehead that confirms it, and stand on the street corner with a stack of $50s until the carnage is complete?
Wanting to remain true to my original intent of showing what God says about money, I decided to avoid explaining away Jesus' words, and instead keep an open mind while I typed on. Besides, it was still Monday morning, and I was only on the third passage. To cover myself, I opened a second screen in Windows and started recording all the questions that came to mind.
"Give to the one who asks you."
1. Could I give to the wrong person? Surely it matters who I give to? Shouldn't I use some judgment on this?
2. Could I give too much?
3. Could I give irresponsibly? What about people who have dependents? Should they give to everyone who asks? I have three small sons, for goodness' sake! And a wife. It's one thing if I ruin my life, but what about theirs?
Switching back to the main screen, I returned to typing in passages of Scripture on wealth. But all I seemed to be getting was more and more of the same from Jesus.
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret" (Matt. 6:3–4a).
Does that go for my left brain as well as my right? Perhaps if my logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective left brain didn't know what my random, intuitive, holistic, subjective right brain was doing, I'd find Jesus' advice more palatable.
On the upside, Jesus did follow up His advice with some hope: "Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matt. 6:4b).
Still, those rewards sounded pretty distant, and I was reeling from too many right hooks to the head to be overly comforted.
Then came the knockout blow. After telling me, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Matt. 6:19), He followed it up with this statement: "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Matt. 6:24).
Bam! For several minutes straight Jesus had taken off the gloves, and that was the blow that put me down for the count. It's not like I hadn't heard that verse before. I've heard sermons on it. And I'd probably read it a hundred times. But with all the other questions swirling around in my mind that morning, this time it knocked me flat.
Love God but despise money? I must have missed something, because I didn't see the connection. Why couldn't I enjoy both? Money is a blessing. I could think of several rich people in the Bible who loved God. Job, Abraham, David. And hadn't God provided for us in a spectacular fashion?
So what was I missing?
The Purpose-Driven Son
In a word: purpose.
Jesus' purpose, that is.
This answer is so stark, so blatant, so obvious, that it seems impossible to miss. Yet I was guilty of doing what every person has done when coming to Jesus, from the first encounters recorded in the Gospels to the present day. I came with my agenda. My needs and wants. Just like many of you.
What do you want, or need, from God?
Start a list, if you'd like. Is there one thing? Or a thousand?
Regardless of length, our lists are precisely why we miss Jesus' true purpose in coming to earth. Because He meets everyone who comes to Him exactly where they're at.
But thankfully, He doesn't leave us there. Instead, He redirects us to His Father.
Jesus' sole purpose on earth was to glorify His Father.
Yes, Jesus came "to destroy the devil's work" (l John 3:8) by ending the curse brought on creation by the fall.
Yes, Jesus came to give us life, and life to the full.
Yes, Jesus came to set us free from death and bring us home.
Yes to all of God's promises to us. "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ. And so through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God" (2 Cor. 1:20). But these are all a part of His overarching purpose: to glorify His Father.
By glory, I mean the adoration and accolades rightfully due the person who performed the praiseworthy deed. Our God is one. What He does reflects who He is. And He is "the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these [He] delight[s]" (Jer. 9:24).
Jesus came to restore a true picture of who His Father is. Ever since the fall, when we listened to the serpent disparage God's true character, sin has blinded us from clearly seeing the Father for who He really is.
Jesus fully reveals the mystery of His purpose in His final prayer on the night He gave up His life for ours.
"Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." (John 17: 1b–5)
Jesus' purpose is the foundational truth that unlocks everything He teaches about money. Indeed, all His teachings hinge on understanding His purpose in coming to this earth.
Jesus' sole purpose on earth was to glorify His Father.
Everything He did and everything He said was to show us His Father. Of course, He did many other things here o earth, but they all fit under this main purpose. People came to Him with their sick and their sin, their dying and their dead, and Jesus met them where they were. He met their needs and felt their pain. And through it all, He redirected them from what they thought they needed to what they really needed — His Father.
More often than not, they had money problems. Whether they knew it or not. Just like us.
After all, "money is the answer for everything" (Eccl. 10:19), in that it is the common denominator we use to measure our hopes and dreams. So it shouldn't surprise us that many of Jesus' teachings relate to money.
And it shouldn't surprise us that some of Jesus' teachings on money are hard. Hard in the sense that they are often at odds with what the world teaches. In fact, they are often at odds with what the church teaches. So hard, that we discard them. Or Him.
John records a time when, after a particularly hard teaching, many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him:
"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:67–69)
Like Jesus' early followers, we are at a crossroads. He flips the tables on everything we thought we knew about peace, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness. Jesus' teachings about money and wealth hit us where we live, shake us free from a life that leads to death, and leave us immeasurably more blessed than we ever imagined. All with the single-minded purpose of bringing glory to His Father.
Jesus rips our hearts and minds open, exposing our deepest desires and greatest fears.
That's where money had me fifteen years ago. Fearful. And like so many of His early followers, my response was, "Lord, increase my faith." I was at a crossroads I didn't know existed, where the blessings of right living intersect with God's plan for my life.
Financial guru Dave Ramsey has tapped into our deeply felt need to get control of our money with his tagline "live like no one else now so later you can live like no one else." But only in Jesus do we find the answer to the last half of that statement.
This book uncovers the truths Jesus taught to live a life that matters. And it all starts with aligning our purpose with His. To live a life that brings glory to God.
What will you do with Jesus' terrible financial advice?CHAPTER 2
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"
Return with me to April 2000 — spring break at the US Air Force Academy — when I was typing every biblical passage I could find on wealth into a Word document. With Jesus' teaching staring me in the face, I couldn't avoid the obvious question.
Did He really mean it?
And I wondered what it would look like if we did what He said.
Every once in a while I have an epiphany. No, not a revelatory manifestation of a divine being. I'm not seeing anything physical. I like to use the word "epiphany" when I'm reading God's Word and have an "aha" moment — when I see something clearly for the first time.
My great epiphany came as a graduate student at Washington State University when I was asked to speak at a Good Friday service for one of the college ministries on campus. I always try to say yes to these invitations, as it is refreshing for an accountant to get to talk about things that really matter.
On this particular occasion, Alyssa and I were also involved in a young couples' Bible study, led by Bruce, a PhD student in agricultural economics. Bruce and Cindy (not their real names) had committed their lives to sharing the gospel in countries where others couldn't get in, and Bruce wanted a degree that would open doors to those places. Something that was really needed.
We were using the inductive method of studying the Bible. Induction, as used in the field of logic, is a principle of reasoning to a conclusion by looking at specific cases to see if there is a general rule to be discovered. That is, reasoning from the particular to the general.
Our purpose in using this method to study the Bible was to let the individual passage speak for itself. We have a natural tendency to explain away teachings that are hard to understand with ones that we do understand. In doing so, we run the danger of missing a truth in the present passage we're reading by moving to other passages found in Scripture. Worse yet is the habit of adding our personal or cultural baggage to try to explain why God doesn't, or can't, mean that.
We were working our way through the gospel of Luke, and to give us each a chance to apply the inductive method, the group rotated leaders. As it happened, Bruce had assigned me to lead that week. We were in Luke 6, one of Jesus' most famous sermons, where He tells His disciples,
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them." (Luke 6:27–29)
At this point, Jack Cooney, a new finance faculty member just done with his doctoral work, asked, "So if somebody takes my mountain bike, I'm supposed to just let him have it?"
To be straight up, I'll tell you that Jack was one of those guys who always asked questions I couldn't answer. Jack was the most educated guy I'd ever met. In addition to a PhD in finance, he also held a law degree, and was a CPA. When it came to learning, he was pathological. He was so enamored with education that while delivering their fourth child a few months earlier, Jack became intensely interested in the doctor's post-delivery work, causing his wife, Teresa, to sit up in the surgery and blurt out, "Jack! Don't even think about medical school!"
Jack had a way of asking the obvious questions that somehow I could never get right. I'm pretty sure if he asked me, "How's the weather?" I'd get it wrong. It was his unusual way of thinking that led to one of the most embarrassing events in my life, my dissertation defense five years later, where he dropped in to view the proceedings, was given the chance to ask the first question, and I promptly passed out. But I digress ...
Jack's question about whether he should just let some guy take his mountain bike, which by the way was his daily transportation to work, led to a lively group discussion. But by the end of the evening we hadn't come to a consensus. I closed the night down by saying, "I don't know. I'm sure there must be some other passages about justice and such, but if we're going to do this 'inductive' Bible study thing, we can't just throw out Jesus' words."
We agreed to think about it and take up Luke 6 again the next week.
Excerpted from Jesus' Terrible Financial Advice by John Thornton, Connor Sterchi. Copyright © 2017 John Thornton. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Book I Couldn't Write, 13,
Chapter 2: Epiphany, 25,
Chapter 3: A Tale of Two Masters, 35,
Chapter 4: For Richer or Poorer?, 51,
Chapter 5: The Great Deception, 67,
Chapter 6: Just Money, 85,
Chapter 7: A Proper Fool, 101,
Chapter 8: The Profit Principle, 115,
Chapter 9: The Giving Paradox, 123,
Chapter 10: The Great Exchange, 141,
Chapter 11: Turning Terrible to Terrific, 163,