This post is from our friend in Dublin, Patrick Mitchel. Patrick blogs at Faith in Ireland, and he is a professor at Irish Bible Institute, in the heart of Dublin. Kris and I had the joy of meeting Patrick and the privilege of lecturing at IBI last summer. Thanks Patrick for your gospel work in Dublin. (By the way, this post and the one below it form a nice pair for our day.)
My proposal for this guest post (thanks for the invite Scot) is that we (western Christians) have, by and large, read the Bible in a way that neuters much of what Scripture says about money.
The question: how can Christians be subversive members of God’s kingdom in terms of how they use money within a hyper-consumerist culture?
The Bible has an astonishing amount to say about money. Yes, some of it is comforting to Westerners – it seems to legitimate private property, affirm personal responsibility and (within limits) views prosperity as valid fruit of hard work and a sign of God’s blessing.
But the vast majority of the Bible’s teaching on money should make us very wary indeed of all that money brings. I suggest that in both in the Old and New Testaments the overwhelming message is this:
‘Money is highly dangerous to your spiritual health’
Repeatedly the Bible links money with spiritually destructive attitudes and actions such as:
- greed with exploitation and injustice (Amos 8:4-6);
- wealth with pride (Ezek. 28:4-5);
- covetousness with destroyed relationships (Exod. 20:17);
- desire for more with discontent (Heb. 13:5-6);
- riches with an utter inability to enter the kingdom of God (Mt. 19:6-24);
- lust for more with selfishness and futility of life (Eph. 4:17-19; 2 Tim 3:1-5);
- the love of money as a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10);
- having plenty with spiritual peril (Lk. 12:13-21).
Jesus says “You cannot serve both God and money” (Lk. 16:13) and “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk. 12:34). His words should make his followers highly cautious and self-critical in their use of and attitudes to money. Yet we tend to filter them out.
When it comes to money, are we so deeply shaped by our consumerist, individualist and capitalist culture that we take it as a given – a natural ‘good’, a blessing from God and a fruit of our hard work? We earn it, handle it, borrow it, spend it, save it and give some of it away – but, if you are like me, we rarely really think about it beyond the desire to have a bit more. And we certainly don’t think of it as spiritually dangerous.
How often have you heard a sermon warning that money is a spiritually risky commodity that needs to be handled with great care? That what we do with money is a deeply spiritual issue? What would be a reaction to the idea that we should be spiritually accountable to each other in how we use money? When, if ever, would we call someone out for selfish use of God-given resources in terms of how they spend money? When is enough enough?
All sorts of other things are high on the list of evangelical ‘spiritual dangers’– sexual temptation, ‘going liberal’, disbelief in the authority of the Bible – we can all make our own list. But the love of money somehow gets marginalised. Yet this is not what Paul does in his various sin lists – greed is on an equal footing with stuff like orgies or idolatry.
And just to stir things up a bit more before I stop! I’ve been to the States several times and have many wonderful American friends. And I have no illusion that this is somehow only an American problem – it isn’t. But may I hesitantly offer an observation (and admittedly huge generalisation). It seems to me that there is a distinct American Christian attitude to wealth – it comes close to uncritical admiration that seems more shaped by a culture’s definition of ‘success’ (the American dream) than Jesus’ stark warning to the Rich Young Ruler about how the idol of money blocks entry into his kingdom.