When is Enough Enough?

When is Enough Enough? January 3, 2011

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.)

From Patrick…

I’ve been thinking a bit about money recently, not least prompted by Ireland’s recent financial apocalypse that current and future generations will be paying off for years to come.

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.

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  • Kenneth McIntosh

    Oh, dear. I’m afraid Patrick’s comments are spot on.

  • I agree. When it comes to money, Christians are often indistinguishable from the world. We often spiritualize Jesus teaching on money to nullify its impact.

  • I couldn’t agree more from my limited perspective. Money drives so much of what we do, and I mean Christians. And if that’s so, then it drives how we think. But is of the vision of God in Jesus given to us in scripture? But we justify it in all kinds of ways. We push aside what scripture says, because we really don’t see it as relevant for us and for this day.

  • Money is a great medium of exchange. It’s good to have money and use money. But don’t love money, don’t serve money, don’t trust in money. Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can. If money causes your heart to lust or envy, the problem is not money ~ the problem is your heart. Deal with your heart and money will not be a problem.

  • Susan N.

    Very well said. It seems to me that financial prosperity is still seen as a sign of God’s favor/blessing among many Christians and in a lot of churches. We live in what I consider an affluent area, though I’m probably easily impressed, because I have been poor. It’s too easy to get caught up in what I have/own and let it become my primary “identity” and purpose for living. How to be “in” the world but not “of” the world–that’s the million dollar question!

  • Thanks for comments everyone. To push this a bit further, I’m wondering tho if, despite the global credit crunch, that churches still tend to say very little about money as a vital spiritual issue. And silence equates to an (unspoken)cultural assumption that money is a good (or at least neutral) and private thing. And therefore, following this, the Bible’s loud warnings about the dangers of money tend to get silenced in our reading of Scripture.

    So I think intentional teaching and preaching on this as a key spiritual issue is one step in helping challenge and change those uncritical assumptions and develop counter-cultural attitudes and actions. Maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t see this happening much? I know Sider and others have been saying this for years – and Ben Witherington wrote a good book last year on Jesus and Money and Keller’s Counterfeit Gods is good – but generally in the church we get very worked up about lots of other issues, but not this one..

  • T


    Yes, but I don’t think your summary gives enough of an ear to the many biblical warnings, both express and by example, that wealth tends to corrupt the heart. Even the “daily bread” reference in our central prayer is a cross reference to a proverb that contains the warning that too much money can be spiritually corrupting, just as too little can be. Accumulating wealth will tempt any heart just like poverty can.

    I used to tell my business law students that money & things tended to have a gravitational pull on the human heart, both the mass of the wealth and its proximity tend to make the pull stronger.

    Great post. As Christians especially, we do well to recognize that Jesus’ central message about money wasn’t stewardship but warning against attachment and idolatry.

  • Can’t help but recall Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need“.

  • T, Jesus teaches us not to serve money, Paul teaches us not to love money or trust in money. I see the issue of what we love, trust and serve to be the major issues ~ we are to love, trust and serve God alone.

    If one can be spiritually corrupted because of wealth and riches, the problem is not wealth and riches ~ the problem is the heart. Doing away with wealth and riches would not solve the problem ~ the heart will still be corrupt. It is only when we deal with the heart, out of which flow all the issues of life, that we will learn to live with the proper focus.

    “Trust in the LORD and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Jesus put it this way: “Seek first the kingdom of God (the rule and reign of God) and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right) and all these things shall be added unto you (everything else will be taken care of).

    Also, I think Jesus was indeed talking about stewardship when He warned against attachment and idolatry. Attachment and idolatry make for very poor stewardship.

    Deal with the issues of the heart, come into alignment with the heart and the priorities of the Father, and wealth will not be a problem. God wants us to always have all sufficiency in all things, and abundance (that is, more than enough) for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).

    If wealth is a problem, it is only a sign that one needs to deal with the problem their heart. Fortunately, God has given us His Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit, to do that.

  • T

    Jeff, thanks for interacting with this, but there are problems that remain with saying “Just deal with the heart” and treating the material wealth as a total neutral in that process. First, in our most famous example of Jesus dealing with an attachment to money, separation from that money was the first step in the way forward, as with many attachments. Secondly, I hear you saying that having tons of money is a good thing, for most everyone, and that if God had his way perfectly, we’d all be rollin’ in dough! I have a hard time believing that for this life, partially for reasons below, and partially for the content of the prayer Jesus taught.

    As a charismatic, you realize that too few Christians really see God’s Spirit as ready, willing and able to empower us for life and service. But I wish more charismatics see our western worship of money as part of that dynamic. We western Christians overplay money and downplay the Spirit. We over-rely on money, even for ministry in Christ’s name, and under-rely on the Spirit. I personally think that Jesus had to break even the disciples of their reliance on money in the process of preparing them for ministry. I see that as a significant purpose of stripping them down of everything before he sent them out. I also think Luke is telling us something significant that by the time Jesus departs and the church age begins with the Spirit, Peter doesn’t even have alms in his pocket, but he has God’s power to heal the sick in Jesus’ name. Like his master, he was poor in the things of this world, but rich in God, perfectly armed to confront and expose the idolatries that abounded. American Christianity often models either the opposite or declares “we can have both!” The latter is all too often the addiction talking.

    This post is good. American Christianity has an addiction to stuff. You don’t tell addicts to “be better stewards” of their stash, not if you want them to get past the addiction. The thrust of Jesus’ message re: money was idolatry/displacement of God. We do well to follow suit.

  • Pat Pope

    A couple in my church once shared that they were taught to give as a means to their spiritual health. In other words, giving helps keep them from getting attached to money, so they clearly understood the hold that money can have on us. Some people, however, seem determined to prove that line of thinking wrong as they have so bought into the prosperity gospel as if the passage in I John(?) trumps all the other teachings in scripture. It doesn’t just stop with prosperity adherents. I know of those who are in no way connected with that line of thinking, but are so tight with money (an equally bad thing) that they question any giving that does not involve putting more money in the church’s coffers. For these individuals, every endeavor is questioned if it means money going out of the church or if an immediate return cannot be seen. However, much of what the Church should be engaged in may not always have immediate and tangible results. So, in these ways, money can be spiritually dangerous to our souls.

  • The way to deal with it is to deal with the heart. The Bible teaches us to be good stewards of everything with which God has entrusted us. It does not teach us to abdicate our responsibility of stewardship. The key issue is not money, but the heart. Money is not corrupt ~ it is merely a thing. If somebody has a problem about money, the problem is their heart, and THAT is what must be addressed. To push the problem off as being the fault of money is self-deception. To abdicate one’s stewardship responsibility is irresponsible. It is the heart that must be dealt with. It must be broken of the improper relationship it has developed with money.

    When the Bible warns about riches, it is warning about the heart. The problem of loving, serving and trusting in wealth is not wealth, but the heart. The Bible has nothing against wealth itself ~ God blesses many people in the Bible with it. The warning is against having an improper relationship with wealth. But when one deals with the heart and the heart is set right, wealth is no longer a problem. Now it can become a useful tool in the kingdom of God.

    Jesus did not teach that money is idolatry. Loving money, serving money, trusting in money is the idolatry Jesus and Paul warn us against, and those are matters of the heart, so deal with the heart.

  • David Platt asks in his book “Radical” if future generations of Followers won’t possibly look back in embarrassment with what we were apathetic about with owning such large houses, etc. Much as we do about past generations blindness to slavery.

    I believe the ever-widening gap between the have and have-nots, will give us a long-needed perspective in American/Northern European culture about what is really essential in our lifestyles.

  • Good discussion, esp T’s comments on weakness and the power of God’s Spirit.
    Jeff, I don’t disagree with anything you are saying, but is not the deeper issue that many of us, to paraphrase Augustine, are sick but don’t know it? That we aren’t even aware we have a heart problem – everything is fine and dandy thanks. And this is why Jesus so shocked the rich young man, who thought he was A OK, unaware the grip his wealth had.
    To be blunt, I wonder if our Christianity sometimes is little more than a spiritual sanctification of a comfortable material lifestyle. But saying that probably only induces guilt and legalism. That’s why I asked a more positive question – how can Christians be subversives when it comes to money? That requires intentionality, discipline and a worked out theology of treating money with a high degree of spiritual caution – not something to be celebrated and pursued and relied on.

  • T


    In dealing with the heart, is there any action by the body involved or sometimes required? Lust is also an issue of the heart (I agree that all issues are). If the heart is lying to us, saying that we “need” or “deserve” this or that, or even “I don’t really idolize my wealth; I could get rid of it in a heartbeat” how does one deal with such a heart? How is the body involved?

    But again, I think you’re missing the heart of the post. No one is saying that wealth is an inherent evil. What essentially is being said is that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. From my own life (or from Israel’s), I can say that wealth can make it harder to give up one’s life for Christ’s sake, which we’re called to do daily. I wish we in the church would treat wealth and the advertisements for things with the seriousness that we talk about such things and lust. Yes, the problem is still the heart in lust issues; the solution is not to get rid of women or any appearance of them (women are much more an inherent “good” than $$!). But we don’t even issue the warnings of guarding our eyes and thoughts against greed the way we do with lust. In America, we see the danger of someone staring at a victoria’s secret ad, but what about the car ad? The “need” for a bigger bathroom or closet? To think of one as tempting and the other as innocent is not in keeping with the NT.

  • I agree, Patrick. Many have a heart problem and don’t even know it. But the answer is not to demonize money, to portray it as evil. That simply deflects and is worse than useless. The answer is to address the issues of the heart. They are trying to use material means to solve spiritual problems. They have a lot of fear, an “orphan spirit” ~ they do not realize that they have a Father who will always take good care of them, and they don’t know how to trust Him. But when they learn to love and trust Him, that frees them up to be able to love people and use money for the good of others, instead of loving money and using people for their own security.

  • (Sorry for the formatting goof. Please delete the comment above if so inclined.)

    I resonate with some of the concerns in this post but for sake of conversation I want to challenge some underlying assumptions.

    For the ancient world, the economy was a zero-sum game. There is a fixed amount of wealth in the world. My possessions are at someone else’s expense. Productivity was an unalterable variable. One person could produce roughly the same as any other. Consequently, the only economic questions of merit were about personal consumption and generosity toward others … that is, managing the fixed quantity of wealth. Biblical “economic” ethics is devoted to this management (along with just behavior in financial and legal transactions.)

    What we have learned in the past two or three centuries is that through specialization of labor, expansion of trade, and application of technology, we can radically affect the production of wealth. The world annual per capita income rose from $90 to $180 between 10,000 BCE and 1750 CE. The total population grew from roughly ten million to nearly one billion. That is a doubling of the per capita income and a one hundredfold increase in population. Since 1750, the per capita income rose to nearly $7,000 and the population grew to about 7 billion. That means that the per capita income grew thirty-fivefold while population grew only sevenfold. Meanwhile, worldwide life expectancy is pushing seventy years. It was about thirty years up until the 19th Century. The percentage of people that lives on less than the equivalent of $1 a day has shrunk by half in the past forty years and the global GINI Index of income inequality has been slowly declining for the last thirty years.

    What was a central element to this transformation? People amassed wealth, partnered with others who amassed wealth, and jointly invested their wealth in productive economic enterprises that generated even more wealth for themselves and others … i.e., capitalism. And it is that endeavor that has done exponentially more to improve the material and physical well-being of humanity than all the simplicity and generosity has done throughout human history.

    Now my point is not to dismiss the importance of simplicity of generosity. Rather my question is how do we integrate amassing wealth and employment of it for productive uses with simplicity and generosity? Uncritical application of biblical economic ethics to the modern world is no different than uncritical application of biblical cosmology to the study of our universe.

    Uncritical application of biblical economic teaching has the effect of demonizing those of us who are called to the marketplace while, I suspect for some at times, feeding a sense of self-righteous pride that they have not soiled their hands with filthy mammon. That is the sense many in business get from the church. What we need instead is a more critical theology and ethic that gives us guidance in a modern economic setting.

  • T, yes there is definitely a place for the ministry of the body and accountability relationships. Even things as simple as groups that discuss the practicalities of handling money can be an opportunity to discuss the heart issues, because a lot of people get into financial difficulties because they have developed a relationship with money that is harmful (e.g., loving, trusting, serving money). We should certainly talk about these things. But when we speak of money corrupting the heart, we should be clear that the real problem is not money but the heart.

    The opening post does not treat money as inherently evil, and in my response to it, I have made no suggestion that it does. My subsequent responses have not been to the opening post but to the interaction I have subsequently received. Some of those responses seem to be treating money itself as the problem. In post #10, you objected to me treating material wealth as a “total neutral” in the process of the heart ~ that suggested to me that you thought wealth itself is somehow to blame, IOW, that there is an inherent evil in wealth so that we cannot ascribe to it total neutrality. And at the end of #10, you summarized Jesus’ teaching on it as “money is idolatry.”

  • Creating profitable businesses that provide good products and services, as well as jobs for others, is a good use of money that can be a real blessing to the community. Also, organizations like Kiva.org that make microloans for small businesses in needy places.

  • Linda

    You write:

    “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.”

    I disagree, in that these words of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning money and what you treasure the most should make all professing Christians examine their faith in Christ, because a love for money over God indicates they do not really love God at all and only have a superficial, non-saving faith that even the demons have.

    The love of money is just an outward indicator of their true spiritual condition. Cleaning up the outside will not change what is going on in the inside.

    Money in itself is not evil, it is the love of money that is evil.

    But thanks be to God, salvation is of God, God can save anybody, be they rich or poor. For example, God did save Zacchaeus, the rich and corrupt chief tax collector of Jericho! And looks what happens when a corrupt rich person truly repents and puts his trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior – read about the conversion of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:2-8

  • Alan K

    From good old George MacDonald’s novel “The Lady’s Confession” (his words are far wiser than mine):

    “Mr Drew! Your shop is the temple of your service where the Lord Christ is or ought to be, throned; your counter is, or ought to be, His altar; and everything thereon laid, with the intent of doing as well as you can for your neighbor, in the name of the Man Jesus Christ, is a true sacrifice offered to Him, a service done to the eternal creating Love of the universe. I say not,” Polwarth went on, “that by doing so you will grow a rich man, but I say that by so doing you will be saved from growing too rich, and that you will be a fellow-worker with God for the salvation of His world.”

    “I must live; I cannot give my goods away!” murmured Mr. Drew.

    “That would be to go against the order of His world,” said Polwarth. “No, a harder task is yours, Mr. Drew–to make your business a gain to you, and at the same time to be not only what is commonly counted just, but interested in, and careful of, and caring for your neighbor, as a servant of the God of bounty who giveth to all men liberally. Your calling is to do your best for your neighbor you reasonably can.”

    “But who is to fix what is reasonable?” asked Drew.

    “The man himself, thinking in the presence of Jesus Christ. There is a holy moderation which is of God.”

    “There won’t be many fortunes–great fortunes–made after that rule, Mr. Polwarth.”

    “Very few.”

    “Then do you say that no great fortunes have been righteously made?”

    “If righteously means after the fashion Jesus Christ–But I will not judge: that is for the God-enlightened conscience of man himself to do, not for his neighbor’s. Why should I be judged by another man’s conscience? But you see, Mr. Drew–and this is what I was driving at–you have it in your power to serve God through the needs of His children all the working day, from morning to night, so long as there is a customer in your shop.”

  • Linda

    You ask:

    “When, if ever, would we call someone out for selfish use of God-given resources in terms of how they spend money?”

    I really do not know, but based on what Jesus said in John 12:1-8 concerning Mary, we need to be very cautious in accusing other Christians of being selfish with money. Read the account here:

    “Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then Mary took about a pinta of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

    4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.b” 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

    7“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “[It was intended] that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” John 12:1-8

  • Hi Patrick,

    I think one simple guide can keep yuou spiritually healthy, whether you happen to be rich or poor. Live to give, and don’t give to live. Christ’s example points us to a life of sacrifice. You either accept that or you don’t

    Lou Barba

  • Hi Patrick,

    It seems that if we follow one simple principle, we will be healthy spiritually, whether we are rich or poor. Live to give, and don’t give to live. Christ’s sacrifice pointed us to a sacrificial life. You either accept that or you don’t.

    Lou Barba

  • T


    Thx for clarifying. But my summary of Jesus’ teaching wasn’t “money is idolatry.” I said that the thrust of Jesus teaching regarding/about money was (warnings of) idolatry. The central thrust of his teaching wasn’t stewardship; it was warning against attachment/loyalty/service/love. Paul is the same. And my point about not treating money as totally neutral is not that money contains evil, but that, just as Jesus urged with the rich young man, sometimes we have to separate from our idol in order to begin loving/following/trusting Christ. In an addiction situation, we can’t just treat access to the object as irrelevant or “neutral.” Accepting total responsibility is key, but ignoring access/contact is foolish in the extreme. If such a step of separation wasn’t necessary for the rich young man, Jesus wouldn’t have required it. Such action isn’t enough by itself, tho, the focus is still and always the great command; the focus is following Jesus. But following sometimes requires leaving something or someone else, even if just temporarily, or at regular intervals.

    Another angle here. I live and work in Palm Beach County, FL. My main area of work is in estates and trusts, small business planning, and also in long-term care planning. So I see people with lots of money, both via earning and inheritance. The reality is that possession of lots of money (a type of power) can be harmful and blinding. Coming into money can be dangerous. Bonds of loyalty and love with money can form very easily and quickly and without any alarms. Do we teach this when discussing money? Not very often in my experience. Further, I think there is a harm in changing the focus of our teaching from warning about idolatry (Jesus’ focus) to stewardship. Addicts are generally happy to steward the object of their affection.

    And Michael & Jeff, yes, business can be good. I’m in business myself. I don’t think that changes the wisdom of Jesus’ chief concern of idolatry and attachment. The issue addressed in the NT isn’t just sharing so that my neighbor has enough. The issue is also the concern of what happens to me when I accumulate more than I need. The Lord’s prayer is a chosen echo of this: “give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

    Old Testament or (especially) NT: wealth accumulation is dangerous and advised against.

  • Thanks Michael, the bigger economic framework is very helpful in addressing the hermeneutics of the Bible’s teaching on money.

    Yes capitalism has brought with it many ‘goods’ (in every sense of the word). But I want to stick to my original contention: – such has been the pervasive success of capitalism, that, by and large, in a hyper-consumer culture Christians see money not as spiritually dangerous but the opposite. We tend to adopt the attitudes of the culture in seeing it as a blessing from God or a short-cut to success in ministry, we seem to have very little ‘fear’ or ‘wariness’ of the spiritual traps posed by money that the Bible consistently warns against.

    “What we need instead is a more critical theology and ethic that gives us guidance in a modern economic setting.”
    I am with you 100% – that’s what I’m getting at. I don’t want to be dualistic and end up with ‘sacred’ Christian ministry versus ‘secular’ business. All Christians are called to ‘subversive’ kingdom life – and that includes use of money.

  • tm

    Mickey, I appreciate your masterful defense of the effectiveness of capitalism and your quick brushing aside of the traditional, “uncritical” biblical understanding of money (hardly the same as the biblical cosmology) at the same time, but really is the American Christian’s problem the demonization of those called to the marketplace or is it a blindness to the spiritual danger of riches? That danger is in trusting in something other than Jesus for our peace, identity, and future. It is the problem Jesus confronted compassionately and directly in the rich young ruler and amidst our American wealth one we must confront daily as individuals and churches.

  • T, the Bible teaches stewardship throughout, and so I teach about good stewardship of money. But if you will read through my posts again, perhaps you will note that my emphasis is on the heart. Perhaps I did not point that out enough, though I sure thought that I did. Money is not the problem, not even when it is being idolized ~ the problem is still the heart, and that is what needs to be addressed.

    In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us that no man cannot serve two masters, that we cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). He does not say it is wrong to have money. Notice the context, Matthew 6:19-23, about laying up treasure for ourselves in heaven, and about having a good eye, not a bad one. Laying up treasure for ourselves in heaven is a reference to giving alms to the poor, as Jews familiar with Sirach 29:11-12 and Tobit 4:7-10 would have easily recognized. The “evil eye” is a Hebrew metaphor that speaks of a man who is stingy with his possessions. The man with the good eye, then, is one who is generous with what is in his hand ~ he is a good steward of what God has given. So let us address the matters of the heart, and let us not eschew stewardship, for it, also, is a matter of the heart.

    Paul teaches us to not love money or trust in it. But he also teaches stewardship quite a bit (2 Corinthians 8-9, for example). “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (v. 8). “Abundance” is more than enough. God not only wants to meet completely all of our needs all of the time, He also wants us to have more than enough, that we may have something to give for every good work. See, God is a generous God, a God of abundance, and He wants us to be generous and abundant toward others, too. That is a message that can free one from idolizing money. It is wealth properly purposed. When the heart is properly aligned with the heart of God, the creation of wealth becomes a very useful thing for His kingdom. So rather than telling people to avoid wealth (which the Bible does not do), I will counsel them about the issues of the heart, because I believe God wants to manifest that grace that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 9:8.

  • T #25

    “The issue is also the concern of what happens to me when I accumulate more than I need.”

    And how much is that? 😉

    Need for what? What we “need” for minimal subsistence is precious little. But we are more than animals with subsistence needs. We are creative, social, intelligent beings with “needs” that extend beyond just material subsistence. In fact, I think the vision of Scripture is not just a subsisting humanity, but a flourishing humanity. When is my flourishing excessive? I’m merely trying to point out that what we “need” is an exceedingly slippery idea.

    Where I think part of the problem lies is that, absent any other criteria, our consumption generally expands to meet our income. We need to be intentional about how we manage our economic lives. I think that involves at least three components.

    1. How much will I consume in the present?
    2. How much will I invest that creates wealth and jobs for others, while increasing my own wealth, and better enable me to be responsible for my future “needs?”
    3. How much will I give in generosity to aid others and improve their lives?

    I don’t think there is neat formula that will answer these questions but the point is that few of us systematically wrestle with these questions, and we certainly don’t do it community.

    In addition to these questions, I think it is beneficial to place ourselves in circumstances where we are in community with those less financially well-off, or at a minimum interacting (in a non-parternalistic way) with them. Using wealth to isolate ourselves from others is a sure path to ethical distortion.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the greater the wealth one has the greater the tendency toward feelings of entitlement … toward having one’s identity framed by the status your wealth brings to you. For the first time in human history we have societies where the great majority of the population lives in unheard of abundance (by historical standards.) The church’s ethical code has been shaped by the ancient worldview of a zero-sum game. My prevailing sense is that too much theological reflection does not wrestle with an ethical code for a world in which there is widespread material abundance. It merely wants to articulate the old as if nothing has changed. What is the meaning for my life in such a world and how do I relate to my abundance? Exhortations to live more simply don’t really address the questions of our age.

  • Linda

    I agree 100% with Jeff – the love of money (or your own life, your family, power, prestige, etc.) is a heart issue, until you find your satisfaction in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, you will never be content with what you have, you will always want more than you actually need.

    The cure is for Jesus to change your wicked heart.

  • T


    I’m not saying to avoid wealth, though that may be appropriate in some situations and times (Jesus says this specifically to the RYR, but also generally to his disciples in Luke 12). I am saying that seeking to accumulate it is highly problematic according to the NT, and actually coming into wealth, whether earned or inherited, presents very real dangers. Yes, it’s the love of money, not money itself, that is the root of all kinds of evil. But the prior verse is exactly my point here: “[I]f we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. 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.” Those who “want to get rich” or want to accumulate more than they need in material things, are the ones described here. Additionally, Paul tells us to be content if we have food and clothes.

    Again, I honestly believe that even a lot of the modern rhetoric that “I’m making money so that I can do ministry” stems from an over-estimation of money’s power and role that is simultaneously a failure to appreciate the Spirit’s power and role, as well as a cover for our own addiction. Again, Jesus had to have some reason to strip the disciples down to nothing save his gospel and his power (and another disciple) on their first missionary journey. The echo of that very situation at Peter’s first post-pentecost-miracle makes his purpose clear. Too easily we believe today that we just can’t do any real ministry without money. Jesus took on and made sure he destroyed that very idea in the disciples before he ascended.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I see clearly in Christ’s example, teachings and treatment of the disciples that having money can and does get in the way, even as it is helpful in other situations.

    Let me tell a brief story on how “stewardship” as the center can turn the whole thing upside-down. A client of mine, a Christian, was defrauded out of a huge sum of money (about half a million). My client was elderly and facing high upcoming costs for his care, and also a little big-eyed from the promise of large returns from a fellow business man he knew from church. As a steward, he felt it was his job to seek good returns on God’s money, so he invested with this man. The whole deal was a sham. When asking my advice what to do afterward, we were dealing with the possibility of suing the crook, despite the language of several NT passages. One of the more interesting things my client said was, “I feel that God has charged me with stewardship of this money, not this fellow who stole it, so we need to get it back [by suing him].” Now, when and where lawsuits are appropriate, if at all, for believers is an interesting question, but either way, you’ve got to appreciate the amazing way that stewardship eclipsed Christ’s explicit commands, as if God cared more for the return on the money (!) than the way Christians responded to enemies. That, to me, is a perfect illustration of what happens when stewardship replaces attachment/idolatry as the core of the Church’s teaching on money. We can’t “steward” what people take from us, so stewards sue while Jesus commands to give them more. We can’t hold the goals of accumulation of wealth and loyalty to Jesus at the same time; each gets in the way of the other.

  • #26 Patrick

    I strongly identify with what you are saying about the seductive impact money. I hit on that a little in #29 in response to T. How do we keep our identity rooted in Christ and his Kingdom rather than succumbing to the various idolatrous altars that our society offers for our worship? Money/wealth can be a particularly potent challenge because it is so versatile in its employment.

    I do have little problem with idea of “consumerism.” Consume is verb in search of an object. I don’t know of anyone he gets up in the morning and says “I think I’ll go consume today.” Furthermore, everything in nature consumes something else to perpetuate its existence. Consumption is part of the natural order of things.

    Rather what we have is a culture that provides a multitude of altars at which we can worship. Our money frequently empowers us to specialize our idolatrous proclivities. The objective is not to consume but to acquire. Consumption is the by-product of the attempt to own something we perceive will offer meaning and value. But our idols are mirages. Not to worry. When the one idol we pursued fails, society has a host of others available.

    Tony Campolo used to talk about a prank kids in his neighborhood pulled on Devil’s night (night before Halloween.) They sneaked into the local five and dime store and switched the price tags on everything. Blow dryers were marked at ten cents while bubble gum sold for ten dollars. He uses that as a metaphor for what has happened in fallen world. It is as if someone has switched all the price tags so that we value that which is worthless and ignore that which has value. The question is, how can we invest our money to create wealth and then buy only according to actual value in light of God’s Kingdom. We need to become wiser consumers (and by that I include what we “buy” with our generosity).

    So essentially I think money is so dangerous because it is a potent means to so many other idolatries. But money is also a means to so much else that is good. It is a tension we live in. You are raising the concern that we do not live in enough tension with the seductiveness of money. Amen! My push back is that too often the solution offered is that not one should aspire to amass wealth even for productive enterprise. I see that as an attempt to escape the tension by going another direction.

    (BTW, thanks for such a thought provoking post!)

  • T


    Love your comment. Fantastic. So many wonderful points. I’ll note that while Paul said to be content with food and clothes, he apparantly bought and sold things for making tents, and also prized some parchments! So I can feel good about “needing” so may books! 🙂

    But yes, let’s have some serious, non-simplistic, conversations on this topic. I will stand, tho, by my statement that the NT’s concerns weren’t merely for my neighbor, but for the tendency of having wealth to “grow on me” and the desire of seeking it to be idolatrous and disloyal to Christ. Tough to lend to one’s enemies, without expectation of return, if we have a goal to increas our, I mean God’s, wealth, you know?

  • T

    Sorry, it should be “comments,” specifically 29 and 32.

  • Again, T, though I continue to uphold stewardship, as does the Bible, my emphasis has been, not on stewardship as the center, but a heart that is focused on loving, trusting and serving God, a heart that is prioritized on the kingdom of God.

    Yes, Jesus had the disciples down to the bare essentials on their first ministry trip. It does not follow, however, that every ministry and missionary trip ever after must be taken at subsistence level. One of the joys of having abundance has been the ability to help send missionaries out to minister in Haiti and Guatemala and Bulgaria and various African nations with finances for their journey and their work. I am not able to go to all those places myself, but through this medium of exchange we call money, I am able to participate with them in what they are doing, and become a blessing to them and those to whom they minister. And I rejoice in 2 Corinthians 9:8 and how the grace of God is bringing that about.

  • muse

    “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?” I hear this a LOT. And then right after that the preacher asks us for all our money for the $23 million building program.

  • T


    That’s awesome. I consider it a mark of the difference b/n Jesus and many preachers that Jesus would so often separate people from their money, but keep the people (telling them to give the money to the poor), while so many preachers separate people from their money, and take the money! 🙂 But that, as they say, is nothing new.

  • Mary Lou – I like ‘live to give’.
    Linda, I think Michael raises an important point when he mentions community. It is no coincidence that money is a profoundly private thing in our culture. The reason I asked about accountability in the original post is how Christians frame a ‘subversive’ kingdom response to money is a community task, not just a lone individual one. But I wonder if, when it comes to something as private as money, if it is not in effect ‘off limits’ within church life.

  • #38 Patrick

    In one of Henri Nouwen’s books, he described a period in his life when he did counseling. He said people would open up to him about the most intimate and explicit details of their sex life without hesitation. Then he would ask about their finances. Routinely people would begin to get defensive and question why he wanted to delve into their personal life. 😉

  • tm #27

    I don’t think I brushed aside at all what Scripture says. It is a matter of understanding its context and then applying it within our own.

    Using William Webb’s ladder of ethical abstraction we see at the top of the ladder the imperative to love your neighbor as yourself. As we move further down the ladder toward application we encounter the ethical value that there should be no poor among us. At the bottom of the ladder we find the command about leaving crops for gleaning.

    Now what shall we do? Enact laws about gleaning so we can follow God’s ethics? No we move up the ladder of abstraction to the ethical imperative that still has application, “There shall be no poor among you.” Then we discern who bust to carry out that imperative in our context. I’m suggesting that includes far more than generous shifting resources from one place another in zero-sum like mindset.

    Jesus was speaking into the context of zero-sum thinking Palestinian peasants. Their vision of an ideal world was one where they lived largely self-sufficient on the land, bartering and trading to supplement whatever else they needed. Money was a symbol of oppression to them. The Romans and the wealthy landowners wanted to monetize economy so they could more easily extract tribute and taxes. To a large degree, Jesus seems to embraced this mindset. Paul’s was a little different but still within the zero-sum, fixed productivity, thinking of the ancient world.

    Just as they could not have perceived a universe with a sun around which the earth orbited, they could not have imagined they magnitude of production that has been unleashed or the forces that led to it. That has profound consequences for how we then view questions of economic ethics that were not anticipated in Scripture. I reiterate that it is indeed similar to a shift we have experienced from how the Ancients understood the cosmos.

  • DRT

    Yes, wonderful post.

    This is like a do guns kill people or do people kill people argument. I think Jesus and Paul say, as a minimum, people with guns do kill people.

    But Michael, I think you give too much to the advancement of mankind. By far most people out there, in my experience, do not actually operate on a level of win/win or lose lose, just win/lose. IMHO, that is the problem and that is what makes this issue deceitful. It is easy to intellectualize why we should not screw the other but in the end when God asks us why we did, we will say, in the immortal words of Bill Cosby, I don’t know?

  • I am reminded of the woman in Proverbs 31. In verse 16, “She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard.” She is a shrewd business woman. She carefully evaluates a field and its potential. She buys it and then is some way realizes a profit from it. She has accumulated some wealth. It was not by accident; it was thought out, even pursued. Then with her profits, she plants a vineyard ~ another potential for producing more wealth. In verse 20, “She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.” How is that possible? Because she has accumulated some wealth ~ not by accident, but by careful planning. And yet, this woman is not rebuked by the Lord ~ she is called a virtuous woman, a wife of “noble character.”

    The problem is not in accumulating wealth, or even in seeking to accumulate wealth, the problem is in loving wealth, trusting in wealth, serving wealth.

    This morning, I had a breakfast of English muffin, eggs and sausage. I did not have to go out to the hen house and collect the eggs. I did not have to butcher the hog. I did not have to grow the grain, make the dough and bake the English muffins. Those were already waiting for me in the fridge. I did not have to truck them from the various farms. That was already done for me and was waiting there at the grocery store. Now, I am a blessed man because all these people did all these things for me. But why did they do it? They don’t even know me. They did it because they wanted to create and accumulate some wealth, and they saw that creating these products and providing these services would be a good and honorable way to do that. They did it to make a profit, yet my life is richer and easier for it. I gladly handed them my money ~ they asked a fair price and it was well worth it. And, after all, money is a wonderful medium of exchange, converting my own labors into things I need but cannot create for myself. I am happy for their profit motive ~ it benefits me pretty well. I am glad that somebody decided to leave a wage-paying job and start a grocery store because he wanted to accumulate some wealth. It has greatly benefited the community.

  • Michael, thanks for your comments on this. You may well have read it but Tim Keller has some thoughtful and realistic reflections on the hermeneutical challenge of applying the Bible’s teaching on justice to a modern democratic state in his book Generous Justice. Really good book (I posted a series on it on my blog).

  • DRT

    Jeff Doles #42 said:”I did not have to go out to the hen house and collect the eggs.”

    Everybody should have chickens. Little else gives me as much pleasure as eating one of those most tasty eggs just laid overnight. Yum!

  • DRT #43,

    Been there, done that ~ got the t-shirt with chicken poop on it.

  • tm

    Michael (sorry for my previous apellation), Have to say you are not convincing me, except that you seem to have accepted capitalism’s modern world as necessary and right because of its material gains (which are substantial), without counting its sins or spiritual losses. Your ethical comparison of money to cosmology hides the fact of the spiritual description of money (see Luke 16) and the serious demands on the people of God made throughout the Bible concerning money (cosmology’s ethical demands are a little less obvious). Of course Scripture needs to be interpreted in every age, but to use history to rationalize away Scripture’s demands is a particularly modern vice. You are reflective, but in a way that downplays the Biblical message if it leads to a criticism of capitalism. That’s fine, though it seems backwards to me. Just be careful of the master you serve. God’s peace.

  • DRT #41

    There is no question that many do not operate on a win/win mentality. As long as you are going to allow for human choice, and as long as people are sinful, there is going to be sin the system. Period! Rejecting an economic system because all participants aren’t magically transformed into ethical paragons is to reject all economic systems. Countless people emerge as adults, abused and scarred in some way from their family upbringing. Should we then stand in condemnation of the family as source of evil in the world?

    I’m not as cynical as you are about what motivates many business people. As with most of us, motives are often mixed. But most business people are not soulless profit calculating machines. Most people who do business well and succeed long term understand that a good deal of business is about relationships and trust. They have an eye, even if purely self-centered, to be esteemed as “good” people. Even for the greediest among us, there is no long-term avenue toward wealth without offering products/services that people are willing to buy. The market economy channels our baser motive into more productive aims in ways that no other systems yet devised has.

    My point is that harangues against the system because it does not create a faultless world are pointless. None will. What is the alternative that functions better that also incorporates the reality of human sinfulness, as well as the call to stewardship and generosity? And short of naming that system, how do we process our responsibilities in our present reality? Uncritically applying ethics from biblical era contexts does not help those wrestling with the challenges here and now.

  • Fish

    What about passing along great wealth to one’s children?

    I’ve seen studies that suggest children who are born wealthy are not as happy as those who must earn their way, and I’m inclined to believe them, but there seems to be this preoccupation with leaving as much money as possible to one’s children.

    My financial planners about fell out of their chairs when I told them I wanted to die broke, because their entire paradigm is based on making that net worth line go up and up until the end.

  • #46 tm

    No worries about the appellation. I’m usually called much different things. 😉

    To paraphrase N. T. Wright, I can’t say everything, all the time, all at once. Yes, it is more complex. Yes, there are ethical challenges presented by what has emerged.(And just to be clear, by capitalism, I’m using it in the narrow economic sense as a system where wealth is amassed and placed in productive use with a focused toward long-term financial gain … not as a moniker for the American economic ethos.)

    I think it should be clear from my comments above that significant challenges are presented by our modern economy. No where have I remotely suggested a blanket baptism of the modern economy. On the contrary, my central grievance is that theologians do not study economics/business/work and engage practitioners in a way that helps them process the challenges they face. I’m saying that the combination of specialization of labor, expansion of trade, and application of technology has had unprecedented positive impact on the financial and physical well-being and the impact continues to expand. Those outcomes are in keeping with our mission to seek the shalom of the world and careful reflection is needed on what this means for our mission.

    Yes, I’ve read Luke 16 many times. Wealth is indeed a challenge to our discipleship and our relationships. I acknowledged all that above. What I find appalling is that so many seem to think the world would be a better place with the masses living perilously at subsistence level and age expectancy at birth at thirty years (just as they have throughout human history) … that a rigid wooden reading of Luke is preferable to improving the material and physical well-being of billions of people. Rather than wrestle with the implications and impact of new learning and new technology, it is better to remain safely in a pre-industrial ethical world and call out warnings to all who would deviate from the ancien regime. Rather than wrestle with the reality that we have the means to radically increase productivity and improve the material/physical aspects of people’s lives, we’ll just stand at the side and cast aspersions at all those that actively engage in wealth production and speak positively of it.

    My understanding of Christ’s call to seek the shalom of others and of the world, doesn’t permit me that luxury.

  • DRT

    Michael#49 – To continue on with the thoughts of win/win behaviors and the benefits to having more wealth as stated in this post…

    I agree whole heartily that it is wrong to eschew wealth for poverty. I have modified my concepts and feel wealth, as discussed in Luke 16 and others is necessarily relative and it is the mismatch of wealth among people that is dangerous and causes sin. If all have the same, then there is little sin that will come of it. The problem is those who have at the expense of those who have not.

    The larger the mismatch, the more latent evil seems to be tied up in the relationship.

  • Chris

    My family and I are financily poor, we had prosperity & wealth we became Christians and gave it all away because we were told it was not Gods will for us to be so wealthy! We are Spiritually rich but sometimes we go hungry for food! There is a balance! money is not evil! the Love for it is the root of many kinds of Evil. 1Tim6:10. And God richly provides us with everything for Our enjoyment, 1Tim 6:17.