Making your money work

Jesus talked about money a lot, not simply to make theological points but as practical advice for entering the Kingdom of God. I believe that this fact is way more important than anyone really wants to admit. In fact, by leaving the financial commandments of Jesus out of Christian teaching and discipleship, we are damaging the gospel, our understanding of the scriptures, and the impact that the church is meant to have on the world.

I am not suggesting that we “are saved” from hell by anything except faith in Jesus Christ. I am suggesting that the salvation Jesus wants to bring to the world through us directly involves our wallets. And He wants you to understand what He wants your money to do for Him.

Point #1: We have the right to own property and be blessed by God in wealth…But WEALTH IS DECEPTIVE

Jesus never says nothing belongs to you. He acknowledges peoples’ wealth and receives money from people without complaint or criticism, it seems (Luke 8:3). But then He says wealth is deceptive. Uh-oh. Here He goes. Jesus discusses the inherent deceitfulness of wealth, desire for riches and for things, and love of money as a dangerous and capable of strangling the life out of the message of kingdom (Mark 4:19). Money is necessary, and not inherently evil, but it CAN keep us from entering the kingdom of God.

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24

Jesus said that with no caveats. Can we stop and listen to that and let it exist there for a second for what it plainly says. There is, for Jesus, a type of “entering in” to the kingdom of God made possible by divesting ourselves of wealth. You cannot in good conscience argue against that fact. It’s right there in scripture.

So, if God loves to bless us, what is it about wealth that deceives us and makes it nearly impossible for the wealthy (which is almost anyone reading this post) to enter the kingdom of God? These are questions worth asking ourselves.

Go ahead…think for a second. Why is wealth dangerous in Jesus’ eyes if, in the Old Testament, wealth was seen as the blessing of God? Why does Jesus say effectively that NOT having stored up wealth makes it easier to enter the kingdom of God?

The answer I believe is tied up in two things 1) God wants our daily dependence, attention, trust, reliance, and worship (love). He wants to be our source of security and provision. Wealth makes us complacent in our love and need for God; 2) He desires mercy, not sacrifice (more on this in a second).

Accumulating wealth is dangerous…want proof?

but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Mark 4:19

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have reserved and accumulated wealth in the last days. James 5:1-3

“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”Revelation 3:17

Point #2: Jesus says do not store up money.

He said to not save it. Your Bible may say not to “store up treasures,” but I’m coming to terms with the fact that the Greek work there means simply to save up or reserve or accumulate valuable assets-it simply says do not save money, jewelry, or land on earth but store up treasures in heaven.

“Don’t save, accumulate, reserve, store up valuables here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your valuables in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your assets are, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21

This is a difficult teaching of the kingdom of God because it goes directly against all human wisdom regarding finances, namely, that you save in order to create security for you and your family and to enjoy the things money can buy with money that’s yours because you earned it or have been blessed by God. But what if? What if Jesus was literally meaning not to save money? What does that mean to me? It would mean I take what I need for daily bread and everything else is given away like a vessel overflowing. It would mean I give out of the abundance of my current desire and ability to give, without concern for tomorrow. It would mean manna-only take what you can eat for the day so the extra doesn’t spoil. It would mean that I would not live on bread alone but every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. It would mean less people in need right around me. I have the right to own it, but I have the invitation to invest it in the kingdom, to store it elsewhere, to invest it (think parable of the silver talents–Jesus wants us to invest His money and make it work for a return toward His values, desires, and purposes in the world). If He has told you to save for a particular project, or in preparation for a time of famine, that’s one thing, but unless you have specific instructions from the Lord, your general instructions from Jesus are to give your money away and not store up.

Point #3: Jesus ACTUALLY WANTS & IS STILL OFFERING FOR you to give Everything YOU HAVE AND FOLLOW HIM IN The full-time task of Expanding His kingdom in the hearts of people. That Impresses Him.

Jesus never forces people to do this, but He regularly encourages us through parables and encounters with people to give EVERYTHING up and follow Him, not worrying about the future. Um…everything? Pretty drastic. Yes, Jesus is impressed by those who count the cost and then give everything they have. He promises you will receive a return on what you have given up for His sake. Want proof?

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is[a] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”Mark 10:33-31

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. Luke 14:31-33

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, 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.” Mark 12:41

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21-26

I really want to impress Jesus, not to earn His love or earn my salvation from hell, but because I love Him, He was clear about what He likes, and I and genuinely want to see His salvation transform and heal every heart of every people group of the earth. I want to do grand gestures that equate to buying Him something He really loves. NO ONE would give everything unless they loved Jesus to the point of great faith and had conquered their fear of man and fear of the future. Giving everything away in love is one way I prove my love for Him. He is easily impressed by two types of people 1) those who have great faith, and 2) those who give up everything. Right now, I am neither, not enough at least. But may His strength be made perfect in my weakness and may He increase my faith and my love for my brothers and sisters. God help me.

Point #4: “Good money/RESOURCE management” for Jesus is (At least in part) giving As Much as you can to THE Poor and those who need it to spread the gospel to the nations.

We know this not only because of all the talk of giving to the poor and selling everything to buy the treasure, but because Zacchaeus responded to the presence and message of Jesus by giving away half His money to the poor (Luke 19:1-9), Jesus said selling everything and giving the money to the poor would “perfect” even a righteous, religious, rich young ruler who kept the law (Matthew 19:21), and Jesus disciples expected Mary to get in trouble by bringing an expensive jar of oil and “wasting it” on Jesus feet instead of selling it and giving the money to the poor (showing they had picked up on a pattern in Jesus encounters with opulence) (John 12:23). Interestingly Jesus spurns their desire to make love into legalism. Here we see that love-driven generosity as worship to God is what Jesus is looking for, not simply the act of making a donation to a “worthy cause.” Jesus does not desire fancy buildings-they are monuments to men, not God (case in point,”Solomon’s temple”). Stop building these massive buildings for God! He has a place to dwell. With us—every time we gather as two or more! Immanuel! When we give to serve people, and to get the good news of the gospel to all nations, we bring God great joy because we are obeying His Son and making His name great. He does not indulge the idea of wealthy benefactors, which draws attention to the giver more than God. Instead you are giving because you are compelled to love and obey Jesus by staying low in human status (a servant) and being a servant by the ideally anonymous overflow of your money–as much as you can bring yourself to part with cheerfully. This also means that when you need it, your brothers and sisters will cheerfully give to you. This was how the early church worked and how we are still meant to work! Believers held everything in common. What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, not in some Utopian idealistic way, but in the most practical way you can possibly imagine. If you of ask me, I will obey Jesus and gladly give it to you (Luke 6:30-36).

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Point #5: Giving away money is How the Receptive rich will ACCEPT THE OFFER OF JESUS TO FOLLOW HIM and enter the Kingdom of God.

I am not talking about your faith in the cross or person of Jesus. I am talking about the broader salvation (healing, forgiveness, snatching out of the fire, and wholeness) Jesus was talking about when He told Zaccheaus “today salvation has come to this house!” in response to the tax collector giving half his wealth to the poor and making amends for his financial schemes. I’m talking about the kind of salvation when it says about the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price, that the men sold EVERYTHING they had to buy it. Strangely, the kingdom can be “bought” by renouncing our fear of the future, getting rid of their possessions, following Jesus, and giving our extra money and possessions to the ones who need it right now. Maybe God will use you to pay off the debt of a college student who wants to go be a missionary (often people are willing to go, but kept home by debt). Maybe God wants you to support a full-time couple in inner city ministry. Maybe there’s a couple with medical bills that are drowning in distress. Your generosity will cause he gospel of the kingdom to spread in the hearts of others. Freedom and great praise and thanksgiving will well up among both believers and unbelievers. Here’s why: people literally cannot serve both God and money. You will need to divest yourselves of your first master and leave it in order to allow God to be your master and provision instead of money dictating their decisions and being used as a rod to measure and establish your stability and renown. This is a practical and therefore actionable step. The question is how brave are you and how yielded are you to trust and obey your Father and start giving with no thought to tomorrow?

Point #6: radical, joyful obedience in GIVING helps us learn how He desires mercy, not sacrifice.

What did the people of Jesus’ time think righteous giving was? They gave tithe, ten percent, and they paid for their sacrifices, so many sacrifices. Jesus, the final and perfect sacrifice ended this model. We are not in the temple model anymore, but we are a kingdom of priests! Our inheritance is the Lord! All God has is ours. So guess what? We don’t stop at ten percent because God doesn’t need our sacrifice anymore. We give radically and generously because we want to be a blessing as the people of God to all nations and to the needy in our communities–those right in front of us who need actual help and relief that our money can bring. People can actually be BOUGHT for the kingdom by our generosity because they see that as LOVE. This is obviously not the same as paying people to convert; that is unethical. This is about giving radically and joyfully to genuinely show the love of God for people who need help. We will finance the spread of the kingdom in the hearts of people. We will send out missionaries, support local pastors, feed the poor, tend to the sick, minister to the emotionally and physically broken. Why? Because that’s what Jesus said we should be doing, and also because it actually makes sense in the kingdom economy.

Jesus not only broke the temple as a religious system, He broke the temple as an economic system. It’s ok. We can adjust. Jesus wrecked the money changer tables in the temple. The newly reconstructed temple made with human hands was a farce. We know that God does not need our sacrifice to build him nice buildings overlaid with gold. He wants mercy, not sacrifice. (Matthew 9:13, Hosea 6:6) This is how Jesus understood the prophets-as critique against empty, loveless, merciless, complacent religion.

The presence of God was the place where mercy was to be found. The mercy seat was the lid of the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle of God. It is symbolic of the atoning “covering” of the sacrifice, making communion with God possible by God’s mercy. What are we are willing to part with out of love for Jesus and our neighbor. As we part with it, not under compulsion, but out of love, we are “covering others” financially in mercy and compassion and move into the kingdom economy, where we become a part of the blessing and covering of the nations (thereby fulfilling the original intent for God’s people (Genesis 12:2)) one radical act of generosity at a time, empowering the gospel to go forth in love and practical care, therefore causing great thankfulness to God in the recipient.

Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses, ripped the veil, condemned the physical temple, and started building a new one within and uniting the bodies of His followers, not by might, not by power, but by the Holy Spirit, bringing us to this present reality: the temple and kingdom of God is in our hearts, where we make the decision of what and how much mercy to give. Will we give as freely as we have received? Or maybe we do not think we have received enough mercy and provision, so we tend to withhold it from others as if holding onto mercy is even possible?

Some of us will sense the invitation goes deeper, to get rid of everything and live in complete reliance and dependence on what God provides, like a bird of the air or a lily of the field (Matthew 6:26-34). We will become ministers of the gospel that are supported by other generous members of the body and bride of Jesus, the true church, living and flowing with crazy generosity, which will be terrifying and also wildly exciting. If you are considering this at all, let me encourage you—do it! Obey Jesus as radically as you can. From what I know of this way of living so far, it’s right and good, and I have not yet found the end of God’s provision and blessing.

Here’s my question to all of us, me included. Do we find ourselves rationalizing the saving up of our wealth? Do we allow Jesus teaching to clarify and update our understanding of other Old Testament laws like forgiveness and adultery, but resist His very clear teaching on not stockpiling our assets? When we worry about money, where do we find relief, in remembering God’s faithfulness or in remembering our savings or assets we have in reserve? Why do we need that if God really is faithful to provide what we need for our lives? Are we living in a way that wealth has deceived us?

Jesus offered one very practical way out–start giving, not just what you can afford, but overflowing joyful generosity. I’ve been asking God to rewrite my inner understanding of ownership and transfer all financial decisions to God. It all belongs to Him now. I simply need to find out where to invest it. It is very, very difficult to do this. I have not attained it yet but I press on.

Now pardon me as I go try to finish getting this plank out of my eye so I can actually disciple others in how to practically do this. Because right now I know that it’s what I want to do, give everything, but it is harder than going through the eye of a needle, just as Jesus said. I just have a feeling that it’s not supposed as complicated as we’d like it to be. What if the rich young ruler had just said yes? He could have just said yes. I want to say yes.

Lord, my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak. I am so grateful for your mercy. You are the only one able to move me to this kind of radical obedience. I will do it. I will obey you. My will is aligned with yours. But you have to teach me how, Jesus. Yoke me to you.

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