God is Our Fortress, Not the Possessions We Own
Friday, Apr. 21, 2017
Money is frequently discussed in the Bible – more than salvation, mercy, heaven and hell – thus making it a prominent topic throughout the Scriptures. It is clear that our attitude toward money is indicative of who we are and our relationship with God.
Some believe money should never be mentioned in church. However, if our faith experience has no impact on our pocketbooks/wallets, we must reevaluate our faith experience.
Let’s look at 1 Timothy Chapter 6. This passage is important because it brings up many important themes. St. Paul, speaking about false teachers, says:
There are those who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses … Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
The love of money is an important theme in this section of Scripture. Why do we tend to love money? Possibly because of misperceptions we have. I think that we know these misperceptions are false, but it is very easy to live as if they are true. These are three misperceptions:
We deserve whatever we have, and who we are is wrapped up in what we have.
Money produces happiness.
Money brings security.
It is very easy for us to feel that we deserve what we have. The myth of the self-made man is an important part of American culture. And it is easy for us to say, “What I own, I have gained from my own hard work.”
The biblical perspective is different. In 1 Chronicles 29, David says, “Wealth and honor come from you, Lord,” while Deuteronomy 8:17-18 states: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
So what is said here is that even if what we have is the result of our hard work, that hard work itself is a gift of God.
The “money brings happiness” myth usually takes the form of “If I only had (a newer car, a larger house, another few thousand dollars per year ...), then I would be happy.” Every year, wealthy and famous people are at the top of “most admired” surveys because we believe they are successful. I think we should ask whether they are happy. The problem is that when we have more, we desire more, and that desire changes us. When we get more, we are not content with what we have. Ecclesiastes chapter 5:10 says: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”
The fact that happiness does not correspond to income is abundantly clear when we meet people in Third World countries who have a sense of joy and happiness seldom found in the United States, and studies continue to show that there is virtually no correlation between higher income and happiness.
Security does not come from building up resources. The Bible warns us against this attitude: “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” (Proverbs 11:28)
Jesus says treasures on earth are destroyed by moth and rust, and thieves break in and steal. We can spend a lot of worry, time and energy trying to make sure that our riches don’t disappear, but the truth is that money and financial resources are fleeting. More importantly, as Paul says, “We entered this world with nothing, and we leave it with nothing.”
Let us conclude by thinking about all three of these myths together. Most of us, if asked if we really believe that money leads to happiness, would respond “no,” because we can think of people who show us that money does not lead to happiness. Yet, frequently we think and act as if it does. How much of our self-image is wrapped up in our income wealth, and possessions? If we were to lose all our money, would we feel like a failure, would we feel worthless? Does the desire for more dominate much of our life? Our self-image should not be wrapped up in the abundance of possessions – our self-image should be formed by what God has done for us. God is our security, God is our rock, God is our fortress, not what we own.
John Kaloudis is director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City Office of Stewardship and Diocesan Development Drive.