Money and Privilege
My wife’s father used to tell us a story about a couple he knew in college. They married while they were still in school and struggled to get by financially every month. To assure themselves that they could make it through the month, they kept thirty-one cans of pork and beans on their pantry shelves. That way, no matter what happened that month, they knew they would have a meal of pork and beans available for each day. They might not eat well or party at the Ritz, but they would not starve!
What does it mean when you and I have the money for mercy and family and ministry and daily bread (or pork and beans)? Think about the words from James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” We can buy groceries, go to Walmart, or even go to the soup kitchen if we are hungry because the same hand that created the lights of the sky—sun, moon, and stars—is operating in your life and mine. We have money for daily bread because the King of the universe is active in our lives.
If we really believe that the God who created the universe cares for us and is working in our lives, then that removes the fear that makes us hoard our money and turn away everyone who might need the generosity that God asks of us.
God’s daily provision also reminds us that our security is not in our bank accounts. Every now and then as the stock market plunges, I lose a lot of money in my retirement account. I’ve discovered that when I lose so much money, I can actually become more generous. Why? It’s because if one of my children then comes to me and says, “Dad, I need some money for a car repair,” or, “I need help with college tuition,” I think to myself, I’ve already lost so much, what difference does a little more subtraction make? So awareness of my inability to protect my “stash” makes me more ready to share it. And my confidence of God’s abiding care, despite my immediate loss, makes me more ready to trust him for all my real needs.
When God teaches us that our security is in him and not in our bank account, that allows us to be free from fear. Such fearlessness enables us to put our lives and resources on the line for Jesus. Our attitude toward our money—when we remember the Lord is our ultimate security—can free us for selfless and courageous service. We sometimes forget that God provides money as a kind of holy compass for our lives. How we view money (whether we are its stewards or its hostages) is an indicator of whether our hearts are in line with, or off course from, God’s mission.
Money and Contentment
Of course, Paul also tells us in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” But that verse comes in the context of God reminding us that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (6:6). Paul goes on to say that “it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (6:10).
We sometimes think to ourselves, I want more. What I have isn’t enough. And Paul tells us, “Because you’re not content and are always wanting more, you’re actually hurting yourself.” If we were content, we could pray the prayer of Proverbs 30:8–9:
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
God knows our personalities; he knows our needs; he knows our souls; he knows what tempts us; he knows what supports us. So he gives us just the right balance between poverty and riches. If you knew for sure that God was providing—to the penny—what you needed to glorify him, you would be content.
When God teaches us that our security is in him and not in our bank account, that allows us to be free from fear.
How can we tell when we’ve drifted off the path of contentment? One way is when we experience envy. We think to ourselves, I want what they have, Lord, not what you’re providing. We become discontent when driven by consumer culture and by our sinful nature to want more than what God supplies: I’ve got to have that kind of car. I’ve got to have that big house. I’ve got to have those clothes. I’ve got to take that expensive vacation.
Often the evidence of our envy is our debt. A survey from a few years ago revealed that the average credit card debt in the United States was $17,000. The average auto loan debt was $30,000. The average mortgage debt was $182,000 (it’s now over $200,000). And the average student loan debt was $51,000.1 I recognize the last two can be called “investment debt” rather than “consumer debt,” but the cumulative effect is families feeling absolutely crushed by debt.
The same news report said half of all American families are embarrassed by their debt. I’m not so concerned about our embarrassment as I am about our imprisonment—shackles of debt that make us sleepless and stressed and hurting and fearful of creditors in ways that rob us of the joy of our salvation. That’s not the freedom from fear and want that God wants us to have.
Perhaps the greatest evidence that we are not content is when we lose our generosity. We say to ourselves, I can’t do more. I can’t provide for those who need mercy, I can’t provide for my extended family, and I can’t provide for ministry—at least not very much. If we have lost the capacity for generosity, contentment is gone too. During such times, God is saying to us, “There are people who need mercy. There is family who needs your care. There is a ministry that needs your support.”
If you knew that your funds were supporting people who need mercy, then you would earn all you could. If you knew that your funds were providing for the security of your family, you would save all you could. And if you knew that your funds were providing for the ministry of the gospel, you would give all you could. That’s why John Wesley said, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
- Leo Sun, “A Foolish Take: Here’s How Much Debt the Average U.S. Household Owes,” USA Today, updated November 20, 2017, https:// www.usatoday.com/.
This article is adapted from Grace at Work: Redeeming the Grind and the Glory of Your Work by Bryan Chapell.
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