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Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6) No matter which way the market is moving, God is always better than gold.
Therefore, by God’s help we can be, and we should be content, with the simple necessities of life.
Second, we can be content with simplicity because the deepest, most satisfying delights God gives us through creation are free gifts from nature and from loving relationships with people. After your basic needs are met, accumulated money begins to diminish your capacity for these pleasures rather than increase them.
Buying things contributes absolutely nothing to the heart’s capacity for joy.
There is a deep difference between the temporary thrill of a new toy and a homecoming hug from a devoted friend. Who do you think has the deepest, most satisfying joy in life, the man who pays $240 for a fortieth-floor suite downtown and spends his evenings in the half-lit, smoke-filled lounge impressing strange women with ten-dollar cocktails, or the man who chooses the Motel 6 by a vacant lot of sunflowers and spends his evening watching the sunset and writing a love letter to his wife?
Third, we should be content with the simple necessities of life because we could invest the extra we make for what really counts. For example, the “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission 2002” by David Barrett and Todd Johnson reports that there are 1,645,685,000 unevangelized people in the world.1 That means 26.5 percent of the world’s population live in people groups that do not have indigenous evangelizing churches. This does not count the third of the world that does live in evangelized peoples but makes no profession of faith. If the unevangelized are to hear—and Christ commands that they hear—then crosscultural missionaries will have to be sent and paid for.
All the wealth needed to send this army of good news ambassadors is already in the church. And yet in 1999, the average Protestant gave 2.6 percent of his income to his church.2
According to the website of Mission Frontiers3:
1. The total global church member annual income is $12.3 trillion ($12,300 billion).
2. Of this, $213 billion (1.73 percent) is given to Christian causes.
3. Of this, $11.4 billion (5.4 percent of the 1.73 percent) goes to Foreign Missions.
4. Of this, 87 percent goes for work among those already Christian; 12 percent goes for work among already evangelized non-Christians, and one percent—$114 million—goes to the unreached.
1. David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission 2002,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 26 (January 2002):22–3.
2. See www.emptytomb.org/research.html.
3. See www.missionfrontiers.org/newslinks/statewe.htm.
M O N EY If we, like Paul, are content with the simple necessities of life, billions of dollars in the church would be released to take the gospel to the frontiers. The revolution of joy and freedom it would cause at home would be the best local witness imaginable. The biblical call is that you can and ought to be content with life’s simple necessities.
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and into a snare, and into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (author’s translation) No Christian Hedonist wants to plunge into ruin and destruction and be pierced with many pangs. Therefore, no Christian Hedonist desires to be rich.
Test yourself. Have you learned your attitude toward money from the Bible, or have you absorbed it from contemporary American merchandising?
When you ride in an airplane and read the airline magazine, almost every page teaches and pushes a view of wealth exactly opposite from the view in 1 Timothy 6:9—that those desiring to be rich will fall into ruin and destruction. Paul makes vivid the peril of the same desire the airline magazines exploit and promote.
I’ve worked hard and had my share of luck: my business is a success. I wanted my office to reflect this and I think it does. For my chair I chose a _____________. It fits the image I wanted.… If you can’t say this about your office chair, isn’t it about time you sat in a _______________? After all, haven’t you been without one long enough?
The philosophy of wealth in those lines goes like this: If you’ve earned them, you would be foolish to deny yourself the images of wealth. If 1 Timothy 6:9 is true, and the desire to be rich brings us into Satan’s trap and the destruction of hell, then this advertisement, which exploits and promotes that desire, is just as destructive as anything you might read in the sex ads of a big city daily.
Are you awake and free from the false messages of American merchandising? Or has the omnipresent economic lie so deceived you that the only sin you can imagine in relation to money is stealing? I believe in free speech and free enterprise because I have no faith whatsoever in the moral capacity of sinful civil government to improve upon the institutions created by sinful individuals. But, for God’s sake, let us use our freedom as Christians to say no to the desire for riches and yes to the truth: There is great gain in godliness when we are content with the simple necessities of life.4
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly
4. For an explanation and qualification of what I mean by “the simple necessities of life,” see the section later in this chapter entitled “Our Calling: A Wartime Lifestyle.”
provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
The words of verse 19 simply paraphrase Jesus’ teaching. Jesus said:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21) Jesus is not against investment. He is against bad investment—namely, setting your heart on the comforts and securities that money can afford in this world. Money is to be invested for eternal yields in heaven: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven!” How?
Luke 12:32–34 gives one answer:
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” So the answer to how to lay up treasures in heaven is to spend your earthly treasures for merciful purposes in Christ’s name here on earth. Give alms—that is, provide yourself with purses in heaven. Notice carefully that Jesus does not merely say that treasure in heaven will be the unexpected result of generosity on earth. No, He says we should pursue treasure in heaven. Lay it up! Provide yourselves with unfailing purses and treasures! This is pure Christian Hedonism.
YOU WILL BE REPAID AT THE
RESURRECTION OF THE JUSTAnother instance where Jesus tells us how to invest for eternal joy is Luke 14:13–14, where He is more specific about how to use our resources to lay up treasures in heaven: “When you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (NASB).
This is virtually the same as saying, “Give to the needy; provide yourselves moneybags in heaven.” Don’t seek the reward of an earthly tit for tat. Be generous. Don’t pad your life with luxuries and comforts. Look to the resurrection and the great reward in God “in [whose] presence is fullness of joy; at [whose] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
BEWARE BEING WISER BIBLEOF THAN THE Beware of commentators who divert attention from the plain meaning of these texts. What would you think, for example, of the following typical comment on Luke 14:13–14: “The promise of reward for this kind of life is there as a fact.
You do not live this way for the sake of reward. If you do you are not living in this way but in the old selfish way.”5 Is this true—that we are selfish and not loving if we are motivated by the promised reward? If so, why did Jesus entice us by mentioning the reward, even giving it as the basis (“for”) of our action? And what would this commentator say concerning Luke 12:33, where we are not told that reward will result from our giving alms, but we are told to actively seek to get the reward—“provide yourselves with moneybags”?
And what would he say concerning the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward (Luke 16:1–13), where Jesus concludes, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (16:9)? The aim of this parable is to instruct the disciples in the right
5. T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus (London: SCM, 1949), 280.
and loving use of worldly possessions. Jesus does not say that the result of such use is to receive eternal dwellings. He says to make it your aim to secure an eternal dwelling by the use of your possessions.
So it is simply wrong to say that Jesus does not want us to pursue the reward He promises. He commands us to pursue it (Luke 12:33; 16:9). More than forty times in the Gospel of Luke there are promises of reward and threats of punishment connected with the commands of Jesus.6 Of course, we must not seek the reward of earthly praise or material gain.
This is clear not only from Luke 14:14, but also from Luke 6:35, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” In other words, don’t care about earthly reward; look to the heavenly reward—namely, the infinite joys of being a son of God!
Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 6:3–4, don’t care about human praise for your merciful acts. If that is your goal, that’s all you will get, and it will be a pitiful reward compared to the reward of God. “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
LURING OTHERS TO THE REWARD
BY LOVING IT OURSELVESThe reason our generosity toward others is not a sham love when we are motivated by the longing for God’s promise is that we are aiming to take those others with us into that reward. We know our joy in heaven will be greater if the people we treat with mercy are won over to the surpassing worth of Christ and join us in praising Him.
But how will we ever point them to Christ’s infinite worth if we are not driven, in all we do, by the longing to have more of Him? It would only be unloving if we pursued our joy at the expense of others. But if our very pursuit includes the pursuit of their joy, how is that selfish? How am I the less loving to
6. John Piper, Love Your Enemies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). I list and discuss these instances on pp. 163–5.
you if my longing for God moves me to give away my earthly possessions so that my joy in Him can be forever doubled in your partnership of praise?
LAYING UP YOURSELF GOOD FOUNDATIONFOR A Paul’s teaching to the rich in 1 Timothy 6:19 continues and applies these teachings of Jesus from the Gospels. He says rich people should use their money in such a way that they are “storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” In other words, there is a way to use your money that forfeits eternal life.7 We know Paul has eternal life in view because seven verses earlier he uses the same kind of expression in reference to eternal life: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).
The reason the use of your money provides a good foundation for eternal life is not that generosity earns eternal life, but that it shows where your heart is.
Generosity confirms that our hope is in God, and not in ourselves or our money. We don’t earn eternal life. It is a gift of grace (2 Timothy 1:9). We receive it by resting in God’s promise. Then how we use our money confirms or denies the reality of that rest.
PRIDE POSSESSIONSOF Paul gives three directions to the rich about how to use their money to confirm their eternal future.
First, don’t let your money produce pride: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty” (1 Timothy 6:17). How deceptive our hearts are when it comes to money! Every one of us has felt the smug sense of superiority that creeps in after a clever investment or a new purchase or a big