This is the second entry in a series of posts I’m writing on the topic “Living With The End In Mind.” The first entry tackled the issue of suffering.
The point of this series is to encourage you to live with the end in mind. To exhort you to really bask in the hope of future glory we have in Jesus Christ. We need to understand that we are pilgrims and sojourners. We are not of this world but have a heavenly citizenship awaiting us. We need to grasp the idea that death is not the end, but the beginning. The curtain is not drawn upon our death, it is opened. With that in mind, our lives should be a reflection of these truths. The first post was to help you understand the nature of suffering, which is a very real and present danger. This post might hit home a little more in the West than suffering does. This one is about our money and possessions.
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. – 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Personally, I don’t adhere to either poverty theology or the prosperity gospel. The proponents of poverty theology use as their basis the claims of the Bible against the rich. But Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” not, “Blessed are the poor.” Being poor doesn’t make one any more spiritual than someone else. For example, if you consider yourself “poor” you might struggle with envy, covetousness, discontentment, anger, or bitterness.
The proponents of the prosperity gospel believe that the presence of material wealth in one’s life is proof of God’s blessings. “You are a child of the KING!” they say, “and no child of the KING goes without!” Again, just as the absence of wealth doesn’t prove one’s spiritual health, neither does the presence of wealth. In fact, the Bible warns those whose desire is for wealth in 1 Timothy 6 saying, “…those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Furthermore, “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” Wealthy people might struggle with the spiritual landmines of pride and greed, as well as discontentment. So clearly there is danger here as well.
“The truth,” as the saying goes, “usually lies somewhere in the middle.” I don’t believe this statement holds water either, as though there were some mysterious spirituality to living in the middle class. So what is the answer? The answer lies in your motivation for gaining, and attitude towards having, money as well as the way you handle what you have. I’ve learned a lot from John Piper in this respect. He has taught me that we should handle money in a way that shows God as our supreme treasure, not money. The way we handle money ought to esteem God to others, not demean Him.
According to the Bible, money is in direct competition with God for our worship (Matthew 6:24). I believe the surest way for God to win the battle for our affections is through contentment and generosity. Paul says to Timothy in verse 6, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” But what is his reasoning? Look at verse 7, “…for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world.” From dust we came and to dust we will return (Genesis 3:19). Naked we entered the world and naked we will leave it (Job 1:21, Ecclesiastes 5:15). In other words, there are no u-hauls behind hearses.
I mentioned in the last post that if this world is all there is then by all means strive for as much comfort and security as possible. That would make the most sense. But if it’s not, and as Christians we believe it’s not, why store up for ourselves treasures here on earth where they are fragile and subject to loss (Matthew 6:19). Instead, let’s endeavor to live as though we are preparing for eternity and store up for ourselves treasures in heaven where they are lasting and bring real joy (Matthew 6:20).
So what are some characteristics of someone storing up treasure in heaven? There are many, but we’ll just focus on two.
This person is content with what they have, whether it be a little or a lot. Their focus is not on stuff and how to get more of it, but on God and what He has already given them. Because the accumulation of wealth is not their priority, they are freed to serve God instead of money. They worship God with what they have as opposed to postponing worship until they get what they want. The apostle Paul said he knew how to be content with a little or with a lot (Philippians 4:11). Hebrews 13:5 tells us to keep free from the love of money and be content with what we have. The reason and foundation of contentment, according to this verse, is because Jesus has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 1 Timothy 6:8 says that if we have food and clothing we ought to be content with those. This is radical, gospel behavior that reorients our entire lifestyle around the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. This is behavior that causes the lost to take notice of us and ask why so that we can help them notice Jesus.
Because this person is content with what they have and are free from the tyranny of riches they are also free to give their stuff away. This was a hallmark of the early church (Acts 2:45-47). Those who have much are able to give to those who have little. But the command to be generous isn’t just extended to the rich. Sure they will be able to give more, but even those with little are commanded to be generous. The Macedonians were praised by Paul because they gave to the Corinthian church out of their extreme poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2). “Poor” and “rich” are both very relative terms so no matter what camp you consider yourself to be in, generosity is expected. 2 Corinthians 9:11 says that we will be enriched in every way in order to be generous in every way and this generosity will produce thanksgiving to God. 1 Timothy 6:18 says the way to storing up treasures in heaven is to do good, be rich in good works, and be generous and ready to share. The way to prove your heart is not chained to your money and possessions is to be willing to give it away; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
John Wesley is a beautiful example of contentment and generosity. One of his famous quotes was, “Having first gained all you can, and secondly, saved all you can, then give all you can.” It takes guts (or faith?) to do what he did, but nobody could ever accuse John Wesley of serving two masters. You can read his story over at Desiring God.