In May, we started watching the Bible Series again. This time with our church family at Grace. I wanted to share a few reflections on each episode.
The key theme in this episode was money and the kingdom of God. It highlights just how much even Jesus had to deal with the concept of money during His bodily ministry on this earth. By looking at Jesus’ money statements, we can see what our attitude ought to be toward money on this earth if we have truly recognized that Christ is Lord.
First, Jesus states that His house is to be a house of prayer, but the people had made it into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:12-13, Luke 19:45-48). Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. It seems that from the beginning, God has been less concerned with the wealth of people and more concerned that His people be justified. So, prayer is presented as much more valuable than any sort of material possession. Jeremiah, whom Jesus quoted, was addressing a nation (Israel) that had forsaken worshipping God and that had turned to earning selfish gain for themselves. The pursuit of selfish gain led to dishonesty, murder, adultery, empty promises, and the worship of other gods that more or less promised prosperity. Still, the people held to a form of godliness, even praising God for delivering them. So, God referred to the ‘house’ that is called by His name a den of robbers. The word house, in this context, refers to the people of Israel. So, when Jesus quotes from this verse in the Old Testament, He is not merely calling a physical location a den of thieves, He is referring to a people, the same people that God referred to when He was speaking with Jeremiah. We will often cite this story in Matthew 21 as proof that the organized church is not to be a for-profit organization. That merely scratches the surface. If Jesus is quoting from Jeremiah and God was referring to His people in Jeremiah, then we must interpret Jesus’ words to mean that the people of God are to be a people of prayer. When the people of God pursue selfish ambition or profit of any kind in any place, we are like those who made a profit in the temple courtyard. There is a selflessness that we are called to in Christ. This means everything for how we manage our finances, our time, our resources, and everything.
It is no wonder Jesus taught that people cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). In the same context, He taught that we cannot serve two masters. We will end up loving one and hating the other. These are some strong words concerning material resources. Especially so in the world today. We are taught that the more money a person has the more he or she is worth. We worry about making enough money. We put back as much money as we can to save. For some reason, we think it is the worst thing in the world when that little voice inside asks us to spend our money on someone else. Jesus has said that we cannot serve two masters. Either money will rule us or we will submit to Christ. If we love one master, it will turn out that we hate the other according to Christ.
This is why it is more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven than for a Camel to go through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:23-24). When we experience great material wealth, we identify ourselves with that wealth. If we have identified ourselves with that wealth, we have not identified with Christ. In fact, Jesus insinuates that it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven because it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Later, Jesus states that, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Just as Christ did with the disciples, He asks us to leave everything in a sense. The reward will be great by grace. The first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 19:30).
Are we starting to get a sense of how Jesus thought about money? The existence and use of material resources are not evil. Making the gaining of those resources our motivation actually causes us to turn against God. Our fear of losing money or giving our money away freely actually causes us to disobey God, who has called us to leave everything. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I give up my job and stop supporting my family. It does mean that I recognize every blessing I have on this earth is from God and is to be used for God, not myself. There is a reason Paul wrote,
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please all people in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, so that they may be saved. Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1).
My goal, then, is not merely giving 10% to the church offering plate. If that is where our financial contribution stops, then I’m not sure I have honored God. The message through Scripture is such that we are not to seek our own profit, but the profit of many for the sake of the Gospel and for God’s glory. In this way, we imitate Christ.
Jesus also said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). He said this because Caesar’s inscription was on the coin. The Jews who heard this, believing that God was the creator of all things, also knew that God’s inscription was on all of creation. Everything, even the coin paid to Caesar, belonged to God. Caesar would not have been in power without God’s working that together. So, even when we honor the authority that God has placed on this earth and even in our paying of taxes, we know that all of this belongs to God and should only be used in ways that honor God. Thus, worldly governments are also responsible before God regarding how they use the resources that God has given.
It was because of a love for money that Judas did what he did. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes concerning wealth (and he had much):
“The one who loves money is never satisfied with money, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income. This too is futile. When good things increase, the ones who consume them multiply; what, then, is the profit to the owner, except to gaze at them with his eyes? The sleep of the worker is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich permits him no sleep” (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12).
There are more than 2,000 references to money and material possessions in the Bible. This is obviously a great concern that God has for this age. We would do well to pay close attention. Perhaps, we might even take on reading through the Bible while giving special attention to what it says about money and material possessions so that we might grow closer in our relationship with God.
Considering this, we have to ask a pretty serious question. Have we really confessed Christ as Lord, or have we confessed money and material possessions to be our lord? Jesus said this, “We only have one Father, who is in Heaven. Only have one teacher, who is the Christ.” In fact, I want to look at this passage more closely:
“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them. They do everything to be observed by others: They enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘ Rabbi’ by people.
But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted’” (Matthew 23:1-12).
This should be humbling for every person. The Scribes and Pharisees were interested in being recognized and in some manner profiting for themselves. Yet, Jesus states clearly that He is the only teacher and the only master. This truth speaks to the selflessness that Christ inspires in His people. It means that when we teach, we teach only what is consistent with Christ’s words. It means that the one who teaches the words of Christ is not more important or in a better position than those being taught because he, too, is to be learning from the only true teacher, Jesus. To use ministry for any type of self-gain, whether that be monetary profit or selfish recognition, is to sin against God.
This means much when it comes to our motivation for paying pastors in the church. Why do we have paid pastoral positions? It is not so that our pastors can profit. After all, our pastors are not to serve out of compulsion (1 Peter 5:2) but willingly. At the same time, an elder (pastor) who works hard at preaching and teaching is worthy of his wages (1 Timothy 5:17-18). While any pastor is not to be motivated or driven by money, it seems that the local church carries the financial responsibility to make sure its paid pastors have the time to dedicate in preparing to preach and teach. So, we pay our pastors not to compel them to complete certain tasks, but instead to free them for their performing of the ministry of the word as God has instructed in Scripture. Thus, we free our pastors from being motivated by money and we keep from tempting them regarding human greed. It makes sense that God would instruct this way since Christ is our only teacher and the Pastor’s function is to declare His word in its entirety while making application for our lives, that we might all serve God and one another well.
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