Church of God, New World Ministries

Your Best Investment - Part 1

Does God Condemn Money?

Ever look up the word “money” in a dictionary? It actually comes from an old French word, moneie. Basically, it is something that is generally accepted as a medium of exchange or as a means of payment. It actually goes back to the word “mint,” which means to stamp or coin or impress or simply to make a raw material into that which we know as a means of payment or a medium of exchange.

In the United States, money is represented by the dollar-originally taler, an old German term. Any dollar-conscious American traveling in South America suddenly finds himself dealing in bolivars, escudos, cruzeiros, pesetas, pesos, etc. – depending on which particular Latin country he happens to be passing through. Every country around the globe, it seems, has a different name for its particular medium of exchange – marks, francs, pounds, bolivars, lira, rubles, yen, etc.

Despite some misquotes you may have heard attributed to the Bible about money being the root of all evil, let’s prove unequivocally from the outset that neither God nor His Word condemns money. There is nothing unholy or inherently evil in any medium of exchange.

What the Bible does say is this: “For the love of money is the (or a) root of all evil” (I Tim. 6:10). This scripture is poorly translated in the King James Version and is better rendered by J. B. Phillips in his modern New Testament translation: “For loving money leads to all kinds of evil, and some men in the struggle to be rich lost their faith and caused themselves untold agonies of mind.”

God is not against money per se. Abraham, the father of the faithful and the friend of God, was a very rich man who knew how to use money! David, during his lifetime, gathered up tons of gold and silver as well as precious stones and costly jewels. God has used many rich men in the service of His Work.

God solves the problems of how to reconcile being a Christian with being wealthy by simply saying to the rich man: “Tell those who are rich in this present world not to be contemptuous of others, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth but on the living God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment” (I Tim. 6:17).

The book of James contains perhaps the most forceful and incisive chapter in all the Bible about the misuse of riches. The 5th chapter includes a very serious, sober condemnation and warning to all the rich and the would-be rich – not a judgment against being rich per se-- but a severe rebuke about the wrong use of wealth.

James says: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire” (vs. 1-3).

Technically speaking, gold and silver don’t rust. But James is writing in a spiritual vein about the corruption of wealth even beyond the grave – and what it does to any man or woman who would set his or her heart on it for strictly selfish purposes.

The old saying that “you can’t take it with you” certainly squares with the Scriptures. But it hasn’t stopped people from trying. Some of the greatest monuments on earth are testimony to the desperate desire of famous and wealthy people to take their wealth with them. The elaborate devices used to seal pharaohs in their tombs were employed not so much to protect the bodies of these ancient Egyptian rulers, but to secure and safeguard all the material wealth they hoped to take with them beyond the River Styx (the life they believed lay beyond the grave).

Understand where real wealth comes from in the first place. In addition to being their Creator, the Eternal God is the Possessor of the heavens and the earth. It is He that made the earth habitable for mankind in the first place. He put the abundance of wealth into the earth for man to dig out. Our loving Creator covered the millions of square miles of the surface of this globe with riches beyond imagination in the nonrenewable natural resources we not only carelessly and wastefully take for granted, but greedily consume with little thought for future generations.

Our heavenly Father is a multibillionaire; He owns everything, including the entirety of the universe and all of the continents and oceans. “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:8).

God’s Word does not condemn wealth as such. But the apostle James clarifies what is condemned concerning riches: “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (James 5:4).

These rich men were doing something that was totally unjustifiable in God’s sight. They were forsaking the responsibilities that wealth automatically thrusts on those who possess it. The basic commandment against stealing (Ex. 20:15) was being flagrantly broken. Workers were either being cheated out of their wages, or the wages were so pitifully low that it was virtually impossible to make ends meet.

Verses 5 and 6: “Ye have lived in pleasure (at the expense of your laborers) on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.”  So it’s not riches that are being condemned; it’s the false and unethical methods of obtaining them that is blameworthy. Wealth and riches garnered from the blessings and prosperity emanating from God Himself, are right and good. There are many scriptures corroborating this biblical truth.

 James is not the only New Testament figure to comment extensively on the subject of riches and money. Jesus Christ commonly used wages, talents, pounds, “the mammon of unrighteousness,” and money in His parables about the Kingdom of God. Why? Because people from time immemorial have been hung up on money!

One disciple in particular really had his mind focused on money. He happened to be the treasurer (the one with the money) for Jesus Christ and the other eleven disciples. His name was Judas Iscariot.

Judas didn’t like the way Jesus conducted the Work of God; he didn’t like the way Christ spent money, he didn’t care for the way Jesus allowed money to be spent on Himself (e.g., the account of the woman with the alabaster box of precious ointment).

Finally, Judas conspired to betray Jesus for a fairly large sum of money – 30 pieces of silver.

The most famous of all so-called biblical “attacks” against rich men is found in the 16th chapter of Luke. Jesus said: “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his (the rich man’s) gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores” (vs. 19-21). You’re probably familiar with the rest of the story.

The crucial point is compacted into verse 25: “But Abraham said (to the rich man), Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things. But now he is comforted, and thou are tormented.”

Why should that be so? Because the rich man never lifted a finger to give even the tiniest percentage of his wealth to Lazarus. He wouldn’t even give a pittance or crumb from his table to this terrible destitute beggar.

There is no condemnation here about the man being rich; the riches were not the problem. It was the rich man’s absolute determination not to part with a penny of his wealth in the face of abject misery. The rich man was condemned because he had no mercy; he plainly abused the wealth God had allowed him to have. (By the way, Lazarus did not go to heaven; and the rich man is not in an ever-burning hell!)

The same biblical principle is brought out in a different setting in Matthew, the 19th chapter: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he (Jesus) said unto him . . .  if thou will enter into life, keep the commandments. The man saith unto him, all these things (points, tenets) have I kept from my youth: what lacketh I yet” (vs. 16-20)!

Then Jesus said a very strange thing: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (v. 21).

Is this command from Jesus Christ, to everybody in this world with an income over the poverty level, to sell their homes, hock their wedding rings, give up all their possessions, automobiles, appliances and furniture, generally wipe themselves out financially to the point of bankruptcy, and then go and follow Him? No, of course not. Where would you go to follow Him? How would you eat? Where would you sleep? What would you live on?

The very plain scriptural meaning, especially in context with other biblical passages on the subject, is that Jesus was offering this young man a special discipleship – the opportunity to become a future apostle, a position as a minister and a servant of His in the early New Testament Church. But the young man just didn’t have the vision to see how “treasure in heaven” was going to help him all that much. “But when the young man heard that saying (about giving up his material goods for treasure in heaven), he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions” (v. 22).

Then Jesus explained the lesson to His disciples: “Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (vs. 23-24).

People have rationalized that this means the narrow aperture in some fabled Middle-Eastern city where camels were constantly entering – the architects being so inept that they made it impossible for the camels to squeeze through unless their packs were removed – drawing the obvious spiritual analogy that you have to get rid of your riches in order to enter the Kingdom. It is very unlikely, however, that anyone would build a city gate so low or narrow when he knew that hundreds of camels would have to enter it every day.

No, Jesus Christ is talking about something that is physically and humanly impossible! And the disciples understood what Jesus meant. “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible? (vs. 25-26).

The account continues in the same thought: “Then answered Peter and said unto him, behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore” (v. 27)? In modern-day terms, Peter was saying: “We’re not like that rich young man. We forsook all. We had businesses. I had my fishing fleet with my nets and my boats. And here we are, pretty far up in age. We gave up all of our investments to follow you. What’s going to be our reward?”

“And Jesus said unto them, verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration (the resurrection) when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (v. 28).

Each was guaranteed, when qualified, a fantastic position of rulership in the Kingdom of God, possessing untold wealth and prestige.

But what about the here and now? Jesus continued: “And every one (not just speaking of the disciples) that hath forsaken houses, brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (v. 29).

Mark makes it a little plainer: “But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time” (Mark 10:30).

All true Christians who have really repented of their sins, given up what God required of them and followed God’s ways by overcoming and improving themselves have eventually been blessed materially as well as spiritually.

The ensuing verses in Matthew follow in the same monetary vein: “But many that are first shall be last: and the last shall be first” (Matt. 19:20). What did Jesus mean by this enigmatic statement tacked on to the end of His promise of material and spiritual rewards?

He begins to explain in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (chapter 20). “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour (9:00 a.m.), and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them: Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the 6th (12:00 none) and 9th hour (3:00 p.m.), and did likewise. And about the 11th hour (5:00 p.m. – just before quitting time) Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, because no man hath hired us. He said unto them, go ye also into the vineyard: and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.

“So when even (evening) was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward. Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the 11th hour (nearly at quitting time), they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the good man of the house, saying. These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.

“But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own” (Matt. 20:1-13, 15)?

That question would be answered in the negative throughout the Western world today. Our societies would be 100% on the side of the people who complained about their wages.

But think about the parable for a minute. It supports a true free-enterprise system in which a man has a right to govern his own private property. The householder had said: “Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me (in a contract (for a penny? Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good” (vs. 13,1 5)?

Later in the day the householder had found some stranglers who didn’t have jobs. He was very generous to give them such a good wage for so little work. So why should those who had received exactly what they had contracted for be angry at a boss who was so generous?

Because we are heavily influenced by the so-called “fairness standards” of this society we have difficulty accepting this parable spoken by Jesu Christ. But such is the way Christ’s mind works!

Jesus christ of Nazareth, in all these biblical instructions and examples, is trying to instill in us the right attitude and approach toward monetary wealth and investment. If our trust is in money to solve our problems, to give us good health and protect us, then we are worshipers of that false god called Mammon.

But if our trust is in the living God, and we use the money, the property, and the abundance that comes to us to serve and worship Him, then we are good stewards of the material things our Creator has placed in our hands.

Be watching for the next installment of “Your Best Investment.” Visit our website at cognwm.org and read the article “Lazarus and the Rich Man.”

 
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