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Matthew and Money: Our Covetous Culture

moneydude

Ever noticed how, in our culture, we’re basically taught and brought up to never be content? All our advertising, our schooling, the media, and the business culture, all tells us that we have to be ambitious for more. It’s all about competition and comparing ourselves with others, looking at what they have and wanting that for ourselves.

We grow up in a covetous culture.

This is the world’s endless and restless pursuit of money and power. I don’t say it’s necessarily wrong to be competitive (that might require some explanation) but what I am saying is that discontentment is never satisfied, no matter how much money or power you have.

Proverbs 23:4-7
Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it isgone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.
Do not eat the bread of a selfish man, or desire his delicacies; For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, “Eat and drink!” But
his heart is not with you.

I don’t know about you, but if I let just a little bit of this covetous, discontent culture seep into my thinking and my heart, I’m restless for days on end. You might not think you’re a very covetous person, and in fact neither did I, but I never understood why money was a constant problem in my life. Why it was I felt like I just was never doing well enough and providing well enough. The answer? I would look at what many others had and covet. Sure, I wouldn’t steal, but I would make it a life goal to get to the place where I could afford such things too. And that, in fact, means that money was very much my master.

In my last post we saw that the context of Matthew 6: 19 – 24 is, in fact, about the contrast between generosity and coveting (not so much a contrast between generosity and stinginess, although that’s definitely in there.) This context of coveting continues in verses 25 to 34, a set of famous verses which I think have often been taught outside of the correct context of coveting.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Now, what do we see here, given the context? The anxiety Jesus condemns is an anxiety around coveting, not about legitimate worry.

This makes sense of Jesus’ saying that “life is more than food” and the “body more than clothing.” It’s about what we’re pursuing. If someone I know gets to eat all the good food, drink all the good wine, and buy all the good clothes, my heart can very easily covet all that – I also want all that for myself and my family. I also want the nice house and the feeling of security that all that stuff brings.

We all do, don’t we? Many of us spend time on Pinterest pinning all this stuff that we want. Liking nice clothes is different to making the nice clothes our goal in life. It’s not just about the dangers of materialism, it’s about our sight – where we’re looking. What we look at is what we will go after. Remember the previous verses? Those with a bad eye are full of darkness. They’re always looking at wealth and what others have and having all that is their endless, restless goal in life. (Some are calling this affluenza.)

Now this thing of legitimate worry needs to be expounded. We’ll do that in the next post.

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Matthew and Money: Generosity is Always Right

generosity

Currently, in my series on what Jesus has to say about money – and how He lived it – I’m working through Matthew 6. You can see previous posts in this series here.

Matthew 6: 19 – 34 is a well known section of scripture that deals with this topic. But we’ll just look at verse 19 – 24 for now.

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Verse 19 and 21 I think are self explanatory. But the question is, how do we lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven? It’s interesting that material objects on earth – such as money – are able to gain us heavenly / spiritual reward from God. It’s all about how we use it – for generosity or for ourselves?

So is it a sin to spend money on ourselves? Of course not. But verse 22 & 23 put this in better context. And might I add, the context is important – I’ve heard these scriptures used to talk about why we shouldn’t look at pornography when the context has nothing to do with that sort of stuff!

In Hebrew culture a person with a ‘good eye’ was / is one who sees the needs of their neighbour and does something about it. In other words, a generous person. Now you might think that an ‘evil eye’ is then about the opposite – being stingy – turning a ‘blind eye’ – but in fact it’s about going even further – seeing your neighbour and coveting what they have.

Proverbs 28:22 is a good examples of this. It says: “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth And does not know that want will come upon him.” (NASB). So this scripture is talking about what we pursue. Are we pursuing the Kingdom and its kind of generosity? Or are we pursuing all those things everyone says we should have? If you’re generous your whole being will be full of light. But if you’re stingy and, worse, covetous, your whole being will be full of darkness.

Up to this point there has been no mention of our conventional wisdom that sounds something like: “I’m going to make lots of money so that I can be generous.” Many people, including Christians, pursue wealth with the apparent motive to be generous. It sounds all well and good but Jesus doesn’t exhort us to be generous when we’re finally wealthy. (If you keep saying “one day” I’ll give, I promise you, “one day” will never come – there will always be a reason to subscribe to “charity starts at home.”) Rather, we’re to be generous despite what we have. You’re not supposed to only have a ‘good eye’ when you have a good bank account. Having a good eye is meant to be a part of your character despite your bank account.

This leads me to believe that generosity is always right – even when it hurts. And it often does hurt. And it’s often very risky. We tend to think that generosity shouldn’t hurt because we think that the reward of moral living is easy living. In other words, the ‘right thing’ should never hurt; it’s supposed to make us feel better. So that’s why it’s popular to think that only when we have lots of money we can ‘afford’ to be generous.

I’m not saying that generosity always must hurt but only that we shouldn’t be surprised when it does. By definition, if all my generosity never actually costs me anything, how generous am I, really?’

Financial stability and coveting

Our culture’s ‘wisdom’ tends to preach that we need to accumulate until we have financial stability and freedom and then we’ll have the freedom to be charitable and generous. The reality is, however, if you aren’t generous from the beginning you’ll never be generous when your ship finally comes. If you don’t know how to manage your money with a good eye, and if all you know is how to feed your own stomach – and not be satisfied because you’re staring at everyone else’s food and wishing you were eating what they have (coveting) – all you’re ever going to have is an evil eye; and when you have plenty you will still demand more because you’re greedy, discontent and full of covetousness. Because your master is money, not God, and you are devoted to money.

But you cannot serve two masters.

Jesus now expounds on this context of an evil eye and coveting in the next piece of scripture, which we’ll look at next. And with this context in mind, this next piece of scripture says things I never realised before.

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Matthew and Money: Today is the day of provision

Wheat

As per my previous posts (part one, part two) I’m doing a little study on the subject of money and the book of Matthew. I’m very interested in seeing not only what Jesus taught but also how he lived. And Matthew was a tax collector, so I have a suspicion he might have written a bit more on this subject than the other Gospel writers.

I’m at Matthew 6, which starts with Jesus teaching on giving to the needy. The scripture is easy to follow: when we give to those in need, we’re not to announce it or glorify ourselves, announcing how wonderful we are to the whole world. We should not seek the reward of self-glorification but only seek the rewards that God gives.

Jesus then moves onto the Lord’s prayer and gives us an idea on how we should pray. In the Lord’s prayer he first establishes what’s important: that the Father is worshipped properly (“hallowed be your name”), that His Kingdom should come and His will be done, and then the line: “Give us today our daily bread”.

Note this: He doesn’t say give us our bread for life! Help us to stock up on bread! Give us the tools to make lots of money so we can have plenty of bread! He only says we ought to ask for bread for today.

My ESV Bible has a little note here and says it can be translated, “Give us our bread for tomorrow”. That doesn’t negate the point, though. If this is what Jesus meant, ‘tomorrow’ is still only one day. And we need to also look at what Jesus says later in chapter 6 (vs 34) – “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

This doesn’t mean one should not invest in a retirement fund or any of that kind of stuff. But when it comes to what we ask of God, we’re asking him to provide us our bread for today. In other words, we need to realise that we are, in fact, in a constant state of reliance on God.

This makes me think of Psalm 145: 5:

“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”

You might recall my first post on this topic where the subject of seasons in provision first popped up.

We live in a fallen world and even our investments can fizzle and become nothing. War can break out. Economies can collapse. When these things happen, we often blame God and wonder why we weren’t protected from them (as if, following God means we’re protected from a fallen world). The promise from God, however, is that He will give us today our daily bread. We’re reliant on him ultimately, and we better keep that in mind, because if we rely on the systems of this world we are guaranteed to be disappointed.

God will provide, however the provision may only be manna from heaven, not milk and honey. The latter may come in its time, though. Or it may not come in our lifetime. But whatever the case, we ask God to provide us our bread for today.

I want to avoid becoming a fatalist, but there is a sense that if we don’t have the money today then it may be that God is telling us we actually don’t need it today. But as the rest of Psalm 145 goes:

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

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Matthew and Money: Follow Jesus and there will be enough

Shoes_2_smaller

As you can see in my previous post, I’m doing a little study on Matthew in light of the subject of money. How did Jesus run his ministry from a financial point of view? What did he teach? But more importantly, how did he live?

I covered Matthew 4 and the temptation of Christ in the last post. We’ll continue with Matthew 4, in particular vs 18 – 22:

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

The immediacy of the disciples’ leaving what they were doing and following Jesus has always struck me as interesting. Now I’m aware that some of the other Gospel accounts tell the story in more detail and Matthew is looking to get past the details quickly. But, nevertheless, the reality is that the disciples were eager to leave their livelihood – their careers and the very thing that supported them and their family (Peter was married, see Matthew 8:14) and follow Jesus.

The application is obvious: there will come a time when God might ask us to do just this – leave our livelihoods for the sake of a ministry he is calling us to. Or, if not, the fact is that our livelihoods and / or careers ought to mean far less to us than our following Him. Our ministry should mean less too. Or, to put it another way, we need to see our jobs as a kind of ministry and see how we are to be fishers of men within the context of what we do.

But there is another application. None of the Gospel accounts have any of the disciples asking Jesus what they are going to get paid. It seems that this just wasn’t an issue. Was it because Jesus actually had a bit of money? Or that his ministry was visibly earning quite enough? Perhaps.

But this is the point: Jesus always seems to have enough. See, when we trust him in this area of our lives, we need to realise that he is able to provide. In his season, of course. Our responsibility is to follow Jesus, not to worry about the earning but leave the income to Him.

Easier said than done, of course, and I don’t negate the gift of many people who are good with money. That’s a gift God has given them that they can use to help others. But see, even in that, God is providing. We are not to worry about it, Jesus has enough, so we can drop our nets – our source of income, as it were – and follow Him. Our relationship with Him and the mission He has to make us ‘fishers of men’ is far, far more important. He’ll provide the rest. (Literally and metaphorically!)

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Matthew and Money: Jesus’ Provision

Desert night

I’m in the process of doing a little study on not only what Jesus had to say about money, but how he lived with regards to money, and how he ran his ministry in terms of money.

I’ll be publishing all my thoughts here in consecutive posts.

Why Matthew? Well, it gives a good overview of Jesus’ ministry and Matthew was a tax collector, so I figured he might have some more to say on the issue of money than others.

So let’s begin.

Living on bread alone

The first inference in Matthew I can see on this subject is in Matthew 4. Jesus has just been baptised by John and is led into the wilderness for 40 days to be tested. (There is a larger narrative here around Israel that’s very important but there are many things here that are good for personal application as well.)

Satan tempts Jesus around God’s provision (vs 3) and Jesus answers the well-known line, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, which puts the whole thing into greater context and is worth a read. If you look at both these scriptures there are a few points worth noting:

  • The Greek word for ‘word’ above (every word that comes from the mouth of God) is ‘rhema’, which refers to a ‘revelatory word’ – in other words, a word spoken directly and personally. It’s different to ‘logos’, another common word for ‘word’ in the scriptures, which has more to do with the actual, written scriptures. Note that ‘logos’ has a person element to it in Christian theology (see John 1 where Jesus is the “word” – Logos of God).
  • God tested the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness. They had not yet inherited a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’. They had not yet received the prosperity God promised.
  • Even during this time of testing, God provided manna from heaven and ensured their clothes would not wear out. He provided, but just not in the way many of the people liked (you can see this in the greater narrative).
  • The time of testing was for the purpose of humbling them. One might think it was a bit extreme, but God’s season of humbling was not without its provision (again, the manna). God warns the nation of Israel that they should not become proud when they get rich and forget him.
    • Vs 18 is key – “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant…”
  • Deuteronomy 8:5 says that the Lord disciplines his people as a man disciplines his son. He tested them to teach them that they live on His word – in a personal relationship with him – more than bread. He didn’t want to be the typical god where it’s about exchange – give me my sacrifices and I’ll bring you rain for your bread. No, he wanted relationship, that they should live on his personal and direct words to them.

Application:

  • If man lives on the personal and direct word of God and not on ‘bread alone’, then we need to hear from God, personally, around our finances. We need to hear from him about what season we’re in. We need to hear strategy from him as to what we should do, or rather what he is going to.
  • If it’s God that gives the ability to produce wealth, then it is he who provides strategy – personally and directly to us. So I don’t mean a general, common-sense strategy (ie., plant your crops) but I mean within that common-sense strategy, God provides personal strategy that may often be outside the box. However, we need to be available to listen and obey, because if we’re so busy trying this and that, we’ll tire ourselves out and probably not find God’s provision.
  • God works in seasons – a wilderness time and a time in the land of milk and honey. There may come a season of little (where we live on manna and miracles) and a season of plenty (where we live off the land). You don’t always live in the miraculous and you don’t always live on the natural order of things. You go through seasons and times where you may live off one more than the other.
  • It is our sole responsibility to listen to what God is saying and do that, not to make bread. God provides the bread while we listen. This obviously doesn’t mean we sit around and do nothing, but if we were listening to God we would know exactly what to do. There is a strong prophetic element, as it were, to God’s provision.
  • Gleaning principles from the Bible to create wealth is anti what’s going on here. We live on His revelatory Word to us personally. That may include some things we see in the Bible, but the point is to work on our personal relationship with God, not to use the Bible as some kind of textbook that guarantees wealth. The point is to show that God does not guarantee wealth. Rather, we shouldn’t be concerned with the bread, but our relationship with God. It’s only in that context of relationship that we’ll know what we should personally do in the season we’re in and our context.

Having a little or a lot has nothing to do with my status as a man and / or husband and father. The world links wealth and status together. God does not. The season is there for a reason. God does not always give abundance. He does not always discipline either. Each season will come and go, but how is my relationship with God? Do I live off his personal word to me? Or bread alone? This is the question.

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Simplicity is sweeter

The world around us constantly drives an attitude of discontent into us. It always insists we should want more and always makes as if someone who lacks the ambition to have more is a loser or not to be praised.

That’s the world. However, the Holy Spirit says something different in 1 Tim 6.

6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 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. 10 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.

Something of this want to have more has also crept into teachings in the church, most visible in something known as the “prosperity gospel”, which I’m not a fan of.

Our lives are very much a seeking for contentment, happiness and joy — and there is nothing wrong with us seeking these things! The problem is that the world says we can find them in what it has to offer: lots of money, lots of property, lots of cars, lots of stuff, lots of girls / guys, lots of sex, lots of fame, even lots of knowledge. And we believe it.

1 Tim 6 is referring specifically to finances, offering something counter-cultural and hardly praised by man: contentment with your lot.

Of course, when one looks at the poor it may be a little unfair to say to them that they must be ‘content’ with their hunger or whatever, but that really is a different story altogether. For those who are not poor, contentment with the basics – simplicity – is better than discontent and the need to always have, and have more.

However, the quest for contentment can actually come to its end pretty easily. Contentment, true contentment, is actually found in Christ Jesus. In Philippians 2 Paul talks about how he now considers everything he gained as ‘rubbish’ so that he may gain Christ. Clearly he knew there was a treasure far greater that everything the world offers us.

Contentment, peace and joy knocks at the door – but will we let Him in? Or will we be too busy gazing (or rather, coveting) out the back window at our neighbour’s house?

Like the scripture says – those who pursue the riches of this world pierce themselves with many pangs. It’s not worth it.

Truth be told, there really is no need for someone who earns two million a year to live much differently to someone who earns, say, R400,000 a year or thereabouts. Those who earn more just have more to give, really, but the pursuit of stuff will get no one anywhere in the quest for contentment and joy.

Simplicity really is sweeter – and a lot less complicated.

Those who pursue Christ will find much more than they even dreamed. Yeah, it’s tough, but finding true treasure takes a lot of digging and a lot of getting dirty – but it’s always worth it!

Ah, it feels so great, so sweet, to be content 🙂

Here is a brilliant comment my wife says with regards to this: “Detox your material system!” Lol, brilliant!

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