Vanguard (Lagos)

6 January 2013

Nigeria: Unrighteous Money

Money is not a currency of the kingdom of God.

Most Christians do not bother with the words of Jesus. If they did, they would not be Christians. Churches carefully avoid Jesus' words. They are not words on which a large congregational empire can be built. When the people heard the words of Jesus, they left in droves. When Peter understood the message of Jesus, he prevailed on him to change it. Jesus' words provide the small gate and narrow road that lead to life that only a few will find. (Matthew 7:14).

Deceitful money

So let us look at one of those weighty words of Jesus that Christians prefer to ignore. Jesus refers to money tautologically as "unrighteous mammon." (Luke 16:9). This means money is fundamentally ungodly. There is no "righteous mammon." According to Jesus, riches are deceitful. (Matthew 13:22). They promise what they cannot deliver. They promise prosperity but impoverish the soul. (Matthew 16:26). They promise peace but bring anxiety. (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

Money is man-made: it is not of God. Indeed, it is an idol; the very antithesis of God. Money rules over men, ensuring that it competes with God for human allegiance. Therefore, our faith in Christ compels a choice. Jesus insists: "No one can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (Matthew 6:24).

Jesus never has any commendation for the rich or for earthly riches. Instead, he warns: "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' position is that man's heart is of limited capacity. If our heart is set on worldly riches, we cannot at the same time have God; "the Desire of All Nations" (Haggai 2:7), as our heart's treasure.

Money is not a currency of the kingdom of God. The currency of the kingdom is righteousness. Jesus insists money does not even belong to the believer; who is redeemed without money. (Isaiah 52:3). If it belongs to us, we would take it with us when we die. We don't because it belongs to someone else. Therefore Jesus asks: "If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?" (Luke 16:11-12).

False riches

Money constitutes false riches. The riches of this world belong to the wicked. The psalmist declares: "Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches." (Psalm 73:12). The wicked prefer the temporal to the eternal. Therefore, God is content to make this vainglorious world their inheritance. Thus, David talks of "men of the world who have their portion in this life." (Psalm 17:14).

What then belongs to the believer? "The LORD is (our) portion." (Lamentations 3:24). When a man sought Jesus' help to secure his inheritance, he replied: "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." (Luke 12:15). But how could the man have been guilty of covetousness when all he wanted was his portion of his inheritance? The man failed to understand that Jesus' doctrine makes us heirs of God and not of men. He was guilty of insisting on what belongs to another man, while neglecting what is rightfully his portion in God.

God is interested in who we are and not what we have. He says "I am who I am." (Exodus 3:14). He does not say "I am what I have." This life is not about ownership; it is about stewardship. Worldly possessions are the believer's stewardship. We are managers of our finances, without the burden of ownership. In the Day of Judgment, God will require us to account for how we spent all the money that came into our hands. Did we use it to secure our temporal "future" here on earth, or to safeguard our eternal future in heaven? Jesus says sardonically: "Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home." (Luke 16:9).

It is not surprising then that God's judgment is often proclaimed on those who handle money. (Zephaniah 1:11). Rich men who are not prepared to give away their wealth to the poor cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven and become heirs of God. Instead of amassing earthly riches, Jesus counsels that we should endeavour to be rich towards God. (Luke 12:16-21).

Blessing of God

Men bless with money. But Jesus says: "Not as the world gives do I give to you." (John 14:27). Therefore, money cannot be a blessing of God. God blesses with his Holy Spirit. (Luke 11:13). What money buys is not of God, and that which is of God cannot be bought with money. (Acts 8:20). The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it." (Proverbs 10:22). But money adds sorrow for the simple reason that it fails. Money failed in Egypt and in Canaan. (Genesis 47:15). Sooner than later, money grows wings and flies away like an eagle towards heaven. (Proverbs 23:5).

Can we give money to God? Jesus says no. Unrighteous money belongs to Caesar; his image and inscription is on it. "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:21). What exactly belongs to God? God's image is on man, so man belongs to God. We should give and dedicate ourselves to the Lord; while money should be given and dedicated to "Caesar."

Solomon says money answers everything. (Ecclesiastes 10:19). That may be true technically; but money is not the answer to most things. Solomon himself discovered that all that money gave him was vanity upon vanity. He says: "He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase." (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

Wisdom of God

This is what I have learnt at the feet of the Lord. Money is not valuable; we are always giving it away in one transaction or the other. The most valuable things in this world are free. The most important jobs in Christ are the ones for which we receive no wages whatsoever. The poor are far more generous than the rich. (Mark 12:41-44).

Martins Hile urgently needed to get somewhere, so he asked the Lord for money for transportation. But the Lord said to him: "Stop asking me for money." The Lord told Martins to go and stand by the side of the road. As soon as he did so, a car pulled up in front of him. "Martins, where are you going?" asked the driver, who happened to be someone well-known to him. He then took Martins exactly where he was going.

The Lord said to Martins: "You don't need any money. All you need is me!

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