No-one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money - Matt 6:24
Jesus had an incredible way of dealing with money. We see him getting the money to pay the temple tax from the mouth of a fish (Matt 17:27), telling the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor (Luke 18:22) , and appointing a thief as the treasurer for his band of disciples (John 12:4-6) . And so much of his teaching centred around our attitudes to money and possessions. Telling us that we shouldn't store up treasure here on earth but store up treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19-21), leaving us in no doubt that it's impossible to serve both God and money (Luke 16:13), and making the radical claim that it is more blessed to give money away than to receive it (Acts 20:35). The Bible has twice as many verses about money as it has on faith and prayer combined, Jesus talked more about money than he did on heaven and hell, in fact 15% of Jesus recorded words relate to the subject of money and possessions. Quite remarkable.
And yet in Christian circles it can often seem like a real taboo to talk about money. It's OK for people to talk about money in relation to politics, in the newspapers, on TV, when discussing football clubs, when deciding which party to vote for in an election, when choosing between two different jobs or when we're deciding where to go on holiday, but it's somehow wrong to talk about money in church. Which is odd when so much of what is talked about in the world is frankly nonsense (just look at the army of financial experts who totally failed to predict, or even hint at, the credit crisis we're all living through), yet the wisdom of Jesus on money has survived 2,000 years of testing, and is still as relevant and as sharp today as it was when he first spoke it.
At Kerith, we want to be as open and as radical about money as Jesus was. You only have to walk around The Kerith Centre (built at a cost of £3.1 million in the middle of a recession with over 99% of the money coming from the congregation) to realise that faith for money, a willingness to talk about money, and sacrificial giving have been part of our history, that they're in our DNA. And that as we look to grow to be a church of 2,000 which plants other churches of thousands then handling money correctly, and being willing to talk about it openly, is going to be a huge part of our future.
So what does it look like to be a peach community when it comes to money? Well to explain that we're going to devote three chapters to the subject. In this chapter we're going to look at what Jesus taught us about money and the way we handle it. Then in the next chapter we're going to look at what the Bible and Jesus have to say on the sometimes controversial subject of tithing, and then in the third chapter we want to go into a bit of detail about how we handle money at Kerith.
Let's be clear, we live in a society which worships money and the accumulation of all the things which money can buy. Many of us have now got so much stuff that we can't even fit it all in our homes, so we have to start paying companies to store the stuff we can't fit in but which somehow we can't bear to be without.
When Jesus told us not to store up treasure on earth where rust destroys it and thieves can steal it he was speaking directly into the heart of the world you and I live in. His words could never be more true than in our 21st century society. The multi billion pound advertising industry relies on this root of materialism in the heart of every one of us. We buy the lie that if we just had that car, that house, that phone, that games console, that deodorant, that TV or that holiday then we'd be really satisfied and fulfilled. Time and again every one of us have fallen for it, and then having got that thing, found that there's still something huge missing from our lives.
And time and again we fall for the lie that we can have it all now. That we don't have to wait until we can afford to pay for that thing we really want, but that through the wonders of credit cards and overdrafts we can have it now and pay later. That we can cope with the debt, and that at some point in the future something magical will happen which means we can just pay it all off.
The Bible sees a very clear link between our spirituality and our attitude to money. When the crowds asked John the Baptist how they should demonstrate their repentance he told them first to share their clothes and their food with the poor. Then he told the tax collectors not to collect any more than they were supposed to, and finally he told the soldiers not to extort money from the people and to be happy with their pay (Luke 3:7-14). Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had (Mark 10:21) and commended Zacchaeus as he sold half of all he had to give to the poor and paid back everyone he had cheated four times over (Luke 19:8). And in the book of Acts we see the heart of the early disciples being demonstrated by their willingness to give (Acts 2:45), the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira being shown to be deceitful as they lied about their giving (Acts 5:1-11), and the reality of the conversion of the occultists in Ephesus being shown in their willingness to burn their magic books which were worth over 50,000 days wages (Acts 19:19).
It was Martin Luther, the great reformer, who said:
"There are three conversions a person needs to experience:The conversion of the head; the conversion of the heart; and the conversion of the wallet."
Just as Jesus and the early church did, we want to call people to a radically different lifestyle to the world around us when it comes to money. So please don't be surprised if we talk very openly about money at Kerith. We want to see everyone set free to enjoy the life Jesus has for them, free from the grip of materialism, free from worry and fear and free to make an impact not just in this world but for eternity.
At the same time we also want to be very clear about some things that Jesus and the Bible don't say about money.
First the Bible doesn't say that money itself is evil. It is the love of money which Paul says is the root of all sorts of evil (1 Tim 6:10). Jesus saw money just as a tool, in the same way as a spade is a tool which can be used either for good (to plant crops) or for evil (to kill somebody). It is man's sinful heart which is the problem, not money in and of itself.
Some Christians have taken on board the idea that money is evil, and believe therefore that we should live in poverty (what is called asceticism). Jesus doesn't call us to seek a life of poverty, or say that following him should mean us not enjoying the material things that this world has to offer. Nowhere does the Bible say that it is better to be poor than to be rich or that God prefers us to be poor (God's heart is to care for and protect the poor, but that is out of His compassion for them, not because He loves poor people more than rich people). Paul tells us that “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Tim 4:4-5) Godliness is found not in denying ourselves all that this world has to offer, but understanding that everything is a gift from God and if understood correctly with thanksgiving and prayer is to be enjoyed.
Jesus also didn't say anywhere that it is wrong to have money or possessions, or that it was wrong to seek to earn more money than we need to support our lifestyle. I love the words of
John Wesley, who said:
Make as much as you can, save as much as you can and give as much as you can.
In fact Jesus encouraged us to use money to advance the kingdom of God - “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves” (Luke 16:9).
It's obvious as we read through the book of Acts that there were people in the early church who had significant material and financial resources. The question is not “do you have money?” but “does money have you?”. That was why Jesus threw out such a strong challenge to the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions. If God has blessed us with the ability to make money then it's right to use that gift to make more money than we need just to survive so that we can invest it back into the kingdom of God.
On the other hand Jesus doesn't say that if we follow him then we'll automatically be the wealthiest people in society and have the biggest houses and drive the most expensive cars – what some would call a prosperity gospel. I've met Christians who genuinely believe that the size of your bank account is a representation of the size of your faith. I struggle to see how you get to that when Jesus died with the his clothes as his only possession, and the apostle Paul, who didn't seem to be short on faith, wrote:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil 4:12)
But I do believe that if you seek first God’s kingdom, and look to live life the way God wants us to, then you will prosper, not only in your finances but in every area of life (Ps 1:3). That God does want to bless us, but wants to bless us in order that we might be a blessing.
There is so much more that could be said on this whole subject. I'd encourage everyone to get hold of a copy of Randy Alcorn's book “Money, Possessions and Eternity” which in a very readable way goes into much more detail on living this radically different lifestyle. We haven't got space to cover all of that here, but what I do want to finish this chapter with is three keys to us living this radically different lifestyle in our peachy community.
Wherever you're at with your finances I want to encourage you to be honest. First of all be honest with yourself, be honest with God, and then have the courage to be honest with those around you. Part of being a peach community is being willing to take off the masks and to admit that we're all broken people and that none of us have all of this stuff totally sorted.
Some of you reading this will know deep in your heart that you are gripped by materialism. That your life and the decisions you make are driven by the desire for a bigger house, a better car, clothes with the right labels on and that your security is wrapped up in the size of your bank account. Some of you are missing your children growing up because you're so consumed by work and getting on there. Some of you know that you can't follow the call of God on your life because that thing God is calling you to would never pay the salary needed to cover your mortgage.
Others will be very aware that your personal finances are in an enormous mess. That you've run up debts which are rapidly getting out of control, that you're not sleeping well at night and you feel deeply ashamed about the situation you're in. You might even be considering suicide. If you’re in a mess then please seek help immediately. Talk to one of our Christians Against Poverty debt counselling team, who will be able to help you to map a way to get out of debt.
Wherever you're at! Kerith is a safe place to be open about your finances.
The Biblical key to breaking the hold of materialism on our lives is an extravagant generosity. That was the key that Jesus knew would unlock the heart of the rich young man — to give it away.
That doesn't necesarily mean giving it all away. Although that was what Jesus demanded of the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus gave away half of all he had and was commended by Jesus. Jesus doesn't want your money, or need your money, he wants your heart.
Generous giving means sacrificial giving. Giving to a point where the level of our giving affects our lifestyle choices. It doesn't mean just dropping a few pounds in the offering. The Bible teaches a tithe as the starting point for our giving. That means 10% of our gross income. If you want to break materialism in your life that's a great place to start. In a few weeks time we're going to look in more detail at the Biblical principle of tithing, but even before we get there I want to encourage you to consider tithing.
Then the Bible calls us to go beyond our tithe. To be generous in the rest of our lives. Maybe it's buying a magazine from the 'Big Issue' seller. Maybe it's when you walk in to a bar with your friends being willing to buy the first round. Maybe it's how much of a tip you leave at a restaurant. Maybe it’s seeing someone in financial need in your lifegroup and helping them directly. Maybe it’s buying a present for your partner.
Thirdly learn to handle your finances well. The key to that is very simple, to live debt free and to ensure that your income exceeds your expenditure. Paul wrote "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another" (Rom 13:8)
We haven't got time here to give a complete financial planning course. But if you've never had any advice on money management then I can't recommend too highly the CAP Money course which we run on a regular basis. Book yourself on the next one, and put into practice what you hear.
Where are you at with your money. Have you got control of your money or has it got control of you? Has God or materialism got a grip on your heart. Are you living an extravagantly generous life or an incredibly mean life. I pray that God will set you free and prosper you in the whole area of money.
Money, Possessions and Eternity — Randy Alcorn. This is quite simply the most thorough and best written book I've read on what the Bible teaches on finances.
Nevertheless — John Kirkby. John is the founder of Christians Against Poverty. This is his amazing personal story of building Christians Against Poverty as an organisation.