The combination of God, money and happiness may not at first glance seem to go together, but it surprising and intriguing how they are linked.
In fact it is quite remarkable how much the Bible has to say about money. The following statistics illustrate this in a dramatic way. There are approximately 500 verse in the Bible on prayer and another 500 on faith. However, when it comes to money and possessions there are a staggering 2,350 verses! Apparently 15% of Jesus' words are on money and possession - that is more than he spoke about heaven and hell! Of Jesus' 38 parables, 16 (over 40%) are about money. Why should that be? It is surprising to think that a spiritual book should say so much about money. What does money have to do with spirituality?
Here is how Richard Halverson puts it:
"Jesus Christ said more about money than any other single thing because, when it come to a man's real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man's true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man' s character and how he handles his money."
To help us think about this further I want to focus in on the words of James, the blood brother of Jesus in what was almost certainly the first book of the New Testament to be written around 45 AD (or just over a decade after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Here is the paraphrase from the original Greek in chapter 1 verses 9-11:
"When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing."
Here are two kinds of people, one poor (down-and-out) and the other rich. The New International Version describes them like this:
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation.....
The point being made is that the rich person and the poor person are in very different situations and yet they are both called to look at their lives not from the viewpoint of their material position, but from their spiritual standing. We need to be so careful in thinking about our lives in terms of money or the things that money can buy. The tendency is for those who don't have money to look with envy at those who do have; and for those who do have money to look down at those who don't have and think themselves superior. In other words, it is easy to go from thinking I have more money than you to thinking I am better than you.
The Bible teaches that for God the biggest issue is not simply how much or how little money we may have, but where is my and your confidence. In other words, being rich does not necessarily mean that God is pleased with you and being poor does not necessarily mean God is punishing you. Or to put it the other way round, being rich is not necessarily a bad thing and being poor is not necessarily a good thing. Some of the greatest men and women in the Bible have been rich - Abraham, David and Esther in the Old Testament; Lydia and Zaccheus in the New Testament for example.
So the issue is not how much money you do or don't have. The issue is where is your heart with respect to God and money?
According to James, the poor person' pride and confidence should come from their high standing with God. And the rich person's pride and confidence should come from understanding how temporary and fleeting money is. As James says, when you see a beautiful flower that looks lovely and colourful one day, remember that with time and under the heat of the sun it will eventually decay and die.
That sounds like something of a downer, but it is only being realistic. The danger with money is that it tempts you to think if you have lots of it then you will be safe and secure. (For more on this see How Much Money Do You Actually Need?)
So if I am doing well, then I am called to remind myself that my success is there for service and not to gratify my selfish desires. And if I am doing badly then I am to remind myself that my self-worth has nothing to do with how I am doing. (For more on this see Why I Struggle With Religion).
We are going to look at that further in the next blog. But for now I want to close with one of my favourite encouragements from the Old Testament. Written by the prophet Jeremiah originally in Hebrew about 2,500 years ago he says in the New International Version translation:
'This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.'
That is a confidence that can stand life's many challenges and the test of time!
What are your thoughts and reflections?