MONEY AND THE CHRISTIAN
A study of the Biblical understanding of money
as both a tangible object and an intangible power.
BY: JAMES A. FOWLER
VARYING CONSIDERATIONS OF MONEY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
THE VICTORY OF JESUS CHRIST OVER THE POWER OF MONEY
WHERE DOES THE CHRISTIAN STAND IN REFERENCE TO MONEY AND ITS USE?
Christians and their ecclesiastical institutions have often been charged with “talking too much about money.” This has often been in the context of ecclesiastical leaders soliciting funding for their institutional endeavors. Such calls for “collections” and “contributions” are often indicative of a corporate greed of acquisition, done, of course, under the guise of allegedly altruistic objectives of “doing God’s work” and “helping others.” Much of this methodology of “fund-raising” implemented by the collective religious organizations is decidedly antithetical to the Christian concept of money that is presented in the New Testament Scriptures. The objective of this study is to address the Biblical perspective of how Christians, individually and collectively, relate to money. In so doing, we will “talk about money” in ways that have seldom been addressed in traditional Christian teaching.
VARYING CONSIDERATIONS OF MONEY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The New Testament Scriptures view the subject of “money” in two different categories. The first, and most obvious, is the consideration of “money” as a tangible object. Less obvious, but more common, is the Scriptural consideration of “money” as an intangible power.
When money is viewed as a tangible object it is but an amoral, aspiritual, material object that is used as a neutral medium of social and material exchange. Metallic coins made of differing metal substances such as gold, silver, copper, steel, zinc and aluminum have been utilized as cash and currency in many societies for several millennium. The substance of the tangible object can be paper, plastic, wood, or even barter materials, that are regarded as acceptable means of measuring the value of services or things, and used as a medium of exchange or “legal tender” for such. Jesus observed the imprint image of Caesar on a Roman coin and advocated its use for the payment of taxes (Matt. 22:21: Mk. 12:17; Lk. 20:25). On another occasion He observed the widow’s mite being thrown into the treasury of the temple in Jerusalem (Mk. 12:42; Lk. 21:12). Both of these instances have expanded inferences for the consideration of the use of money, but are mentioned presently only for their reference to the tangible object of coinage.
The primary way that the New Testament Scriptures refer to money is not simply as a tangible object, but as an intangible power. Money is viewed abstractly and immaterially with a sense of value and power either intrinsic to it or invested in it. This value and power takes two forms, identifying money as a spiritual power or as an economic, social and political power.
Money is explicitly identified as a spiritual power in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount when He asserts, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.“ (Matt. 6:24; Lk. 6:13) “Mammon” was the Aramaic term for money, wealth, or material possessions. In contrasting “mammon” to God, Jesus represents money as an active and personified spiritual power antithetical to God. Money becomes a deified spiritual power, a false-god, when it is employed in the context of the foremost false-god, Satan. Satan, the “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4) reigning over the world-order of fallen mankind, invests money with his diabolic self-orientation which was evidenced in his aspiration to “be like the Most High God” (Isa. 14:14) and in his temptation of men that “they, too, could be like God.“ (Gen. 3:5) Such self-orientation that sets oneself up as their own center of reference and claims to be independent, autonomous, self-determining and self-producing is the evil spiritual character of the diabolical employment of money as a spiritual power.
When Jesus polarizes God and mammon in the dichotomy of serving one or the other (Matt. 6:24; Lk. 6:13), He establishes an antithetical either-or of contrast and opposition. In the polarization of God and Satan, good and evil, God and mammon, we can observe an either-or of spiritual mastery, spiritual love, spiritual attachment and spiritual power.
“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus declared. There is an either-or of spiritual mastery or spiritual control under the lordship (kurios) of God or mammon. In juxtaposing God and mammon in this manner, Jesus sets up the dichotomy of spiritual authority that money can have within the diabolic energizing of the devil in contrast to the authority of God. We will “love the one and hate the other, or hold to the one and despise the other,” Jesus said. Mammon, or money, does indeed attempt to “master” us. Though we, in our independent, autonomous and self-determining orientation, claim to “use” money, the spiritual power of money often “uses” us, making us its servants, using us as slaves to its ends. The mastery (kurios) of mammon becomes a despotic (despotes) mastery.
In “loving the one, and hating the other” there is an implicit reference to the either-or of spiritual love between God and mammon. The “love of money” is antithetical to the “love of God”, thus being “the root of all evil” (I Tim. 6:10). What does it mean to “love God” or vice versa to “love money”? To “love God” is not just an assent to the existence of God, nor is it merely a fondness, affection or preference for God. Rather, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27) implies a total giving of oneself to God, uniting oneself in spiritual union with God, accepting God as the central basis of one’s life, and allowing God to be in control of one’s life. If that is what the “love of God” means, then the “love of money”, as here set in contrast to the “love of God,” likewise does not mean merely a fondness, affection or preference for money, but a total giving of oneself to a spiritual union with mammon and its diabolic spiritual energy, whereby money becomes the central basis of one’s life controlling all that one does. It is not hard to see, then, how “the love of money is the root of all evil” (I Tim. 6:10), “plunging men into ruin and destruction” (I Tim. 6:9) as the Evil One seduces men into the false-love of money which will result in everything contrary to faith and its manifestations of righteousness, godliness, etc. (I Tim. 6:10,11)
Even religion can collectively fall into the same false-love as is evidenced by the Biblical assertion that “the Pharisees were lovers of money.“ (Lk. 16:14,15) Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for money, keseph, was etymological derived from the root word, kasaph, meaning “to desire or yearn for”, and the propensity of the Hebrew peoples to lapse into the worship of Baal with its selfish desire and false-love of money is abundantly documented. The spiritual love of money, even in religious forms, sets one apart from God and can never bring the fulfillment that God intends for man. That is why the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews explains, “Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have.“ (Heb. 13:5)
Connection with either God or mammon establishes and exposes the either-or of spiritual attachment, spiritual union, and spiritual identity. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Jesus explained in the same context of His hilltop sermon. (Matt. 6:21) If one’s “treasure” is money or mammon, then he is spiritually attached or united with the “ruler of this world” (Jn. 14:30; 16:11). Orientation toward material treasures evidences one’s spiritual treasure. The selfish and “evil man, out of his evil treasure, brings forth what is evil” (Matt. 12:35), and his spiritual identity will be formed on the basis of material things, subordinating who he is to what he has. In contrast, the spiritual treasure, attachment, union and identity of the Christian is not to be based on money, but in the person of the living Lord, Jesus Christ. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God.” (II Cor. 4:7)
The antithetical contrast between God and mammon that Jesus posited reveals an either-or of spiritual power. Mammon or money is a spiritual power employed by Satan, one of the “schemes of the devil.“ (Eph. 6:11) So it is that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). What kind of power does money have? Money has the power to dehumanize people in slavery and poverty. Money has the power to destroy life as people subordinate their physical, psychological and spiritual lives and health to money and its concerns. Money has the power to tempt and corrupt, even to the extent of causing people to betray those closest to them for money, as illustrated by Joseph being sold to the slave-traders by his own brothers (Gen. 37:18-28) and Judas selling-out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-16; Mk. 14:10,11; Lk. 22:3-6). Money has the power to profane that which is of God, as evidenced by Aaron’s profanation in the building of the golden calf (Exod. 32:1-10) and the money-changers in the temple. (Jn. 2:13-22; Matt. 21:12,13; Mk. 11:15-18; Lk. 19:45-48) Money has the power to economically manipulate others socially and politically.
The context of the spiritual power of money must be traced historically back to the Fall of man into sin (Gen. 3:1-6). The human race, alienated from God by their sin, then functioned in the context of a fallen world-order. Satan, the “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4), this fallen world-order, and the “prince of the power (exousia)” (Eph. 2:2) of this world-order and its operations, abuses and misuses, distorts and aborts all that God intended money included, and perhaps foremost. The diabolic indwelling comprises the fallen nature of man whereby the devil “works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). The diabolic context of the fallen world-order is where the “rulers (arche) and “powers” (exousia) and “world-forces of evil” (kratos) and “spiritual forces of wickedness” (pneumatikos) engage in their power-plays and power-struggles, which though played out in physical, economic, and political battles on earth, are really heavenly and spiritual battles “not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:11). These “powers that be” (arche, dunamis, exousia, kratos, and pneumatikos) are spiritual powers that employ the spiritual power of money in their destructive struggles among men and against God.
We proceed, then, to consider the intangible economic, social and political power of money as utilized by the spiritual power of diabolic mammon. Almost unconsciously we refer to the “purchase value” or “business value” of money, as well as its “spending power”, “buying power,” and “purchasing power.” When we do this we are referring to an intangible value and power of money apart from the value of the tangible object itself, as it is employed for the acquisition or purchase of goods or services which we need or want.
Money has the power of acquisition, and thereby is invested with the power to provide for the future. When men “love money” and put their faith in money, money becomes their idolatrous false-god that is invested with the power of providing hope for the future. Their “faith, hope and love” is in money. Attached in union with money (love), receptive to the benefits of money (faith), their confident expectation for a utopian “good life” (hope) is based on the alleged certainty, security, protection, comfort and survival that money can bring in the future, in their “retirement”. Their “faith, hope and love” is not vested in God, but in money and what it can accomplish as an intangible power.
It is universally recognized that money and wealth has an intangible social power in the world-order. Upwardly mobile urban professionals climb the social ladder wielding more and more power in their social environs as their wealth increases. Money is power in the social structures of every society (even socialistic-communism cannot overcome such). The “haves” exert power over the “have-nots” in almost every area of their common social existence.
Money also wields an intangible political power in the determination of the governance of societies (cf. Government). Those with the money usually rule, one way or another. Despite the advocacy of democracy, aristocracy, etc., governance often ends up being plutocracy, the rule of the rich. Is it any wonder that politicians of both major parties in the United States do not want to address the issue of “campaign finance reform,” since they are quite aware of the intangible political power of money?
Then there is the intangible economic power of money in the national, international and global economic systems. Societies are evaluated and labeled by their economic systems (ex. capitalism, socialistic-communism, etc.). Politics is often defined by economic theories (ex. Reaganomics). Money has become so systemic within the economic systems of societies that the individual gets absorbed into the system. Evaluation is no longer made in reference to the qualitative factors of an individual life, but only by the quantitative factor of statistical analysis of the numbers on the “bottom-line” and the collective benefit to a corporation or company. When this happens the individual no longer feels accountable or responsible for his involvement in the economic system, blaming all his problems on the “system” and putting his faith in the next economic program proposed by the most charismatic politician.
It will be instructive to consider the big picture of the economic systems that have competed for power over societies in the twentieth century. For the purpose of simplification, we shall make a comparison of capitalism and socialistic-communism. (cf. Diagram below). These two economic systems feed off of each other and provide reactionary fodder for each other, which facilitates their continuance of the advocacy of the power of their respective economic system.
Capitalism begins with a basic presuppositional premise that man’s nature is self-centered. The number one concern of natural man is himself and what he can do and acquire for himself. Karl Marx, reacting against the power exerted by the money-brokers of the bourgeois, indicated that it was not man’s nature that was the issue but man’s condition, especially the condition of those who were being exploited and manipulated by those with the power of money. So, the basic presuppositional premise of socialistic-communism is that man’s condition is oppressed and manipulated by the power of the rich.
What, then, is the basis of these diverse economic systems? Capitalism is a capitulation-based system, for it capitulates to, and goes along, with the presuppositional premise of man’s natural self-orientation. Socialistic-communism is a solution-based system that attempts to solve the problem of the oppressed condition of those exploited by the rich.
The objective of capitalism is thus to allow every individual to do what he can do (legally and morally) to get whatever he wants, whereby he can be whatever he wants to be by having all that he can have. The objective of socialistic-communism is to inspire every individual to give up all self-oriented aspirations, and subordinate himself to the good of the collective whole wherein all will allegedly be and have the same.
So the driving force of capitalism becomes the personal acquisition and accumulation of money and material things to make money and have money. Personal acquisition motivates economic activity within the capitalistic system. The driving force of socialistic-communism, on the other hand, is the encouragement to be part of a collective social whole that makes all men equal to work for the benefit of the collective state which will provide social equity. The state and its well-being motivates economic activity within the socialistic-communistic system.
The means of accomplishing the objectives of capitalism is to encourage each individual to work hard and do his best to acquire and accumulate what he wants and desires. The means of accomplishing the objectives of socialist-communism is to encourage everyone to work hard for the collective, as this will establish the supremacy of the equitable economic system wherein every persons gets what he needs.
In terms of ontological relation, personal doing and having take precedence over being in capitalism, whereas collective doing takes precedence over individualistic being in socialistic-communism.
Capitalism produces a differentiation between individuals in the society. Classifications, alienations, and even domination transpires between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, and the “haves” inevitably criticize the “have-nots” for not working hard enough and pursuing their humanistic goals. Socialistic-communism attempts to create a vacuous non-differentiation between persons, but in the process suffers from a universal lack of incentive.
The hopes and aspirations of an individual in a capitalistic society are that personal acquisition will allow him to succeed, to have freedom, security and power whereby he can comfortably live the good life in retirement. “The one with the most toys wins.” The hopes and aspirations for those in a socialistic-communist society are that working for the production of the collective whole of the state will allow for equitable freedom and security, and the success of the state economic system will produce a collective communal society. “We all win by working together.”
Both of these economic systems are motivated philosophically by a utopian dream. The utopian dream of capitalism is that if everyone follows their dream of acquisition, the productivity achieved by this supply and demand will produce a free and “as perfect as you can get” society. The utopian dream of socialistic-communism is that a perfect collective society with absolute equity can be implemented in the world-order of mankind.
So, how are these divergent economic systems to be evaluated? Capitalism is opportunistic. Capitulating to man’s fallen nature, it uses the self-orientation of fallen man to develop an economic system that is probably the most workable in the context of the fallen world-order. Socialistic-communism is idealistic. Focusing on the social condition of man, it attempts to implement an economic system that fails to take into account the fallen nature of man within a fallen world-order, and has proven itself to be unworkable.
Both of these economic systems, in and of themselves, fail to take into account that they are but operatives of greater spiritual powers, i.e. the diabolic and destructive “powers that be” within the fallen world-order. Those who orchestrate these economic systems think that they are ends in themselves, but they are not. They have been superseded by a spiritual power greater than the power that energizes their systems, and they are destined to defeat and destruction.
Since most of the readers of this document function within the economic system of capitalism, an additional aside might be in order to observe that as a new millennium arrives and the twenty-first century begins we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the economic systematizations of the world-order. Money and economics seem to be being absorbed in ever-larger and extensive institutional powers of multi-national or global mega-corporations, world-banking in a world-economy with integrated stock-markets and unified currencies, and a market driven by consumerism facilitated by e-commerce technology. Capitalism seems to be giving way to imperialism, whereby the world-forces of mammon and money seek to gain control of the entirety of the economic, political and spiritual lives of mankind. The religion of capitalistic-imperialism is absolutely intolerant of anything outside of its control. The spiritual power of mammon is increasingly taking control of societies, nations and religion, being sacralized in idolatrous forms. The religion of materialism demands to be worshipped and allows no competitors, especially Christianity which stands opposed to all of its powers, premises and procedures.
It is time to stand back and ask some hard questions of ourselves:
· Is one economic system more or less “Christian” than another?
· Does Christianity engender or produce a particular economic system?
· Is there a “Christian” doctrine of money?
· Does Christianity provide or produce a particular political doctrine?
· Does it really matter how the fallen world-order is organized?
· Does it really matter what system of economics the world employs?
· Where does the Christian stand, and how is he to operate in the midst of all this?
· What is the objective of the Christian life? …to make money? …to find security in money? …to be and behave by the presence and activity of God in us by His Son, Jesus Christ?
THE VICTORY OF JESUS CHRIST OVER THE POWER OF MONEY
The distinctive of the Christian gospel is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has won the victory and defeated the devil (cf. Heb. 2:14; I Jn. 3:8), the power of mammon, and the subsidiary social, economic and political powers of money. This He has done by being incarnated within the fallen world-order without succumbing to the powers and systems of the world, but standing apart and detached from the world-order, singularly distinct as the “perfect Man” (cf. Perfect Man). Furthermore, by His death on the cross He took the death-consequences of man’s sin, in order to restore the presence and power of God to man by His resurrection, having been “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.“ (Rom. 1:4) God in Christ intervened within the world-order and invested Himself within the world of humanity as the incarnated God-man. The crucifixion and resurrection combine to form the crucial pivot point wherein Jesus judged the entire world-order of Satan. Jesus triumphed over the exousia, the powers of money, violence, politics, religion, etc. by His “finished work” (Jn. 19:30) on the cross, and manifests the dynamic power of His resurrection-life by divine grace in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ.
Note these Pauline explanations of Christ’s victory over the powers.
“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers (arche) and authorities (exousia), He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” (Col. 2:13-15)
“For He has delivered us from the domain (exousia) of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13, 14)
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power (dunamis) toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength (energeian) of His might (kratos), which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule (arche) and authority (exousia) and power (dunamis) and dominion (kuriotetos), and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 1:18-23)
“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might (kratos). Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers (arche), against the powers (exousia), against the world forces (kratos) of this darkness, against the spiritual forces (pneumatikos) of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:10-12)
The victory of Jesus Christ over all the powers of evil was, and is, effected by the dynamic of God’s grace. What God provides ontologically in Himself, in His Son Jesus Christ, is free, without cost. It cannot be bought or purchased. This is most antithetical to everything in the fallen world-order. The “buying power” or “purchase power” of money has no place in God’s work of creation or redemption. God did not need money to purchase the raw materials to create the world. He created ek theos, out of Himself, and thereby ex nihilo, out of nothing but Himself (cf. The Etiology of Creation). Neither did God need money to buy-off the devil in order to redeem man a tragically misrepresentative understanding of the atonement. God always acts ek theos, out of Himself, in terms of source, and en theos, in Himself, in terms of His every act being expressive of His own Being. Money is never required for what God does.
Yes, Scripture indicates that we are “bought with a price” (I Cor. 6:20; 7:23; II Peter 2:1), but the price was not money. It was blood (Acts 20:28; I Pet. 1:18,19), and this simply signifies that the price was the death of Jesus, the price required to satisfy (propitiate/expiate) the justice of God, since the just consequence of sin is death (cf. Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23). The death of Jesus Christ was not a buy-sell money transaction or pay-off. Nothing of God is bought or purchased with “works” or money. Grace is antithetical to the buy-sell system of the fallen world-order. (cf. Grace of God)
In doing what He did by grace in the revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ, God completely defeated Satan and the powers of the fallen world-order, and thereby set man free from the bondage and slavery involved in the “love of money” within Satan’s system of mammon. Men in Christ are free to be man as God intended man to be. Those in Christ are free to treat money as but a neutral object, a medium of exchange, apart from any and all diabolic powers associated with it.
WHERE DOES THE CHRISTIAN STAND IN REFERENCE TO MONEY AND ITS USE?
We stand “in Him,” in union with Christ (cf. Union with Christ). We stand as the incarnational expression of the nature, person and character of God expressed in a man, and that in total contrast to the diabolic, fallen world-order. We stand where Christ stood, in the focal point of God’s grace, having the privilege and responsibility of implementing the actualization of Christ’s victory over the archai, exousiai, dunameis, and kratoi of the world-order of mammon or money. By regenerative conversion we are “turned from the exousia of Satan to God.“ (Acts 26:18) Christians must have a completely different orientation to what is going on in the world-order with its money-powers, than do those who are seduced by it, slaves to it, and worshipers at its altars.
Christians are to be detached from the possessive power of money. When Jesus told the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-22) to “go and sell all his possessions and give them to the poor,” He was not advocating and establishing some legalistic procedure of poverty and non-ownership. He was determining whether the rich young ruler was willing to be detached from his possessions, his money and their power, and whether he was willing to “find his treasure in heaven by following Jesus,” i.e. by being united spiritually with Jesus Christ, rather than to his money. The rich young ruler was not willing to be detached from his money, and attached only to Jesus. Perhaps he was an upwardly mobile young professional craving the power therein!
Christians can view money as but a tangible, instrumental object, a medium of exchange. They can pay their taxes without moaning and groaning and trying to hang-on to their money, recognizing that we “give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.“ (Matt. 22:17-21) The state imprints its money with its own insignia, therefore it is technically owned by the state, which serves as one of the exousiai in Satan’s world-order.
For the Christian, being is more important than having; men are more important than money. That is why we are called upon to avoid interest/usury that makes people indebted, slaves to the lender, and often pressured, exploited and disdained. That is why Christians can be free from worry (Phil. 4:6), and content with what they have been entrusted with (Phil. 4:11-14). That is why Christians do not need to try to control their future with money stockpiling, saving, “building bigger barns” (Lk. 12:16-21), and trying to find an independent, autonomous, self-orchestrated security in so doing. That is why Christians are free to give the ultimate action that profanes and desacralizes the idolatrous world of mammon. There is nothing more antithetical to the world’s selfish “getting” than Christian giving, allowing the givingness of God’s character to be expressed through our behavior (cf. Christian Giving). Giving equalizes men, rather than alienating and differentiating men (II Cor. 8:10-15). Giving introduces others to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. For the Christian, money is acquired in order to meet our basic needs (not all of our wants and desires), and to be given away in other-oriented agape love. (cf. Outline study of love)
When we consider Christianity in contrast to the economic systems of capitalism and socialistic-communism, we discover that Christianity has an entirely different orientation. (cf. diagram below)
The basic presuppositional premise of Christianity is not that man must live in accord with his self-oriented fallen nature, nor is it an abhorrence of man’s oppressed condition. Rather, the presuppositional premise of Christianity is that God in Christ has remedied the fallen spiritual condition of man by taking death as the representative Man, and offered to restore man by placing His own divine life within the spirit of man (cf. Restoration of Man). Thereby man can have an exchange of spiritual nature, “becoming a partaker of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4), which will transform his entire orientation and behavior.
Whereas capitalism is a capitulation-based system and socialistic-communism is a solution-based system, Christianity does not capitulate to man’s fallen nature of self-orientation, nor is it designed for social, economic, political and/or religious problem-solving (Christianity is not Problem-solving). Christianity espouses no particular economic system, for they are all derived out of the powers of the world-order. Christians are identified with God instead of mammon (Matt. 6:24), and are free to use money as a neutral, tangible object, as a medium of exchange.
The objective of Christianity is not to “be all you can be by having all you can have,” nor is it to “be all you can be by subordinating yourself to the good of the collective whole. The objective of Christianity is to “be man as God intended man to be, by allowing God to be God in the man,” and that unto His own glory.
The Christian’s purpose in life is not to “have money” or to “benefit the collective whole,” but to glorify God. “Created for His glory” (Isa. 43:7), we are to “do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31) The means of fulfilling this purpose is not “hard work” for personal acquisition or for the good of the collective, but functioning as God intends by His grace, allowing the divine dynamic to express the divine character in givingness and love toward others.
Quite contrary to the ontological relation of “having” taking precedence over “being,” or collective “doing” taking precedence over “being,” the ontological Being of God becomes the basis of “being” for the Christian. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and that by the indwelling presence of the living Lord Jesus.
Our interpersonal relationships are not differentiated by what we possess, nor are they denied in vacuous non-differentiation, but Christians love others without condition and without regard to who they are or what they have. The equality and unity of Christians is based on the fact that we are “all one in Christ Jesus.“ (Gal. 3:28)
Hope and aspiration are not based on personal acquisition or on collective production. The Christian’s freedom is in Christ (Gal. 5:1,13); his security is in Christ; his success is assured by the grace of God. “Christ Jesus is our hope” (I Tim. 1:1), both now and in the future, both here and in heaven, already and not yet.
Whereas the economic systems of both capitalism and socialistic-communism offer a utopian dream for a better, or perfect, life and society, Christianity is not essentially utopian. Christianity is not offering a utopian “pie in the sky, bye and bye,” as is sometimes caricatured. Christianity is the reinvestiture of God’s life in man by the presence of the risen Lord Jesus, allowing for “eternal life” to be lived out in the present circumstances and situations of daily life, with the confident expectation (hope) of the perpetuity of such spiritual union in the heavenly realm.
By way of evaluation, capitalism is opportunistic in capitulating to and utilizing the selfish propensity of man’s fallen nature in the fallen world-order, and socialistic-communism is idealistic in trying to implement social solutions to man’s oppressed condition. Christianity, on the other hand, is thoroughly realistic in appraising God’s intent for what it means to be a Christian “in the world, but not of the world.“ (John 17:16,18)
It is important to understand that these statements pertain to Christianity, as distinct from the institutional forms of Christian religion. Christian religion inevitably fails to avoid the fallacies of either viewing all men as God’s general society or brotherhood and attempting to encourage all men to act “Christianly” in accord with a so-called Christian morality, or it proposes an idealistic problem-solving approach attempting to convert the world into the kingdom of God by “Christianizing” the world-order and creating a utopian collective. (cf. Acts 4:325:11)
Christianity recognizes that the world-order and the kingdom of God are antithetical. They epitomize the either-or of Jesus or Satan, good or evil, God or mammon. They are mutually exclusive. They cannot be merged or reconciled. They will always be at odds with one another. The world cannot be saved. There is no hope for the world! (Do not forget that we are referring to the fallen world-order. cf. Biblical Cosmology)
Christianity, rightly understood as the expression of the character of Christ by Christ in the Christian giving, instead of getting; loving people instead of using people; being, instead of having or doing is intolerable to the diabolic world-order. It is the ultimate absurdity to “the natural man who cannot understand spiritual things.” (I Cor. 2:14) Christianity is an anomaly. Like a square peg in a round hole, it cannot be made to fit in the world-order.
To the extent that mammon/money and its powers are introduced in Christian religion, grace cannot function there can be no Christianity! To the extent that Christianity is introduced within the context of the world-order, the powers of money are made impotent as their idolatrous focus is exposed. The diabolic “powers that be” in the world-order will fight to the death to avoid that! It is imperative that we see the “spiritual warfare” that is going on behind the tangible actions in the world around us. That, by the way, is what the last book in the New Testament, the book of Revelation, is all about! (cf. Revelation series)
As Christians, we must avoid and resist the sacralized forms of capitalism and socialistic-communism which are but the religion of materialism and the religion of statism. Christians should recognize the antithetical nature of, and thus have an aversion to, all sacralized forms of religion, for religion in any form, be it economic, political or other-worldly, is opposite to Christianity. To be sure, Christianity has been corrupted into many sacralized religious forms, but Christianity is the ontological dynamic of the risen Lord Jesus living out His life incarnationally in our forms within the providential situations in which we find ourselves.
Christians stand at the focal-point, the flash-point of God’s grace within the world-order. Christians draw upon the power of God in Christ by His Spirit, instead of engaging in the power-plays and power-struggles of the diabolic world-powers. “In the world, but not of the world (John 17:16,18), Christians are detached and free from the spiritual forces of self-oriented evil, and free to function as God intends man to function by being proclaimatory vessels of the gospel, living out the Christ-life wherever they might be.
The relation of money and Christianity is such that the Christian recognizes that God does not need money to do what He wants to be and do in our lives. Money need not be a big concern for Christian people certainly not a source of worry or anxiety (cf. Outline study on worry). Our primary concern will be to be obedient to God by “listening under” His direction in order to determine how and to whom He wants to give through us.
To reaffirm God’s promise to take care of our every need without undue concern for accumulating money, we can repeatedly meditate on these passages, allowing God to speak to our hearts: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8, 9)
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon 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 or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.” (Matt. 6:19-21; 24-34)
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:6, 7; 10-13)
“Godliness is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” (I Tim. 6:6-12)
“Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?'” (Heb. 13:4, 6)
Fallen men and their powerful systems in the fallen world-order can do nothing that affects who we really are in Christ and the eternality of our spiritual union with Him. With a Christocentric identity and focus, Christians find their contentment, security and hope in Jesus Christ, day-by-day and moment-by-moment. A successful life is Christ living out His character in our behavior, being and doing what He wants to be and do in us, unto His own glory, even though that involves a detachment from all that the world holds valuable and dear.
Though our relation to Christ as Christians is an individual relationship, it is not individualistic. All Christians are collectively unified in the Body of Christ, the Church. We need each other, and the purpose of assembling together is to encourage one another (Heb. 10:24,25) to continue to stand in the focal-point of God’s grace, deriving all from Him in the receptivity of faith. When the temptations come to revert to the fallen-world systems of value and power, we need each other to remind one another that “no man can serve two masters…you cannot serve God and mammon.“ (Matt. 6:24)
Credit must be given to Jacques Ellul and his book, Money and Power, from which many of the concepts within this article have been taken.
©1999 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author.
MONEY AND THE CHRISTIAN [James A. Fowler] 1