What Jesus really says about money

Christian conversations about money often sound like good advice from a wealthy, moral — albeit secular — uncle. But in reality, Jesus said some truly outrageous things about money. The majority of His ethics and parables on the subject took the focus off money altogether, and instead re-focused His listeners on God and eternity.

1. Jesus may be calling you to give it all away.

In Luke 19:1-10, Zacchaeus meets Jesus and immediately starts to re-pay his debts (four times over), gives half of his wealth to the poor, and even throws a rocking party that very night. In the story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23), Jesus tells the young man to give everything he has to the poor and follow Christ. The ruler refuses and leaves weeping. And when Mary, in John 12:2-4, breaks a jar of expensive (possibly worth her entire life-savings) perfume, she pours it on Jesus’ feet, and wipes His feet with her hair.

Almost every time I have heard any of these gospel vignettes taught, the financial ramifications are immediately explained away. We are quick to disciple others to share their faith, clean up their sexuality, and read the Bible. But we must not to skip over these texts, thinking money was a problem specifically for the rich young ruler or Zaccheus, while exempting ourselves from financial repentance. Money should be high on the discipleship checklist. When we follow Jesus, this decision should impact our wallets and bank accounts dramatically.

2. Don’t work harder or save more. Instead, look at the birds.

“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:26)

Jesus tells us three things in this powerful verse: first, that God is meticulously sovereign with the perfect ability to provide for His creation; second, we must have a right view of work and ourselves; and third, that God values us more than the birds because we are made in His image. We should work hard and save appropriately, as birds build nests to suit their needs. But we must keep a mindset that Jesus has invited us to be content with what He has provided, as we are citizens not of this earth, but of God’s kingdom.

3. “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus brings us into deep waters. Money isn’t evil. And it’s more than a necessary evil. Tim Keller says money is a manifest of our calling to live, work, and have dominion over the earth. Money is the ability to steward the earth, make things happen, and have options on how to live one’s life. Money has an intimate relationship with us.

Indeed, if our money is in something, our heart is never far behind. One of the most life-giving things a Christian can do is be a member of a local church, and give generously to it.  When your heart is invested (literally) in a community of other believers, getting to church on time, volunteering in the nursery, and desiring to lead and grow will naturally follow.

Money is a great servant, but a terrible master. Do more than put your money where your mouth is; invest your money where you want your heart to be.

4. Greed is sneaky, scary, and disastrous.

Want to have some stuff in common with the man who betrayed Jesus? Be greedy. Judas both stole from the poor (John 12:6) and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15). And then there’s the married couple who God struck dead on the spot. Ananias and Sapphria were disingenuous with their money and giving in Acts 5:1-11, and as a result, God killed them.

We must start our recovery from greed by confessing we have a problem. Kevin Jamison, a pastor at my church, puts it this way: “I’ve been in pastoral ministry for over 15 years, people have come to me and confessed almost everything under the sun… but no one has ever confessed or asked for prayer about a personal problem with greed.”

5. Jesus says the choice is simple.

Jesus is not dispensing money tips or gentle encouragement. Some of His teachings are practical, but much of what Jesus says on the subject has a stark conclusion: you must choose money or God.

Matthew 6:24 tells us, “You cannot serve both God and money.” And in Matthew 13:44-53, Jesus says this about those who fail to value God’s kingdom above all: “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I could go on, but you get the picture. Jesus is clear: cling to money and you will sink to hell. Grasp Christ and you will live forever with Him.

6. No more comparing to Congo.

Jesus lived as a boy in a normal home in Galilee, and then He was a carpenter, and then an itinerant preacher who received gifts as His sustenance. It seems like Jesus lived generously at an average income level for a guy of the ancient Near East. He didn’t try to live as a hunter and gather in the wilderness (although His cousin John the Baptist did).

Therefore, shaming each other about living on more than $2 a day is just not logical. We don’t live in the Congo. However, knowing that much of the world runs on the equivalent of $1-5 a day should motivate us tremendously. First, giving to international development and missions organizations has a monumental impact! Second, there is an invitation to live more simply, and have our lives revolve less on money. So give, and give generously!

Remember, this is God’s world. Therefore, we can trust Him with everything in our life, and can overcome our anxieties and give generously. God is good and powerful. Let us trust Him with our stuff, money, and finances, because they are His. We are stewards of His creation, anticipating the day when all things are made new.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Newton Free Library.