Perhaps no area in our life in the Truth is more sensitive
than our attitude toward money, and what it can buy, in our materialistic
society. Here certainly is one of those areas where it is very wrong for any
believer to judge the motives or conduct of his fellows. But, at the same time,
here especially is an area of life where each believer must examine his or her
own attitudes and actions. It is in this spirit, and with a desire only to help
and not to legislate or coerce, that the following is offered.
While caring for oneself and one's family is an obligation of
the Truth (1Ti 5:8; 2Th 3:8-12), there is also a need not to over-emphasize the
importance of money and possessions. The "now syndrome", so much a part of
modern expectations and demands, is in conflict with the call of discipleship
(2Ti 2:3,4; Mat 6:24-34; Pro 30:7-9). "A man's life does not consist in the
abundance of his possessions" (Luk 12:15). The headlong pursuit after cars,
well-furnished houses, and an array of sports equipment and amusement devices
does not, in itself, guarantee happiness. 'If only I had... such-and-such, and
so-and-so... things would be so much better' is a view of the world which
underlies the appeal of lotteries, TV give-away programs and advertisements. It
is a mistake to think that the more one has, the better things will be. What is
required is a determination to live within one's income and to have the right
perspective on this world's goods. No less a prophet than Elisha was furnished
with only a bed, lamp, table, and chair!
"Buy now, pay later" may be the attitude of the world whose
citizenship is very much a part of this system of things, but the attitude of
those whose citizenship is in heaven is very different:
"Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought
nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having
food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall
into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which
drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all
evil: which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and
pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1Ti 6:6-10).
There are numerous religious communities whose members
"tithe", that is, devote 10% of their income to the service of their church. The
question inevitably arises: Should we be doing the same? Are we doing as much?
And, would we not be in a much stronger position in our witness to our faith if
we did tithe? (As a matter of fact, some in our own community do
The English words "tithe" or "tithes" occur only eight times
in the NT, and not at all in a context which suggests that tithing was an
obligation upon NT believers. To sum up the NT usage: The orthodox Jews paid
tithes of trivial things while neglecting weightier matters, and were condemned
by Jesus for doing so (Mat 23:23; Luk 11:42). The Pharisee of Jesus' parable
boasted of his tithing without receiving any blessing from the Lord for doing so
(Luk 18:12). Abraham acknowledged his subordination to Melchizedek by giving him
10% of his spoils (Heb 7:6,8,9).
There is in fact no NT doctrine which speaks of the obligation
of Christians to tithe their incomes, in the Lord's service.
In the apostolic period, there were certainly men who could
well have used all their time in the service of the gospel, and there may have
been some who actually did so. The Lord Jesus has certainly established the
right that "they that preach the gospel shall live of the gospel" (1Co 9:14).
But Paul used this privilege very little because he desired to avoid any
indebtedness to men who might misuse their patronage. The funds for such
maintenance as was accepted, as well as for the relief of the poor, plainly came
from voluntary contributions whose extent was not imposed from without. If from
time to time it was very generous, it could also be very tight-fisted; its
amount rested entirely with the giver (Act 2:44,45; 4:32-37; 5:1-11; 11:27-30;
1Co 16:1-4; 2Co 9:1-15).
No one has the right to demand that all members of the
ecclesia should tithe; but, equally, no one has the right to criticize the
decision of individuals to do so if they choose. Our basic principle should be
that, though such-and-such is no longer demanded by law, the true believer from
the fullness of his heart should do at least as well, or even better.
Two kinds of treasure
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Mat
"Lay up treasures in heaven" (Mat 6:20),
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mat
This is perhaps the most comprehensive and searching of all
the commands of Christ, because it deals with the whole direction and motivation
and purpose of life. Broadly defined, "treasures on earth" means anything
related to this present mortal life.
The natural way is to accumulate "treasures" of many different
kinds. "Mammon" (Mat 6:24) includes riches, material possessions, and pleasures.
This desire to lay up treasures... this acquisitiveness (a nice word for simple
greed!)... is so universally taken for granted that it is almost heresy to
question it. It is the foundation assumption of almost all advertising. Even
many "believers" consider it "foolish" and "impractical" even to try to imitate
Christ in this respect, and they quote such passages as 1Ti 5:8 and Ecc 9:10
with more than usual vigor, to help set "the proper balance"!
How much impact does this command of Christ have upon us?
Whether we consider job promotions, or consumer goods, or "the good life", how
many times have any of us made the conscious decision: 'No! I will go no
further. I have more than I really need already. I will not pamper myself!'
Probably, for most of us, not nearly often enough. It is in our natures (and
simply learning "the Truth" does not change our natures) to want "treasures"
both in heaven and on earth, to seek both salvation and present advantage. It is
so easy to forget that Christ specifically said we cannot have both: "Ye cannot
serve God and mammon" (Mat 6:24).
God wants us to be different from the world, with our minds on
very different things. Of course, most of us must work, in one way or another,
to provide for necessities. Certainly Jesus worked at a trade until the time
came for his special mission. And Paul, as he moved about the ecclesias, found
work from place to place so as not to be a burden to the believers. But for them
these daily affairs had importance only insofar as they were related to eternal
things. "Seek ye first the kingdom" (v 33) was the rule of Christ's life, and of
Paul's life. Is it the rule of our lives?
"Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink,
nor about your body, what you shall put on" (v 25).
It is a revolutionary concept, totally foreign to our natural
inclinations. But Jesus does not bid us obey him without reasons. He gives, in
fact, seven good reasons why this philosophy makes sense:
"For thou art my God"
- Verse 25: Life itself is more important than those things that sustain it.
If our lives come from God and are held in His hand, then certainly, when we do
our part faithfully in the great adventure of dedication and service, the lesser
matters will be taken care of.
- Verse 26: The birds do not make frantic
provision. They do not worry or scheme or plan. And you, Jesus says, are much
more important than they are (Mat 10:29-31).
- Verse 27: "Which of you by
being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?"
- Verses 28-30: If God
takes such care for the flowers that will soon shrivel in the heat, will He not
provide much better for you, His children, made in His image?
- Verse 32a: The
nations that do not know God worry and hoard riches. Surely you will not be like
- Verse 32b: Your Heavenly Father knows what you need. He will not
- Verse 34: "One day at a time": The world is such an evil place that
we need as much of our mental resources as can be spared to face the spiritual
trials of today. To borrow worries from next week is to overburden our
capabilities and risk failure in spiritual
We recognize that the world, even the nominally Christian
world, does not heed Christ's advice. But do we do any better, or are we swept
up and molded into conformity with the world around us? This is an age dedicated
to getting more and yet more money, in order to spend it on more and yet more
selfishness: fine houses, fine foods, expensive trips, and the worship (yes, it
is "idolatry" -- Col 3:5!) of car and garden and, last but not least, our own
adorned, deodorized, tanned, and groomed selves! It is an age when millions
succumb to the enticements of health spas and country clubs, to exercise, and
diet, and build the new and improved "You". One cannot help but draw the analogy
to Isaiah's ironic description of the idolater -- who seeks out a tree trunk and
cuts and shapes and polishes it into a natural beauty, finally to fall down and
"Deliver me, for thou art my god" (Isa
Different? Or the Same?
What are our ambitions, our goals in life? Are they different
from the world, or are they all too similar? Are our older folks eager for
retirement, so they can take it easy and enjoy life? Are our middle-aged folks
keen on "security"? Are our younger folks caught up in the "timetable syndrome"
-- get an education, get a good job, get married, get a house, "get ahead" --
and each goal by a certain date, or they are falling behind? And if they -- the
young ones -- are that way, whose example have they followed?
What sets us apart from the masses around us who have no true
hope? Is it enough that we believe differently, without living differently? Do
we preach separateness from the world one day a week, and then live the other
six days as though we were still very much a part of that world? In our pious
preaching, do we even manage to convince ourselves that we are really following
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." The use of
our money may be the touchstone, the truest indicator, of our heart's desires.
Why? Because the obtaining and the using of money makes up so great a part of
our daily lives -- we are always spending money! -- so that our ordinary life
must be much the same in nature as our ordinary ways of spending money. If we
spend our money for purchases that appeal to pride or pleasure, then we are
demonstrating in the most practical way possible that those characteristics have
firm hold on our lives, to the exclusion of God's truth.
There are several common objections to giving money to help
the poor. What is so attractive about these objections is that they masquerade
as Scriptural, wise, and prudent -- putting a "good face" on the greed that
hides behind them:
(1) "Since Jesus said, 'The poor you have with you always'
(Joh 12:8), and we cannot change the world, why should we bother trying?": But
Jesus did not say, "Forget the poor because they are always there." He said, in
effect, "You will always have opportunities to help the poor." When Jesus was
present, his followers lavished gifts upon him, and they did well. But now that
he is absent, we may forget that we can give gifts to Jesus just as well by
helping his poor brethren. Who would ignore the needs of the Master? But now he
sits at the right hand of God, and he can no longer use the cup of cold water,
the food, the clothing. But someone else can!
One of Christ's parables was most explicit as to the grounds
of rejection at his judgment. It is enlightening to note that the wicked were
not rejected for holding some false doctrine. They were not rejected for failing
to preach the Truth. They were not even rejected for neglecting to attend a
specified number of ecclesial meetings. They were rejected because they ignored
the simple, material needs of their brethren, and thereby they ignored Christ
(2) "If I am not careful and prudent (which really means
selfish!) I may give charity to someone who does not deserve it, or someone who
does not use it properly": This is a common Christadelphian "worry". And it
sounds all too much like the businessman proclaiming to the board of directors
the "virtue" of the preservation of capital. But in showing love for others
through our material gifts, we are exemplifying the character of our Father in
Heaven, who sends His rain on the just and on the unjust (Mat 5:45). God loves
us whether we deserve it or not. He loves us even when we definitely do not
deserve it. He loves us even when we do despite to His grace and turn our backs
on His outstretched hand. He is not "careful" or "responsibly prudent" about His
(3) "By giving away my money (or the ecclesia's money) I
encourage others to be beggars and irresponsible": But then, why should I ever
forgive anyone? It will just "encourage" him to do wrong again. Or why should I
give medicine to a sick person? It might just "encourage" him to get sick
(4) "It's more important to use our money in preaching the
Truth than to give it to the needy": This is the only one of these four common
objections to charity that can stand up to any examination at all. It is true
that to give a dying man the gospel is better than to give him a crust of bread.
But it can hardly be denied that both could be useful!
The only response to this objection is: If you really believe
this, then do it! Do not be like the Pharisee who cried "Corban" when reminded
that others could use his material help, and then when the need was past, kept
his riches for himself anyway!
The only other thing to be said here is that surely there are
resources lying dormant which are sufficient for sizeable efforts on both
fronts. At the absolute minimum, resources are available so that our own
spiritual family at home and abroad need not suffer hunger and illness, while
their brethren are well-off and with goods to spare.
Christ gave everything, even life itself, for us. What can we
give him? What "price-tag" do we put on our redemption?
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be
Out of this life I shall never take
The things of silver and gold I make;
All that I cherish and hoard away
After I die, for others will stay.
Though I call it mine, and boast its worth,
I must then give it up for mother earth;
All that I gather and all that I keep,
I must leave behind when I fall asleep.
I wonder often just what I shall own,
When I pass before the Judgment Throne;
What shall I find and what shall he see
In the life and character that makes up me.
Shall the Great Judge learn when I am through
That my life has gathered the riches true?
Or shall at last be mine to find
That all I had worked for I left behind?