When Paul wrote, in 1 Timothy 5, that money “is a root of all kinds of evils,” he never could have imagined that his words would be more relevant than ever, two thousand years later. In Paul’s day, many people still bartered or exchanged goods for services, and to some degree money was the stuff of the upper crust in Jewish and Greco-Roman society. Considerations of honor and shame were the cultural currency of Paul’s day, and money was more of an effect than a causation.
Things are different today. Nothing defines us quite like money, in more ways than we realize. The obvious way to look at Money is as a vice: tempting us toward indulgence and excess. Christians have often perceived (and warned against) the dangers of money from a perspective that treats it much like an addictive drug, dangerous and uncontrollable. And I think there is merit to this approach, but because it’s been covered so often elsewhere, I’d like to address it from a different angle today.
Money is much more than a means to an end: it is our culture’s ultimate measure of self-worth. If you have money, you are Successful; if you don’t, you are a Failure. This metric of personal value is so deeply ingrained in our society and our subconscious minds that we spend most of our days believing in Money As Scorekeeper without even realizing it. If you’re not constantly striving to make more money, then you’re an unambitious, lazy slacker. If you’re rolling in cash, you’re enviable, even if we don’t necessarily like your means or motives.
While Christians have successfully recognized the dangers of Money As Drug, they’re often completely unaware of Money As Scorekeeper. That is because this latter perception of money doesn’t seem wrong until we deliberately address the issue – the sinfulness of this perspective isn’t nearly as obvious as outright greed.
Like any sin, the key to ridding oneself of the Money As Scorekeeper perspective is to replace the lie with the truth. So here’s the truth: because of Jesus you already have access to love, acceptance, value, and worth that no measure of money or earthly success could ever earn you. You don’t have to struggle to gain any of these things, because you already have them. Striving to obtain money requires an incredible amount of effort, but recognizing that because of Jesus, you already have everything you need, is as simple as praying and spending time in God’s word. Why would we bankrupt ourselves chasing after something that can never satisfy, when we can freely have so much more?
I think it ultimately comes down to the sin at the root of all other sins, Pride. We don’t really like being given stuff for free; we want to earn it. And for so many people, the reason why they reject Christ goes much deeper than disbelief. They would rather worship themselves, and their own accomplishments, than surrender at the foot of the Cross. But even those who follow Jesus are prone to struggle with Pride and its right-hand man, Money As Scorekeeper.
For those who believe in Christ, money has been stripped of the power to keep score. Our final score is no longer ambiguous: because of Jesus we have already Passed. There is nothing left for us to earn. This frees to view Money as a Tool, not a scorecard. Our money or lack thereof is not our objective, but a tool we use to accomplish what really matters in following God. Melted down to its purest form, an Idol is anything which takes our eyes of the true God and becomes a God in itself. It is essential to examine our motives toward money: do we seek a promotion or new job because we want to better support our family, to better provide for the growth of God’s kingdom? Or do we seek it to build ourselves up and establish our reputation?
Reorienting our perspectives on money is not merely an issue of self-reflection, it also influences how we perceive others. Particularly toward other Christians, we need to cease evaluating people by their earning potential and focus instead on what values matter to God – love, gentleness, patience, generosity, kindness, humbleness, and others. This is all worth pointing out because I’m not advocating that we set our cash on fire and live money-less lives. I don’t think money is intrinsically evil, or that it’s bad to be successful. But we should be more discerning in identifying our motives and seeking the power of the Holy Spirit to direct our impulse toward our true and eternal riches in Heaven. This liberates us from the slavery of the pursuit of money, and allows us to pursue whatever endeavors God leads us toward, knowing that whether we succeed or fail, making a fortune or losing our wealth, our true source of value is absolute and unchanged. The Good News of the Gospel buys us a freedom and security that no amount of money ever can.