Rev. Dr. Adenike YesufuThursday, August 28, 2014
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here seems to be a lot of talk about money these days, those who have it versus those who do not have it; those who spend it versus those who watch others spend it; those who take it illegally versus those who earn it legally. Then there were those who Occupied Wall Street to remind us of the social/economic inequality, greed, and corruption in the world. The Bible has a realistic perspective about money, Ecclesiastes10:19 says, "Money answers all things". Of course, money is important. It is our time, our toil, our sweat, our food, our shelter, our clothing, our agent of exchange and bargaining. It is the material power that enables us to live, move, and do as we please in this world. We also know that God is not averse to our having money because we learn that from several passages of the Bible. Psalm 35:27 tells us that God has pleasure in the prosperity of His people. According to 3John1:2 God wants us to prosper in all things and be in health even as our souls prosper. Deuteronomy 8:18 tells us that it is God who gives power to make wealth. We also read that there are people in the Bible that God has blessed with extreme riches. King Solomon comes to mind. Abraham, also a favored one of God had immense wealth and was financially prosperous. While on earth Jesus knew about money, talked a lot about money and spent money. He had a treasurer among His Twelve who kept and managed the money. Jesus even paid tax. He gave Caesar his due.

What then is the problem with money? The problem is that there seems to be too much money in the hands of a few people and much less in the hands of many others, resulting in gross inequities. It is also how we acquire money and what we do with it that makes a difference with God who wants us to use money according to His principles. The Bible highlights some negative aspects of money. 1Timothy 6:9-10 says, "The love of money is the root of all evil, those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition". Proverbs 28:20 tells us "a faithful man will abound with plenty but those who hasten to be rich will not go unpunished". Proverbs 11:28 condemns those who trust in their riches and add that they will fall while the righteous will flourish like the foliage. This means that abounding in righteousness is wealth in itself. Proverbs 22:16 also tells us that whosoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. This is a strong condemnation of secular leaders who exploit the people, oppress and marginalize the poor to increase their riches. It is also a condemnation of religious leaders who manipulate their congregation to make money out of their vulnerabilities. Their life style belies their calling. Psalm 62:10 gives a stark warning that if riches increase, those who have it should not set their hearts on their wealth. The Bible establishes a line between contentment and covetousness, greed and need. Ecclesiastes10:12 says that those who love money never have enough, those who love wealth are never satisfied with their income. It adds that godliness and contentment is great gain, if we have food and clothing, we should be content. In today's world, this may not be ideal for some, who like Oliver Twist continue to want more, and more and more. Luke 12:15 reminds us that life does not consist in the abundance of things possessed. 1Timothy6:7 tells us that we come to this world with nothing and we shall all leave with nothing. It is then surprising to see the spirit of greed and consumerism so pervasive. It is equally amazing what people will do for money. Micah 3:11 talks of prophets who divine for money. All these alert us to God's laid down rules about the use of money both in the secular world and in the so call religious circles.

In the Christian world, people are fed with various positions and perspectives about money. There are the Prosperity preachers who believe that wealth comes through godliness, the consequence of religious piety, a sign of God's blessing to those who are faithful to Him. The implication is that those who are not rich do not have God's favour. 1Timothy 6:5 tells us to distance ourselves from people "who suppose that godliness is a means of gain". In their numerous money-centered messages, the prosperity preachers measure their spirituality by their wealth. They boast about how much they have and how God has blessed them. They tout their opulent life styles as success and evidence of God's love. However, they promise instant results and overnight success to those who give to God. They also add that large donations would result in windfall from God. They tell the people to give money to their leaders so that they can become rich like them. They also promise that God would grant healing to people's numerous ailments if they donate immensely to their preachers. Nonetheless, they add that if their followers do not get a breakthrough, it is because they did not give enough money in the offering. In short they blame the poor by saying it is their fault and lack of faith that cause them to be poor. In spite of the Biblical guidelines on tithes, prosperity preachers always urge Church members to continually sow more financial seeds to reap bigger and bigger rewards. They actually do not care about societal poverty neither do they contribute anything to help the poor. All they care about is the enrichment of their pockets and their pleasure. Unfortunately, the prosperity preachers have become a threat to faith, when money does not drop from the sky as promised by them, some followers become disillusioned and drop out of church.

Then you have the Poverty preachers who believe that poverty is a virtue. They quote Jesus as saying that it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. They also say that Jesus was poor and so true followers should be poor. Actually, the Bible says that Christ was rich, but for our sakes, He became poor that we might be made rich. On the other hand, some Poverty preachers do not talk at all about money. They do not tell their congregation what the Bible says about money. They indirectly deny their congregations the blessings that come with prudent and godly giving. For example Malachi 3:10 says, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the Lord of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows". This essentially means that those who give to the kingdom to address the needs of the church should expect to reap from what they have sown. However, this does not mean that the more money they give the more money God will give them. There is also need to understand that reaping is not about making money in return. It is about reaping an eternal inheritance of rewards from the saving of souls and people glorifying God because of the good work of giving.

So how does God want us to use money? To start with, Jesus talks about the poor who will always be with us. We live in an imperfect world with a huge imbalance of wealth and power. God is a God of justice and wants his people to make a difference in the world, standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and sharing what we have with those who have nothing. As Christians living in an unequal world, we cannot continue to ignore the pervasive inequities that surround us. Above all, we cannot choose to do nothing about it, undermining what we can contribute both in major and minor ways. After all James 1:20, tells us that pure religion is to look after the orphans and the widows, who by all categorization would fall into the group of the poor. Some people have no conscience about flaunting their wealth around the people whom they have milked dry to create wealth for themselves. While the strength of the rich lies in their money, the poor have no voice because of their poverty. The Bible has given the rich some responsibilities. The rich should cheerfully seek to help those in need as God gives them opportunity. They should show pity to the poor, they should be sensitive to their needs and they should be open handed towards them. In James 2:2-4, the Apostle Paul rebukes those who show favoritism to the wealthy and treat the poor as if they are not as worthy of respect and honor. They treat the rich extremely well by giving them the best seats in the church but shaming the poor by making them sit on the floor. However Proverbs 17:5 says, "Whoever mocks the poor reproaches his Maker" They also forget that Proverbs 22:2 reminds us that the poor and the rich are made by God. 1Samuel 2:7 tells us that the Lord makes poor, and makes rich, he brings low and lifts up. Therefore, if we are going to extol the rich we must also not condemn the poor. James 2:15-16 says suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food and if one of you say to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and be well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? Sodom's sin was not only its sexual orientation; the people were arrogant and did not help the poor and the needy. 1John 3:17 says, "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" The love of God and giving to those in need go hand in hand. Paul in 2Corinthians 8:13-15 indicates that the church is a place where those who have much are able to supply the needs of those who lack what they need. He says that in the name of equality those who have should supply the needs of those who do not have. 2Corinthians 9:7b also tells us that we should give "not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." Essentially giving should bring us great joy, and it should not be something that we do reluctantly but readily.

Secondly in Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus told the people not to lay not up for themselves treasures upon earth, but to lay them up in heaven because where their treasures are is where their hearts will be. This means that people should not set their hearts and focus on their wealth or else they will become desensitized to the things of God. Consumerism and accumulative instincts deprive people of the right focus about what Paul says in 1Timothy 6:7-12 for we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out and having food and raiment let us be content. Certainly, the sum total of life is not as Isaiah, Paul and others put it "eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die". There is a lot more to our existence than that.

Jesus in Mathew 6:24 then says that we cannot serve two masters, God and mammon. Mammon is not just money. It is anything in which we might trust instead of God. Mammon is anything that can distract us from what God has to offer. In serving God, we need to remember that all of creation ultimately belongs to God, but He entrusts us with all, as their stewards and guardians. David echoes God's mind in Psalm 50:10 where he says, "Every beast of the forest is mine, and also the cattle on a thousand hills". Hagai 2:8 says all the gold, all the silver belongs to God. Essentially all money, all wealth, all things, and all resources belong to God because He is the Creator of them all. He therefore dispenses as He deems fit. Therefore, those to whom God has given wealth have a responsibility to give back to God and to His kingdom work as God leads them. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, "Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine." Ecclesiastes 5:10 also says, "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. Meaning that he who loves money will not be satisfied confirming that the love of money is the root of all evil. Money simply may not satisfy the soul because only Jesus can.

Proverbs 11:4 reminds us that, "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death." Essentially, meaning that riches cannot save a person from the wrath of God in the Day of Judgment only works of righteousness will save. Proverbs 22:1 says, "A good name is to be more desired than great wealth," meaning that godly attestations from people around us have great value that no amount of wealth can buy. All these verses affirm the supremacy of God in our choice of who to serve and honour. It therefore behoves us in our engagement with money to be very mindful of the fact that it is not about making a choice between God and mammon but about recognizing the One who owns it all and it is only from God that all blessings flow.

The social world is also entrenched in the discourse about money. Some people say that money cannot buy happiness. We all know that is not very true. I think of all the people living in abject poverty that the World Bank classifies as living on less than a dollar a day. They will experience happiness when their basic needs, food, shelter and clothing are met. ABBA in one of their songs says, "Money must be funny in a rich man's world". Extravaganza is the game of the rich. Extreme poverty, homelessness, victimization, inequities, marginalization, lack of basic needs and the perennial widening gap cannot be funny in a poor man or poor woman's world. The poor man and woman lament about all the things they could do if they just have a little money. Michael Jackson in his song "Heal the world" urges joyful giving. Money may not be able to buy love, as the Beatles said in one of their songs, but money can show God's love to the poor. However according to Bible there is hope for the poor. Psalm 113:7 says God raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of ash heap.

Finally, the truth is we all have responsibility to make and use God's money according to His guidance. Proverbs 10:22 says the blessing of the Lord, makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it. Thankfully, there are still many generous people in the world today. However one cannot continue to ignore the spirit of greed and consumerism that is pervasive in our times and in the global culture today. In the haze of self-gratification, self-indulgence and accumulative instinct people still sidetrack and ignore the poor. Everyone pays lip service to the plight of the poor while aggravated stealing and aggressive accumulative instincts go on unabated in a world where Mahatma Gandhi says that there is enough for the need of the world but not enough for its greed. To deal with the lopsidedness, in our world, can the rich desire, take and consume less for the poor to have some relief from the pain of insufficiency in their lives? Just wondering! The temptations to ignore are rife. Paul in 1Timothy 6:6 linking contentment and godliness tells us "godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment". Can our collective prayer therefore be Agur's prayer found in Proverbs 30: 7-9, "Lord, deprive me not, give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food allotted to me lest I be full and deny you or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God". Amen.