Money is more than just metal disks or colored paper. It is a tool that simplifies trade. A farmer needs lumber more than beef, milk, and eggs. He has plenty of those. A lumberman needs beef, milk, and eggs more than his many stacks of boards. By trading their goods, both get what they want.
Money is a tool that can expedite such a trade and widen its circle to include others. Rather than trading two pigs for a plow and three sacks of grain, one person can give another the agreed-upon worth of the two pigs in the form of money. This saves time and energy. Who wants to carry around pigs and plows?
God encouraged the people of Israel to take advantage of money’s convenience. He told them that if their place of worship was too far from their home, they should exchange the tithes of their crops and livestock for silver, then convert it back to the goods of their choice once they arrived (Deuteronomy 14:24-26).
Money is one person’s promise of goods or services, granted in return for actual goods or services. In a sense, money is no more than a widely recognized IOU. Realizing its convenience, people consent to participate in an economic system in which money is the transferable object that makes it all possible. Of course, it’s only the widespread participation of others in this same system that gives meaning to money (spent any Confederate Currency lately?).
Because money has no inherent value, only ascribed value, money is not wealth. It merely symbolizes wealth. You can’t eat money and you can’t plow a field with it. You can use a one hundred dollar bill to light a cigar or wad up your gum, but that’s about it. Practically speaking, gold is much less valuable than some other metals. In and of itself, it’s little more than a pretty paperweight or doorstop. Gold, silver, platinum, coins, and currency are only worth something in a society where other people have agreed to attach a certain value to them. That they do so is proven by their willingness to give goods and services in exchange for them.
Money is nothing more than a pledge of assets, a means of payment, a medium of exchange. It is morally neutral.
The Two Faces of Money
Money has social and economic benefits that can be used for the betterment of people. As a plow can be used for honest labor and a sack of grain for feeding a family, so money, which simply represents their value, can be used for good.
Christian compassion can accomplish great good through the giving of grain, lumber, or money to alleviate suffering. Money can be used to feed, clothe, and provide shelter. It can fund the translation and printing of Bibles, provide for missionaries, or build houses of worship. In this sense, money may appear to be good. But it’s really the giver who is doing good. People may be moral or immoral, but things are morally neutral. Money is no more responsible for doing good than a computer is responsible for writing a book or a baseball bat for hitting a home run.
Money can be used to buy a slave or a whip to be used on a slave. Money can purchase sex, bribe a judge, buy cocaine, and fund terrorist acts. But in each case the evil resides in people, not money. As is the case with fire, so it is with money: the greater a thing’s potential for good when used rightly, the greater its potential for harm when used wrongly. And money has great potential.
If this were a morally neutral world, we would expect money to be used in a morally neutral way. But the world is not neutral—it is sinful and under a curse (Romans 8:20-22). In a sinful world, money becomes something other than a neutral means of barter. It becomes an instrument of power. In the hands of sinful people, power is perverted. In rejecting a God they don’t wish to serve, sinful people serve themselves with the god of money.
Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with money, there’s something desperately wrong with devotion to money.
Since money can be used for either good or evil, if those using it are more evil than good, it will most often be used for evil. The problem is human sinfulness—and so it will be until Christ returns and we live on the New Earth, where there will be no more curse and no more evil (Revelation 21:1-5).
Keep Money on a Short Leash
Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).
In this saying, Jesus tells us to do something good with “worldly wealth” (literally, “the mammon of unrighteousness”). It’s as if He’s saying, “Take this thing that is commonly used for evil and use it for good. Look at this worn currency; smell in it the foul purposes for which it was used. It may have once been stolen, perhaps even killed for. But now that it’s in your hands, use it wisely and well; use it for eternal purposes.”
Jesus clearly taught that we can and should use money for good purposes, both for this life and the next. Human hearts can be redeemed by Christ, and in the hands of the redeemed, money can serve redemptive purposes.
But lest we forget money’s dangers, Jesus also said, “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Luke 16:13).
Once we allow money to have lordship over our lives, it becomes Money with a capital M, a god that jealously dethrones all else. Money makes a terrible master, yet it makes a good servant to those who have the right master—God.
To regard money as evil, and therefore useless for purposes of righteousness, is foolish. To regard it as good and therefore overlook its potential for spiritual disaster is equally foolish.
The goal, then, is not that money be put to death, but that it be trained and handled with discipline, as a lion we are seeking to tame. Money may be temporarily under our control, but we must always regard it as a wild beast, with power to turn on us and others if we drop our guard.
Money must not call the shots. We may have plenty of money to buy a new car, but we must not take our direction from Money. If we serve God, we will buy the car only if we believe He wants us to—and we must base that belief on more than our preference.
Likewise, if we believe God is leading us to go to the mission field or to help a brother in need, we do not say, “There’s no money, so I can’t.” That also would be serving Money. If God is our master, all money is at His disposal and He promises to provide everything we need to do everything He’s called us to. We must concern ourselves not with what Money says, but with what God says. The need for money may be a factor in our decisions, but it is never the factor. God, not Money, is sovereign. Money—whether by its presence or absence—must never rule our lives.
Money is neither a disease nor a cure. It is a tool—nothing less and nothing more. We may use it well or poorly. Either way, how we use money is always of critical importance to our spiritual lives. It has a lasting impact on two worlds—this one and the next. Use it, Jesus said, but don’t serve it.Adapted from Randy’s book Money, Possessions, and Eternity.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska