The Role of Money in Christian Living
My first taste of business class
travel was a gratifying experience that illustrated the comfort and privilege
that money can bring. It allowed me to bypass the check-in, security, and
boarding queues and avoid the annoying mass that congregated at the waiting
I was showered with endless supplies
of champagne and fresh juice. For the first time, I could sleep flat on the
plane without the need to fight for a few millimeters of space with my fellow
passengers. The cabin crew even called me by my name, and I was no longer
labeled as passenger 40A!
However, luxury comes with a
cost—it is expensive to keep up with this opulent lifestyle. Morally, it is
hardly justifiable to spend ten times the cost of an economy class ticket to
fly business. An average person in the bottom billion is living on less than $1
a day.1 It is obscene to spend 10,000 times that on a plane ticket.
Psychologically, this experience
raised my aspirations and expectations, which made it difficult to “trade down”
to a pedestrian lifestyle. It is human instinct to avoid harm and pursue
advancement and a comfortable life.
As the majority of the population
is now involved in the production of services and goods that enhance human
comfort and living conditions, we are devoting more of our time to
entertainment and enjoyment.
often hold an ambivalent view on money, the accumulation of wealth, and its
uses. But Jesus’ warning on the risks of excessive riches should sound the
alarm bell in many believers’ minds.2
is difficult to define what is acceptable and unacceptable. My example of
business travel can’t even compare to hiring private jets. To complicate the
matter, our lifestyles are often funded by debt. Instead of saving for a
holiday, a car, or a house, we borrow money to gratify ourselves now and pay
for it later.
How do we strike a balance between
prudent accumulation and use of money without having to lead an ascetic and
Money: our servant OR MASTER?
The financial system is vital to
the functioning of a modern society, and money is central to it. We no longer
live in a society that trades on goods we produce in exchange for other goods
and services. Money is a necessity in life.
However, for some, mammon has
become a god and an object of love.3 They love the comfort,
privilege, and power that money can bring.4
The advances in mass multimedia
are feeding a celebrity cult that has grown outside the circle of movie stars and
singers to include athletes, celebrity chefs, and lifestyle gurus. Their lives
are chronicled through photographs and blogs on the Internet and on reality
shows and the news.
People are startled and yet
mesmerized by their wealth, appearance, fame, and lavish lifestyle. They start
to desire the same luxuries and privileges. However, they often resort to
borrowing and speculation to pay for a better life.
Money is not inherently evil;
there is nothing wrong with lending or borrowing money, although strict rules
concerning both were applied in Moses’ time.5 We are encouraged to
work, build property, and save for rainy days.6
Enjoyment is not a prohibition
either. As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:13, “every man should eat and drink and
enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.”
Money is a tool, a means to an
end, but it must neither be our master, nor should we serve it.
Do not Love Money
Our attitude towards money and
the application of it are dictated by our relationship with God. God demands
our unflagging devotion to Him, which is enshrined and subsumed in the first
commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3). Yet love
toward money has usurped God’s place in many people’s hearts.
What is prohibited is the love of
money and our services to it:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he
will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and
despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6:24)
The love and desire to accumulate
more money is a gateway to all kind of evils.7 Love and desire
become a “lust,” an act of reaching out frantically to acquire wealth. In the
search for money, morality is set aside and errant and sinful behavior ensues.8
The milk contamination scandal in China and Madoff’s Ponzi scheme are just two
examples of what can happen when people have lost sight of their moral values.
A total devotion to money can
make a person rich for himself but cannot make him rich toward God.9
Those who serve money are warned against over-reliance on uncertain riches.10
The rich fools are satisfied with the wealth that they have gathered, believing
that they can fall back on it in hard times. This false sense of security turns
their attention away from God.11
In the wrong hands, money becomes
unrighteous.12 Money pampers the rich with comfort and power; their
wealth leads them to believe they are different, exquisite, and out of this
world. Exclusivity and uniqueness are the selling points of many services and
and power are intertwined: money buys influence, influence confers privilege
and connections, which in turn generates money for the wealthy.
prophets vociferously warned against reliance on wealth, power, and alliances
instead of trusting in the living God.13
A Healthy View Toward Money
In Proverbs 30:8, 9, Agur declares,
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the LORD?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
Excessive wealth can corrupt, but
the lack of money is equally harmful. Our overwhelming need to quench our daily
hunger can become a distraction that hinders us from honoring God or behaving
morally.14 Many crimes are driven by desperation and poverty.
There is nothing wrong with
accumulating wealth. The ants are commended for storing food during good times.15
Abraham, Isaac, and Job were blessed with material blessings,16 but
their great possessions did not hinder their relationship with God. Their
wealth did not appear out of the blue; it was accumulated through a combination
of God’s blessing, hard work, and sensible management.
Jesus did not condemn the rich
because of their material wealth. It was their attitude towards wealth that hindered
the rich from entering into the heavenly kingdom.
Money can open many doors and
avenues as well as expose us to temptations and snares.17 The power
that riches bring blinds people to their social responsibilities.18 It
is not their enjoyment of riches but rather their selfishness and insensitivity
toward suffering that is condemned.19
The well-off are entrusted with
God’s blessing and should act faithfully and responsibly while maintaining
their relationship with Him.20 They are in an influential and
powerful position to do mercy and justice.
Make Good Use of God’s Blessings
The Bible never advocates
suffering for suffering’s sake, and indulgence and pleasure-seeking are
likewise discouraged.21 Lifestyles that are driven by
pleasure-seeking, self-indulgence, showing off, and the lack of self-control
should be a warning for us.22
need to always act modestly, doing our part to contribute to the well-being of
society. When we devote sufficient time to God and His ministry, we can enjoy
our possessions and the fruit of our work. Even if we are not rich, we have
been blessed by God to live comfortably and so should act sensibly and consider
the impact of our actions.
need to consider how to make good use of the material wealth God has given us.23
Before we spend we need to ask ourselves: Am I setting a good example for
others to follow? Will my purchase arouse envy and strife, inadvertently
causing more harm than good? Am I spending money on top brands, products, or
services that are not necessary, too complex to understand, and even
We should not drive expensive
gas-guzzling cars that pollute the environment even if we could easily afford
it. We should not be wasteful, changing our wardrobe every year, or buying too
much food and subsequently throwing some of it away uneaten.
If we have decided to spend top
money on a luxury cabin on a cruise holiday, perhaps we can consider trading
down. We know that it only costs a few thousand US dollars to build a church in
Africa—why not put our money to good use?
Our small sacrifice in booking a
cheaper cabin and offering the difference will bring a lot of joy to many, and
it is a way to fulfill God’s grace and love24 that is pleasing to
both God and man.25
Cornelius’ devotion and kindness26
appeared to be a contributing factor in his election as a child of God. King
David accumulated vast amounts of wealth in his lifetime and put them to good
use by offering them for the construction of the temple. His offerings moved
his officials to act likewise.27 The apostolic church is the
quintessence of true religion28 and manifestation of God’s love.29
However life unfolds before us,
we should be satisfied with what we have30 and be thankful to God
however little or much we possess.
Jesus led an exemplary lifestyle:
He ate and drank in public31 and dined with the rich and powerful,32
yet He was ready to sleep rough33 and fast and pray in the desert
Similarly, Paul was no stranger to
the hospitality of wealthy believers,34 but he was equally at home
in prison.35 No wonder he could say, “I know how to be abased, and I
know how to abound,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens
me” (Phil 4:12, 13).
Trade up or down, exaltation or
humiliation, they are only transient affairs in our worldly lives,36
merely the concerns of the world.37 In my travels I have seen the
dazzling height of human excess as well as the dejected poverty of the bottom
billion. I feel content in a top-notch hotel in the financial center of Beijing
and I am equally happy to lie on the carpet floors of churches in the UK or the
hard floorboards of churches in Asia.
We should make the most of what
life offers. I will lie down and sleep well on my flat seat on the plane,
knowing that it is only second best to my usual bed and that the next time it
could be a hard surface somewhere in the world.
Prov 24:27, 30:25
1 Tim 6:10
1 Tim 6:17
Jer 2:36, 37; Hos 14:3; Isa 30:1, 2
2 Kgs 6:25-28
Gen 13:6, Gen 26:16, Job 1:3
1 Tim 6:9
2 Tim 3:1-5
2 Cor 8:8, 9
1 Chr 29:1-7
Act 2:44, 45; Jas 1:27
1 Jn 3:16-18
1 Tim 6:6
Lk 7:36, 19:5
Acts 16:14, 15
Jas 1:9, 10