Why the Bible Warns Us About Money
Money is a big deal in our lives for various reasons, and the scripture teaches us several things about this weird thing that affects so many lives. First, the Bible teaches us about money because it is one of the most widespread and ancient inventions of humanity, and it drastically affects human relationships. For example, Rehoboam’s greed for it and wealth caused the ancient Israeli Kingdom to be divided into two. Second, money can change our self-perception and our relationship with God. For example, a young rich man failed to follow the Lord fully because of his wealth (Mark 10:17–22).
In addition to that, for Christians in America, it is especially important to examine their wealth-related habits in the mirror of the Scripture. American Christians live in a capitalist (wealth- and consumption-oriented) society where almost everything can be bought and sold, which leads to a commodification of our values. We are constantly tempted to measure our lives in terms of how much we earn.
General Attitude of the Scripture Towards Money and Wealth
The Scripture has a nuanced attitude towards wealth. It would be wrong to make sweeping generalizations and say that the Scripture blames or praises money. In certain circumstances the scripture presents wealth as a blessing from God like that of King Solomon’s wealth or Job’s wealth. In other circumstances the scripture presents it as vanity that draws us away from God like that of the rich person who toils for wealth only to die and leave it behind for others to enjoy (Luke 12:13–21) or like that of the insatiable desire for wealth that is a cause for frustration (Eccl. 5:10–20).
What is quite clear in the teachings of the Lord is that “man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
What are these money habits?
The Scripture doesn’t directly address money as an entity but instead addresses our human thinking about wealth, and wealth-related habits and situations. As expected, some of these habits affect us positively like saving, and other habits affect us negatively like greed. You can find a lot of online resources that catalog positive wealth-related habits mentioned in the scripture. Here I will focus on negative habits that the scripture warns us about.
The scripture mentions greed as one of the wealth-related habits that we have to beware. Greed is the love of money that causes us to over-accumulate wealth, to be unreasonably protective about our resources and not spend enough. Greed is a behavioral expression of the love for the dime. Christians are called to keep their lives free from this kind of love (Heb. 13:5) because it’s the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Greed destroys human relations in that the greedy man causes strife (Prov. 28:25). Greed is insatiable. To use Plato’s description, people with an excess love of wealth are like vessels with holes; no matter how much God gives them, they are not satisfied and demand more.
The love of money causes us to rearrange our priorities in the wrong order and distorts our perception. When greed rules us, we can’t see people beyond their wealth.
Another negative and wealth-related habit that the scripture cautions us about is hoarding. Hoarding can be a psychological illness which is not under control by the hoarder. However, there are also people who hoard as a result of their love of stuff or their distrust of God’s providence. To those who hoard willingly and can control it yet choose not to, the scripture sends a warning (Luke 12:13–21; Prov. 11:26). This is because the hoarder has unreasonably more stuff that he refuses to share, but also this hoarding eats away at his relationship with God as the managing of unmanageable stuff concerns him more and more.
Money-worshipping (wealth as the meaning and purpose of life)
Worshipping money or making it the ultimate meaning of one’s life is another spiritual, mental, and bodily habit that the scripture cautions us against. Interestingly, not many people would acknowledge that accumulation of money is the meaning of their lives, but there are many people who live a life virtually revolving around it in which wealth and money-making are the ultimate or the overarching values that govern everything else. A tell-tale sign of mammon-worshipping is when a person wants to become rich at the expense of everything else. For such a person, the desire to become rich justifies all means, including a brutal, shrewd, immoral, and evil means. Evil, if it brings money, is good for a wealth-worshipper. The scripture clearly says that one cannot worship or serve both money and God (Matt. 6:24).
Injustice in money-lending and receiving
Injustice or an unmerciful attitude in money-lending and receiving is another habit that the scripture cautions us about (Matt. 18:28–34). Simply put, exploiting the financial vulnerability of another person to get more money from that person or abusing a debtor to gain favorable conditions for credit is unjust. In our day and age, the unjust lending-receiving practices can be seen not just between individuals but also among institutions. It makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. Especially in societies in which banks are not strong and people still rely on their social circle for meeting their financial needs, injustice in money-lending and receiving can ruin people’s lives.
Giving or receiving bribes is a crime in many countries, and the scripture recognizes it as an ungodly behavior or habit (Ex. 23:8; Prov. 15:27; Mark 14:11). Bribing means that you pay for what is not due to you and gain it or you do some unjustified and ethically unacceptable service for a financial reward. Bribery corrupts justice and destroys our trust in society. Think about bribing a judge so that she can resolve the case in your favor even though you are in the wrong. Or think about bribing an inspector so that he will ignore the hazardous conditions in the work place.
Wastefulness with money
Not only greed but the opposite of that — spending money indiscriminately and wasting it — is defined by the scripture as an unjust habit too (Matt. 23:23; Luke 16:1–31). Buying things we don’t need, spending outrageous amounts of money on unjustly priced goods, or not doing anything with the wealth that God gave us for God’s kingdom are all signs of wasting money.
Not trusting God’s providence
God’s providence is God’s fatherly care for creatures (Matt. 10:29–31; Rom. 8:28). The Scripture insists that God invites us to trust in him in every step we take even if the outcome of those steps turns out to be different from what we had initially planned. Not trusting God’s providence means that more often than not we attempt to take things into our own hands. So we become control freaks — we try to amass money and other securities for our own future and trust in these things more than we do in God. This trust in wealth takes us away from God.
Unjust treatment of the financially disadvantaged
The unjust treatment of the poor is against God’s will (Deut. 15:7, 24:17;, Prov.14:31; Acts 10:4; Gal. 2:10). The word “poor” in modern English has negative connotations although the Bible does not define the poor negatively. Hence, I use the term “financially disadvantaged.” A person with money always runs the danger of being alienated from financially disadvantaged people because having money shields him from the poor and their experiences. This separation increases the chance to mistreat the poor. But because financially disadvantaged people are especially vulnerable, God cautions us to not treat them unjustly due to the distortions that having wealth may impose on us.
Now, it’s possible to find other patterns in the Bible that hint at even more negative financial habits. However, these are enough to show that the Bible warns us about the hazards of trusting wealth too much or of letting money govern our lives.
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