I still remember the first time I got a paycheck. I was working at the Hardees in Moberly, MO back in 1994. That first part-time paycheck was perhaps for a $150 and the first thing I thought of was that, after tithing, I could finally afford to buy a pair or two of name brand jeans. Because, back then, people weren’t nearly so friendly about clothes. Back then, homemade clothes, thrift store clothes, and vintage find offerings meant only one thing—you didn’t have money. And, for some reason that mattered. Doesn’t everything matter when you’re a teen?
I also remember a particular Cosby show episode that I love to this day. It’s the one where Vanessa comes home and complains to her dad, Bill Cosby, that people at school are making fun of her because she wears rich clothes (the opposite problem I had). I’ll never forget Bill Cosby’s response. “Me and your mother are rich. You are not rich.” The scenario goes on, but the issue derives from the same feeling.
Vanessa Cosby wanted to fit in by not looking so rich. And I wanted to fit in by looking a little bit more rich. We both thought that money (having a lot or little) was the essence of our problem. It was the evil.
Don’t we all do this? We make some type of currency (physical, emotional, or psychological) the evil. If we only had more or less of that currency, life would be great. If we only had more outward talents we could earn money posting this or that on social media. If only we had the perfect marriage like so-and-so. If only we didn’t suffer with anxiety and depression and could do something with the gifts we do have. If only…
We continually make the “evil” the physical, emotional, and psychological currency that we have (in our perspective) too little of or too much of.
Do you know what happened after I bought those jeans? Nothing. It didn’t change my popularity or likability. It didn’t make me better or worse at things I was already talented at. And, the money was gone and I was left still feeling “emotionally short-changed.”
After that, I still bought clothes, but I also decided to take some of the burden off my family’s budget a bit by buying my own toiletries, necessities, and the like. That use of my paycheck, or abundance, brought me a sense of gratitude as I began to understand how much money my parents were always chucking out for me. It brought me a sense of independence and self-reliance as I could choose what kind of shampoo I wanted. I got to pick out my own stuff—of what I could afford.
Interesting isn’t that the stuff I thought would contribute to alleviating my teen suffering only left me feeling underwhelmed. And the stuff I thought wouldn’t matter ended up bringing me more self-esteem, self-worth, and gratitude.
Money, or abundance (of whatever resource) is not the root of all evil. It is our covetousness that brings about the evil.
Exodus 20:17 says:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.
To covet means to:
To desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably. It’s resentful longing.
Inordinately is exceeding reasonable limits. Culpably means warranting condemnation, blame, as wrong or harmful.
Thus, to covet is to desire what belongs to another in a way that exceeds reasonable limits and warrants condemnation.
So, are we allowed to want money (of all kinds) and abundance. Absolutely. But, there is a godly way to want such abundance of talents, money, fame, and recognition.
Jacob 2:17-19 teaches us:
Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and afflicted.
God has all talents and gifts. God has eternal loving relationships with His family. God has all material wealth (all that we have He has created and made available to us). God has fame and recognition. And what does He use all that He has for? To help us become like Him (Moses 1:39). Not for anything selfish. We, on the other hand, spend way too much time coveting all that we don’t have instead of using what we do have—and we’ve all been given some type of riches and abundance (emotional, spiritual, or physical).
What am I rich in? Family. My family is the most kind, supportive, helpful, non-judgmental group of folks I have ever met. They are simply amazing and I can’t even put into words sufficiently how rich I am with them by my side. The Lord has also blessed me with many internal and external gifts. And right now, though I still get a little selfish, I’m getting much better at using them all to love that awesome Family He’s given me and to help others come unto Him.
The interesting thing about the Jacob 2 scripture is that first, God tells us that no matter what we have, we should be free with our substance. We should be free with our talents, gifts, and stuff. By so doing we help bring others (as much as is possible) to a similar level of substance as ourselves. This is not a free handout system. This is a self-reliance commandment. This is to share our talents, gifts, knowledge and love. Thus we clothe others, encourage them to be self-sufficient (in whatever way and these days emotional and spiritual self-reliance is one of the worst poverty’s we have). We teach them what we know. We share our knowledge and gifts to help uplift others. They do the same and “Whala!” We’re all, all of the sudden, on a similar level of richness, providence, and abundance.
Second, God tells us that if one of our desires is riches (of any kind), then if we truly want it we should first seek the kingdom of God. And after we have obtained a hope in Christ, and if we still seek riches after that hope has become ingrained in us, then He commands us to seek them for the intent to do as He does eternally—to help others become like God. To both spiritually and physically clothe them, feed them, liberate them, and administer relief.
Think of Christ. How often did He first offer emotional comfort and spiritual relief—often through forgiving sin—before healing the physical infirmities of His followers. Honestly, many times the physical healing was an outward symbol to help the Pharisees to recognize that He was the Son of God and if He could heal hopefully they would believe that He could also forgive sin—especially theirs.
Christ used His riches to bless and heal the whole person. Do you not remember the wealthy man who comes to Him and wants to know what else he needs to do to inherit heaven (Matthew 19)? This man had physical riches and wealth. He was also what I might call middle-class righteous. He was doing all right. An all-around good guy. In his case, Christ commanded Him to forsake the physical riches in an invitation to help the man become truly rich spiritually—a spiritual billionaire. But the man coveted his own stuff and left sorrowing because he was not willing to part with it (Matthew 19:20-22).
James 1:27 teaches us that:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
1 Timothy 6:10 is often misquoted that “money is the root of all evil.” But that’s not actually what it says. Here’s what it says:
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
The root of all evil is not abundance. It’s not riches or currency of any kind. It is the love of, or I would substitute obsession (coveting) of, things above all else. It’s coveting stuff of all kinds. Which is ultimately pride and selfishness. Covetousness is putting the stuff we want ahead of the love of God and our fellow men. This makes us willing to stilt God and manipulate, abuse, extort, and use our fellow men to get what we want. Which, ultimately comes back to get us (whether in this life or the next) and we are truly pierced through with many sorrows. Just like those brand name jeans I bought, such covetous pursuits leave us unsatisfied, underwhelmed, and depressed.
On the other hand, when we put the love of God and our fellow men first we remain in the faith and avoid being pierced through with sorrows. No matter how much it doesn’t make sense, when we put God first and love Him and our fellow men above our selves, abundance simply begins to appear in our lives in a way that can only be described as miraculous. I know because I have experienced it first-hand. You get an abundance of love, emotional stability, hope, gratitude, patience, mercy, et cetera, et cetera. Did I mention peace?
When we love God and our fellow men above everything else, we are able to use our abundance in the proper way: to bless and uplift our fellow men.
Whether you are a talented musician, a person who has learned to live successfully with a mental disorder, a writer, a darned good hard worker, an organizational magician, an excellent teacher, someone who has no trouble forgiving, a naturally humble person, a person with unnatural charisma, or even a person who can public-speak like no one else. Whether you are the most loyal friend or a person with millions of dollars at your disposal, it matters not. These are your “money,” your “abundance,” and your “currency.” They are a blessing to be used in a godly manner.
God, through His invitation to the wealthy man, also issues the same invitation to us. We are to go and “sell all that we have,” or share it and give it and use it to lift up others, and “follow Him.” Our reward? An hundred fold compensation (Matthew 19:29).
We all need to consider what it is that we covet and renew our perspective. If there is anything between us and true richness and abundance, it is most certainly the “evil” of what we covet.
[Note: It’s important to note that I am not suggesting we allow people to take advantage of us, manipulate us, and extort our emotional, psychological, and spiritual resources. There are personality types that tend to leaching and co-dependency. We can’t give others the “oil” in our lamps (Matthew 25:1-12). When I suggest that we share, I’m suggesting we use wisdom in learning to find ways to use “our abundance” or our “riches” to uplift others who are willing to be uplifted and who desire to also be self-reliant in psychological, emotional, and physical ways. Some people want to leach off of you and have no desire to change or be uplifted. At some point, we must love these types a little more distantly. We have also been commanded not to “cast pearls before swine.” I advise prayer and pondering when wondering what to do with these “bucket-dippers,” as I call them.]