I just heard a story about a pastor in a very poor part of Africa that was asked about the biggest issue plaguing his village. He shockingly and simply said “materialism.” Not hunger, mortality rates, sexual sins, theft. Materialism. He said that a guy in the village got a cow, not all the other men were coveting the cow and trying to figure out how to get their own cow.
This issue of money and possessions has been (and always will be) a universal disease. In the very beginning God gave all of creation to mankind, for our benefit and his glory….with the one boundary of “the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). But Adam and Eve were persuaded that they could (and should) use God’s gift for their own glory…exactly how we treat money and possessions.
The Book of Proverbs is saturated with financial wisdom, like these two:
13:11 Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
23:4 Do not toil to acquire wealth;
be discerning enough to desist.
Solomon, the world’s wealthiest man, is being a Gospel Financial Advisor, trying to keep us from the traps that encircle him while leading us to a place of freedom where we are not slaves to wealth, whether it’s never having enough or obsessed with keeping what we have. The real issue under the issue is idolatry: we want money to give us what can only be received from God. We want value, security, acceptance and security, and it truly feels like money will give us those things. And, in a shallow and short-lived way, it does. Money can get us to a place where we can “buy our way out” of most any problem. We can buy enough things to make us comfortable and happy. We can convince ourselves that we are better than others that have less. But this is as fleeting as being popular in high school. It works for us, for a minute. Until it doesn’t.
The heart of what we are truly looking for can be found in Proverbs 22:
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
2 The rich and the poor meet together;
the LORD is the maker of them all.
We want a GOOD NAME, but that can only be truly given by Jesus who was essentially disowned by the Father on the Cross so that we could be adopted into his royal family, given His Name forever. The “favor” of man is always conditional, while the FAVOR of God is permanent, based upon Jesus and what he’s already accomplished.
But, honestly, the problem is that we don’t really have a proper filter. Our definition of “need” is horribly skewed, our view of the purpose of money is misplaced and our view of God’s goodness and generosity is anemic. We think we “need” the comforts of life that our neighbors have. We think that we “deserve” all that we have and it’s ours. We think that we need to acquire and acquire because God is likely to let us down and leave us in the ditch. So in light of this, we need to keep coming back to the outrageous trustworthy generosity of the King. Jesus, at great cost, gave up heaven and his Royal Riches in order to share his inheritance with us. He has proven over and over that he immeasurably loves us and desires to give us all good things, even though sometimes his (correct) definition of “good” is different than ours. And so we have to keep coming back to Jesus , asking him to loosen our tight clamp on this world as he has tightens his grasp on us. And as this slowly happens, we can start to live open-handed generous lives as God graciously invites us to join him as he blesses others with and through the finances that he has loaned us in this life.