The ways that believers approach money should be one of the most striking things that people outside of the church notice about us.
In 1973, J. Paul Getty’s grandson was kidnapped and held for a $17 million ransom. The oil tycoon was, at that time, the richest man in the world. Despite this, he refused to pay anything to save his grandchild until another family member convinced him to at least contribute to the rescue.
After negotiating and chiseling down the kidnappers, Getty only gave $2.2 million, since that was the largest amount he could still claim as tax deductible. The rest he offered as a loan to his son and daughter-in-law, repayable at four percent interest.
Near the end of the movie All the Money in the World, the senior Getty pulls one fabulously expensive painting of the Madonna and Christ-child off the wall.
He collapses into a nearby chair, muttering, “So beautiful.”
The man who almost wouldn’t pay to rescue his own flesh-and-blood dies of heart failure, clutching a painting of history’s most famous mother and child.
The Doctor’s Chest Test
“There are two documents that reveal a lot about every one of us,” Tim Dilena explains in a sermon. “They are the calendar and the checkbook. They deal with two precious resources that we have: time and money.”
“A checkbook is a theological document. It really tells us what we worship and who we worship.”
He goes on to point out that of all Jesus’ parables, 16 out of the 38 were concerned with how to handle money and possessions.
In the gospels, one out of every 10 verses directly deal with the subject of money. The Bible offers about 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money.
The moment someone or something pokes our reserves of time and money, our gut reaction is its own commentary on our spiritual state. Tim Dilena describes this moment as a doctor performing a thoracic compression test, gently pressing to see where there’s pain.
Where we jump and try to wiggle away is the spot of deeper issues, whether it’s trouble trusting God or feeling entitled to “our” money.
The Most Common Money Lies in Church
Chris Cagle, IT strategist and financial coach for many years, points out some lies he’s seen circulate in the church about finances.
The first and most common he discusses is “’God cares more about my heart than what I do with my money.’ God certainly cares about the condition of our hearts. And yet there’s a ‘faith and works’ connection with money that can’t be ignored.”
However, people often take that faith-money connection in the wrong direction. Cagle mentions another misconception about money is that God guarantees believers at least some level of prosperity if they work hard and have enough faith.
“A more accurate biblical perspective is that God in his sovereignty gives some people more, and others less, to steward on his behalf (1 Samuel 2:7; Matthew 26:11). How and why he does so is his business, not ours. Mature believers may be either rich or poor.”
Money will be a very quick indicator of where our priorities are, so it is intricately linked to our spiritual wellness.
However, God doesn’t promise earthly wealth to his children. He doesn’t assure believers that they won’t ever struggle with hard financial times or even poverty. A biblical case study, Job’s loss of his wealth was no indication of his spiritual state. When he regained all his goods and had more children afterward, it was a blessing from God. He didn’t earn these things back.
The Parable of the Talents
One of the most popular parables in the Bible is the one where Jesus talked about a master who invested his resources into three servants before leaving on a journey.
“The parable of the talents is one of my favorites because he is talking about money,” said Jim Palumbo, investment advisor and World Challenge board member, in a podcast. “But he's talking about everything that goes with it. It represents almost everything in this world because it's something you trade for goods. You get food by trading money, and the person takes that money and buys a house.
“What is at the root of problems with money, if you want to say the sin part of it? It's covetousness. The verse that is oft quoted in the parable of talents is, ‘Occupy till I come.’
“I believe it's not just spiritual. It's about everything. Occupy this life, the money, the house, the family. You're a member of this church? Be a good church member. Don't go there to get. It's not a movie theater. Go there to give. Go occupy your role as a member in the church, the wife to your husband, the mom to your kids, the father to your kids. Occupy it like crazy. Do it awesome. Then guess what? Jesus comes back and says well done.”
Money is not the first, second or even third most important thing in our lives. Neither is it merely a tool, a means to an end, though.
Money is a valuable resource we’ve been given to honor God.
In his book The Complete Guide to Faith Based Family Finances, Ron Blue points out that “every spending decision is a spiritual decision – there is nothing more spiritual about giving to a ministry than there is about buying a car or paying off a debt.”
That view changes everything.
Living and Doing Business a Different Way
News reports claim that Chick-fil-A is losing more the $1 billion a year because of the “hurdle” it set up for itself with the CEOs’ decision to close on Sunday and give their employees a sabbath rest.
Others, like Business Insider, have tried to analyze this “counterintuitive sales booster” to figure out how its founders knew this would give them success.
This company’s choice is notable because it’s so rare in modern Western culture. Who would choose to give up money because of religious convictions? That decision certainly sets Chick-fil-A’s founder, Truett Cathy, and his children apart, as well as making them an easy target for other’s criticism.
However, it might very well explain part of their great success story.
"Closing our business on Sunday, the Lord's Day, is our way of honoring God and showing our loyalty to Him," Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A's founder, wrote in his book.
In the end, the money can offer great opportunities, but it isn’t what’s most important.