Editorial: December 2008
A four-member family in Mumbai "committed suicide" recently. Suicide note at the scene said, "We have taken the lives of our parents and then our own." The brother-sister duo had run up huge debts and the financial crisis pushed them to take the drastic step. They, aged 46 and 42, had taken 72 credit cards from various banks and lending institutions. They had also taken Rs.8 lakh loan from a private bank. The two are suspected to have hanged themselves at their residence.
With globalisation, we now live in a culture whose advertising industry has devised powerful, sophisticated methods to persuade us to buy things which we do not need. Quite often, the message is to create discontentment with what we already possess.
We are attempting to find security in "more stuff"-stuff that is temporary and fleeting. We suffer from "affluenza." We are living for the moment, while presuming on the future (Lk.12: 19-20). Modern thinking is: If you can afford the finest food to eat, the latest fashions to wear, the latest luxury automobile to drive and a beautiful home in the nicest section of the city to live in, you can be happy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The average American citizen has been described as someone driving on a bond-financed highway, in a bank-financed car, fuelled by charge-card-financed gasoline, going to purchase furniture on the instalment plan, to put in his savings-and-loan financed home! Our urban culture is fast approaching this state, in spite of the fact that the financial crunch has put the entire world in turmoil. The whole world is experiencing global cooling, in spite of the bail out plans and intervention by the central banks of many different countries.
The financial tsunami has caused the whole financial superstructure to come tumbling down. The recent global meltdown is affecting everybody's brains and has dissolved with it any notion that money is a stable substance. 81% of Americans, surveyed in a national poll, agree that the financial crisis "poses a greater threat to the quality of life than does the threat of terrorism." The romance of Wall Street has faded. All stock market bubbles were predicted to exhibit seemingly imaginative, currently lucrative and eventually disastrous innovation in financial structures. The whole world is now deep in economic mire, thanks to our unregulated greed. Last decade's hero, Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, admitted recently that the complex financial instruments that he had protected from regulation during his half-century career were under-regulated. The financial crisis, the worst since the Great Depression of 1929, should serve as a wake up call. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. God has provided the Bible to us as His blueprint for our lives, including handling of money. As we integrate the biblical principles of handling our possessions into our lives, we will draw closer to Christ; submit to Him fully, learn to be content in every circumstance and set our finances in order.
The Bible has the answers to the sophisticated financial problems of the 21st century. The eternal principles of Scripture are practical in any culture, in any century. We are defeating ourselves by throwing out the rulebook that has worked well through the centuries.
The Bible recognises the possession and use of money as a legitimate part of life. But the benefits that money brings are temporary; those who are over-concerned with increasing their wealth eventually bring trouble upon themselves (Matt.6:19-24; 1 Tim.6:9-10).
How we view God determines how we live. Our relationship with Christ affects how we view every aspect of our life. There are many things in our lives that are beyond our control. But we need not fear. God is in control. After he lost his children and all his possessions, Job was still able to worship God. He knew the Lord and His role as the Master of those possessions. God honoured his trust. Moses forsook the treasures of Egypt and chose to suffer mistreatment with the people of God. Both Job and Moses accepted God as the Master of their lives.
Jesus Christ said more about money and possessions than about any other subject. Bible has 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2350 verses related to money and possessions. It is very evident that Jesus wants us to know His perspective on this important aspect of life. However, it is a pity that most Christians have not applied God's financial principles in their lives.
Money and possessions are of great importance when it comes to a person's real nature. Our approach to them is an exact index of our true character. Money is not evil. It can be used for good and for evil. "The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil." Jesus asked, 'If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of worldly wealth, who will entrust true riches to you?' (Lk. 16:11). So, money is not the true riches. The way we handle money is equated with the quality of our spiritual life. If our fellowship with Christ is strong, we will handle money according to biblical principles. When our fellowship with Christ suffers, we will manage our possessions unfaithfully.
The Lord is the Creator of all things. "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains" (Psa.24:1). God is the sole owner of everything and we are only strangers and sojourners (Lev.25:23; Hag.2:8; Psa.50:10). He holds all things together (Col.1:17).
Jesus said, "No one can be My disciple who does not give up all his possessions" (Lk.14:33). He sometimes tests us by asking us whether we are willing to relinquish the very possessions that are dearest to us (Gen.22:2). It was when Abraham obeyed that God provided a substitute for the offering, in the place of Isaac. Larry Burkett said, "When we acknowledge God's ownership, every spending decision becomes a spiritual decision." Then we ask, "Lord, what do You want me to do with Your money?"
Although Jesus did not tell all His followers to get rid of their wealth, He warned of the consequences of putting the desire for wealth before devotion to God, or concern for others (Lk.12:16-21; 16:19-25).
Wealth may be a gift from God that a person should enjoy (Eccl.5:19). But it is preceded by a warning about misuse (Eccl.5:10). Wealth is not necessarily a sign of divine reward for godliness. It may be, but it can also be the result of greed or injustice (Isa. 3:14; Jas. 5:1-6; Rev.3:17).
Money and possessions compete with Christ for the lordship of our lives. Jesus has asked us to choose to serve only one of these two masters. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matt.6: 24). It is impossible to serve money and the Lord. An unhealthy attachment to material things will prevent a believer from living for Him. Keep a wide gulf between you and your possessions. That will spare you many heart-aches.
When John Wesley learned that his home had been destroyed by fire, he is reported to have exclaimed, "The Lord's home is burned. One less responsibility for me."
Often it is easier for us to think that the possessions and the money we have are entirely the result of our skills and achievements. We tend to think that we have earned them by the sweat of our brow. It is difficult not to believe that we have the right to their ownership. It is important to acknowledge that everything we have comes from God.
Abandoning ownership is not easy, nor is it a once-in-a-lifetime transaction. We need to do this constantly.
Love for money can lead to spiritual ruin (Pro.11:28). We should be satisfied with what we have and trust in God's care for us through life's varied circumstances (Matt. 6:33; Lk.12:15; Phil. 4:11-12; Heb.13:5).
God is in control of every situation in the life of every true child of God. It is important to realise that our heavenly Father arranges even seemingly devastating circumstances for the ultimate good of the godly. "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom.8:28).
God has promised to provide for all our needs. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt.6:33). Each day He gave manna to the children of Israel during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. He is absolutely reliable. He does not need a prosperous economy to provide for His people. He has obligated Himself to provide for our needs, though not for our greed, if we will make Him our priority. Isaiah 55:8 says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways."
There is a difference between needs and wants. A need is a basic necessity of life-food, clothing and shelter. We shall be content when our needs are met. As we cling to His promises, we can relax and be content.
Our responsibility is to be faithful. "It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2). When we handle our possessions as faithful stewards, our character is being built. Joseph is a good example of a faithful person who experienced both poverty and prosperity. Born in a prosperous family, he was thrown into a pit by his own jealous brothers and sold into slavery. His master promoted him to head the household. He made the righteous decision not to fall into the trap laid by his master's wife. Because of this, he was thrown into prison for several years. In God's time, he was elevated to the position of prime minister of Egypt.
A Christian should not fix his hope on the uncertain riches of this world. He should depend on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (1 Tim.6:17). True prosperity extends far beyond material possessions. It is measured by the peace, joy and contentment one enjoys. It depends on how well we know our Master and how closely we follow Him.
Some Christians say that godliness can occur only in an environment of poverty. The Lord extended the reward of abundance to the children of Israel when they were obedient; the threat of poverty was one of the consequences of their disobedience. The Bible does not say that a godly person must live in poverty. Some others believe that Christians with true faith will always prosper. Both these extremes are erroneous.
In every age, there have been thoughtful people who realised that poverty was bad, but who also was aware of the corrupting power of possessions. Some philosophers also talked that wealth is not necessary for good life, and that it can even become an obstacle. The Bible deals with contentment several times. Paul said, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" (Phil.4:12-13). Contentment is not an in-born trait; it has to be learned. Paul learned to be content because he knew that God would supply all his needs (Phil.4:19). When you trust in the Lord and pursue righteousness, you will know a joy and contentment that cannot be equalled by anything this world can offer.
Contentment does not exclude a properly motivated ambition. We should have the burning desire to be faithful stewards of the talents and possessions God has entrusted with us. Contentment is the inner peace that accepts what God has chosen for us in our present vocation, station in life and financial state. Often those who are materially poor are happier than the rich, since they know God better, being more dependent on God (Lk.4:18; 6:20; 2 Cor.6:10). We serve a living and dynamic God.
We are summoned by the world to go shopping. We as Christians have to do things differently. We should sort out what to keep, what to discard, what to adapt, what to adopt, where to intensify our focus. The only way to keep the treasures of this world in proper perspective is through knowing and obeying the Word of God.
We should use the money in our possession to help those who are in need (Deut.15:7-10; Jas.2:15-17). One of the few people with enough money to make a difference is Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, whose $27 billion Foundation has focussed on the huge, disease-ravaged, opportunity-deprived population. His personal commitment of money and energy to address the issue is impressive.
Jesus gave up the glory of heaven and came down to the earth to redeem you and me. Christmas should remind us about this sacrifice and help us to live sacrificially. If anything you own keeps you from obeying God wholeheartedly, are you ready to open your hand, release it and freely follow Him? "A faith that costs nothing and demands nothing is worth nothing."