Money dominates our lives: The more we have, the more it consumes our thoughts. While money in itself is not evil, we are warned about the love of money, for it’s “the root of all kinds of evil” and can cause some to “wander from the true faith.” The world looks at the church’s wealth, considers the plight of countless millions who struggle to sleep each night because of intense hunger or debilitating sickness, and concludes that Christians are not serious about their faith. Sadly, they’re right. The Bible provides us with important guidelines regarding wealth, giving, and our attitude to money; too often, we push them aside.
Perhaps the most important principle is that, within the church worldwide, there should be “equality.” This doesn’t sit well with Christians living in capitalist societies, but the apostle Paul makes it clear: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’” This isn’t a political manifesto but a personal exhortation to all followers of Christ: If we have a roof over our heads, enough food to eat, medical help when we need it, and access to education, then so should every other Christian the world over. Yes, the poor will always be with us, but that’s so that we, by helping them, can break down political and cultural divides and establish bonds of Christian love within the church universal.
Many Christians tithe – often giving a strict 10 percent of income (indeed, the root of the English word ‘tithe’ means ‘tenth’). While this is a worthy practice, it can distract us from the true purpose of giving. For example, it’s not 10 percent of our income that belongs to the Lord; it’s 100 percent. All that we are and have belong to him. In Old Testament times, some of God’s people were expected to give more than 10 percent, while others were not expected to contribute much at all: It depended on the individual’s personal situation. For those of us in the West who live in relative affluence, surely our obligation is much greater – especially when we find ourselves financially secure and can consider discretionary spending.
The house-order of the New Testament church was such that all giving was through church leaders. Money was not given on condition it be used for a specific purpose but laid unconditionally “at the apostles’ feet.” Leaders, not those who gave, distributed money within the local church according to need. When the church in one country struggled to survive and its people were in obvious need, churches in other countries supported them – often giving until it hurt. At least two people were always involved in delivering the funds, however, to ensure transparent accountability. No one, inside or outside the church, should be able to accuse church leaders of personal gain.
Perhaps the hardest lesson we have to learn comes from the radical teaching of Jesus. If someone takes our coat, even when it is not offered, we are not to complain but to offer our shirt as well. When someone takes something that belongs to us, we are not to demand it back. If we are to practice such behavior to our “enemies,” then how much more to fellow believers in Christ? Such an attitude runs contrary to prevailing cultural attitudes, but choosing instead to obey the words of Jesus would create a powerful witness to a watching world. As suggested by Justo Gonzalez in Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance, and Use of Money, what we have is not truly ours, and therefore to wish to possess it absolutely is to covet.