The teaching “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt. 6:24) encourages us to take a humble view of money. Money is not equal to God, nor should we worship it. However, we must not lose sight of the noble purpose of money. We can use our money to give glory to God.
Judas was in charge of the treasury of Jesus and the Apostles, and — minus his greed — his duties were noble. He managed the Lord’s cash box. Others provided financial support for Jesus and the Apostles. His entourage included Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna “and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” (Lk. 8:1-4)
Their money had value because Caesar’s authority and treasury backed its nominal value. Money is efficient. Cash replaces barter. Try paying your employees with Costco chickens for a week. Economic efficiency also accommodates friendly competition, keeping prices low for consumers but high enough to provide financial support to owners and employees.
Years ago, a young man visited Mexico City and traveled across the town to shop in a cluster of small stores. He asked for the price of some handmade merchandise. The kindly proprietor said, “Fifty pesos.” Reaching into his billfold, she interrupted and said, “Now you say ‘forty pesos,’ and we’ll agree on forty-five pesos.” The young American needed some training in the free market.
Before globalization in a small town, a neighborhood paint store proprietor marked up his merchandise by 40%. He took 10% or 20% off the price for contractors. He despised pricing gimmicks. He posted the purchase price at $20 a gallon, not $19.99 because the twenty bucks post was more honest. He reduced postings only to rid the store of old inventory and labeled it as such. He went out of business when Sears opened in a mall with a paint department selling at $24.99 a gallon and holding sales at $19.99. But the man had a good run and supported his family for a time.
His good friend, Russ, owned a Sylvania TV store up the block. He had a friendly competitor across the street selling Zeniths. When times were tough for the Zenith guy, he’d send a couple of customers his way. Money wasn’t everything because everyone knew businesses supported families and neighborhoods. An electronics chain drove Russ’ Sylvania establishment and the Zenith store out of business.
Prizefighter Jimmy Braddock knocked out Max Baer for the heavyweight championship in 1935. The Hollywood movie Cinderella Man — for the most part — depicts him. Fact-checked (after speaking with a nephew): He paid back the government welfare authorities for the money given to him and his family during the Depression.
We need not treat money as our reason for living.
Money as a false god is nothing new. Judas was a thief, and the chief priests knew how to manipulate greed. Let’s consider a few contemporary ways we make money a god.
Scam phone calls are annoying and often successful. A TV investigative journalist interviewed a phone scammer in Jamaica. The producers disguised his face and voice, and he explained his success in obtaining money from the elderly in the United States. The Jamaican said, “Caucasians like free stuff.” (Whatever happened to multiculturalism?)
Few of us are innocent. We constantly demand free stuff in the marketplace and from the government. (The friendly neighborhood garage sales that remind us that “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” don’t count!) We abuse money through excessive spending: personal and governmental. Credit card debt is at an all-time high. Remember when “sound as a dollar” was a happy cliché?
Many of us are cogs in the machinery of big business that usually abuses money with cutthroat competition, brutally and unfairly driving others out of business. Decades ago, big beer companies deliberately ruined local breweries for reasons that continue to mystify. Why not make money here, but not over there? Spread the market share around. Allow a friendly competitor to have his niche.
When the dollar was sound, a virtuous, frugal person could save for retirement in a credit union without much planning. Now we have no choice but to play the stock market with our savings, hoping others will lose so that we will win. Wall Street has become the gambling center of the world.
We’ve surrendered municipalities to leaders who have impoverished the cities. Free stuff. No worries. People who benefit from voting them in can move to another state if a city (like Detroit) goes bankrupt. Federal spending is now out of control, with inflation, economic dislocations, and devaluing of the currency. Where is Caesar — and his gold — when we need them?
We all seem to want free stuff at the expense of others. Many use the power of money for influence peddling in various forms. According to reports, insider trading is rampant. Pork barrel government spending has been out of control for decades. The national debt is ominous, approaching double the annual GDP.
Money loses value when we treat it as a false god. But money itself is not the root of all evil. Saint Paul writes, “The love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10). Unjustly seeking free stuff is costly for individuals and society.
Individually, we can do little to modify modern economic machinery. But our money attitudes affect our faith in God. We need the correct perspective on the things of this world that honors justice and recognizes the sovereignty of God. Money has many noble purposes if used honestly and humbly, taming our appetite for financial exploitation and greed.
Job helps: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
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