There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind, and the purse. (Martin Luther )
Two weeks ago, when I thought I’d be bringing this series to an end, I sensed the Lord directing me, instead, to write about two more aspects of losing control: surrendering our loved ones, which I wrote about last week, and this week’s topic – surrendering our financial resources. The word, possessions, could be used in place of the term “financial resources.” However, if we think of our financial resources as something we alone possess and control we will quickly run into spiritual trouble. If we’ve submitted to Jesus as Lord, he must also be Lord of anything of material value in our possession.
Yet we Christians have a way of excluding our financial resources when we surrender our lives to Jesus. I remember hearing a sermon about stewardship a while back where the preacher made an analogy between Charlemagne’s soldiers, who held their sword above their head when they were being baptized, and modern Christians who figuratively hold above their head their debit and credit cards. His point was that Christians today are no different from those ancient warriors in wanting to be free to use what they hold in their hand for their own purposes – and not place it under the authority of Christ. I think this preacher was on to something. Martin Luther addresses the same problem in the quote above. It is never enough to surrender just our heart and mind to the Lord; we must also surrender our “purse.”
If Jesus is not Lord of our financial resources then they will become like idols to us and we will turn them into an exercise in pride. The same is true about our relationships, virtues, gifts and talents, as I’ve written previously. Something becomes idolatrous when we use it to satisfy a need only God can fill or when we think about it more than we think about God. Concern about idolatry is probably the reason why Jesus had more to say about money and other possessions than just about any other subject. He famously said to the crowds who followed after him, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13) The only way to avoid turning our financial resources into idols is to place them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
However, there is plenty of teaching today about money that is misleading – and some of it is being done within the church. For instance, I have even heard some well-intentioned preachers say that if we follow the biblical standard of the tithe by giving back ten percent of our income to God we then get to keep the remaining ninety percent for ourselves. But these same preachers fail to remind their hearers that Jesus is still Lord over what remains. If he is not, then whatever we are holding apart from him will soon become an occasion for sin.
For instance, we may find ourselves in need of a new car, or an updated kitchen or bathroom. However, if we fail to include Jesus in on the decision-making process we could find ourselves falling for advertising gimmicks which tell us we must purchase something expensive and exclusive, something that will call attention to ourselves and make our friends jealous. These tactics encourage coveting and pridefulness. It isn’t that Jesus doesn’t want us to have nice things – it’s that he doesn’t want us to fall into sin because of them. If we use our financial resources to try to bolster our ego, instead of finding our worth in Jesus, we will fall into sin.
Therefore, what we do with the remaining ninety percent of our financial resources should always be a decision made in collaboration with Jesus. If not, we are declaring that we alone are in charge – which is an act of pride. Our possessions will begin to take the place of God if we are not consulting with him about they’re proper function in life. Few of us would ever set out to worship our possessions, but idolatry and pride are quite insidious. They trap many well-meaning Christians every day.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “for 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 all this through him who gives me strength.”(4:11b-13)
Paul learned not to rely on financial resources and other possessions to secure his happiness. He turned to the Lord for such sustenance. Therefore, he found contentment regardless of his financial, physical and emotional circumstances. This kind of freedom is what the Lord wants for each of us and no amount of money can buy it. It can only be found by losing control over our financial resources, as well as every other aspect of our life.
Next week: Summing up losing control.
Beginning May 3: Weekly installments from my book, Bringing Home the Faith: a Pastor writes to her teen-age son about Christian belief.