Money is a powerful tool. If we feel like we don’t have enough of it, we become stressed and afraid. But when payday comes, a calm rushes over us. A higher than expected cell phone bill arrives in our email, and anger and anxiety swells inside of us again.
If we aren’t careful, money can have power over us. It is subtly seductive that way. This is why Paul said that, “… t[T]he love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). But the tricky thing is that very few are aware of or acknowledge that they struggle with the love of money. In church, we’ll talk about struggling with anger or pride. But no one ever says in a small group, “You know what guys? I’m struggling with greed.”
I think the reason that we aren’t more aware of our struggle with money is that we don’t really love money itself. We love what money represents. For some, money represents security. Because I have enough in my savings account and I’ve maxed out my 401K donations this year, I’m safe. No emergency, no crisis, no outside action can threaten me. Nothing can make me feel vulnerable or afraid. For others, money represents comfort. Good food, stylish clothes, a big house with a bonus room, and vacations to Europe make work worth doing and life tolerable. The pain of what is going on in the news or in the lives of those around them doesn’t have to take a toll on them. They can self-medicate with fun experiences.
Now there is nothing wrong with saving money. In fact, that is wise. And there is nothing wrong with taking vacations or buying houses. But when the motives behind the actions are rooted in an excessive need for security or comfort, that is when the power of money can stir up all kinds of evil in our hearts. Often times, we crave security. We crave comfort. We crave these things to escape feeling vulnerable to the events and people around us. And that’s the problem.
The power of money can disconnect us from others, from injustices happening around us, and from being moved by the things that move the heart of God. If we wrap ourselves up with the bubble wrap of security and comfort, we no longer feel “together.” We feel alone. We don’t have a meaningful connection to the flourishing, or lack of flourishing, of those around us. When this happens, we step out of our role in God’s story. Suddenly, then, breaking community with your business partner over money (which threatens your security or comfort) becomes the “right thing to do.” Making unethical decisions at work for the sake of a bonus becomes the norm. Cutting corners and tasks to meet quarterly goals and get the raise becomes “just the way things are.”
If you are like me and struggle with the power of money, I’ve got good news for you. Jesus is currently at work reconciling “all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20) and has asked us to join his mission, giving us “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). If we are too busy insulating ourselves through money, we make reconciliation impossible. But money, when properly placed in the ministry of reconciliation, no longer functions as security or comfort. It functions as a sacrament. It is a tool of grace that can be used to bring enormous change in other people’s lives. In God’s story, we understand that the money we have is ours by God’s grace. When we give it away generously and joyfully, it comes to other people like God’s grace. Radical generosity is a profound and undeniable evidence of the power of the gospel to those around us.
So how do we test what role the power of money plays in our lives? It’s simple. Give your money away so much that it lowers your standard of living. Don’t get me wrong. We need Christians in every social class so they can represent Christ to those God loves, both at the very top and the very bottom. But we don’t have to be at the top of our tax bracket. We can seek to be at the bottom so we can give our money away. That’s the only way we know money doesn’t have power over us. If the idea of that stirs fear, anxiety, or anger, then you need to ask yourself: “Is it possible that I have a security problem? Do I have a comfort problem that I’m not aware of?” Remember, everything you have has been given to you by a gracious Father. On the cross, he spared no expense for your salvation. Why would he stop taking care of you now. Let Him be your security. Let Him comfort you. Let the money He’s given you be a means of grace for the flourishing of the world.