In some ways, of course, money and material possessions are the most touchy of subjects for a minister or lay person to deal with, especially in a materialistic society like North America. It is interesting that even in the 18th century, John Wesley discovered that the sermon he most needed to preach, other than ‘Justification by Grace through Faith,’ is his sermon entitled ‘On the Use of Money,’ which is included in the Appendix to my book Jesus and Money.
A Kingdom perspective on material possessions includes the following points:
- The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. This being the case, human beings are not owners of anything, they are merely stewards of God’s property. They did not bring it with them into this world, and they cannot take it with them into the Kingdom either. It’s a matter of stewardship, doing what pleases God, not what pleases oneself or one’s family, necessarily, with our material possessions.
- Since the above is true, and, since Christians are called to a self-sacrificial existence, the health and wealth Gospel (‘God wants you rich’) is clearly a false Gospel. Greed, in a world full of hungry and poor people, is not merely excess, it is sin. As Wesley put it, you may be a living person, but you are a dead Christian if you do not make it a pattern of your life to live and give self-sacrificially.
The New Testament, and Wesley, are full of warning about the dangers of having too many material possessions and focusing too much on them. Instead of possessing your possessions, they come to possess you. You, then, obsess about how to protect them. “You cannot serve two masters, God and money,” warned Jesus. These books also deal with the fact that Christians should not make money on things that harm other human beings. A Christian perspective on work affects a Christian perspective on money. These things are all intertwined.
Wesley’s three basic principles were: 1) make all you can by honest means; 2) save all you can; and 3) give all you can. Wesley reminds us of how Jesus’ disciples were called away from their jobs, their homes, and their families to follow him. In principle, that is true for all Christians. Living self-sacrificially is a crucial part of the Christian lifestyle from a Kingdom perspective.
Finally, I deal with the fact that what the Bible says about money is spoken into a very different economic context. In Biblical times, there was no free market capitalism or democracy. Instead, a barter system was primary. Money itself was mainly for just paying taxes, tolls and tribute dues. This means that one cannot simply cherry pick this or that verse about money and material resources and build a modern philosophy or approach to wealth on the basis of it. For example, the Bible is not opposed to people going into debt, especially if the cause is self-sacrificial giving at some particular point in time. The goal is also not to become so financially self-sufficient that you don’t have to rely on God’s grace every day. I also deal with the fact that the New Testament does not call us to tithe our resources, it calls us to a higher standard–self-sacrificial giving. For some folk, a tithe is just a tax write off! Kingdom perspectives on all these issues change the way you look at every aspect of the normal Christian life.