Money [Can Be] a Good Thing—But It’s a Always Terrible Master


No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money. (Matthew 6:24)

We know the story: a rich young man came to Jesus and asked what he should do to be saved. Jesus told him to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor, and follow him.

That story, taken together with Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 6:24, for many creates a simplistic narrative: See, money is a bad thing. We must give it up to follow Jesus.

The tricky part, of course, is that we can’t actually do that in most cases.

The more we give up money, the more we find our lives revolving around it, because money is how we survive in the world. So [some] people who “live by faith” spend an inordinate amount of time asking other people to give up their money to support them.

Not always, and it’s not always a bad thing. The point is we can’t give up money entirely, and that’s actually not what Jesus is asking us to do. He had money too. His disciples used it to buy food and drink, just like we do, and even to give it to the poor.

But the story of the rich young ruler is a perfect illustration of what Jesus IS telling us here: money is a terrible master.

Everyone has a master, Jesus is saying. That is the nature of mankind. We don’t live to ourselves. We’re always serving something else … something bigger than ourselves, or something smaller.

For most of us there are two choices: God or money.

God is a wonderful master. The best there is.

Money is a terrible alternative.

Slaves to Lesser Things

Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation. For a human being to enslaved to money—what a ludicrous, and horrifying, thing that is!

This might be Satan’s most effective plot to demean and demoralize mankind: to enslave us to something so much lesser, so much beneath us.

To teach us to measure our worth in dollars.

Money is a wonderful servant, but it is a terrible status symbol. It is a wonderful servant, but a terrible dictator. It can accomplish marvellous things—when it does our bidding, and God’s.

But when we switch that around, when we do its bidding, and even try to make God do its bidding, then the world is standing on its head, and nothing is what it should be.

This is Jesus’s point. He revisits it, all through this section of the Sermon on the Mount.

It is not, Oh, money is evil. Money is nothing but a measure of prosperity, a symbol by which we exchange value.

Prosperity, abundance, time, and value all come from God; money is just a way we measure good things.

The Invitation …

Money also, especially in our age of paper currency, is an expression of trust. It is a kind of faith: evidence of things hoped for, a physical expression of something unseen.

This is more and more true as the things we value and pay for are themselves intangible: knowledge, technology, expertise—as opposed to tangible things like silver or gold.

But if we make an idol of money, if we see it as our provider, as our life’s goal and purpose, as the Thing that dictates and directs our lives, then our hearts can’t be with God and we can’t be whole.

That’s why Jesus invited the rich young ruler to sell all he had before he came and followed him.

It wasn’t because his riches were a bad thing.

It was because he was enslaved to them.

Jesus was inviting him to come and be free.

Time to Make a Trade

We know this because of the young man’s response, and because the story is unique. Many other people, Jesus didn’t tell to sell all they had.

But in this case he looked at someone enslaved to another master and invited him to make a trade.

The young man didn’t do it. He “went away grieving” (Matthew 19:22).

Jesus calls us to the ultimate holism in the way we live: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30, riffing on Deuteronomy 6:5).

If money is your master, Jesus says, you can’t do this. You can’t actually serve two masters. We were not created to be divided, we were created to be whole. So we will drift all to one thing or to the other.

You will love one, hate the other. Despite one, be devoted to the other.

Devoted to God

By contrast with money, to be devoted to God is to be devoted to the Highest thing there is. Ours is an “upward call in Christ” (Phil 3:14, ESV).

Devotion to God will always raise our minds, our hearts, and our spirits. It will exalt our actions. We will become better, purer, more beautiful human beings.

Devotion to God raises our vision to the heights and depths of all that is good and right and truly human, because it flows from what is divine.

Devotion to money, by contrast, is lowering. It demeans and flattens us.

God calls us to be holy and courageous; money calls us to compromise and cringing, to be controlled by fear.

God calls us to be generous, with all our whole lives as with our money; money, as a master, drives us to be stingy, fearful, greedy, grasping.

God is a God of abundance. Money—when it rules—is always about scarcity.

When it doesn’t rule, when it’s a servant and a symbol of prosperity, it’s a powerful tool for righteousness.

This is why tithing, and regular giving and spontaneous giving, are such powerful spiritual disciplines. They remind us who’s boss.

They keep us moving in the right direction: up and out, not down and in.

Making the Trade

Switching masters, if money has been running your life, is easier said than done.

Jesus offers a lot of good pointers. There’s his advice to the rich young ruler: Pry your fingers off your idol and give it away. Let it do some good in the world for a change.

Then follow Jesus.

That’s the crux of it, really: follow.

From now on, if you’re going to earn money, do it by serving God.

(Which doesn’t mean “go into full-time ministry.” It means, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, working as unto the Lord and not unto men, for you serve the Lord Christ”—Ecclesiastes 9:10, Colossians 3:23. It’s a heart thing.)

Then make a regular habit of letting it go. Practice radical generosity. Money can’t control your life if you’re heaven-bent on using it to worship God and bless other people.

Ask new questions when you go to earn. Don’t ask, “How much money will this make?” Ask, “How much value will it create?” Don’t ask, “Will there be enough?” Ask, “How can I tap into the abundance God has made available?”

Don’t meditate on money. This is a continual challenge for me, as a business owner. But I’m learning it can be done. You do it by bringing God into every part of the equation. When you budget, budget the Lord’s blessings. When you create a plan to earn (be it “start a new business” or “get out of bed and go to work today”), thank God that you’re receiving his daily bread. His blessings.

Ask him how he wants to use it.

He’s the boss.

He’s our master—our good, kind, loving, creative, and mischievous master.

Tithe. It may not be 100% “biblical” the way we practice it, but it’s a good idea.

There are three biblical responses to money. None of them are guilt.

They are gratitude, joy, and generosity.

Receive money with thanks. Enjoy it. Give it away.

God is such an alchemist, he can bring goodness, life, and blessing even out of silver and gold.



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