Contentment Series: A Lasting Merger (Part 6)
Often when we try to combine the concepts of “The Gospels” with “money and finances,” we come out with a Franciscan friar mentality of poverty at all costs. We fear that if we really let the Gospels speak into our money, we’ll hear Jesus saying to us what he said to the Rich Young Ruler: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).
I know you just shut down inside a little.
Francis of Assisi, who was rich, then came to Christ, read this account, and sold all his possessions to take a vow of poverty. He started an order of monasticism around this principle. He shunned any form of material wealth, because he feared it would distract him from his spiritual pursuits. Francis and the Rich Young Ruler did share the same heart disease: The love of money.
Paul said to his apprentice Timothy:
“The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:11).
This verse is commonly misquoted as saying: “Money is the root of all evil.” But that’s not the case. Look again.
When, in our fears of scarcity and in our pursuit of security, we place material resources as our primary pursuit, Jesus calls out our idols.
Jesus knew that the Rich Young Ruler wanted eternal life, which Jesus had in himself and would gladly offer it freely. That’s why he came! Jesus also knew that this young man saw the importance of obedience, which was for the Jews their pathway to a right standing with God. He wanted to do the right thing, and he had a thirst for what Jesus alone could give. Yet he had one major impediment in his heart that would hinder his ability to receive grace. He loved money. He loved his riches. The money itself was not evil, but when it blocked his way to the Savior, it needed to be completely excised from his life. Life a cancerous tumor that needed removal, this young man’s idolatrous love of money needed an immediate and swift cure if he was to find life in Christ.
Now let’s contrast this with the poor widow who gave her last two coins. (Luke ??) It wasn’t her poverty that Jesus marveled over, it was her faith. She gave everything she had to God, which was the ultimate act of trust. It was her way of showing her faith in the God who would faithfully provide for her the material resources she needed.
Whereas the young ruler was trapped by his love of money, the widow was free by her security in the Provider. It had nothing to do with money and everything to do with the state of their hearts.
Let’s think about the mindset required for a life of faith, especially as it pertains to money. The widow, who had very little, should have clung to her remaining meager assets. It was crazy that she should donate them to charity — she was herself a charity case! Widows in that day had no assets, no source of income, no financial security. In that society, men were the source of income. Without a husband, the widow was poor and had no hope of a coming paycheck. But the money didn’t hold her heart, so she gave it freely. Hers was an act of generosity at a time when she should have hoarded. Yet the young ruler probably had all the relationships, assets, skills, and access necessary to regain his wealth if ever he needed. He should have been free for great generosity, but he hoarded.
What holds your heart? Whether you have a little or a lot, the amount is inconsequential to this one fact: The message of the gospel calls us out to trust in a God who gives graciously to care for our needs, starting with the spiritual need for reconciliation with God, and redefines our relationship to material resources. If our security is in God alone, material wealth is merely circumstantial. The hope of the gospel invites us into a life of contentment.
Paul himself knew this. After receiving a financial gift from church in Philippi, he wrote them a letter of thanks. He encouraged them in their faith in Christ. And he confided in them this truth:
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, 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. (Philippians 4:10-12)
Paul knew the secret of contentment, and he gives it in the next verse.
I can do all things through him who is empowering me (Philippians 4:13)
Here, then is the clincher: Contentment comes as we rest in the sufficiency of God's presence with us, no matter the condition of our financial portfolio.
This is the secret that Paul learned through the ups and downs of his own life. Union with Christ was the center. This union has been given to us the moment we come to Christ. That moment we acknowledge our spiritual poverty, we are restored by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our human spirits to the place the First Adam began, and the place the Second Adam (i.e. Jesus) maintained. We are moved from being spiritual "have-nots" to spiritual "haves" since we are restored to union with the Source of Abundance, the author of all wealth, including the spiritual wealth found in perfect love.
Therefore, if you are a believer, no matter your financial portfolio at this time, you are rich. And material wealth does not dictate your standing. As one who stands united with Christ, your riches stem from a relational connection to the one whose love for you endures, and whose provision for your needs remains faithful. Resting in this place creates peace in our souls — the place from which we can begin a conversation about material wealth.
Once we rest in the reality of our spiritual wealth founded on our union with Christ, then we are free to deal with whatever is in our bank accounts, little or much. And, God willing, we will do so with his wisdom.