“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9).
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
These two teachings of Jesus both talk about wealth, and both of them say we are better off without it, either giving it away or not storing it up. This wisdom is the absolute opposite to what the world teaches us about “saving up” our money and “preparing for the future.” Whether you’re buying a house, saving for your kids’ college funds, keeping a certain amount of money in the bank “just in case”, investing in the stock market, getting a retirement plan going, have a life insurance policy, these all seem to give a certain illusion that you have achieved some sense of security.
While these seem like logical, sensible choices, why would several teachings of Jesus clearly point us in the opposite direction?
People can point to a number of other passages in scripture to try and minimize the impact of what Jesus says about storing up unrighteous mammon (money and the things money can buy). I’ll list two of the most popular verses in the New Testament that are often used by people who want to either ignore Jesus’ clear teachings on the subject, or they want to suggest that a more “balanced” approach is necessary, which in reality, still demotes Jesus to just one more “opinion” on this matter.
Here are the two famous passages:
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
Both of these verses are written by the apostle Paul. There are several factors to consider when using these verses to basically undermine what Jesus has taught in the above passages.
One thing that is commonly assumed is that both of these passages written by Paul are talking about working for money. But the simple question is this: Does Paul say in anything in these verses to indicate that he is talking about working for money, or is he simply saying that people should be helping one another, that is, working for the good of all? To assume Paul is talking about working for the sake of earning money, we have to impose that meaning on the text. Based on our current understanding of the world’s economic system, this would make sense. But as followers of Jesus, we should rather be concerned with God’s economy instead.
It would seem most plausible that Paul is simply challenging laziness. If we look at the very next verse in 2nd Thessalonians 3:11, we can see more clearly that this is more likely the case:
For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.
Again, is there any indication here that he is referring to working for money?
Now, back to the verse found in 1st Timothy 5:8. It clearly states that we should provide for our own, and some translations even say “our own household of faith” (see Aramaic Bible in Plain English). Again, in this verse, we have to impose the idea of working for money into the text that clearly does not say this.
We can provide for one another by working together, but this does not necessitate working for money. After all, money only exists in a world/system where greed and distrust are the ruling factors but are completely foreign to the economics of the kingdom of heaven. It is strange that these verses get quoted to us far more often than Jesus’ teaching about either serving God or Money. How is it that these verses from Paul have seemed to take precedence over what Jesus taught? Although most people who quote these verses would deny this, the fact remains that it is an excuse to continue to live like the rest of the world who are either openly opposed to what Jesus taught on this matter, or are simply ignorant of what Jesus taught about working for “unrighteous mammon” or “filthy lucre”.
If we believe it is our highest calling from God to work for money to provide for our immediate families, then all that a professing follower of Jesus would need to do is check with his teachings to see if this idea is supported by him, since he is “The way, the truth, and the life”. But a gut-level, honest search of his teachings offers nothing in support of this position. It is only when we are willing to let go of our super-imposed and preconceived 21st century notions that we see the simple truth of what he said as a child would accept it.
On another note, it’s interesting to consider that most people do not desperately pray to understand what God’s will is when it comes to having children. Most people just assume it is exactly what God wants, and anyone who dares to question this is seen as odd at best, and “anti-family” at worst.
However, when a couple decides to have children, there is a somewhat understandable tendency to want a steady (higher) income, a nicer place to raise their children (which often means buying a house, thus beginning the cycle of debt), and all the other factors that usually cost more than what the couple anticipated. So it would “naturally” follow that either one or both parents get a job to help pay the bills, and the child is often raised by a babysitter, then later spends most of their waking hours at school. Are we to assume this is the model that Paul was referring to when he was talking about “providing for his own?” I think we can be pretty certain Paul was not pushing the idea that both parents work for money and let strangers (for the most part) raise their children.
It should also be noted that when one speaks of “providing for his own [family]” there are a number of side benefits that seem to get overlooked when someone is trying to argue that they are just working for the basic necessities of life. In most of the developed nations, people who work for money have quite a bit more than what is needed to survive. So what happens to all of that extra income that just so happens to come along when someone claims to only work to “provide for his own”?
Well, take a look around at all the nice, shiny cars on the road. Look at the expensive clothes people think they need. What about those massive TV’s that have become a fixture in every home? Notice the newest iphones, laptops, tablets and other cell phones on the market today that cost tremendous amounts of money and almost outdated once they’re purchased. Are we to believe that this is merely providing for one’s own, or might we also be providing a bit for ourselves as well? Some of our noble-sounding intentions may fade a little when we come to terms with the fact that we’re often on the receiving end of many daily luxuries that are almost unheard of in large parts of the world.
Now, let’s go all the way back to the verses at the beginning of this article where Jesus tells us to not store up our treasures (possessions) and instead to use our wealth by giving it away to make friends for ourselves amongst our spiritual family. If we accept the truth that followers of Jesus are bound to each other as relatives that surpass any blood relations, then aren’t we being “worse than infidels” if we are not forsaking luxuries so that we can reach out in practical ways to our hungry brothers and sisters around the globe?
If we are honest, we’ll be able to recognize that we have more than enough “disposable income” when we are merely “providing for our own”. But in our modern culture of family worship we’ve lost sight of Jesus’ vision of what a family really is:
While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Mt. 12:46-50)
It’s a long-shot, but we would do well to reconsider our plans, careers, and even raising a family in light of these words from the “Light of the world” and look into working for God rather than unrighteous Mammon.