Note: For folks at today’s worship service, this letter is a slightly different version of today’s sermon.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
You can live in our society for your whole life without making a clear spiritual statement. You are not required to believe in God, Father, Son or Holy Spirit. You are allowed to reject charity, which is an old word for God’s love. You are free to pursue any legal activity, no matter if it is moral or not.
On the other hand, you are required to deal with money (or have people who deal with it on your behalf). You better be a believer in money and take seriously your obligations to pay for your food, pay your bills, and pay your taxes to pay for many things that look free to children.
Not all of us were raised in religious households but we were raised in households that used and respected money… or households that ached for more money.
As a teenager, I knew a lot of kids who didn’t have the first idea about Jesus, but we all grew up with the same wisdom sayings about money:
A penny saved is a penny earned.
Never buy a pig in a poke.
Money doesn’t grow on trees.
You have to spend money to make money.
Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Let the buyer beware.
A fool and his money are soon parted.
The truth is that money is a great tool, but we don’t go raising children how to value hammers or ladders. Money is a constant companion in life that can make things a little easier, but so are shoes, and I was never taught any old sayings about taking care of shoes.
Money, by itself, is just a means to make life more orderly than the old barter system that would have people trading goods and services in a small town marketplace. Money is basically three things: It is a means of exchange, a way of keeping accounts clearly, and a way of retaining value. In the old barter system if you were trading grain, it would eventually rot and lose its value, but if you transferred value to money, you could trade on that value much longer. So money just started out as a tool to make trade a little easier and a bit less chaotic. It assigned vale to things instead of the old haggling that went on during each exchange; like “how many bunches of grapes do you want for that leather belt?”
In the days that Jesus was preaching, there were local and Roman coins of copper, silver, and gold, but people would also use very expensive commodities that were worth more and weighed less than those heavy coins. Things like the Magi’s gifts of frankincense or myrrh. People would also carry bags of salt, cinnamon, or bolts of silk as things to exchange. In a world without paper money, you got creative sometimes. But the main form of money in the first century was in the form of silver coins.
When Jesus talks about “money” it includes both currency and other kinds of wealth. For many long centuries before, people had made idols of gold and silver to honor their gods, but it was easy to see that the true items of worship were becoming the gold and silver themselves.
In the ancient world, no day was very sure. You couldn’t be sure of your food and water. You couldn’t be sure of your safety. There was nothing to protect you from famine, drought, or disease. Many people saw that an accumulation of wealth could help you escape that daily uncertainty. A person with extra money, could buy food when their cupboards were bare. A person with extra money could afford to leave town for greener pastures. A person with extra money could live an imagined “life of ease, without worry.”
So, as some people got money, they put their trust in it. Instead of trusting God to see them through the day, they trusted their savings.
So, we come to today’s passage:
Reading: Matthew 6:24
[Jesus said] “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
There is an old saying: “Money is a good servant, but a poor master.”
A Christian can use money as a tool and do great things with it, but if it stops being your servant, it starts making decisions for you that will distance you from God.
Reading: Timothy 6:2-10
These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the 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.
Godliness with contentment (in what we already have) is a major goal. Happiness is possible with thanks for what we have, but the accumulation of money is a never-ending compulsion that leads to some comfort but not contentment or spiritual fulfillment. Look for contentment in God and you kind find happiness, but look for contentment in money and you will never be satisfied.
Money is not the root of all kinds of evil, but the love of money is. Money is a good tool until it starts calling the shots. When money concerns control your life above all other thoughts, you are bound to make some terrible decisions. The love of money can distort a person into their worst self. The love of money destroys families, hurts neighbors and brings no peace.
In First Timothy, Paul also says “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it,” which has been rephrased as “you can’t take it with you.” The point is that the value of any material wealth does not go with you in the life to come. So people trust money until they die, but it loses all value at the moment of death. To trust of money is like trusting a bridge: It is a firm support, but eventually your travel beyond it. God, on the other hand, is a loving companion whose home is your destination.
Question to Ponder: Do you always use money (wealth) as a tool or does it ever force decisions that don’t feel right?