“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 treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and were thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… No-one can serve two masters. Either he hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Jesus states that how a person uses their money is the clearest indication of whether or not they are following him. There are endless competitors for our worship, but Jesus talks about money in the bluntest terms. It’s God or money. You have to choose.
Yet for those of us who follow Jesus it rarely seems that easy in practise. The main difficulty, of course, is that we struggle not to desire treasure on earth, but even when we are willing to give, many questions remain: give to who? The church? The poor? How much? How much can I keep? What about providing for my family? Does charity help the poor in the long run anyway? What should I spend on myself? Should I ever be in debt? Isn’t it ok to earn a lot as long as I give generously? Etc.
And yet Jesus repeatedly demands a radical approach to money if we are to follow him. Over the coming months, the ‘lived experience’ section of this blog will seek to explore some key texts from the Bible about money and link these to the practical questions we all face as we follow Jesus with our finances.
Now if you’ve been in a church which has discussed money issues, I’d guess that someone has at some point said something like this: “isn’t the important thing the state of our hearts?” Jesus commands one man to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor (Mark 10.17-31); our usual explanation is that “money was this man’s particular problem, that’s why he has to give everything away.” Well, maybe. It is true that Jesus is concerned about our hearts, our inner attitudes and desires, not just our actions, but with money we have habit of talking and thinking that our hearts can be right with regard to money whatever our level of wealth or our decisions about how we spend/save/give money. And this is what cannot be true.
Here in Matthew Jesus is clear that the heart is inextricably related to our actions, and the relationship works both ways. Yes, our heart tends to dictate out actions, but Jesus says that our actions also form our heart – where your treasure is (what you do with your money), there your heart will be. It’s a vicious or a virtuous circle –our actions and heart reinforce each other to serve God, or to serve money.
This is both an encouragement and a reality check. It’s a reality check because we cannot divorce our heart from our actions. If you want to know the state of your heart – have a look at what you do with your money – that will tell you! It’s an encouragement because when our heart (and actions) are not right, then we know that we can do, literally do, something that will change our hearts.
To borrow a phrase from James K.A. Smith, “all the things that we do, are doing something to us.”
So how does this land practically in life?
I’ve essentially made three points in this blog:
-Jesus makes money a central discipleship issue
-Our ‘hearts’ are inseparable from our actions
-How we use money and possessions forms us – it has a two-way relationship with our hearts.
If this is true, then a good starting point for getting to grips with money is to take a long hard look at your own financial habits. How much money comes in? What do you do with it? If you are a good budgeter this should be straight forward, if not, it may take you a bit longer! But I believe it’s worth the time. Getting a realistic picture of what you do with your money is the starting point for allowing yourself to really engage with Jesus on this issue. I would encourage you to be a concrete as possible – how much money over the course of a year do you spend on eating out? What percentage do you give away, and where do you give it? What percentage of your money do you have no idea about where it goes!?
The second task is to begin to reflect on your findings. Joe Biden, the former Vice President of the USA said this: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” That is, essentially, biblical Christianity. The way you spend your money tells us something about our current priorities and about what is shaping us. So reflect on your own finances – what does this tell you about what is shaping you? How are your financial habits affecting your desires, your heart?
This will put you in a good position to engage with the following blog posts as we dig deeper into issues of financial discipleship and try to unpick some of the tricky questions that it raises…