(November, 2012)

Churches have a deeply conflicted relationship with money. We remember Jesus warning against accumulating “treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19) and Paul declaring that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

On the other hand, we love to quote Malachi 3:10: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour out for you an overflowing blessing”, thus running the danger of turning our faithfulness to God into a quid pro quo. In the same spirit, television preachers implore their listeners to “sow a seed of faith” in their ministries and local churches do pledge drives, with the implication that our giving to the church / the ministry / the minister will somehow obligate God to bless us – in this very currency about which we are so ambivalent. And for our churches and ourselves, we often judge “success” in the same terms the world does – accumulated dollars.

Yes, God wants to bless us; yes, God wants us to have “enough”; if this were not so, Jesus would not have worked miracles of resource multiplication, and the original Jesus congregation in Jerusalem would not have distributed resources according to need (Acts 2:46), nor would they have appointed “seven men of good standing” to make sure that all the vulnerable widows in their midst received their daily bread (Acts 6:1–6).

But God’s blessings are not an entitlement, they are a manifestation of God’s free grace. The psalmist declares: “The earth is the Lord’s [not ours] and all that it is in it, the world and those who live in it” (Psalm 24:1) – meaning us. Our life, our time, the gifts and talents by means of which we create, the resources which we utilize, all belong to God. This world, with all of its wonders, is the theatre which God has provided for us to exercise our talents and form ourselves.

Furthermore, since we have each and all gone astray from God’s best for us and have corrupted our portion of God’s creation, we are renewed and restored by God’s unmerited grace in Jesus Christ, and thus “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

Do we believe this? This is not about capitalism or socialism or any modern economic system. This is about who we belong to, and it is about our relationship to the material resources – the stuff – in a world that ultimately belongs to God, not ourselves. Money is nothing more than a way of keeping track of the relative value of different stuff, and the creativity and labor that goes into producing and distributing it.

Obsessing over money or – even worse, defining our selfworth in terms of it – makes no more sense than valuing our brains and our hearts by how much they weigh. But our attitude toward money, and the way we use it and share it (or not), yields a vivid picture of our faith, and our relationship to God and to our neighbors. And what a church does with money – how we raise it, allocate it in a budget, spend it, think about it – speaks volumes about who we are as a family of faith. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

–Dr. David L. Wheeler