For the longest time I presumed all of the biblical warnings aimed at wealth were not aimed at me. I’m not a man who chases the money. Meaning, not money, motivates me.
Until the day God opened my eyes to the truth.
It came down to true motivation. I didn’t want to chase and accumulate wealth to look wealthy or flashy. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by way of clothes, car or house. Forget about the Marc Jacobs wardrobe, yellow Maserati or the zip code everyone envied. I just wanted to hoard so I could feel secure.
This also meant I would not spend money. I would live in the one–bedroom on the outskirts of town. Wear the same pair of sneakers for ten years. Drive the sports sedan into the ground. Fix the clunky dishwasher myself. Take hand outs–whether cash, t-shirts or food–when offered. And yes, it would be great if the rest of the family fell in line.
What was the motivation behind this behavior? I imagined that if I had a mountain of money, safely stashed away in several vaults across the continental U.S.A., then I would not worry about mortgage payments, unexpected medical expenses, surprise tax bills, rising food costs, college tuition, market volatility, job loss or retirement. Because of my stash I would know that my family and I were well taken care of. No matter the financial predicament we were secure. We were safe.
This was the verse that stung me:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” 1 Timothy 6:17
And let’s face it, unless you make less than $2 a day, we are all rich compared to the rest of the world. So Paul is speaking to us–to me–when he says, “nor to put your hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.”
The truth is, I am greedy.
Early this year Anthony Robbins published a new book called Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook. He interviewed 50 of the smartest financial minds in the world to discover how someone could be unshakeable–that is “someone who can not only maintain true peace of mind in a world of immense uncertainty, economic volatility and unprecedented change, but who can profit from the fear that immobilizes so many.”
It’s an alluring promise. And I’m his target audience. But really, who doesn’t want true peace in a world of uncertainty? Yet financial freedom is an allusive goal. When will you know you have enough to be free? And what actually is true freedom?
Benjamin Franklin said that “Money has never made man happy, nor will it.” And we know from history that vast fortunes can collapse over night. But while you may achieve a piece of mind about your financial state, there is still much to fear.
For instance, fortify your finances so you are the richest man in the world, but it still won’t protect you from these things:
- Natural disaster
- Car accidents
- God (see below)
That’s a short list. I could go on. But all is summed up in Peter’s letter: “for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls’.” We shall all wither, and we shall all fall.
All involving the entire chain of creation–from the first molecule to the darkest end of the known universe. The universe, that vast, cold, but beautiful collection of stars and rocks and empty space, without God’s breath, shall wither and fall. That is the condition in which we live.
Wealth, mind you, won’t protect you from God. Shovel it into barns and banks and vaults and caravans so that you can relax, eat, drink and be merry. But be warned, one day God will require your soul. One afternoon you will lie down on your divan, convulse and never wake again. “This is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Or, like one of the most powerful kings to have ever lived, God will transform your mind to a beast’s so you are eating grass and sleeping beneath trees far from mankind. “God is able to humble those who walk in pride.”
It is not bad to possess wealth. To prosper. Nebuchadnezzar’s reason, majesty, sovereignty and splendor were restored once he honored God as the one true king over all. What’s important is what we do with wealth. To whom or what do we devote it? To ourselves? Or to God?
Paul says to put it in God, who does not whither, who does not fall, who does not deceive us. He is the immutable. The imperishable. The everlasting. Eternal life, Jesus said, consists in knowing him. And him alone.
See, we don’t need protection from danger or death. We need protection from wealth because it will lie to us. It will tell us we are invincible, superior to all. It will corrupt our hearts and rob us of compassion.
So how do you protect yourself from the corrupting influence of wealth? The best way to protect yourself is to get into the practice of saying with Paul, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
Let that be our prayer.