by M. Russell Thomas, PhD
Some say it directly while others imply it: Money is evil. Somehow, Christians seem to struggle with the concept of money. It like a wise professor once said to me: “if the devil can’t talk you out of God’s promise, he will try to push you into fanaticism where you are discounted as an ambassador of the Kingdom of God.”
I think that perhaps this man’s wisdom is reflected in the church’s struggle regarding money. In one corner we have the “fanatics”. Those who “name it, claim it”, believe that if they see it, its their God-given right to have it, and generally cling to a philosophy that God is good and wants us to have all our hearts delight in this life. Perhaps a partial truth.
In the other corner we have the “suffering for Jesus” crowd. Perhaps their thinking is driven from an overreaction to the fanatics, I’m not really sure, but this group of Holy Hardships is seriously entrenched in the idea that their spiritual health somehow involves poverty. This is a group that will quote Luke 18:24 as a foundational truth for poverty mentality. Lets look at that passage quickly:
Luke 18:24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for people with wealth to enter the Kingdom of God! It’s easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!”…but with God nothing is impossible.
Many, including me, have used Jesus’ words in Luke 18 to argue that money is evil. Well, we know that Paul said that it wasn’t money that was evil but the love of the money (I Timothy 6:10). My guess is that Paul based his thinking, in part, from Luke 18. So lets look at that passage a little closer.
I think that the last statement in Luke 18:24 holds the clue. When Jesus encountered the rich man he knew where his treasure resided. He also knew that he would also find the man’s heart in the same place as what he so highly valued. Personally, I don’t think money was the issue here. Jesus always had a way of tuning into the issues of the heart and in this case, He understood that the issue in this man’s heart was money. Don’t get me wrong, its a strong issue and one that the man will mostly likely struggle to overcome. But I’m not convinced that the fire here is the money. I think it was the smoke. The fire was what it represented in the man’s heart. Jesus was simply going with what was presented to him. What if this man had been Hugh Heffner, the playboy tycoon who covets his sexual prowess? Would Jesus have talked about money or would he have focused on Hugh’s untamed lasciviousness? If Luke 18:24 had been an account of Jesus’ encounter with Mr. Heffner, I think it would have read much different. Maybe something like “How hard it is for a man who defines his manhood in terms of how many women he’s been with to get into the Kingdom of God!” Or what if it had been North Korean dictator Kim Yong Un? The leader has a history of going to murderous lengths to protect his power. Perhaps Luke 18:24 might have read a little different had Jesus been talking to him and gone something like “How hard it is for people with power to enter the Kingdom of God!” Maybe. My point is that Jesus went with what was given to him. He discerned the moment and an issue in this man’s life and went with it. Turns out, Jesus secondary message may have been about money but his primary message had nothing to do with the evils of money. It was a message closer to Jesus’ heart and mission: it is hard for a man to give up that what which has captured his heart’s passion…but with God, all things are possible.
Until we talk again, may you prosper and be in good health!