FIRST-PERSON: What you believe about God and money really matters

Baptist Press
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Posted: Sep 30, 2011 5:22 PM
FIRST-PERSON: What you believe about God and money really matters
GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP) -- Vishal Mangalwadi has been described in Christianity Today as "India's foremost Christian intellectual." He's the author of fourteen books, including "Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations." Chuck Colson calls Truth and Transformation "a tour de force from someone who sees us (the West) from the outside as well as the inside."

In his excellent work, Mangalwadi observes key differences between eastern and western cultures and asks a straightforward question:

"Why don't American women haul water and cow dung on their heads?"

The answer, according to Mangalwadi, has nothing to do with technology or economics. We live in the 21st century and modern conveniences are available in both the East and the West.

Mangalwadi contends that Indian women still carry water and cow dung on their heads because of Indian beliefs about marriage. In his country, polygamy is still practiced. Culturally, men are not required to love their wives. It is not considered morally wrong for a man to love a mistress instead of his wife or to seek the services of religious prostitutes for companionship, pleasure and even "enlightenment." Wives must compete for their husband's affection and are not inclined to ask him to carry water or cow dung, because his likely response would be to simply love another wife or "worship" a temple prostitute.

Mangalwadi believes it was the Christian belief of marriage and sexual faithfulness that fueled the rapid economic advancement of western nations.

This belief in monogamous marriage brought the couple together in such a way that the energy of the husband and wife was harnessed into a mutual desire to solve problems, and so progress was more rapid than in cultures where the husband would say, "forget it, you are on your own!"

What we believe affects every area of our lives and those resulting behaviors collectively form a culture that shapes a nation. Don't miss this key point. Our individual beliefs not only shape our lives, but they form a culture that shapes the direction of an entire nation.

The Lord has His own philosophy concerning money and possessions. He goes to great lengths to make that simple financial philosophy known to us: We are to love and serve Him only, not money.

There's a name for God that we seldom ever use. I know I don't use it very often. That name is Jealous.

Sounds strange, doesn't it? When we call someone jealous, it's usually to point out a character flaw. How can something we consider bad be attributed to God, especially one of His names?

Exodus 34:14 says, "Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."

Back in the late 1960s, there was a popular TV western series called "The Guns of Will Sonnet." Walter Brennan (of all people) played the title role, a Scripture-quoting man with a reputation for unparalleled gun-fighting skills. As the series progressed, viewers saw the wise old man avoid more gunfights than he got into with a simple, truthful statement about his abilities: "No brag, just fact."

God has the title of Jealous because He's the only one worthy of all our affection and adoration. No brag, just fact.

This complete worthiness of ultimate praise grants Him and Him alone the right to be the Jealous One. He's God Almighty. He's at the top of all Kings, all Lords, all gods and all things. So jealousy is normative, if you're God.

So we understand how God is a righteously Jealous God, but why is He jealous for our adoration? It is because He loves us and knows that it's harmful for us to love anyone or anything else above Him.

In the United States, we (half) jokingly say that the golden rule is "whoever has the most gold, makes the rules." Unfortunately, there's more truth than jest in that one-liner because we tend to feel less significant than those who are more successful at acquiring wealth.

Because God knows that the accumulation of money and possessions has the power to control our lives, He seeks to keep our heart close to His so that we will not wander off like sheep to become lunch for wolves.

In "Money and Power," Jacques Ellul, the renowned French theologian, underscores the seriousness of this spiritual battle for our affections. He focuses on Jesus' teaching on the profound decision we all must make (Luke 16:13):

"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will 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."

LOVE GOD OR LOVE MONEY?

Ellul contends that Jesus is warning us that money is a power unto itself -- not because of what it can do, but because of what it is, intrinsically. Money is a power that can become our personal master, just as God can, and possesses a reality all its own.

Why would Jesus use the word "love" to describe our submission to money? Ellul, an eminent scholar of ancient Hebrew and Greek, says we must understand the biblical meaning of the word:

"We must be careful not to take love to mean a rather vague sentiment ... love, in the Bible is utterly totalitarian ... it involves the whole person and binds the whole person without distinction. Love reaches down into the roots of human beings and does not leave them intact."

Ellul says that our love for money can become a paramount relationship in our lives, one in which we attach ourselves to money's fate. Jesus said it like this (Matthew 6:21):

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

It is vitally important, Ellul contends, that we understand the utter totality of our decision to love money and to become free of it:

"Ultimately, we follow what we have loved the most intensely either into eternity or into death. To love money is to be condemned to follow it in its destruction, its disappearance, its annihilation and its death. It is thus extremely important that we never try to justify, however little, an attachment to money or the importance we attribute to it. Nowhere are Christians told that their love for money justifies it or causes it to be used to God's glory or elevates it toward the Good. The exact opposite is said: that our attachment to money pushes us with it headlong into nothingness."

You see how it's essential that our philosophies are consistent with God's Word? If they're not, we are at risk of being enslaved by the spiritual power of money.

This is an excerpt from Chuck Bentley's new book, "The Root of Riches: What if Everything You Think about Money Is Wrong." Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries and host of Crown's My MoneyLife radio feature and MoneyLife podcast (Crown.org/media/MoneyLife). To learn more about Crown's resources, visit Crown.org or call 1-800-722-1976. Crown Financial Ministries (Crown.org) is an interdenominational ministry dedicated to equipping people with biblically based financial tools and resources through radio, film, seminars, small groups and individual coaching. Based in Georgia, the ministry has offices in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Africa, Europe, India, Asia, and Australia.

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