Loving money and loving your neighbor correctly cannot exist together
There is an undeniable reality; loving your neighbor – or not – is linked to the way we think about and handle wealth. And it’s a window into our relationship with God.
As John the Baptist was preparing the way for Jesus’ arrival and ministry, he was calling everyone to wake up from their spiritual slumber and align with what was about to happen. He called people to repent and be baptized; the Kingdom was about to emerge in the person of Jesus. But there was a serious problem. While John’s message was being received as a good message, the response wasn’t genuine. Many followed then the same way many follow today. Baptism, yes; mental assent, yes; but no real repentance and no real change and no real following. And John did not ignore this.
John’s message was not trivial and the coming of the Messiah was certainly not trivial. God was about to deliver his children from the slavery of sin. And so John exploded, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance! And being born a Jew is not good enough!” (See Luke 3:7-9)
But the crowds just didn’t get it. And so they asked, “What should we do?” In other words, “What would show you that we’re taking this seriously and have embraced repentance? What does the appropriate change look like?” And here’s what followed:
“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” – Luke 3:11-14
What happens when we repent?
True repentance means a radical change in direction. It means re-thinking the core instincts of life. The three examples John gave targeted three distinctly different groups – the average person, the tax collector, and the soldier – with the same message; living in a right relationship with God means loving you neighbor will take on a new dimension. And because this loving-your-neighbor is such a high priority (see Lev 19:18; Matt 19:19; Mark 12:30-31), it will absolutely affect the way you think about money and your possessions.
To the person who doesn’t have much, share what you do have (clothing or food). To the tax collectors and soldiers who could easily generate additional income by flexing their power over people – stop it. Being responsive to God’s leading means putting others before money.
Because sin shows itself by the action it produces, when we turn our back on sin (repent) our conduct will and must change. We cannot repent and not change.
James connects money and loving your neighbor when he said, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) In this passage James focused on a common situation, needy people without warm clothing. Only wishing them well (or maybe praying for them) while actually having the ability to take care of the problem means our faith is dead.
Do you remember the story of The Good Samaritan? In Jesus’ illustration of what it means to love your neighbor, the Samaritan not only dressed the wounded man’s wounds, he also brought him to an inn where he could be cared for, and then paid for everything. That’s loving your neighbor.
Jesus said, “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:11) In this passage Jesus was talking about money (unrighteous wealth). If we are not faithful with money we will, best case, be stuck spiritually. If we think about and handle God’s money in a faithless way, we simply can’t grow the way we should. Caring about others is absolutely connected to how we think about money.
The love of money is a deep and difficult battle for virtually everyone. And just because you have little doesn’t mean money isn’t an idol. Many “good” churches hesitate to hold out the clear teaching of Scripture because money is so difficult on so many levels.
A few more quick thoughts:
- Idols (in this case money) are so blinding that they can be clearly identify by reading Scripture and yet we can deny their existence in our lives. We can recognize an idol by testing ourselves against the clear teaching of Scripture.
- Living a simplified life can give you more time and money as loving your neighbor becomes more important.
- In a very practical sense, one reason you cannot serve God and money (Matt 6:24) is that loving God the way we should will show itself in our love of others and will demand that money takes a back seat.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. – Luke 12:34
In some ways, this is the fullest expression of what Christian love is all about. It does not seek its own; it does not believe that “finding oneself” is the highest good; it is not enamored with self-gain, self-justification, self-worth. To the contrary, it seeks the good of one’s neighbor – or enemy. – Gordon Fee